Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been at the heart of website owners worries for many years and will be for many more. The reason for this is because SEO is an ever-evolving activity. In this article, we will try to analyze and predict how SEO will change in the near future and look at the different aspects that affect it. In short, SEO depends essentially on three main elements: Google’s search algorithm, technological advances and human psychology. To predict the future and evolution of SEO, it is essential to examine those components.
Google’s Search Algorithm, always on the go
Google’s ranking system is all but a single process. In fact, it consists of a constellation of algorithms that work together. In the past few years, the algorithm has become so complex that even Google’s own engineers can’t fully understand it. However, there is a constant which can help us to better understand the situation, Google’s mission statement; “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
In other words, Google will always try to give the most relevant answer to a user’s question. In fact, its core business of advertisement relies on this mission statement. It’s a virtuous circle, Google makes money with the ads it serves. The better its search results, the more people will use its search engine and the more ads it can show consequently the more money it can make. It is as simple as that.
Providing for nearly 90% of the world’s web searches, Google leaves only crumbs for its competitors. It achieved this thanks to the relevance of its search results, perfecting its algorithms and its database of indexed pages so that it becomes the largest and most trustworthy. Thanks to artificial intelligence algorithms, Google also rearranges results pages to maximize their effectiveness. There has been a gradual push to offer what are called “enriched results” that often give you the answer you are looking for without even leaving the search result page. These AI algorithms have been made possible thanks to technological advancements.
Impact of Technological Advances
Technology has evolved enormously in recent years. In fact, it is growing exponentially. Not so long ago, Google has announced that it has reached Quantum Supremacy thanks to the use of quantum chips. This signifies that Google is now able to solve specific mathematical problems within 200 seconds, where a regular supercomputer would take at least several days.
Technological innovations have shaped our modern life. Today, we are more connected than ever. Alexa, Google Home, IoT devices, smartphones and tracking devices have, without a doubt, revolutionized our routine. This evolution has opened the door to rapid changes in the functionality of our devices and how we interact with them. One of those changes is the voice interface.
Our voice is the most natural way we communicate. After all, it’s the first method of communication we learn and for most of us, is as easy as thinking. Voice commands have come a long way since they first clumsily appeared in 1952 when the Audrey system, built by Bell Laboratories, could only recognize 10 spoken digits from a single voice.
Today, Google’s speech recognition can virtually recognize any word, number or even comprehend complex questions in a matter of milliseconds. In addition, it also achieves the holy grail of a +95% recognition rate. This is good enough to make it a viable alternative to the keyboard in certain scenarios. Search is one of them.
In its quest to further enhance customer experience, Google has pushed one of the most important updates to its search algorithm for the last 5 years in October 2019. BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) for natural language processing (NPL) is the answer to the increasing number of complex requests which Google receives via voice commands. This update allows Google to better understand the links between language elements in a query.
In simple terms, Google can now deliver more relevant results for Long Tail searches (more than 3 words), characteristic of voice searches. This will, according to Google, help it better understand and offer more relevant results for one in ten searches.
Featured Snippets are a component of Google’s search result pages. Being present in the digital landscape since 2014, Featured Snippets are short summaries of answers to frequently asked questions on Google’s search engine. They appear in a separate block at the top of the classic search results with a link to the site in question. Commonly, Featured Snippets are referred as the Position “0” as they appear before all organic results.
Featured Snippets are displayed and presented in different forms : tables, graphs, lists, interactive forms, etc. Featured Snippets are priceless to Google as they provide answers to specific users’ questions.
Their importance has significantly grown since launch, especially with the introduction of voice search. Indeed, queries are no longer limited to simple top tail keywords. It is now possible to “communicate with Google” thanks to voice recognition technology. Google is even able to distinguish between your usual searches and those you are doing for the very first time. Therefore, Featured Snippets are of high importance to websites and their SEO as they increase their visibility potential and open a new avenue for organic search results optimisation.
“Featured Snippets are so important for SEOs to be focusing on because they’re one of the last prominent organic SERP-features that we can take advantage of and directly impact. Not only this, but there is a strong connection between voice search responses and Featured Snippet results, especially with mobile device voice queries. In many cases, the Featured Snippet text will be read aloud as the response to a voice query. Therefore, optimizing for achieving Position 0 placements is a worthwhile strategy to be prepared for ongoing advancements in conversational search.”
SEO sits somewhere in the middle between Google’s needs and the users’ needs. As such, SEO needs to adapt not only to Google’s algorithmic changes but also to the users’ behavioral changes. This is where human psychology kicks in. At the beginning, there was Google with only its search box…
In the beginning, limited by the technology at the time, Google’s system was ingenious but not very bright. It relied heavily on specific keywords to identify relevant pages. That way, Google trained a whole generation to think hard about what they are looking for and to type only the most relevant keywords to their question.
Today, voice search changes all of this. By enabling people to use natural language, the careful selection of keywords gradually stops becoming a habit, and longer form queries flourish. In SEO terms, this means that top tail keywords are being superseded by long tail keywords.
In essence, this means that Google now has much more data to work with to find the most relevant answer to a user’s question. For instance, with a keyboard someone would type a query such as “best hiking tent”, whereas when given the opportunity to use his/her voice, the query would become more complex and yield something like “Can you find me the best tent for a 3 day hiking trip in the Alps?”. In the first query there are 2 distinct pieces of information: hiking and tent. In the voice command there are 4: tent, 3-day, hiking and Alps. The voice query has doubled the amount of information. When faced with a page about “Hiking tents” and another one about “3 day hiking tents suited for the Alps”, which one do you think Google will serve?
Voice search for e-commerce
In our fast-moving world, buying via voice is one of the most trending ways of shopping. The popularity of this societal phenomenon keeps on increasing and contributes to improving the customer experience in general. With shopping now being the third most popular use of smart speakers, many traditional retail firms are now shifting to e-commerce.
Two key factors contribute to this increase in use:
- Buying through voice is simply faster than searching on a screen device. For example, many large supermarkets now have Alexa Skills that allow you to add things to your shopping cart simply by asking for it, greatly speeding up your usually tedious weekly shopping.
- Voice shopping is completely accessible. Instead of having to take your phone out of your pocket, unlock it, find an application, and then wait for it to charge, voice technology allows you to shop in a matter of moments. Voice shopping has the huge advantage of limiting friction between customers and products.
At Verbolia, we understand this phenomenon. This is why for the past months, we have been perfecting and extending our SEO-as-a-Service solution to e-commerce websites. We firmly believe that our SEO solutions can assist e-commerce businesses to reach higher horizons by helping them getting perfect automated landing pages fully optimized for SEO long tail queries.
To wrap up, we would like to stress that technology has allowed us to interact with our devices through natural language which has gradually transformed the structure of our queries. In turn, Google is also evolving to offer more and more focused and tailored results to these types of queries. In the end SEO specialists need to take this into account and offer well defined and focused content to answer those spoken questions more precisely if they want to rank well on Google’s search results pages.
In short, the future of SEO is long tail.
Contributors: Olivier Tahir & Melvin Cunjamalay