Do you want the good news or the bad news?
For a couple of years now, key industry commentators have been trying to convince us that SEO is dead and, by and large, we’ve ignored them. Our faith in search isn’t entirely insane – recent research has found that:
- 33% of clicks from organic search results go to the first listing
- 57% of marketers say SEO has the biggest impact on lead generation
- Organic search leads have a 14.6% close rate, compared to 1.7% for outbound marketing leads
So who’s right? The rise of social media and mobile apps combined with changes to the design of SERPs has lead to users looking elsewhere for product information and answers to their questions. But just because organic exposure is harder to catch, doesn’t mean we should stop chasing it.
As user behaviour and Google’s algorithm continues to evolve, we take a look at the search trends which look set to change how we advertise forever.
New Search Interfaces
These days, discovering information isn’t limited to queries on a keyboard. Every new search interfaces threatens to undermine and lessen the influence of traditional SEO:
Most people still prefer typed search queries over personal assistants like Siri or Cortana; they are invariably quicker and more reliable. That said, game-changing devices like the Amazon Echo are delivering increasingly better and more personalised responses.
By allowing for real-time interaction, social media is changing the face of customer service. To improve the experience for both brands and customers, social networks have started to introduce chatbots. These handy robots could soon overtake search engines as the most popular avenue for finding products or information.
By learning about user habits and behaviour, pre-search interfaces will remove the need to search for things like food and entertainment, sending recommendations in advance based on variables like location and time of day.
For facts you might search Wikipedia. For products, it might be Amazon; for local business recommendations, Yelp. In many cases, search engines are being skipped altogether in favour of sites tailor-made to answer specific questions and queries.
Advice for marketers? Focus your efforts on the search interfaces likely to draw in the most relevant users. Got a restaurant? Encouraging your customers to leave a review on Yelp might be more beneficial than an all-out attack on Google.
We’re not saying you should neglect your SEO altogether. Simple techniques like using structured data can help towards future-proofing your site. It’s also worth remembering that new search interfaces may only consume a small percentage of queries.
New Ad Formats
Marketers wanting to boost SEO reach should be mindful of Google’s seemingly incessant experimentation with new ad formats – great in terms of giving users a better experience, rubbish for marketers who are struggling to keep up as new search trends divert traffic away from organic results. Examples include:
Having already been trialled in a limited rollout, Google has been looking at giving users the ability to make purchases directly through Product Listing Ads (PLAs). It might not be long before all shopping queries are met with endless product cards and the option to buy from major online retailers without leaving Google’s own interface. As a result, organic listings easily be ignored.
Google’s new home services ad program in AdWords Express, enables local users to easily find help in the form of tradespeople such as locksmith and carpenters etc. The convenience of these ads along with Google reviews and ratings will make local SEO efforts even tougher.
Now that Google has introduced a new ad interface where you can literally play apps without having to download them, one has to wonder what else search will be capable of in the future, i.e. will it allow users to look at organic links without clicking through?
Google fast and effective flight search interface earns twice as much travel-related revenue as Expedia. Going forward, other sites will inevitably struggle to generate clicks at the same level.
Google has launched mobile search ads for automotive manufacturers in the US that provides users with details about specific cars and where dealerships can be found. These rich and informative interfaces could soon be seen for other high-value products and services such as credit cards and mortgages.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Google has no reason to stop developing rich ad interfaces and can convince users to turn off ad blockers with its increasingly user-friendly experience.
You now have a choice to make – Do you forget beating them and join them by embracing (and paying for) the relevant formats? Or do you adjust to the new landscape and commit more to on-site experiences than battling it out in organic search?
A New Google
The big one – there is an increasing chance that Google’s increasing intelligence will remove the need for SEO altogether. No matter what your site does to meet algorithmic requirements, Google will simply rank it according to your ability to satisfy user intent. In other words, user experience will become indistinguishable from SEO.
However likely you think this scenario is, it still makes sense to ensure your site provides each and every user with a worthwhile experience and doesn’t just pander to the omnipotence of Google. It’s not all doom and gloom, Google’s symbiotic relationship with the world of marketing might just mean SEO lives happily ever after.