SEO is as unpredictable as a hurricane.
What you might assume is a Category 1 change to Google’s algorithm can end up being a Category 5 issue—one that will cause huge problems to your site, keyword rankings and organic traffic.
It’s that unpredictability that many SEOs hate.
Nobody knows where SEO is heading, which makes strategy and planning very difficult.
Luckily for you, you don’t have to navigate that path by yourself.
The Future of SEO: 14 Experts Share Their Predictions for 2019 and Beyond
That’s right: I’ve reigned in 14 SEO experts to share their predictions for the future of SEO.
…Aren’t I kind?
Best of all, these experts have been in the SEO world for years. They’ve kept up-to-date with emerging trends—and some have even jumped on them to see great results.
Here’s what they think SEOs should focus on in 2019 and beyond:
Focus on Speed and the “On-the-Go” Mentality
Do you feel like you’re always on the go, and never have time to relax?
Chris Smith, Outreach Team Leader at Equator, told me why he thinks this behavioral shift will play a huge role in the future of SEO:
“I think the future of SEO lies in speed! Many SEOs might think that this just begins and ends with site speed, but, there’s actually a lot more to it.
Because of the advancements in consumer technology, we’re connected wherever we go—and this has allowed users to adopt a fast-paced, ‘on-the-go’ mentality, whether they are on the move or not! Simply put, if your site; your content; your answer can’t be accessed quickly, then it’s going to be overlooked.
This is why we need to think beyond site speed.
The content that we are creating needs to be coherent, yet informative. The way in which we are presenting it needs to be fast, yet effective. We need to give the user exactly what they are looking for, in the shortest time possible. And they need to be able to access it—whether it be an organic search or through internal linking—as quickly as possible.
Otherwise, they just aren’t interested.
47% of users don’t wait longer than two seconds for a page to load, and a similar mentality can and should be applied to them finding what they are looking for once they are on the page.
As much as we need to understand what the user wants to know, it is paramount that we also understand how they are accessing it, and why.”
Solve the Pogo-Stick Problem
How many times have you clicked on a URL in your list of search results, only to head straight back to the SERPs when you realize it’s not the information you’re looking for?
Vytautas Palovis, SEO Team Lead at Oberlo, told me how solving the pogo-stick problem is the future of SEO:
“My main prediction for SEO in 2019 is that website owners will focus even more on optimizing their website’s content to match the user’s search intent.
Gone are the days when backlinks and keyword density were the only things you needed to focus on. SEO has evolved and search engines are more sophisticated, which means that SEO is becoming more interesting and dynamic.
I think one of Google’s main goals is to solve the pogo-stick problem and to further improve the user experience on their search engine.
Nobody enjoys clicking 10 different search results before finding what they’re looking for. Google tries to deal with this by introducing a bunch of new search engine features every year, such as featured snippets, the knowledge panel, ‘People Also Ask’ boxes—all these features were invented to help users find information faster, with a better user experience.
Now it’s no longer a game of who will win a place on the first page on Google SERP. If you call yourself a true SEO expert, you need to care about all the above new features and try to be visible everywhere.
Another thing that plays a role is how relevant your content is. Google is able to understand user’s search intent much better than previous years. That’s why we’re starting to see more and more image packs and video carousels on Google search results.
If you want to rank for some particular search queries, just Google those keywords yourself and look at what type of content appears on the first Google SERP.
If it’s an image, you should probably create an infographic. If it’s a video, it means you need to have video content in order to rank well for that search query. Or, if it’s a mix of everything, it means you need to create a comprehensive article which should include visuals, video and text.
The authority of a web page is becoming an increasingly important factor. Nowadays, everyone tries to fight fake news. Google does the same, but Google also cares about fresh content.
Domain authority and fresh content is a deadly but successful mix when it comes to SEO.
My advice would be to show some love for your old content, refresh it, keep it up to date, and Google will reward you with traffic in the long run.”
Start Presenting Smarter Information Without Using a Query
You’ve seen the blog posts that tell you how important content marketing is in the SEO world.
Katherine Watier Ong, Founder of WO Strategies, told me how presenting smarter information (rather than your typical blog post) is the future of SEO:
“Google’s future is focused on two factors that impact marketers.
The first is presenting information to users without them using a query. This is powered by their understanding and use of entities, natural language processing (NLP), and artificial intelligence.
