Overview: SEO and SEM
Search engine optimization is the practice of attempting to improve search engine rankings. A detailed overview of what SEO and SEM are, as well as their similarities and differences, have been documented in the report as follows.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of “traffic to your website through organic search engine results.”
- There are hundreds of tactics within SEO that may help a brand increase their individual search rankings.
- There are 3 types of SEO that are needed for a well-rounded organic search strategy — technical SEO, on-site SEO, and off-site SEO.
- Technical SEO refers to the process of “optimizing your website for the crawling and indexing phase.” With technical SEO, search engines can crawl and index the website without encountering any problems.
- On-Site SEO is a rule that one can apply onto individual pages so that they are “optimized for specific keywords.”
- Off-site SEO is the process of getting backlinks “from other websites for the purpose of increasing your websites’ trust in the eyes of search engines.”
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
- Search engine marketing is a tactic in which a marketer “optimizes and advertises their website in order to appear higher in search results.”
- It is considered often as the part of search marketing that uses paid tactics in order to gain visibility in search engine result pages. This strategy is referred to often as a “paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) marketing.”
- The goal of SEM is to increase visibility in search engines either through organic traffic through search engine optimization or paid traffic through pay-per-click advertising.
- Google Ads is a search provider that’s “most commonly used for this strategy.”
Similarities Between SEO And SEM
- Both SEO and SEM helps the brand to “appear in search results.” One of the basics of SEO and SEM is that they both target to help a brand appear prominently on search engine result pages.
- They can help to drive traffic towards the user’s website. The goals of both SEO and SEM are to gain visibility on search engine results pages and “to drive traffic to a website. Each of these strategies employ several tactics to increase click-through rates to “to get more users to click on the search results.”
- Both SEO and SEM use “keyword research to uncover popular search terms” and target specific keywords. After specific keywords are identified during keyword research, both of these strategies focus on targeting these specific keywords.
- A good understanding of the audience and their behavior is vital in order for SEO or SEM to be successful. By utilizing psychographic segmentation and buyer personas, one will be able to know their audience, discover their needs, and understand what they are looking for.
- SEO and SEM require continuous optimization and testing. Neither SEM nor SEO is a strategy that one can set and forget. Both will require “continual testing, monitoring, and optimization to increase performance.”
Differences Between SEO And SEM
- The main difference between SEO and SEM is that search engine marketing (SEM) uses paid strategies whereas SEO uses organic strategies.
- The results from utilizing SEO takes time, whereas the results from SEM are immediate. It can take weeks or months of implementing an SEO strategy before the brand “begins to rank on search engines.”
- The click-through rate of SEM is lower than of SEOs. This favors SEO because the first few organic search results usually have a higher click through rate. Therefore, if one could get to the top, it will likely outperform SEM ads.
- In terms of visibility, while SEM results “show to a select target audience, SEO results do not.” Unlike SEO, SEM allows you to specify your target audience. Through SEM, the user can select which audiences they would like to see in the search results by “assigning filters based on age, location, income, habits, and more.” However, SEO does not allow one to specifically choose who would be able to see the search results.
- SEM is better for testing than SEO. Because one can immediately turn on and off paid ads in SEM, it becomes a great testing strategy.
SEO/SEM: Top Players/Providers (Tools)
Top five providers for search engine optimization and search engine marketing in the United States include WebFX, SocialSEO, Mayple, Straight North, and Ignite Visibility. WebFX is ranked as the top SEM and SEO firm in the United States by Clutch, The Manifest, Upcity, and Good Firms.
- A website link to WebFX is provided herein.
- We have selected WebFX in our list as the company is mentioned as one of the top US providers of SEO and SEM by Clutch, The Manifest, Upcity, Digital Agency Network, and Good Firms.
- WebFX has a rating of 4.9 out of 5.0 on Clutch and The Manifest, and a rating of 5.0 out of 5.0 on Upcity.
- A website link to SocialSEO is provided herein.
- We have selected SocialSEO on our list because it is mentioned as one of the top US providers of SEO and SEM by Clutch, The Manifest, and Upcity.
- SocialSEO has a rating of 5.0 out of 5.0 on Clutch and The Manifest, and Upcity.
- A website link to Mayple is provided herein.
