People have been claiming that the “death” of SEO is right around the corner since… well, since SEO began. When Google started cracking down on initial rounds of spammers, many in the then-exclusive SEO community began insisting that webmasters would one day soon have no control over search rankings. After Google Panda and Penguin, these fears reawakened as thousands of business owners saw their rankings plummet.
Despite all this, SEO is alive and well today—it just has a few more requirements and a few more obstacles. It’s difficult to imagine a world where SEO simply isn’t possible, simply because traditional search has become so ingrained in the traditional user’s web experience, but as technology becomes more developed, the true death of SEO is a realistic possibility.
Currently, there are five growing threats against the world of SEO as we know it, and the better prepared you are against them, the better poised you’ll be when the fundamentals of traditional search are turned on their heads:
The Knowledge Graph is Google’s way of getting more information directly to consumers. While the traditional search involves users seeking information, browsing through a number of different sources, then finding that information on one of those sources, the Knowledge Graph aims to cut out the middle man, providing users with information immediately. Currently, the Knowledge Graph is restricted to a handful of categories of information, such as events, famous people, and works of art—you can see it as a small box off to the right when you search for one of these things. However, the Knowledge Graph is always expanding, and it may one day replace traditional search results altogether for a number of different kinds of queries. Who would want to browse through search results when the answers are right in front of you? To prepare, start implementing org markups, and be on the lookout for how the Knowledge Graph evolves.
Apps are increasing in both popularity and practicality. Because mobile devices are smaller and are used in more immediate situations while on-the-go, users are preferring information generated and functionality presented by apps (as opposed to traditional websites). In response to this, Google is starting to index apps the same way it indexes websites—and it’s even integrating app functionality into Google Now and other Google services. Eventually, if users wholly rely on individual apps for their functional online needs, websites themselves will become obsolete. Imagine—the world won’t have web browsers or websites. The only search functions you’ll need are searches within those individual apps and searches to find the apps to download. To prepare, get an app for your business and start building relationships with other popular apps.
In addition to fueling the rise of apps in popularity and usage, wearable technology could present its own threat to SEO. Currently, smart watches are taking center stage as the next-generation device of choice, but more integrated forms of tech (like a newer version of Google Glass) will go further in blurring the lines between reality and the digital world. Because these devices will stream information in real-time, operate via voice commands, and give information based on the world in front of us rather than the world as it exists online, traditional forms of search would no longer be necessary. To be fair, these generations of augmented reality devices are still years, if not decades, away from development. Still, you can prepare by making sure your business is up-to-date and being ready to integrate new forms of technology into your physical location.
It seems unlikely today, but it’s entirely possible that SEO will fold in on itself. Already, competition in the SEO world has grown to a level where ranking for popular national keywords is certifiably impossible for any emerging brand. As a result, most modern businesses are flocking to local-specific keywords for shelter from the competition. However, competition there will only increase, and there isn’t anywhere else to go. The more competitive the environment gets, the more expensive and time-consuming it will be to rank, making it nearly impossible to rank organically without a massive budget. It may even cease to be cost effective for any business to pursue SEO—provided the competitive landscape grows to be that dense. This is another scenario unlikely to pan out in the next few years, but in the context of decades, it’s a legitimate possibility.
Google’s search ranking algorithms are already ridiculously complex. Because they’re a proprietary secret, there’s no telling how complex they are, but we do know that Google’s semantic search process is able to analyze the intent behind user queries, and its Penguin extension can detect whether a link was built naturally or built with the intention to increase rank. As time goes on, these algorithms will only become more complex and more diverse, eventually being able to form conclusions far more advanced than any human. All this is to say that Google may one day win the war against search optimizers and be able to detect precisely when someone is trying to manipulate their own rank, thereby rendering any SEO strategy ineffective. By the time this happens, new forms of search will likely take the place of traditional web searches, but algorithms of this level of sophistication are still worth considering.
These threats aren’t immediate, nor are they specifically threatening. They are branches of technology that might incidentally decrease the need for consumers to use traditional search methods to find information—maybe decreasing that need to zero eventually. Still, SEO will only die as much as its name, when “search engines” cease to become the primary way people find information. If apps take over the world in place of traditional websites, SEO might evolve into AIO, or “app integration optimization” or if the knowledge graph starts showcasing branded results, it might evolve into KGO as “knowledge graph optimization.”
SEO might very well die within the next decade as these technologies continue to develop, but the practice of increasing your brand’s visibility through technology will never go away. As long as you stay sharp and adapt your business to these new emerging trends, you’ll be able to stay relevant in the increasingly complex digital age.