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We recently celebrated our fifth birthday which not only gave us the opportunity to look at how the agency has grown but also to review how SEO has changed over the years to what it is now.

So I wanted to spend some time reviewing what has changed and what is likely to change over the next 5 years for SEO and how agencies like ours (though we are truly unique) need to be developing their services.

Algorithm updates

When I first started in SEO way back in 2004, Google updates were rare, but massive in terms of the impact. We had ‘Brandy’ and ‘Austin’ which focused on dodgy on-page tactics and had a massive impact on sites using ‘black hat’ tactics to gain rankings.

The updates usually meant a massive fluctuation in rankings with little insight from Google. Therefore, sites affected had to wait for the next update to see if they were now OK.

Nowadays there are hundreds of algorithm updates as Google continually tweaks and refines their data to improve user experience and SERP accuracy, in fact, there are more ‘phantom’ updates happening than ever before, which can be frustrating for those affected. But ultimately the fluidity of these updates now mean that any penalties are usually page specific (not sitewide) and resolving the offending content/issue can see a relatively quick return to previous performance.

Prediction: Google will continue to increase the number of updates it makes to improve SERPs, tracking, evaluating and responding to these updates is going to be very difficult as I expect the intensity and frequency to further increase.

AI will become more in control

Google’s Rankbrain is a revolution to SEO, single-handedly fighting black hat tactics that have plagued the industry. Only announced in 2015 it has already begun to change the way SEO campaigns are developed. Currently, the third most important factor to determine which sites are included in the results, it doesn’t help rank them, just ensure only the best are shown in the top positions.

Prediction: AI will expand to further help improve SEO results, helping Google to sift through the billions of pages to identify the best ones. As a result, SEO agencies need to ensure they are compliant with the latest standards as AI will ensure that only the most trustworthy sites are ranked.

Mobile is the majority

Back in 2012 mobile traffic accounted for, on average, 20-30% of our e-commerce clients’ analytics data and only a few sites were responsive. But as more websites began to improve, more customers felt confident in mobile commerce.

Nowadays mobile traffic equates to 50-60% of our retail clients and although conversion rates are still down compared to desktop, more customers are confident purchasing online thanks to solutions like Paypal, Apple Pay and Google Checkout.

Prediction: mobile traffic will increase to 70-80% within retail sectors, but conversion rates will still be lower until new methods to track customers across different devices is created. Brands will also need to develop a ‘mobile first’ approach to their site, purchase funnel and content to ensure they deliver the very best result for their core customer base.

Let’s A.M.P it up

Load times for even responsive websites were a struggle 5 years ago, with many big brands’ sites taking 10-15 seconds to load it is easy to understand why more people didn’t buy on their mobile device.

But as more consumers used their mobile phones to purchase online, developers needed to deliver content in the most efficient manner, even on low bandwidth 2/3G connections. To help improve load times Google release their Accelerated Mobile Pages project, providing a new approach to deliver content, quickly even on the slowest of connections.

Originally released to help content publishers like news sites, A.M.P has expanded to allow e-commerce sites to benefit and while it is still early in development there are a number of positive results being tracked across many retail brands.

But at the moment, A.M.P is not part of Google’s SEO ranking factor, so any positive impact is on customer experience, rather than increased rankings.

Prediction: AMP will become a part of the Google algorithm and businesses that embrace the technology across their sites now, will reap the rewards over the next few years.

It’s all about the user

For the last five years, UX and CRO have been integral to our SEO offering, in our opinion, delivering an optimised customer experience, not only makes it easier for them to purchase but helps to deliver great content which educates and engages with the reader. These factors help to reduce bounce rates and increase average time on site metrics, known factors which can influence a pages organic ranking.

This approach has helped us to deliver some fantastic results for some of the UK’s biggest brands and we will continue to put our clients’ customers at the heart of everything we do.

Prediction: UX will continue to be instrumental to a successful SEO campaign, providing the right content in the right format will help engage with your customers like never before. The old approach of optimising for the search engine will be obsolete (it already is).

Our final thoughts

Five years is no time really, but so much has changed in our industry that it’s hard to understand how things will change in the next 5 years. However, I don’t believe we will see any revolutionary changes in how customers find new products or services, so search engines will still be around. My advice would be for businesses to constantly evaluate how their tactics can be refined and updated to comply with the ever-changing guidelines.

Communication with the search engines will probably decline as algorithm updates become so fluid it will be impossible to determine which update had an impact. I also expect keyword ranking data to become irrelevant over the next five years as SERPs become even more tailored to the user, an API from Moz will simply not be reliable to develop a marketing strategy. Therefore, we need to be looking at overall organic traffic and sales, delivering reports which really impact the bottom line.