- We have selected Mayple on our list because the company is mentioned as one of the top US providers of SEO and SEM by Clutch, Digital Agency Network, and Good Firms.
- Mayple has a rating of 5.0 out of 5.0 on Clutch and Good Firms.
4. Straight North
- A website link to Straight North is provided herein.
- We have selected Straight North on our list because the company is mentioned as one of the top US providers of SEO and SEM by Clutch, The Manifest, and Upcity.
- Straight North has a rating of 4.7 out of 5.0 on Clutch and The Manifest, and a rating of 4.9 out of 5.0 on Upcity.
5. Ignite Visibility
- A website link to Ignite Visibility is provided herein.
- We have selected Ignite Visibility in our list because the company is mentioned as one of the top US providers of SEO and SEM by Search Engine Marketing Firm, Clutch, The Manifest, and Digital Agency Network.
- Ignite Visibility has a rating of 4.9 out of 5.0 on Clutch and The Manifest, and a rating of 5.0 out of 5.0 on Search Engine Marketing Firm.
SEO: Trends and Insights
Trends surrounding Search Engine Optimization (SEO) include user-focused optimization, expertise, authoritativeness & trustworthiness (EAT), and growth of voice search. Findings in this brief were enriched by industry commentary from leading SEO-focused websites such as the Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, Stone Temple & Path Interactive, as well as authoritative sites such as Forbes and expert opinion from top leaders in US companies such as IBM, Bing, Groupon, Hallmark, and Yext. Sites dedicated to marketing such as Cardinal Marketing and Top Ranking Marketing also contributed to the findings in this brief.
1. User-Focused Optimization
- According to Kelly Stanze, the Search Strategist at Hallmark, SEO is increasingly focusing on user-focused optimization through adhering to the ‘fundamentals of clean architecture and content delivery‘. This is because users have access to more options when it comes to searches, thus technical delivery of content is key.
- Eli Schwartz, a Growth Consultant and Advisor, agrees, noting that the 2019 launch of Google’s BERT– Bidirectional Encoder Representation from Transformers- has transformed the focus from string matching to intent matching. This is because BERT is included in the ranking and featured snippets algorithms, thus redirecting content to be curated to user content rather than search strings.
- The Search Engine Watch notes that BERT was designed to enable website creators to train their own ‘question answering system’. The article continues to note that SEO marketers who employ BERT models in their content creation have a better chance of ranking on the first page, especially in featured snippets. Search Engine Watch posits though, that content cannot be optimized for BERT but can be optimized for user intent that fuel search queries.
- Frederic Dubut, the Senior Program Manager at Bing, notes that with the acceleration of natural language processing (NLP) and deep learning research, keyword research will soon become obsolete. In 2020, Dubut predicts that search engines will shift away from keywords and into user intent. Anne Leuman of Top Ranking Marketing agrees, noting that identifying the intent behind keyword data is important, as it will help websites provide ‘best answers‘ content for its audience.
- This is further supported by Jenn Matthews, Senior SEO Manager with Groupon, who postulates that Google appears to be continually optimizing search results that pertain to user intent rather than keyword matching. Duane Forrester, VP for Industry Insights at online brand management firm Yext, asserts that user intent has become integral to the survival and growth of online businesses. It is too important to the SEO landscape to ignore, she adds.
- At IBM, the focus has shifted to user intent where Kevin Goode, the Senior SEO Strategist, notes that the way users talk about their issues and needs at each point of their buying journey has informed how the company curates content to address these needs and pain points after the sale.
2. Expertise, Authoritativeness & Trustworthiness
- Lily Ray, Director of SEO at New York-based search marketing agency Path Interactive, notes that Google will increasingly put emphasis on the overall reputation and E.A.T– Expertise, Authoritativeness & Trustworthiness- of companies and their content publishers in 2020. Ray asserts that trust issues such as poor reputation and customer service complaints that take form in the shape of reviews, feedback, and even security issues on the website will make it harder for highlighted firms to compete or receive organic visibility.
- Grace Kindred, Technical SEO Analyst with News UK, agrees as she asserts that there will a strong focus on the quality of content and trust value of authors in 2020. She continues to note that the fight against fake news will continue to increase in 2020 as well.
