The Future of SEO
The world of SEO is full of differing opinions and theories. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that SEO has changed a lot since Google first unveiled their search engine in 1998.
[guest post by Sam Williamson]
For all the change that has come in the past, our world has become a bit stagnant recently. SEO has become – dare I say it – a bit boring. Don’t get me wrong; in this industry, boring is definitely a good thing. But if I hear one more person telling me that content is the future of SEO I’m going to throw my laptop in the bin and live in the woods.
Luckily, we can’t get settled just yet. The world of SEO is set for some big changes in the not-so-distant future, and marketers have to start becoming familiar with these changes if they want to avoid being left behind. Here are some of the advancements in SEO that are right around the corner:
Google is already pretty good at knowing where we are at any given time, but they’re about to get a whole lot better (and creepier). We can already use Google to help us find our way locally, but hyper localization takes this feature to a new level. In theory, we’ll be able to use Google to find our way around physical locations like airports, malls and possibly even supermarkets.
This begs the question, ‘how the heck are we going to optimize for these kinds of searches? And is there really any benefit?’ It might seem like there is little reason for SEOs to be interested in optimizing for hyperlocal searches, but in the right hands it could present a great opportunity for businesses. Take the supermarket example; a shopper might search Google for ‘where is the milk?’ at which point you could present them with the directions to the milk aisle along with an ad for your particular brand of milk.
The main problem facing hyperlocal search is that Google can’t exactly drive the Google Street View Car around shops and airports to create a digital map of the environment as easily as it drives around the world to create Google Maps. And the sight of a member of staff from Google carrying a large camera around an airport might make people feel slightly concerned. Luckily, that’s where beacons come in.
Beacons are discreet devices able to transmit low energy Bluetooth signals that can be picked up by devices with the same technology nearby. They can be easily attached to walls and floors around buildings, and users with Bluetooth enabled on their device can connect to them and have information transmitted to their device. For hyperlocal search, this information could be a digital map of the environment that the user is in.
I know what you’re thinking; Bluetooth is the future? Really? It might seem a bit odd to use Bluetooth for this purpose, but it is by far the easiest way of transmitting the information. Beacons that relied on Wi-Fi would be affected by any number of external factors like poor signal and having too many users connected to the signal at once.
This technology might sound slightly familiar, especially if you’re aware of QR codes. But there’s a key factor separating QR codes and beacons – ease of use. QR codes required you to download an app, fiddle about with your phone and usually required a Wi-Fi signal just to gain access to the content you were looking for. Alternatively, beacons are far more straightforward to use. Just leave your Bluetooth on and the content will come straight to your phone – no fiddling needed.
So what do beacons mean for hyperlocal SEO? Because they can be installed in physical locations and because they can pinpoint your exact location, beacons are an exciting prospect for SEO. Essentially, beacon technology could help us find answers to hyperlocal queries where we can’t rely on Wi-Fi. So searches like the milk example above would be carried out exclusively through Bluetooth, as Wi-Fi can’t travel as easily through walls and would be significantly slower.
So will we still be using Google for these searches? Google certainly hopes so. In July 2015, the company released their beacon profile Eddystone, with the intention of dominating beacon search before it’s even taken off. They’ll definitely be up against some stiff competition (namely Apple, who released their ‘iBeacon’ way back in 2013), but if we can trust any company to master beacon search, we can trust Google.
I’ve left implicit search until last because it’s the aspect of SEO in the future that scares me the most. I can deal with Bluetooth signals helping me find milk, but AI technology predicting what I’m going to search before I’ve even started typing? That is a bit too Skynet for my liking.
The truth is that implicit search has been around for a while now. You might notice that if you search for something vague like ‘restaurants’, Google will provide you with restaurants in your specific area. This isn’t just luck; Google is showing you personalized results based on your location, the device you’re using and any demographic information that the search engine knows about you.
But this is just the beginning for implicit search. According to the co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, their aim for Google has always been to provide users with information ‘as you needed it’. Essentially, Google wants to help you in every aspect of your life – whether you’re looking for a nearby restaurant or whether you want to find a receipt for a t-shirt you bought last month.
So what does this mean for SEO? Contrary to popular belief, this will probably make our jobs even harder. There will be certain searches that – try as might – we simply won’t be able to rank for. Depending on locations, devices and demographics, users will have different results for different queries. It’s going to be a bit of a headache.
However, there is some hope for us to cling onto. Firstly, I believe that social signals will become more important than ever. Google wants to provide people with personalized searches, and one of the best ways to get a good idea of what a person likes is to check out their social media profiles. Google is trying to get an idea of what people want before they’ve even searched, so we’ll have to follow suit and start studying social media closely.
Is the future of SEO bright?
Absolutely. For far too long, people have been able to manipulate search results and rank almost anything they want with the right mix of tools and tactics. Although this has slowly become harder over the past few years, it is still prevalent. The rise of beacon technology and implicit search will hopefully help to put an end to this manipulation and create fairer, more honest and more useful SERPS.
SEO will still be important, but we have to be ready to adapt. Our jobs are undoubtedly going to be slightly different, and I predict a reduced emphasis on links and an increased emphasis on social signals and on page content for the future.
** About the author: Sam Williamson works for Aims Media Design Glasgow, a web design and digital marketing agency based in the UK.