The Future SEO: Boardroom edition

30-second summary:

  • SEO’s dynamic nature and Google’s mysterious algorithm specifics keep the industry on its toes
  • Is it possible to simply spot the inefficiencies of SEO in its infancy and foresee trends?
  • With over 20 years of leadership roles, SEO pioneer Kris Jones taps into his experience to help SEOs derive more strategic value.

Pretty much anytime we speak about something’s future, we’re doing something called extrapolating. By definition, gathering involves extending existing data or trends to assume the same procedure will continue in the future. It’s a form of the scientific method that we probably use every day in our own lives, quite reasonably, too: the summers will be hot, the downtown traffic will be bad at 9 AM, and the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

But how can we look into the future of something as complex and ever-changing as SEO? As with all cases of hindsight, we are clear on how SEO began and how it has transformed over time.

We see the inefficiencies of SEO in its infancy and how advancing search engines have altered the playing field.

The catch is this: how can we surmise about the future of SEO without having access to all the mysterious algorithm specifics that Google itself holds?

The answer is simple: we have to extrapolate.

I’ve seen SEO from the boardroom perspective for more than 20 years. I’ve seen the old days of keyword stuffing to the semi-modernization of the late 2000s to the absolute beast that Google has become now, in the 2020s.

Given that, where do I think SEO is going in the not-too-distant future? Here are some thoughts on that.

User intent will remain crucial.

One aspect of SEO that is essential right now and will become more vital as time goes on is user intent in search queries.

It’s an antiquated view to think that Google still cares much about exact-match keywords. Maybe 15 to 20 years ago, getting keywords precisely right in your content was a huge deal. Google matched queries to corresponding word strings in range and then served the best of that content to a user.

Today, trying to optimize for exact-match keywords is a futile effort, as Google now understands the intent behind every query, and it’s only going to get better at it as time goes by.

If you recall Google’s BERT update from late 2019, you’ll remember that this was the change that allowed Google to comprehend the context of each search query or the meaning behind the words themselves. And the latest Multitask Unified Model (MUM) update adds further depth and dimensions to understanding search intent.

No longer does Google look only at the words “family attractions.” It knows that that query references children’s activities, fun activities, and generally lighthearted and innocent events.

And all of that came from two words. How did Google do it? Its consistent algorithm updates have allowed it to think like a human.

All of this is to say that user intent has to be part of your keyword and content strategy going forward when you’re doing SEO.

Produce more evergreen content

Sometimes, over the years, I have heard people mention that devising an effective content marketing strategy is difficult. As soon as a topic’s period of relevance is over, that content will never rank again. Use your data to analyze content performance and strike the right balance between content and formats.

If you don’t know any more about this subject, you might be tempted to believe that. Maybe, at one time, you got a content piece entitled “Top Furniture Brands of 2019” to rank for the featured snippet. That makes sense. The post was probably a long listicle that described the best brands and linked out to the manufacturers’ websites or retail stores that carried those brands.

But maybe, as spring of 2019 transitioned into fall and winter, that post fell way down the rankings and now can’t be found anywhere anymore.

The reason is apparent: you haven’t made the content evergreen. The best furniture brands of 2019 may not be the best brands of 2020 or 2021, or 2022. So, what do you do? You put the work in to make the blog post evergreen by updating it. Go through and change out the best brands, change the content, change the post’s title, and then republish the post.

You can also just plain focus on subjects that will seldom need any updating at all:

  • “Top 20 Christmas cookies to bake this year.”
  • “How to train a dog.”
  • “10 Steps for Hanging Heavy Objects on the Wall.”

Whether it’s 2021 or 2050, or 2100, there will be people who have never hung a thing on a wall before and will need some help online.

Whatever your market niche is, do some topic research in Answer the Public, Semrush, or BuzzSumo to find relevant subjects for you. You can also mine the SERPs to see what kinds of content are ranking already for your desired topics. Just remember to mix in plenty of evergreen content with your more timely content posts. Google will reward you for it.

Mobile will remain first.

This final point is about mobile-first indexing, but you likely already know about that. It’s certainly no secret that Google is going to rank your website’s mobile version when it crawls your pages. About 60 percent of all searches are now performed on mobile devices, so Google now prioritizes a site’s mobile web pages over the desktop versions.

As I said, you knew all that.

Some people still may not know that Google’s new Core Web Vitals should be a significant part of your mobile page optimizations.

The Core Web Vitals are primarily a web-dev task. Overall, the three vitals work together to give users positive, seamless experiences when they access a web page.

The vitals are Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), and First Input Delay (FID).

CLS refers to the amount of moving around that a web page’s content does before it actually loads fully.

If you have a high CLS, that’s bad. It means some elements are appearing before the page loads all the way, which increases the chances of a user clicking on something that then moves elsewhere. That, in turn, means the user will probably click on something unintended.

LCP, meanwhile, is the time it takes for a page’s content to appear. It specifically refers to the amount of time between when you click on a URL and when the majority of that URL’s content seems for you to see.

Finally, FID measures how long it takes users to interact with a web page in any way. These actions could be typing in a field or clicking menu items.

Even if you don’t work in web development, you can see how practical these three measures are. They all take user experience into account, which, coincidentally, is why they are part of Google’s more extensive 2021 Page Experience update.

The Core Web Vitals are essential in and of themselves, but I think my “boardroom” perspective on them is one we can all safely adopt: they are just examples of more great things to come from Google.

The search engine giant is always thinking of new ways to give users better, more helpful, and more positive experiences on its platform. As SEOs, we need to respond so we don’t get left in the dust.

To know the future, look to the past.

We know that extrapolation can be taken only so far, but that’s why the past is so vital to understand. It can give us hints at what lies ahead.

What will Google think of next? It’s going to respond to whatever need is out there for improved online search experiences.

Think of 2020, when the pandemic was in its infancy. People needed information, and Google responded. Within months, you could tell whether restaurants required masks indoors, how many virus cases were in your county, and where you could go for more information or help.

What, then, is the future of SEO? It’s going to be whatever the masses need it to become.

Kris Jones is the founder and former CEO of digital marketing and affiliate network Pepperjam, which he sold to eBay Enterprises in 2009. Most recently, Kris founded SEO services and software company LSEO.com and has previously invested in numerous successful technology companies. Kris is an experienced public speaker and is the author of one of the best-selling SEO books of all time called ‘Search-Engine Optimization – Your Visual Blueprint to Effective Internet Marketing, which has sold nearly 100,000 copies.

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Tyson Houlding
Tyson Houlding is a 28-year-old associate at a law firm who enjoys walking, writing, and learning new languages. He is creative and bright, but can also be very unfriendly and a bit lazy.He is an Australian Christian who defines himself as straight. He has a post-graduate degree in law.