3. Growth of Voice Search
- Forbes notes that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice-activated. According to the article, 35.6 million Americans use a voice-activated device at least once a month and an average of 1 in every 6 Americans own smart speakers. This, Lilach Bullock continues to add, points to an increase in voice searches.
- The Search Engine Watch also adds that in 2017 alone, a full 33 million voice search queries were made. Quoting data from March 2019, the article notes that 20% of mobile queries captured were voice-activated.
- Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting (now part of Perficient Digital) notes that the questions asked through voice queries differ from those asked on the regular search site, thus content must be designed to answer queries asked in the more natural language.
- Forbes notes a connection between voice search optimization and Google’s featured snippets. Since Google prefers short answers that average 29 words for voice searches, Forbes notes that these answers are included in featured snippets that hold ‘position zero’ in search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Further, Cardinal Marketing urges SEO marketers not to disregard featured snippets, as it claims that research has revealed that 54.68% of clicks on Google come from featured snippets. Cardinal Marketing asserts that featured snippets drive more than half of Google’s search engine clicks.
SEM: Trends and Insights
Video advertising, voice and visual search, and Artificial Intelligence are among the trends surrounding search engine marketing. The three have been discussed by numerous experts in the digital marketing space.
1. Video advertising
- Videos are an effective way of communicating brand messages to target audiences. YouTube is the second most used search engine after Google. 70% of millenials are using YouTube to learn how to do something new.
- David Rodnitzky asserts; “If you’re ignoring online video, you’re literally missing billions of opportunities to engage with people.”
- Live videos are also taking shape to be a major trend. They include videos of live demos, tours, and interactive chats for digital marketers. Brands are leveraging video advertisements to build trust with consumers. Digital marketers have also discovered the trend, and are now using videos more extensively in search engine marketing.
- Watching videos is growing in popularity among online users. 2018 recorded a 30% rise compared to the previous year.
- In 2020, video content is one of the most dominant forms of content, making it inevitably essential for advertisers. Studies reveal that by 2021, 82% of traffic on the internet will be through video.
- Google’s Bumper Machine utilizes AI to generate short bumper ads from videos across the platform.
- Stories on Facebook and Instagram continue to dominate in video marketing. Part of the reason video adverts are trending is the increasing internet speeds that come with 4G and 5G technology. A number of countries are already experiencing speeds higher than 125 Mbps.
- Video advertising has been mentioned as an inevitable trend in Digital Excellence magazine, a performance marketing agency. Abuzar Khan, an SEO expert and web developer, also mentions the SEM trend in his site; SEO Basics. Simon Hall of QuanticMind and Jomer Gregorio of Business 2 Community also advising their audiences on the same.
2. Voice and visual search
- The emergence of Alexa, Siri, and other intelligent personal assistance devices has triggered a shift towards visual and voice search in search engine marketing.
- Pinterest records over 600 million visual searches each month. “40% of adults use voice search at least once per day” via s smart speaker, Window’s Cortana, or on their phone. It was predicted that it would reach 50% by 2020.
- It has also been projected by Gartner research that by 2021, early adopters of visual and voice search on their website would see a 30% increase in their revenues.
- The trend is reportedly set to continue in the coming years as personal assistants become even more sophisticated in their abilities to formulate complex sentences and recognize human speech. This will trigger a more significant impact as contents will be forged to be more conversational.
- As consumers become accustomed to giving voice commands, businesses are optimizing their marketing strategies and pay-per-click campaigns to accommodate voice searches while marketers are adopting voice search strategies.
- Similarly, Google Len’s launch in 2017 took visual search into another dimension. The app is now being included in all smartphones with a camera.
- Google Len’s advent has triggered the use of cataloging images and proper metadata information.
- Studies are showing that 62% of millennials are interested in visual searches over any other technology.
- While the impact of visual searches on SEM is not yet clear, there are speculations that it may lead to PPC advertising where adverts are bought based on image searches.
- Pinterest CEO, Ben Silbermann, says the future of search is pictures.
- Prateek Keshari, an expert in digital marketing, and Tanya Kumari, a Digital Marketing consultant at Classic Informatics, are discussing this trend.
3. Artificial Intelligence
- Artificial Intelligence enables marketers to build more effective ad campaigns. The technology uncovers consumer insights and gives digital marketers the ability to “understand, analyze and predict behavioral patterns.” In addition, it can be used to reach new audiences with specific demographics and reveal correlations between behaviors and variables, a feat that is hard to achieve manually.
