Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Renee in Morganville, who asks:
“What is the future of SEO in 5 years? I am struggling to hire a partner who is thinking of the future of SEO, not the just the present common SEO deliverables. What should I address and how them in order to determine they will be a strong SEO partner?”
Renee, this is a great question. You want to hire a partner who is not only thinking about SEO as it stands now but is also prepared for what is to come.
As long as there are search engines, there will be SEO. However, as we have already seen throughout the years, it is a practice that is constantly evolving.
We have come a long way from optimizing meta keywords tags and taking the approach of optimizing one keyword for one page. Today, it is more about understanding the searcher.
That trend will continue as search engines attempt to better serve users by anticipating the intent behind their searches, but I believe there are some other key areas we will see become even more important over the next five years.
Here are a few.
1. Question Answering
Bill Slawski wrote an in-depth article about a patent granted to Google in May 2021, centered on natural language processing (NLP) tasks.
Google has been using machine learning, including the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) language model. These types of language models are designed to better understand words within the context of sentences.
BERT and this recently granted patent continue Google’s quest to implement machine learning and provide relevant answers to searchers’ questions.
Here is an excerpt from the patent posted in Slawski’s article, BERT Question-Answering at Google:
“…the knowledge retriever may get fine-tuned using open-domain question and answering (“open-QA”) tasks, in which the language model must try to predict answers to a set of direct questions (e.g., What is the capital of California?).
During this fine-tuning stage, the knowledge retriever uses its learned relevance rankings to retrieve helpful documents for the language model to answer each question.”
With mobile devices and voice search, we have trained ourselves to turn to search engines for quick answers. This makes question-answering all that much more important.
From an SEO perspective, it means that now (and in the years to come) we need to go beyond identifying a list of keyword phrases to also focusing on the questions that our target customers are asking.
Then, we need to develop and optimize content that directly answers each one.
2. Local-Driven Results
We can also expect that local SEO will continue to be critical in the years to come.
Just this last week, I was looking for a local photographer and searched [photographers near me]. I went through the list of photographers showing in Google Maps, read their reviews, and then chose one to contact.
One of the first questions the photographer asked me during my session was, “How did you find me?”
Customers are relying heavily on map results to find local services and products and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
That means that in addition to organic SEO, we also need to put more time and resources into our local presence, assuming we want to attract nearby customers.
Get The Definitive Guide to Local SEO to learn more.
3. Stronger Searcher Intent
Identifying searcher intent is one of those Marketing 101 concepts, but one that is often ignored in our SEO work.
We can’t just focus on search volume when selecting the keywords to target – we must also understand the intent associated with those words and phrases. Then, we must ensure that the pages we are developing and optimizing address that intent.
This goes back to the earlier point about answering questions. The future of SEO is about homing in on who our searchers are, what they want to know, and how we can deliver value through our optimized content.
To get a better idea of focusing on searcher intent in SEO, download and read How to Do Keyword Research for SEO: The Ultimate Guide.
This chapter, in particular, explains how to apply searcher intent to keyword research.
SEO is by no means static. The best way to prepare for what SEO will be like in the future is to read industry news and pay attention to the changes search engines are making.
Make sure your partner is connected and knowledgeable here, as well.
- The Future of SEO: What SEO & Marketing Pros Need to Understand
- SEO Fundamentals: Your Guide to SEO Success Factors
- Your Guide to Google E-A-T & SEO
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
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