What changes are ahead for SEO in 2016? From the rise of social search to a shift in who enters the field, columnist Benjamin Spiegel predicts what we should expect to see.
In the world of SEO, 2015 was relatively quiet. Sure, search marketers had a plethora of algorithm updates, constantly evolving snippets, instant answers and ever-changing metrics to contend with, but SEO practitioners are used to that pace of change.
However, with conversations in the first quarter of this year still swirling around ad blocking and earned versus owned media, I believe that going forward, 2016 will be a very exciting year for SEOs.
Based on my own experience and client comments and feedback, I foresee a couple of major shifts occurring.
1. Diversification Of Search Boxes
Search will go far beyond Google as brands start to focus on their visibility (rankings) inside other search boxes. More and more brands are already asking questions like “Why am I not ranking #1 in Amazon?,” “Why is my business not on Google Maps?” or “Why can’t anybody find our videos on YouTube?”
Others are starting to focus more on the discoverability of their content on portals like WebMD, entertainment channels like Netflix and shopping sites like Walmart and NewEgg.
2. The Rise Of Social Search
This is closely linked to the changes in search behavior as we see more social networks extend their search functionality. Unlike traditional question-based search that leads to external content, sites like Facebook are investing heavily in their internal search.
This will become a crucial part of most SEO engagements, as brands use search to regain the organic reach they lost due to Facebook (and other social network) algorithm updates.
3. Reduction Of Technical SEO Engagements
When I think back five or six years, a lot of SEO revenue came from the technical side. Technical SEO is basically fixing issues after the fact to a) prevent negative SEO impacts; and b) optimize the sites for discovery and indexation by bots.
Most SEO agencies will fight me on this, but I believe we will continue to see a dramatic reduction of technical SEO engagements, for two reasons.
The fact that creative and development shops have started to hire SEO experts and are making it part of their offering now. In reality, it’s always better to build it correctly first, as opposed to patching it later.
Technology has evolved, and many CMS companies have dedicated SEO teams that ensure their templates and frameworks are search-friendly.
4. Talent Shift
As technical SEO takes a back seat to content-driven SEO, we will see fewer pure SEO practitioners enter the field. The ones who were truly passionate about SEO (including myself) were typically more about the geek stuff; as we enter an SEO era of mostly content strategy and optimization, the people it attracts will change.
Plus, in the agency world, SEOs are often working in the media agency, and given the small percentage of the overall budget that SEOs get relative to media, there is often an unclear career path for them.
5. The Divide: Insights Or Content?
As we look a little farther ahead, there are two potential paths for most SEO practitioners, given the current landscape.
Some will focus on the enormous amount of granular one-to-one insights you can gather from search data. They will become the new train-spotters of our era, updating the other agencies and their clients on the latest consumer trends and behavioral changes and informing the R&D divisions on what consumers really want and care about.
On the other aside of the spectrum, you will have the content-centric SEO agencies. They will focus on the organic optimization of brand-owned assets on a variety of platforms. If they play their cards right, they will become content creators and truly drive the content strategy.
As an SEO veteran, I’ve found it has been an amazing journey to be part of this evolution. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many of the country’s most talented SEO practitioners.
Given the changes in brand-agency relationships and the rising importance of other channels, it is more crucial than ever for SEO agencies to set a stake in the ground and clearly declare their role. I am excited to see what unfolds in the coming months.
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