2020 & Beyond: Digital Marketing Professionals Share Expert Predictions on Future of SEO

Judyann Sonido
2020 & Beyond: Digital Marketing Professionals Share Expert Predictions on Future of SEO

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The field of search engine optimization (SEO) is unpredictable. Search engine algorithms constantly change and there is no certainty on how or when these changes will take place. Now, this can be a challenge for numerous businesses competing in the digital landscape.

As a marketer, you need to stay abreast of the latest algorithm updates and industry changes and adhere to the best SEO practices to safeguard your digital presence. Ensuring your site’s visibility on search engines is critical to online success.

Google Algorithm Updates

In the past few years, we’ve seen Google and other search engines launch algorithm updates that shook the digital marketing landscape. These include:

1.  Featured snippet de-duplication, which removed duplicate URLS for pages shown on the featured snippets
2.  BERT worldwide rollout, which centered on improving language understanding and cracking user queries based on search intent
3.  Broad core algorithm updates, which happen every few months to improve Google’s overall systems and to provide the best possible content to online users
4.  Fred pertains to a series of updates related to the violation of Webmaster Guidelines
5.  Intrusive Interstitials updates, which targeted all types of popups that ruin the user experience
6.  Google Medic update, which affected organic rankings for medical, health and fitness websites
7.  Mobilegeddon, which focused on mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal
8.  RankBrain, a live artificial intelligence (AI) used to process search queries to provide the best possible search results
9.  Panda was developed to reduce the prevalence of low-quality content in search engines
10.  Penguin, which targeted manipulative link building practices
11.  Hummingbird, which centered on natural language processing and local search
12.  Pigeon, which focused on improving local search capabilities, including Google’s location and distance ranking parameters
13.  Payday loan, which targeted spammy queries mostly associated with shady industries like casinos and debt consolidation sites
14.  Exact Match Domain (EMD) update, which targeted sites with exact match domains and thin content
15.  Google page layout algorithm, which focused on websites with too many static ads above the fold

As search engines continue to pivot and adapt to consumer behavior, we can anticipate continuous industry changes in the coming years. Optimize your SEO processes and future-proof your online campaigns with agile, SEO-forward strategies.

The Future of SEO: What We Can Expect

In an effort to help businesses best position their brand in the online realm, we reached out to experienced SEO professionals to gauge their expert predictions on the biggest market changes that will impact the search industry.

Our SEOblog digital marketing specialists ran an online survey from January to April 2020. We’ve gathered and analyzed the answers from respondents and highlighted the responses that stood out.

Here are the top 13 predictions expected to revolutionize the SEO industry over the next two years, according to SEO experts:

biggest changes in the SEO industry in the next 12-24 months

1.  GREATER FOCUS ON SEARCH INTENT
Jonathan Gorham, Head of SEO at Engine Scout:

“Having a deep understanding of search intent will be critical over the next 12-24 months. Google’s most recent algorithm update named BERT is proof of the growing trend towards better understanding and matching the search behavior of users.

“The thing is optimizing websites for search intent is harder than it looks. As marketers, we need to start investing more resources to better understand this growing trend. You need to start thinking about the differences between informational and transactional-type keywords and how users interact and behave on websites too.

“If you can master search intent and know the difference between the subtle behaviors and underlying ‘WHY’ factor behind search queries, Google is going to reward you with improved rankings.”

2.  THE RISE OF VOICE SEARCH
Anirban Sengupta, Founder of Digital Marketing Chef:

The proportion of voice searches will increase and for all queries, search engines would try to feature an answer box. With time, the need to rank would be replaced by the need to be the answer [to search queries].

“In the case of voice search, the expectation would be to get an [immediate, specific] answer and not a list of content pages.”

Sengupta added the three significant factors that drive the growth of voice search in SEO:

•  The rise in sale and/or adoption of voice-based assistants, such as Alexa and Siri
•  Growth spurt in Google users who are not comfortable typing [on their devices]
•  The improvement in speech-to-text technology that allows users to access search engines through voice commands

3.  STRUCTURED DATA WILL BECOME INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT, ELIMINATING GOOGLE AMP
Dario Zadro, Web Strategist at Zadro Web:

“A similar thing is happening with structured data that happened around seven years ago with responsive design, and ultimately mobile-first indexing. Most businesses took way too long to get on board with all the nuances of mobile. The same thing is happening with structured data, specifically JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data (JSON-LD).

“I’ve tested this theory with WP theme development. The schema should be at the top of everyone’s list right now as it evolves. In my opinion, structured data will replace what Google AMP tried to be.

