Will websites have a limited role in the future of SEO?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

There are more ways than ever to search online without a website.

Will Google, as we know it today still be around in 15 years? Strange question, some might say, but it’s worth remembering that when I started my career in SEO the big names in search were AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, Lycos and Yahoo. Change happens quickly in digital and no-one has the divine right to be around for the next decade (or two), be it Apple, Facebook or even Google.

Bill Gates was asked who he’s scared of the most, and his response was that it’s none of these, it’s the guy or girl in a garage waiting to unleash the next wave of disruptive innovation on the world.

That said, those interested in pre-empting the future of search marketing could always do worse than to look at whatever Google is currently planning. Whenever Google refine their algorithm it’s to achieve two things - to improve the relevancy of results for searchers and to make more money.

Google’s most famous updates have hit the sweet spot of achieving both:

  • Panda penalised thin content to improve quality of results and, in doing so, sought to improve Google’s market share.
  • Penguin similarly penalised link buying to kill off manipulative SEO tactics and improve Google’s customer experience. Potentially pushing marketers budgets away from SEO and towards PPC.
  • 4 PPC ads at the top of results, improving Google’s mobile experience + making more ad revenue.

Looking at where Google has been focusing over the last year gives a lot of clues on where they are heading. Mobile-centric results across all devices, including desktop, has been an important theme – and I would expect to see the range of featured snippets to continue rising in popularity, where users don’t have to click on a listing because Google shows them the answer they need within the results page. For brands, that means they need to think about how they can be in that featured snippet listing – optimizing more heavily for answer boxes, schema, local and more.

However, if we look at where the focus of SEO is today, it’s clear that while authority links are still important, there’s a whole lot more to consider in the pursuit of great SEO results moving forward. Ideas are the new currency and the goal is to make your content the best answer on the internet for a given question, across all devices and platforms.

Search unleashed

Times have changed. At my own agency, we’re no longer optimizing just for desktop and mobile search, we’re optimizing for everything. Which made me wonder: is it possible that in the future there will be no such thing as ‘websites’? After all, with things such as Google’s featured snippets available, we already have results where you don’t need to click in order to find the answer you need.

In addition, recent research suggests that mobile users increasingly prefer to engage with brands via mobile apps rather than mobile browsing, furthering the decline in importance of the traditional website. What’s more, voice search is predicted to account for 50% of all search activity by 2020, with a staggering 56 million smart speakers expected to be shipped this year alone.

Amazon has the lion’s share of the market with 69% of US sales, while Google has only 25%. However, over time, I think Google will begin to make serious ground, simply because it already knows so much more about search and how to provide customer queries with the best answers.

There’s also a growing trend in businesses such as estate agents and hotels offering customers the chance to experience spaces in advance via virtual reality and augmented reality applications and fighting to be the top result for such experiences.

None of the communication channels mentioned above need a website, so for those looking to stay ahead of the game in SEO, it’s wise to invest a small portion (say 10-15%) of your search marketing budget into R&D projects exploring new options before they are adopted by the mainstream.

Think about your users first and foremost. Who are you targeting? What do you want them to achieve? To win at SEO in 2018, you need to be the best result. This means providing great content for your users, across all devices – rather than simply having well optimized content for search engines. Most importantly, you’ll be engaging in the best way possible with your visitors. And as a by-product of this, you’ll likely be rewarded by Google for providing the best experience.

Kevin Gibbons is co-founder and CEO of content marketing agency BlueGlass

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