Search engine optimization (SEO) has been a favorite strategy of the marketing industry for many years, but as technology continues to advance and consumer search behaviors continue to change, many experts worry about the future viability of their strategies. SEO is partially built on the promise of long-term results; it requires a significant upfront investment of time and money, but in return, you’ll see increased revenue for years to come. So what happens to the value proposition of SEO if it’s going to change—or even become irrelevant—in the future?
The Basics of SEO
Before we get into the future of SEO and whether it’s a future proof strategy, let’s examine some of the hallmarks of an effective SEO strategy. SEO is all about increasing the rankings of your webpages in search engine results pages (SERPs) through the use of onsite and offsite techniques.
Onsite, you’ll be polishing the code of your site, improving functionality, and writing valuable content packed with keywords relevant to your brand. Offsite, you’ll be writing high-quality content and building links back to your site—those links will build authority for your site and individual pages, eventually increasing your perceived trustworthiness, and thus, your capacity to rank higher.
Obviously, SEO is more complex than this; there are literally hundreds of ranking factors that Google and other search engines “consider” when ranking content. And therein lies part of the problem; Google is always updating itself.
Google Updates and the Future of SEO
There are search engines other than Google, but because Google is the dominant platform by a huge margin (and because many other search engines follow Google’s lead), we’ll focus on Google almost exclusively in this article.
Google has a long track record of updating its search algorithm to provide users with a better experience. In the early days, these changes were major and frequent, overhauling systems to minimize the possibility of exploitation while simultaneously fetching better results for users. These days, changes tend to be more gradual and rolled out constantly.
There are a few potential issues with this format as it relates to the future viability of SEO strategies:
Identifying and eliminating SEO tactics. Two decades ago, webmasters would use cheeky schemes to rank higher in search engines, like hiding keywords throughout their site or spamming links via blog comments. It doesn’t take long for Google to figure out these black hat tactics and push updates to eliminate them. This has eliminated many SEO tactics in the past, and could jeopardize some SEO tactics in the future.
Downplaying organic results. Google also seems to be shifting to a model that favors rich answers, Knowledge Graph entries, and other direct answers over organic results, which could hypothetically minimize the traffic your site would receive even in the top organic position.
However, it’s unlikely that these effects could seriously jeopardize the long-term viability of your SEO campaign. While Google is getting sharper, there’s no way it can recognize truly organic and user-centric SEO tactics; for example, if you write a high-quality blog post that your readers love, Google will have no reason to penalize you, even if SEO was your primary intention. Similarly, rich answers and other organic-downplaying features in search engines doesn’t seem to be having that big of a negative impact on organic traffic—in fact, in some cases, it’s having a positive impact.
As long as your business remains aware of new Google updates and changes its approach to SEO accordingly, it should be able to remain relevant indefinitely.
The Permanence of SEO Assets
It’s also worth considering the semi-permanence of SEO assets. Throughout your SEO campaign, you’ll be writing onsite and offsite blog posts, both of which provide value to users in multiple different ways. Through your SEO tactics, you’ll improve brand awareness and your reputation, as well as direct traffic and referral traffic—not just organic traffic.
It’s true that some of your assets might decline in value over time. Your onsite posts might become obsolete in the wake of new information, or your offsite posts may be removed. However, the vast majority of the work you do will remain relevant and continue adding value to your strategy for many years, or even decades to come. Because of this, even if your overall SEO strategy takes a hit, you’ll still see at least a marginal ROI from the work you’ve done indefinitely.
SEO is a complex field affected by many individual variables, and from an outsider’s perspective, it seems both confusing and volatile. On top of that, it’s a relatively new strategy without the history of traditional advertising methods, like TV or radio ads. However, even in the face of Google’s ongoing updates and threats to the permanence of your SEO assets, SEO remains a relatively future-proof strategy; as long as people keep relying on websites and apps for content, and as long as they use search engines to discover new content, SEO will remain valuable for your brand. You just may have to update your strategy regularly to keep it relevant.