They’ll be showing these cards based on previous search queries. To appear, it’s even more critical to ensure content is marked up with structured data.
Secondly, Google is focused on discovering the answer to a searcher’s question even if it exists within the middle of a video file, audio file, or an image.
For the first two, creating scripts with entities and NLP in mind is critical, along with transcripts that match the flow of the copy on your associated landing page. Also, confirm that Google can access video and audio files if you host them on your website via XML sitemap files and structured data markup.
For image files, labeling (files and pages), page placement, landing page quality and structured markup is important.
Searches without a screen (both image and voice) are predicted to be 50% of searches by 2020, and Google is working hard to surface those content types—which are new areas of optimization for SEOs.”
Dale Davies, Head of Digital Strategy at Exposure Ninja, agrees. He says:
“The future of search will see businesses moving from creating general informational content for the purpose of ranking for all and any keywords to a sales funnel-focused content approach, both on and offsite.
Consumers have always shopped around before making a purchase, and in the very near future, that period of research and information gathering will expand in length. Consumers will rely less upon the facts and statistics provided by a business and will opt instead to external channels for product or service validation.
A business’s product or service will be purchased based upon the scrutiny of not just the purchaser, but external reviewers also.
That means that to sell one product, a business has to convince three or four different people first—people who the potential purchaser will confer with in the form of video and text mediums via social, owned and earned channels. Only after that will they make the final decision to purchase.
At this stage, the consumer will use branded transactional searches to make their final purchase. However even at this stage, they may not be drawn to making the purchase directly through the business, opting to happily complete their sale with trusted retailers both online and offline.
The future focus of search marketers will be on ensuring that their information is accessible via offsite channels (but backed up and findable via their owned domains), and to increase brand awareness, search frequency and brand trust.”
Three times a cheer, right? Here’s Martin Williams, SEO Manager at AO.com, explaining his prediction:
“As customers change the way they search, search engines are beginning to change the way they present search results.
Google’s 20th birthday announcement of their vision for the future suggests that they want to move on from being a signpost for the best content on the web to being curators of the best content. The shift from “queries” to “journeys” and a desire to provide information without queries is relegating organic search content down the page.
Try it for yourself—type “Paul Hollywood” into your mobile and the traditional organic search results are probably not shown until the third page of scrolling.
In the past, SEO has focused on getting target keywords into the top 10 rankings, to show on page 1 of a desktop search. Here at AO, we think SEOs will spend most of their time in the future figuring out how to feature in a search engines’ rich results, in voice search and visual search. Every day is a school day!”
Think About Voice Search to Hit Google’s Direct Answers Box
Voice search software, like Google Home or Amazon Alexa, take information from Google’s Direct Answers box and replay it to the searcher. Here’s what the Direct Answers box looks like for PC searchers:
Keri Lindenmuth, Marketing Manager at Kyle David Group, told me how a focus on voice search should also mean a focus on reaching Google’s Direct Answers box:
“With the popularity of voice search devices, like Siri or Alexa, expect SEO experts to start accounting for this by reworking site content to directly answer questions someone may ask Siri out loud.
For example, an internet user may ask their device, “What are dental implants?” An SEO writer for a dentistry site should start reworking content into a question and answer format to answer this question and others a user may ask.
SEO experts are going to have to start studying their users and brainstorming the kind of questions they may ask their devices.
In the case of the dentistry site, users may ask questions like “What are dentures?,” “Are dental implants expensive?,” “What are crowns made out of?,” etc.
These questions should act as page headings on a website. Then, short paragraphs of content should directly answer these questions (“Dentures are…,” “Dental implants cost…,” “Crowns are made out of…”).
Content that is brief and utilizes lists and bullets work best because it is simple for devices to read aloud and easier for users to digest.
Google’s already starting to take this change into account on the search results page. Google’s Direct Answers pull question and answer content from sites and display it high above the rest of the search results, increasing traffic and awareness. This content is displayed in a separate, highlighted box at the top of the page with a link to more information on the website source.”
Kick Off a Voice and Visual Data Hybrid
Voice search is on the rise—as is visual data. Users don’t want to sit down and type a question into their search engines; they want to speak to a machine buddy and have their questions answered.