“While it doesn’t seem that AMP is avoidable for publishers at this current time, I don’t see how AMP will survive. First of all, it hijacks all links and is very complicated to enable proper tracking. It restricts many web features and enabling AMP is creating a Google only index. Google has repeatedly said that AMP is for speed, but that can’t be true. Sub two-second loading sites are easily attainable with proper coding. Google’s strong emphasis on structured data is their fallback for a failing attempt at adoption with AMP.”

4.  THE RISE OF SCHEMA and THE EVOLUTION OF BRAND SEO
Jonathan Nishikawa, CEO of Winnipeg Local SEO:

“I think it could very well be the rise of the schema, wrapping its tentacles around the very core of SEO. It has been suggested schema markup may be a ranking factor in the future and there is evidence of improved rankings from many who have incorporated it already.

“The schema vocabulary keeps evolving and increasing in complexity with hundreds of different data points to consider. I think good SEO provides relevance for search engines to rank topical content. In contrast, schema tries to identify that relevance beyond the classic title/description/URL and into the emerging world of rich search results.

“How can ordinary SEO as we know it survive in its success without embracing schema and what it means in terms of reaching and connecting to our prospects and customers? After all, this is what continued business success is dependent on and why we do SEO in the first place. Our overlord Google has thrown down the gauntlet once again. Forcing the digital marketing community to adapt to the next tier of search results involving “rich results” for its goal of better user experience and evolving search quality. With this, there also needs to be a focus on search intent and an ongoing sophisticated approach toward the marketing funnel when keeping SEO top of mind.

“Gone are the days of easy manipulation of SERPs. As Google continues to expand in sophistication with its search engine results and social media also continues to entrench its tentacles into everything, so does our perception evolve with how we interact with information online.”

5.  FOCUS ON CONTENT QUALITY
Brent Jacobs, Co-founder of Get Known Inc:

“Content quality will be more important. People have been saying that content is king for a long time now. But a lot of people seem to get away with low-quality content and yet rank successfully.

“Recently, Elon Musk shared his AI content generator for free and people are catching on. It will only get easier and easier to get quality content, and the only way Google can refrain from getting the search engine results pages (SERPs) spammed is by either finding a way to detect the AI-generated content or by raising their bar content-wise. And which one is easiest? Raising the bar, of course. Relevancy, on-page and overall content quality will never have been more important.”

6.  INCREASINGLY DYNAMIC SERPs
Kevin Dhimitri, Digital Marketing Consultant at NYC SEO & Web Design:

“I believe the SERPS will become more dynamic, complex and targeted based on keyword groups. We know that lately, Google has been focused on removing spam from Google Maps, improving SERPS appearance and clarity, experimenting with featured snippets and other new special features, such as Google Guaranteed.

“The common theme I see is an overall focus on Google improving their monetization and also making search more dynamic. With BERT, Google will be able to better categorize keywords into groups and show specific features to those users.”

7.  SEO AUTOMATION and DATA MINING ACROSS PLATFORMS
Kolleen Shallcross, Founder of Shallcross Marketing & Design:

“The amount of data being collected on an individual basis is beyond what most people envision today. Everything from conversations through your phone, smart appliance or Alexa is assessed for interests, hobbies and paradigms. That data is aggregated and attached to your user experience.

“Dozens of data points are grabbed from various user activities and eventually, SEO will be automated to serve up SERPs particular to that individual. I could be in the same room with my son, on the same WiFi and search for the same term on the same kind of browser and phone, and we will get different results based on our profiles.

“For instance, if a hair salon is perceived as visited more by conservative wealthy women, it will be served up to those people and down the line for other searches. The reason it will be automated is the sheer amount of data that will need to be aggregated on each user and continually updated.

“If SEO experts can get access to anonymous profiles, we may still have work by honing that brand to show the ideal client they want to attract (more specifically than today).”

8.  THE DOWNFALL OF PAID GUEST POSTS
Greg Heilers, Co-Captain at Jolly SEO:

“Link penalizations crop up in every algorithm update, but when do they target genuinely earned media placements?

“The difference between paid guest posts and earned media is that Google is sick and tired of SEOs gaming the system by spending to accelerate –or even replace– brand building.

“Combat this by leveraging a real, live human’s executive authority. Contribute their expert commentary, and journalists and marketers will gladly incorporate it into their content. These earned media placements won’t earn you Google’s retribution, unlike paid-for posts.

