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Will Search Engines Outsmart Marketers One Day?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a short post for Kissmetrics titled “How Much Do Keywords Still Matter?” After investigating Google’s changing algorithms and how they’ve each affected the SEO game, I figured it would make for a good “What will SEO look like in 20 years?”-type read.

So I was understandably surprised when it got shared a lot more than I expected (over 10,000 times as of this writing when you factor in Entrepreneur’s reprint). This was, apparently, a question that a lot of people had on their mind.

The future of keyword optimization

So, just how much do keywords still matter? It’s really hard to say.

They matter less than they did, but they’re still important. And, based on everything that’s happened with Google search since we started using it, I think it’s safe to say that keywords will continue to matter less and less.

Let’s not forget that Google has already tried a keyword-centric approach and found it wanting. They’re never going back in that direction again.

Simply put, keyword optimization is just about played out.

But what about SEO as a whole?

The future of search engine optimization (SEO)

Google is the gatekeeper of SEO as we know it. Every time a new version of Google search arrives, SEO best practices change.

So, based on Google’s track record, can marketers stay ahead of the curve by predicting the future of SEO? Yes, I think we most certainly can.

With the increasing complexity of semantic search, as well as the growing adoption of mobile search, Google fully intends to move away from a world in which marketers can game SEO to a world in which marketers can only optimize SEO. One in which the context of the search matters more than what a user actually types into the search bar.

This has some very interesting implications for the near future. Effective marketing will depend more on:

  • high-quality content,
  • engaging writing,
  • and usefulness,

…and less on:

  • freshness,
  • link-building,
  • and technical SEO.

In some ways, it will almost be like a return to print marketing. Distribution aside, the best marketing of the future, like the best advertising of the past, will be whatever is the smartest and most engaging for consumers.

I almost wish this wasn’t the case. But I think it’s going to happen. Anything that can be gamed will be fixed. Search will become harder and harder to break.

The future of search

Which, of course, leads to the ultimate question: When all’s said and done—at the end of the Information Age and the dawn of the Space Age—what will search look like? What will it have to look like once we start living on other planets, for example?

The answer may be simpler than we think. Everything I’ve seen so far indicates that the future of search is intrinsically tied up with what consumers want rather than what marketers want. Buyers over businesses.

In other words, future search will be ideal search—the type of search in which the searcher is the only stakeholder, and the searched must rely on nothing other than excellent products and services. (Oddly enough, it’s not something that’s really talked about.)

One of the biggest changes is that ideal search will be less entrant-based and more context-based. Here is just some of what might come to pass while we’re all still living on the same planet:

  • Your real-time location will determine the results you get. Again, we’re already seeing this happen today, but it will be much more pronounced in the future. You could use your phone to search for “best barber” and get a different result each time depending on where you are.
  • What’s nearby will also determine the results you get. This is different than location because of the impending Internet of Things (IoT). You could be in New York, but if an LA attorney with astronomical reviews was in your neighborhood, she still might show up at the top of your search results for “dependable lawyer.”
  • The searcher can be clumsy, but the results will still be accurate. You may not really know what you want, but the search engine will. Maybe you want to figure out the cheapest way to get back home from your precise location after cancelling a return flight, but you enter something generic, like “How do I get back?” Your first result will be the cheapest one-way ticket from your exact location to your most likely destination—in this case the destination of your cancelled return flight.

Future search will be even more impressive than what I’m listing here. As someone who’s still using modern search, my imagination is understandably limited.

The future of marketing

If future search is ideal search, and if ideal search empowers users rather than brands, searchers rather than the searched—what does this all mean for marketing as an industry? Will marketers like us simply disappear?

Of course not.

Even if we can’t game search as much as we’d like, we’ll still have our hands full creating engaging, exciting content that is quite simply the best content out there (compared to our competition).

Inbound marketing and content marketing tactics will have to change with technology (and SEO), but they will be around as long as businesses have products and services to sell. And outbound marketing isn’t going anywhere, either. Disruptive marketing isn’t tied to search (not really), so it will be around no matter what the future holds.

Marketing—thank the digital gods—will be around forever.

About the Author: Alp Mimaroglu is a Marketing Luminary at Symantec. He specializes in marketing automation, demand generation, analytics, and marketing technology. Alp has extensive experience with both business and consumer marketing. He’s passionate about how technology is rapidly becoming the key to success in both the corporate sales and marketing landscapes. Follow Alp on LinkedIn and Twitter.

  1. I agree 100% with your assessment. What worries me however, is that it (search and even the web in general) will inevitably evolve to favour the few.
    The web leveled the playing field and gave individuals a voice. However, as this communication network (including social avenues) becomes more sophisticated will it become something similar to the cable (TV) model? Big money to play? It’s not inconceivable that large internet giants (with the resources to produce unending high quality, and high volume content) will be born, merge with one another and absolutely dominate the SERPS in 90 + percent of all industries. The chaos of the web has given us opportunities not seen in generations… but, will it eventually evolve into something with few outliers and ultimately, something that’s quite boring?

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