Steve Toth, SEO Manager at FreshBooks, told me how this hybrid will change the future of SEO entirely:
“The future of SEO might be the combination of voice and visual data. Speakable schema markup is just starting to take shape, and although a lot of people are saying that voice will kill search, Google has vested interest in making sure that doesn’t happen.
Voice may be the quickest way to ask a question, but reading/skimming is still the fastest way to consume content. Video is also great and will continue to grow as a popular medium. So I think that including speakable schema and writing conversationally will ultimately future-proof your content.
When I was at Think With Google’s Toronto event in spring 2018, they highlighted that “for me” searches were up 50% year over year. These are searches like “what’s the best haircut for me?”
Five years ago, “near me” searches saw exponential growth and it became generally accepted that Google knew where you were, whereas in the future, the expectation may be that Google knows who you are!
It’s an interesting thing to think about. My wife is a high school teacher and she told me that her students very much think of Google as a person in their lives. They literally think Google is listening via their phone’s mic, constantly learning about them, etc. At least the latter is certainly true!”
Get a Handle on Artificial Intelligence-Informed Decisions
Concerned that the world will be taken over by robots?
Sarah Hancock, SEO Manager at Best Company, predicts that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will weave its way into SEO strategies of the future:
“In my opinion, the future of SEO lies with artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Over the next several years, Google’s machine learning framework, RankBrain, will get better and better at discerning the user intent behind every search query, so brands that focus on optimizing user experience and adding real value by addressing people’s search intents, needs and questions directly will win.
To go along with this, content marketing will also become more and more prevalent. As semantic search continues to rise, the goal is and will continue to be to cover an entire topic rather than zoning in on a specific keyword.
If you want a page to rank higher, you’ll need to focus more and more on content strategy rather than keyword density.
Google will continue to roll out new snippets in the SERPs, so learning how to secure those snippets and use them to your advantage will become increasingly important for SEO.
However, snippets can be a double-edged sword because many of them are intended to give searchers answers right there in the SERPs without having to click through to your website, so figuring out how to win visibility through snippets without losing traffic will be an obstacle for SEOs going forward.
Inbound links will continue to be an important ranking factor, but SEO tactics aiming to game the system—such as spammy link building and keyword stuffing—will become obsolete.”
Pete Winter, Managing Partner at Tomorrow People, agrees:
“For me, AI is the future of SEO. With the ongoing improvements to Google’s RankBrain algorithm and its ability to understand semantic search queries and user intent, we are headed to a much more personalized and predictive set of search results.
Couple this with the growth of voice related search (think Alexa or Siri), and what will be a likely impact on “keyword”-focused SEO strategies moving to more of a focus on providing rich and relevant content.”
Stop Worrying About Dofollow Vs. Nofollow
Dofollow links are much more powerful than nofollow links, right? At least that’s what we thought.
But as Joe Goldstein, Director of SEO and Operations at Contractor Calls says, that line between dofollow and nofollow link value may become even more blurred in the upcoming months:
“I think it’s a safe bet that the value of a nofollow and a dofollow link will converge over time.
#1 ranked pages on Google already have backlink profiles that are 20-40% nofollow, which suggests that they already provide some value.
It’s arguable whether this value is to show that the page belongs to a healthy brand that also invests in social media and paid advertising (which should provide nofollow links), or whether the nofollow links pass some PageRank or similar value metric, but the fact that pages with 0% nofollow profiles are underperforming is worth noting.
Over the last few years, major publishers like Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc have moved to a policy of nofollowing all external links, which should invalidate large parts of the link graph in their markets. Other platforms such as Huffington Post have basically shut down their guest publishing tools in an attempt to stop link manipulation, while many “mom bloggers” have moved from allowing free guest posts to only accepting paid ones.
If this trend continues, it will narrow the field of available high-quality domains with external dofollow links to such a laughably small number that the graph of nofollow links would no longer resemble the internet’s actual link graph.
Thanks to 2004’s reasonable surfer patent, we already know that Google does not value all outbound links equally, regardless of nofollow tags.
At this point, it shouldn’t be a stretch to think that Google can decide which nofollow links should be treated as dofollow and vice versa, or that some nofollow links could carry a degree of PageRank.”
Build a Brand, Rather Than Following an Algorithm
All SEOs are guilty of algorithm hunting. Whether you’ve noticed a change in your rankings or read news from an SEO blog, algorithms are what help us to rank—meaning they’re important, right?