“Earned media links have longevity, while paid guest posts will receive the algorithm’s retribution.
Link vendors already catch a bad rap. This is going to play out increasingly in the next few years. Whether Google will indeed throttle guest post link juice or not, the stigma is already there. And worse, many are seeing penalties from poor link buying decisions.

“Create content with a colleague at a competing company. When both of you share the video or post on LinkedIn, make sure to tag each other.

“Co-marketing broadens reach by exposing new people to your brand. At the same time, the endorsement of this colleague builds your authority until it’s powerful enough to earn the trust of a website’s content manager. You’ll build organic links from content managers in your industry who want to link out to authority figures.”

9.  LINK DEVALUATION and THE CASE FOR LSI KEYWORDS
Derek Marshall, Affiliate Marketing Mentor and Coach at Bloggers HQ:

“It is an age-old thing. The biggest change I see over the next 12 to 24 months in the world of SEO is the devaluation of links — slightly polemic as Google themselves in webmaster central here tell you that links help.

“I see only relevant, related and a greater focus on links that get traffic and an overall focus on the quality of content. I keep seeing in my niche new sites that have low DA, single-digit DA rocking the rankings that have few (almost none) links getting a lot of traffic and rankings based primarily on their content quality.

“This might be a polemic prediction but Google has patents on LSI keywords. From my experience on my sites, I have seen a hockey stick curve in both traffic and number of keywords ranked for when deliberately using LSI keywords in the content.

“It is not a case of the old SEO LSI joke “two SEO guys walked into a bar, a speakeasy, gin joint.” That is simply not proper or natural use of LSI keywords. I have found LSI keywords help Google to understand the context of your content and match it to search user intent. With the words you are writing, Google can tell if the content “Ruffian” is about a racehorse or some rogue character.

“The LSI helps BERT in scanning content in both directions to find meaning. I see more importance in using LSI keywords properly.”

10.  INCREASING CHALLENGES IN AFFILIATE MARKETING, TRADITIONAL BLUE LINKS and SHADY TACTICS
Olesia Korobka, Search Engine Optimizer at Fajela:

“Large companies will be optimizing better for themselves, trying to cut costs and may be willing to reconsider sharing their profits with affiliates. [Google’s] John Mueller has a somewhat similar prediction.

“For affiliate websites, that means even more competition in traditional SERPs. Many buyers are already starting their searches on Amazon or Walmart or the Shopping tab in Google, never looking at the main SERP at all. But those who still do might have noticed how much the SERP layout has changed in recent months, and it is just starting to evolve.

“Blue links will whittle away. Nevertheless, it will be even harder to stay number one competing with traditional high-authority websites for the remaining queries that people still google. And we all know that no.1 is the position generating the most clicks. Even no.2 is not as clicked nowadays, forcing you to fight to be top 1. That means huge investments with questionable ROI and no guaranteed sales.

“That may also lead to switching to other platforms and aggregator websites where your potential prospects may be looking for your products, communicating with them through these new channels instead of fighting over that tiny spot in Google.

“In other words, a good SEO expert will need to become more technical, creative and finally user-oriented while learning new promotional options (including paid ones) and platforms.

“During a  recession, entertainment niches are traditionally in high demand. They are among the most competitive ones as well. However, the competition may increase even further, attracting SEOs who lost their jobs in other niches and by higher than usual profit promises.

“Demand for black tactics, hidden PBNs, niche edits and other shady techniques will rise in grey niches. Technical SEO will also be developing quickly to help smart competition and to reduce backlinks expenses. Teams will be trying to outsmart each other more than they are doing now. Good teams and real practical expertise will become the best assets while money devalues.”

11.  RESPONSIVE SITES WILL INCREASINGLY BE REWARDED
James Alviani, Digital Strategist at Halo Digital:

With the rise of free and inexpensive page builders, there are more and more websites being made every day. It presents a real challenge to Google, which has to efficiently process, evaluate and rank these sites every few days.

“The answer for them is to reward sites with lean code and only quality, unique pages set to be indexed. Page builders generate a ton of thin pages and duplicate content that chokes up resources. I think increasingly, Google will reward the sites with lean code and organized content vs. bloated builders with lots of duplicate pages and archives.”

12.  MACHINE LEARNING AS A CORE COMPONENT OF GOOGLE’S ALGORITHM
Phil Drinkwater, Founder of Phil Drinkwater:

Rather than a human deciding which signals should constitute a high ranking, machines can be taught to find patterns when large amounts of training data exist. They have the training data already in the form of quality raters and they will be able to use AI to tune the signal strengths that are important for parts of the algorithm like EAT and site categorization.

