The future of search

SEO is one of the most fast-paced industries out there; constantly kept on our toes, it’s one of the reasons we love it so much. But thinking about what the future holds for the industry can be both exciting and a little frightening. Will artificial intelligence (AI) ultimately make search better or worse? Is the future SERPless? And what are the ramifications for SEOs? Plenty of questions and speculation abound.

In this article, we take a look at just a few of the key themes that come up when considering the future of search.

Artificial intelligence

Right now, AI seems to be all people can talk about, and it’s not going anywhere. In fact, it’s anticipated that AI will have a significant impact on all things marketing.

RankBrain

We have already been experiencing the effects of AI in search for some time, since Google released its RankBrain algorithm. In short, the aim of RankBrain is to help search engines acknowledge the context of the query, better understanding what the user actually wants and not just processing each individual word of the query. This is particularly important given the rise of voice search, which uses more natural language.

Data dreaming

AI is inherently linked with big data; it’s the data that enables AI to function and for machine learning to transform the way we search. Humans are only capable of processing a limited amount of data, which is where AI comes in –to do things that humans can’t, or are inherently bad at doing. This is where AI in search is heading, gradually replacing and improving on tasks that humans cannot complete (or at least complete to a high quality). We are looking to use the significant processing power of binary to our advantage.

We’ve already seen bots attempting to write content, and it was good enough to make it past the first round of screening for a national literary prize in Japan. While it’s not as good as something an experienced copywriter or journalist could manage, it’s just the beginning. In a few more years, bot-written content will probably be a very viable option for businesses looking to create content as part of an SEO campaign.

Bridging the human gap

AI will make the SEO process smoother, quicker and more automated, leaving humans to add the creative icing on the cake. We can try to give bots as much sentiment and emotional intelligence as possible but at the end of the day, they’re simply not human.

We’ve already seen some of the issues with the new algorithms. Take, for example, the proliferation of fake news across the web in recent times –  as smart as these algorithms are, bots still can’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s not. That takes careful human judgement. As long as this is still the case, humans will remain an essential part of any marketing or SEO campaign.

What AI means for SEO

Whether we like it or not, AI will change the face of SEO over the next few years. There will always be concerns around campaigns led by AI and not humans – – from fears around spun content to an over-reliance on automated campaigns. But in a way, automation will only serve to make the campaigns more human.

AI is capable of crunching huge amounts of data and is constantly getting better at learning and understanding user intent. Combine this deep understanding of search users with big data and you’ve got a sure-fire way of creating a campaign that is hyper-targeted to the right audience, knowing exactly what they want and what they are looking for. In other words, a campaign that will really work.

What does this mean for search marketers?

The increasing use and sophistication of AI means we are going to see priorities change over the next few years, in terms of which tasks we dedicate the most time to. With the data-led tasks more likely to be automated, it will allow us to focus on the more creative aspects, as well as mediating the bot versus human conundrum.

We need to be prepared for the content creation process to change and for the prospect that not all blog content will be human-produced in future. This may be a cause for concern for some, but people will always want to read content written by humans so we don’t see this being an all-encompassing step. At the very least we will likely see content researchers replaced by our software counterparts.

Voice search

According to comScore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. Voice search is gaining in popularity at a rapid rate and its effect on search will be noticeable. According to Gartner, approximately 30% of all searches will be done without a screen at all by 2020 – in just 18 months’ time. Just imagine how this could change in 5–10 years. We could be looking at a SERPless future.

What does this mean for search marketers?

SEOs should account for voice search in their keyword strategy – think longer-tail, more conversational search queries – and implement schema markup to ensure you occupy some of those rich snippets and answer boxes, as these are the most popular options for voice search.

Consider the implications of not being able to drive as much traffic to your website through the SERPs; we may need to start thinking about how our sites appear ‘verbally’, not just visually.

Digital personal assistants

As an extension of the above point about voice search, it’s important to also think about voice assistants. Digital personal assistants, such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa, are not just there to answer direct queries. The aim is for them to provide answers without us even having the need to ask. Google co-founder, Sergei Brin, himself said in 2013: “My vision when we started Google 15 years ago was that eventually you wouldn’t have to have a search query at all”.

These devices are constantly collating real-time data from conversations listened to, geographic locations, search histories, daily routines and even biometrics. With this information and a sprinkling of AI, devices will be able to perform searches without you even having to ask. It’s both creepy and clever. More importantly though, this could have an immense impact on SEO as we know it.

What does this mean for search marketers?

SEOs and marketers should create content that explicitly answers potential questions or queries; for example, as a comprehensive FAQs page or within blog content. As with general voice search, think conversational – avoid broad short-tail phrases as these would not be spoken naturally.

Focus on the people behind the searches and less on the searches themselves. It’s about approaching user intent in a new way, getting less hung up on the individual words being typed into the search engines and more about the person and their needs.

Integration

The future of search is integration across all devices and the Internet of Things. Search engines are already well on the way to being omnipresent. This is only set to continue growing, increasing in personalization and leveraging every ounce of data the search engines can obtain.

What does this mean for search marketers?

Ultimately, we won’t have to work as hard at reaching people on multiple platforms, as it will mostly be done for us. But we will have to work harder to ensure that websites and content are optimized for all types of search, not just Google. Think Amazon Alexa, smart watches, Facebook search and Apple Spotlight.

Conclusions

These are just a few predictions for the future of search, which only scratch the surface of the possibilities. It’s an exciting time for search marketers, as we look to leverage new technology and big data to further enhance the campaigns we run for clients.

The future is bright, if not a little less human.

The future of search