Syed Farhan Raza, Founder at The Inbound Crew, doesn’t think so:
“The future of SEO revolves around a much better version of artificial intelligence, machine learning, voice, and of course, the user experience. The recent release of RankBrain gives us a glimpse of that.
Voice is going to be much more relevant. It’s not just voice search but the 360-degree voice content that includes voice queries in search engines, voice content (podcasts), and voice in videos.
Shout-outs in podcasts and videos and voice/video testimonials are going to be the backlinks of the future.
The AI and machine learning of the future would make search engines very, very smart, and it would be tough to crack the algorithm. The only right way to approach SEO would be to build a brand in your space that anyone and everyone is talking about, as it comes down to who and how many are talking about your brand.
The bottom line:
Stop caring about the algorithm and build a strong brand that everyone in your space loves and talks about here and there.”
Adapt to 2 Major SEO Changes
Remember what I said about following Google’s ever-changing algorithm?
Brendan Hufford, SEO Director at Clique Studios, told me how he predicts two of those algorithm changes will affect how we do SEO entirely:
“It’s become clear to most SEOs that search is changing. The future of SEO will be our reaction to:
- Lower Search CTR: Google offers more options to keep users in search until they click an advertisement. Additionally, Google siphons website content for quick answers. This leaves no reason for searchers to click through to the site.
- Search Volume Plateaus: Google already owns the vast majority of search. It’s likely they’ve already reached their peak user count.
With lower search volume and lower search CTR, SEOs will need to make three big investments:
1. Content: If you want to rank at the top of search, your content needs to (at least) be the best thing on the internet for your topic.
2. Conversion: With fewer and fewer visitors from search, conversion matters more than ever.
3. Client Education: Most SEOs will miss this (at first). Having a systematized way to explain the above changes will pay dividends.
In the long run, Google cares about one thing: their user. If people stop using Google because it’s muddled with ads and distractions, Google will drop those SERP features.”
Don’t (Ever) Forget About User Experience
I don’t want to sound like I’m repeating myself, but if there are two words that sum up our expert quotes so far, it’s user experience.
Sam Carr, SEO Manager at PPC Protect, told me how (and why) a user’s experience with your site should remain your top priority:
“I think the future of SEO is going to be all about user experience and how a user interacts with a page. If it’s a positive interaction and experience then the page rankings will increase, while if it’s a bad experience, with a short dwell time for example, then the page rankings will decrease.
I believe this will slowly start to become the main factor for ranking pages, with less weight being put on backlinks.
After all, Google’s mission is to display the most relevant and helpful pages to a user. But at the moment I believe the current way in which Google does this is not perfect, as it can still be manipulated.
Google already monitor and capture a lot of user metrics through their search engine, Chrome browser and analytics tracking such as the average bounce rate, time on page and pages per session.
In the long run, I think they will certainly put more emphasis on these factors as they are harder to fake and spam compared to their current SEO ranking factors.
This means that SEO managers will have to make sure that their web pages are giving users the best experience possible while answering all their questions. To make this work, SEO managers will be investing a lot more time, resources and money into crafting the perfect page.”
The Future of SEO Is Coming
Whether you like it or not, SEO is changing.
I asked Sujan Patel, Voila Norbert & Mailshake Co-founder, to shed some light on why you need to keep ahead with SEO trends:
“The SEO industry is alive and kicking and I don’t see that changing, at least not in the next three to five years.
Links aren’t everything in SEO, but I do believe that backlinks will still be important, even though Google are constantly changing the algorithm.
Consumers use mobile search more than the search on desktops and laptops, and it’s safe to say that this trend will only increase. More and more companies will invest in mobile SEO, investing in the user experience and mobile friendliness of their sites.
The marketing landscape is ever-changing and growing, especially with advances in technology. It’s important for marketers to stay on top of SEO advances in the future to keep them ahead of the rest of the pack.”
As you can see, the future of SEO is a mix of things.
But whether you’re starting to make the most out of AI and machine learning software or focusing on voice search, one thing stands:
Jumping on to these SEO trends before your competitors do is bound to help you reach the top spots!
Remember to focus on user experience, and give real humans the best possible experience when they’re visiting your site.
All of our SEO experts touched on the importance of user experience, so keep it at the front of your mind and you’ll soon be ranking on page 1!