“When you look into neural nets and how they work, the internal patterns are not similar to those which a human would produce. For example, when humans recognize handwritten numbers, we look for lines and curves, like the right-hand vertical line of a number “9.” However, in their evaluation of the same data, neural nets find strange patterns which we would never spot.

“In SEO terms, then, to classify a site as a medical expert, there might be a large number of black and white images site-wide because they have an unusual amount of photos of papers. Crucially, B&W images are an easy input signal that Google could code.

“While the correlation wouldn’t be one that a human would find, it might be very effective in helping to classify whether a site really is by a medical expert. If you want to try and trick the algorithm by just using keywords you think it would expect to find on a page, you might be unsuccessful.

“Once Google knows a site is in the medical expert niche, they could train another neural net to spot on-page signal patterns, which correlate with a fantastic page in this sector. Again, these may not be associations that humans expect to find.

“To rank highly, SEO experts will have to become used to looking beyond simple elements like keywords and keyword associations, and instead look more deeply to the kinds of signals that are computationally achievable and correlate with a highly effective site in their niche.”

13.  BROWSER UPDATES WILL DICTATE TECHNICAL SETUPS FOR BEST RESULTS
Daniel Cuttridge, Director of Pathtorch:

“SEO is in for a lot of changes over the coming years and a lot of these have already been talked about. One area that doesn’t get enough attention is browser updates.

“Browser updates are changing the SEO landscape already and this will continue to happen because of one small change that happened in 2019.

“Starting in 2019, sites are now rendered with an evergreen version of the Chromium engine, also known as Google Chrome.

Let’s take a look at Chrome’s release history:

•  2019 – 11 releases
•  2018 –   8 releases
•  2017 –   8 releases
•  2016 –   8 releases

“We see an increase in the frequency of updates and the speed of the development cycle. The nature of these updates is also changing in nature, with browsers taking a hard line on sites with security issues, which can even result in content being blocked in extreme cases.

“This means that if you want the best results from your SEO, you’ll need to be aware of what these changes are and how they impact your websites.”

More Predictions from the SEO Experts:

➽  SHIFTING FOCUS ON REPUTATION MANAGEMENT FOR LOCAL SEO
Dan Christensen, Founder of Morningdove Marketing:

“Local SEO will focus more on reputation management than SEO. I predict that Google will increase the amount of weight that third party reviews have on local rankings. Instead of just having their local/organic blended algorithm, it will begin to let the other sites do more of the heavy lifting.”

➽  GOOGLE ASSETS WILL DOMINATE THE FIRST PAGE OF SERPs
Laurean Callander, President at Red Palm Marketing:

“Organic listings will move to the second page. Google assets (i.e., ads, Snack Pack) already take up half the page. It won’t be long before they are the entire first page and organic is squeezed out. This will reinforce the debate to advertise and that SEO alone will only get more difficult (or unattainable) for small businesses.”

➽  .EDU and .GOV PRIORITIZATION
Isuamfon Offiong, Founder of Isua Wealthy Place:

“.edu and .gov links will be more special than anything else you’ve ever seen in the backlink world in boosting a website’s ranking and domain authority.”

➽  THE RISE OF PRIVACY-FOCUSED SEARCH ENGINES
Adam Duran, Director at Magnified Media Inc.

“The rise of privacy-focused search engines like DuckDuckGo will force the SEO industry to pivot towards optimizing and creating content for ranking on those platforms — not just Google.”

➽  WRITING FOR HUMANS MEAN BETTER SEO
Jawahar Kaushal, Team Head at Escope:

“Since the BERT update emphasizes natural language processing, it makes sense to write for the reader in mind instead of writing for machines/algorithms. Merely creating the content based upon a few keywords is not going to work. The content should be easy to understand and cover the title of the article or page by using LSI Keywords.”

Final Thoughts

Despite the constant changes in search engine algorithms, factors such as well-optimized, unique content, device responsiveness and well-built site structures remain crucial elements in online success. More importantly, adhering to Google guidelines and white-hat SEO strategies ensure your campaigns deliver profitable long-term results.

“SEO experts need to think outside the box,” said Matt Deloff, CEO of FMS Online Marketing. “They need to learn to leverage Google’s properties to the clients’ benefit. If you think outside the box a bit and look at more effective ways to apply SEO, your clients and their results will thrive while everybody else is scrambling.”

SEO is a complex industry. As such, you must always stay abreast of the latest developments to ensure your campaign is on the right track.

Partner with an SEO agency that can become an integral part of your marketing department. The right SEO company will leverage actionable data to improve your online presence and contribute to your bottom line.

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