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Will (Mobile) SEO Soon Be a Thing of the Past?

I sat down yesterday with David Mihm (formerly of Moz) and we talked about a lot of things: SMB marketing, Google and the future of SEO, among other topics. His feeling is that SEO is becoming more and more challenging. Most SEOs would probably agree.

I’m not an SEO so I’m on tenuous ground commenting here. However with the launch of the Google Assistant as a core feature of the new Android flagship Pixel, it seems pretty clear that search is in transition. That’s a bland statement I realize; search has been in transition since the advent of the iPhone a decade ago. However with the launch of Google Assistant you really feel it.

As I explained in a piece on Search Engine Land, I was disappointed with the Google Assistant experience when I received links to websites rather than voice answers or structured “cards” with content. I think that others will have a similar reaction. The more users become habituated to voice interactions with their phones and virtual assistants, the less they’re interested in a conventional web search experience.

This has radical implications for everyone that relies on Google traffic today. It may also have some dramatic implications for Google’s business model as well.

Listings and presence management will continue to be an important area for the indefinite future. Then there’s enhanced content and data optimization for a fragmented app world. And with voice search and virtual assistants there’s schema/structured markup. That will be increasingly important in a world where there’s one search result and/or no screen (e.g., Google Home, Amazon Echo).

What’s clear is that we’re now an an accelerated period of change. Google presided over roughly a decade of order and stability on the PC internet. Apple disrupted that with the iPhone and later with Siri. Google has fought back (successfully) but in the process is creating a user experience that is far different from the one that SEOs have built their industry around.

In the interim Facebook has also emerged as a counterweight and alternative to Google. I’m not entirely clear on what the SEO equivalent is there (enhanced profile, news feed content optimization) but attention is partly shifting, given Facebook’s mobile prominence and as marketers have less influence over what shows up in Google results.

What are your thoughts and observations about SEO, local visibility and where it’s all headed?

3 Responses to “Will (Mobile) SEO Soon Be a Thing of the Past?”

  1. Perry Evans says:

    I personally think we’re quite a ways from consumers accepting a “one result” answer delivered in any media form – it’s not about the form, it’s about trust and quality. We’ve created deep ruts in our shopping behavior around quick ways to browse and comparison shop on just about any product or service. Removing these very individualized steps feels like a big leap. Search engines are just not that smart, and consumers understand that first results are bought, not necessarily earned!

    In the meantime, I think the notion of enhanced attention to “decision support content” becomes increasingly important [atop the traditional view of listing/presence content. I also think we’re entering a phase where customer service behavior signals – how responsive, engaging, etc – will emerge as leading drivers of position in the comparison phase of shopping behavior.

  2. Greg Sterling says:

    I think it depends entirely on the category of information. If I’m looking for a general contractor for a remodel or a car, I’m going to use lots of resources and do a lot of research. However if I want to know an address or the conversion of dollars to Euros or the weather in NYC, I want an answer — not a bunch of links. I’m generalizing of course in my post but I see lots of people at conferences carrying on as though nothing or not much has really changed around ranking, etc. I think that people will develop preferred sources or providers, which was the original transactional model for Siri and that will be it. That’s what’s largely going on with apps: I’ve got my favorites and everything else is a “drive by.”

  3. Interesting topic and I do think that mobile SEO has outlived its usefulness as a term as I explained in Marketing Land last month. But no, I don’t think that SEO is going anywhere. It’s true that web listings are not always the most relevant listings, especially on smartphones and smartwatches with voice search, but SEO will only be a thing of the past when people stop clicking on organic listings, which isn’t happening yet. For certain query classes where people just want answers, I agree that rankings aren’t as useful if the answer is satisfactory. However, what has happened this year among SEOs is that many of them try to optimize for featured snippets now because those answers often bring a lot of traffic as well. And part of SEO is about knowing which queries are going to drive the most qualified traffic, so this complexity just makes SEO more relevant, in a sense.

    SEO changes, as it has since 1997, and will continue to change as assistants get to the point where they actually work well, but I think you and I will probably be retired by then, if the day ever comes.

    Here’s an example of a recent Assistant conversation I had to illustrate:
    Me: Will the Indians win tonight?
    Assistant: Cleveland Indians will face Toronto Blue Jays today at 3:08 p.m.
    Me: Yes but what’s the probability of the Indians winning?
    Assistant: Found this on the web. {pastes web listing that still doesn’t answer my question}

    Granted, that was a complex query I was trying to stump it with, but the point is that most of these assistants are still pretty simple at their core and are a long way from being able to interact with people fully without needing to reference the web. Will happen eventually, as Watson exists, but the Star Trek computer is not yet in our pockets and probably won’t be for a while.

    I remember being on a panel at SMX with you in 2012 called “Meet Siri: Apple’s Google Killer? Implications of Siri, Voice Search and AI for Marketers” (http://www.slideshare.net/brysonmeunier/siri-google-killer-meunier-bryson/) on this very topic, and four years later a lot more people use voice search, and Google searches have grown 800 billion. Not all of these go to a web page, but many of them do. Which is probably why people are still hiring SEOs in record numbers (http://www.conductor.com/blog/2015/03/seo-jobs-seo-salary-growth/), and probably will for the foreseeable future.

    All that being said, I agree with you that too many people at conferences in the industry still treat SEO like it’s 2006 and that voice search, mobile, assistants and all the interesting things that have happened since then don’t really matter. They absolutely do matter and have changed SEO in many ways. But no, I don’t think that they will make this a world where SEO is unnecessary.

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