This is the most recently updated version of this post. An old version↝ of this post still lives on Rosetta Currents↝. Image by Rosetta creative team. This is part one, check out part two here.
SEO In The Future – The Further Future
There are hundreds of articles in the digital marketing blogosphere heralding the imminent demise of SEO. Some even claim it’s already dead.
I must have missed the funeral.
The work that goes into successful website optimization has changed so often over the years that if SEO is defined as one set of practices, carved forever in stone tablets, then it has, in fact, died.
In reality, the SEO field simply changes much faster and more drastically than any other.
Ten years ago, we were stuffing keywords.
Five years ago, we were building every backlink we could.
Not that long ago, we were blindly guest posting.
Now, we’re marketing content and building responsive websites. What will we be doing tomorrow? What about in 5 or 10 years?
I don’t know. I’m not talking about SEO simply 10 years down the road. Where we’re going, we won’t need roads.
The Mathematical Lifetime Of SEO
There’s a nifty mathematical trick that lets us calculate how long anything will last, based on nothing more than algebra and the Copernican principle. The latter, you’ll recall from high school physics, states we are not special — the sun does not revolve around Earth; the stars do not shine only for our benefit; and the center of the Universe is not Renaissance-era Europe.
For our purposes, it means we’re going to assume we’re not still currently witnessing the birth of SEO, nor are we witnessing its final days. We’re somewhere in the middle 95% of its lifetime. I’d call that a safe assumption.
Using that information, plus how long it’s been around so far, we can forecast a minimum and a maximum value for the expected lifetime of SEO or, well, anything.
Imagine you’re seeing a show on Broadway. You know it’s been going for 40 nights, but you’re not sure how many performances are left. With the Copernican principle, if you assume you’re not in the first nor the last 2.5% of showings, you can calculate that the play probably has more than one or two showings to go — but no more than 1,560.
A wide range? Yes. But it does tell us something.
How long has SEO been around? That’s a post in itself, but let’s place it around the time Google began in 1998 — making SEO 17 years old. Performing the same calculations, our range is half a year on the low end, and 663 years on the high end.
Google execs take note – this also applies to the lifetime of your company.
Given this range, I believe it’s safe to assume that SEO will still be around in 35 years. I’m currently in my mid-20s and could conceivably still be in the workforce at that time. Let’s catch up with future-me and see what he’s doing.
35 Years Ahead: SEO in 2050
The days of animalistic add-ons to algorithms are long past in 2050. Indeed, the days of engineers performing updates at all are nearly gone — it’s a very rare occasion when an actual human being needs to step in and tweak something.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has taken over, and machine learning now fine-tunes search results with such sophistication that even most of Google’s engineers have lost the ability to understand it.
However, no matter what noted futurist Ray Kurzweil tells you, the technological singularity probably hasn’t happened quite yet. This “singularity” is the point in time when an AI becomes even slightly smarter than a human being, and can build another AI that’s even slightly smarter still. That second AI can build an even smarter third AI, which can build a monumentally smarter fourth AI. And within a few hundred fast iterations, this intelligence is vastly smarter than humans can possibly comprehend.
Kurzweil, one of the biggest champions behind this idea, also happens to be a director of engineering at Google. That’s probably just a coincidence, right?
Trading Privacy For Deeper Connectedness
The AI behind Google may not be a superintelligence in 2050, but it’s certainly leaps and bounds beyond what we know today. And it will know more about you, you personally, thanks to increased connectivity and the Internet of Things.
We’ll slowly cede more of our privacy in return for greater connectedness, just as we’ve been doing for years already. More objects in our house will be “smart” — and so will more objects outside your house, in the city around you. From the stoplight cameras of today to smart-sensor objects of tomorrow, all will be connected to a massive data hub in the center of this grid.
Smart cities are already a thing, in fact. Hell, check out South Korea↝.
Marketers will get this information, and we’ll be able to access more metrics than we had ever thought possible. And even more than today, demand will be skyrocketing for talented data scientists who can surf this tsunami of information and use it to produce unique and actionable insights.
Google (and marketers, and the NSA) will see that I’ve been looking up lamb chop recipes. It will check with my bank to see where I usually shop for groceries, and then connect with its discount card program to discover that while I did recently buy lamb, I haven’t yet bought a recommended seasoning. A competing grocery store with access to this data will automatically appear in paid ads with a price for that seasoning slightly cheaper than what my regular store offers.
The ads will stop, though, and a conversion will be registered, just as soon as my city’s camera grids catch a photo of me leaving that grocery store with the seasoning in my hands. I won’t see ads again until my Wi-Fi-enabled kitchen cabinets send out alerts that I’m starting to run low.
In this world, what does SEO look like?
The most important thing to rock our boats will be the amount of personalization. Today, if your company ranks #1 on “buy shoes” for Alice on Google or another search engine, your company also probably ranks #1 on that term for Bob — even if they have different income levels, different hobbies, and different shoe needs.
With minor geo-targeting exceptions, our SEO is not done for segmented audiences.
This will change.
Google will know more about you, both personally and in aggregate. The search engine will start to show different results based on your persona, which will be assigned with algorithmic precision. There will be dozens more personas generated every month as filtering of the population becomes more and more granular.
And for us SEO marketers, the idea of ranking #1 for everyone will be a thing of the past.
Marketers will have to accept that for more and more non-brand queries, no one company can rank highly for everyone. We won’t take this without a fight, but it’s a fight we won’t win; and of course, SEO will “die” once again. But it will benefit us, too: We’ll be able to optimize our sites for a much more specific type of customer, which will shoot conversion rates sky high for those who catch on early to this segmentation optimization.
The AI will also be great at understanding our content on a much deeper level than it does now. It won’t be perfect, but it will do a better job of understanding the actual “content” of our content. And it will monitor user metrics such as bounce rate and page engagement to see how real people respond to this content.
Some less reputable companies will create spectacular software that emulates user behavior en masse to trick Google into thinking a site is getting lots of clicks, few bounces, and high levels of engagement. It will work great, until the AI catches on and updates against it. Yandex, the top search engine in Russia, has historically used user metrics to a greater degree than Google. Yandex has already fought this battle, but you can expect it to escalate.
Mobile Ubiquity Trumps Desktops
Lastly, mobile access will have penetrated society with such completeness that it will effectively be saturated. Depending on the industry, having a desktop site may be as optional as having a mobile site was in 2010. New and innovative methods to engage users on their ever-more-robust phones will thrive. See, for example, the light apps of today that are a part of life in China — these may advance to render the need for responsive design obsolete.
Okay, things aren’t that crazy yet. But we’re not looking that far in the future. It’s in the later centuries that things start to really get wild…
(continue reading part two)
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