- In addition, the AI is being used to drive click monitoring and targeting, customer segmentation, among other uses. As more data becomes available for the functionality of machine learning algorithms, human intervention will be significantly reduced.
- PwC projects that “AI will add $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030″ and that the global GDP will be 14% higher as a result of the same.
- AI in digital marketing is set to reach $21 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 26%
- It has also been reported that by the end of 2020, brands that will have adopted AI for marketing will cut 37% in costs while increasing revenues by 39%.
- The trend is being discussed in numerous digital marketing platforms, including Richa Pathak’s SEM Updates. She is an expert in digital marketing and has been featured in the global top 10 marketing magazines.
The use of chat bots and application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are some recent innovations surrounding Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The following section discusses the innovations in greater detail.
1. Use of Chatbots
- Chatbots is among the biggest high-tech SEO innovations that have been witnessed recently.
- According to Ryan, an experienced digital content & social marketer, “chatbots are automated scripts that can pop up when someone lands on your website”.
- Chatbots can lead website visitors towards links (e.g. to have them purchase items), answer to some queries and gather crucial site visitors’ contact information.
- Chatbots have come in handy as an SEO strategy, especially with the recent advancements in AI, wearable technologies and voice search and the rising demand (among customers) for personalized interactions.
- One of the benefits of chatbots, and which aligns with marketers’ SEO goals is the fact that they boost customer engagement. Through the same, visitors landing on a website can actively interact with a brand, spend more time reading through content, make clicks and even share posts.
- Other ways through which chatbots improve SEO strategy is by enabling personalized user experience and increasing website functionalities.
- According to the Enterprise Content Team at Adobe, chatbots have come as progress that has and still is orchestrating a major shift from customer service towards customer experience.
- Predictions by Gartner show that on average, chatbots will power human interactions and individuals will have “more conversations with chatbots than with their spouses. “
- Today, a considerable number of commercial brands in the United States are looking in the direction of using chatbots for marketing purposes. An example is Whole Food’s Bot on Facebook Messenger, which allows individuals to search for recipes from anywhere. “One of the coolest parts is you can search by an emoji to get those recipes, while it also lets you filter your results if you have special dietary needs.”
- Other American brands utilizing chatbots for SEO include Pizza Hut, The Wall Street Journal, Staples, Mastercard, and Lyft.
2. Application of Artificial Intelligence
- Today, artificial intelligence is one of the biggest trends in digital marketing. Experts argue that the use of machine learning (an application of AI) is the key to great website content in 2020.
- Specifically, machine learning influences the way business owners and marketers create website content and implement keywords.
- Machine Learning is a useful tool for SEO specialists as “it allows them to rank on the quality of their content and the proper use of keywords.”
- AI is an effective way to add personalization ideas to an SEO strategy. Today, many enterprises are employing AI for the collection of valuable data and customer insights that are used in the SEO strategy for success.
- Personalization is key in SEO. Statistics show “79 per cent of organizations that exceeded revenue goals have a documented personalization strategy.”
- AI contributes to the success of SEO by allowing marketers to provide dynamic content, special landing pages and unique user experiences.
- Through AI software, link building (a critical component of SEO) has been made possible. “Google’s AI software is able to look at links and recognize how valuable and how relevant they are as they relate to the content within and the keywords.”
- One notable application of AI in SEO is Google’s RankBrain technology which “uses machine learning to understand the meaning of the content it crawls; it infers intent from ambiguous search queries; it uses feedback data to improve the accuracy of its results.”
- Today, AI applications in SEO include text and voice search, keyword research, topic discovery and content optimization, pillar page, and topic cluster creation.
- According to a blog post on Marketing Intelligence Institute, “tools like MarketMuse, Frase, and BrightEdge offer suggestions on what you should be creating content about to own search traffic for specific keyword clusters.”
The use of machine learning and the application of voice and visual search in SEM are some innovations surrounding search engine marketing (SEM). We have presented below a detailed overview of these innovations.
1. Use of Machine Learning in SEM
- The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is one of the key innovations in the field of search engine marketing (SEM) and has become a mandatory requirement in current times.
- Some common fields where machine learning is being applied in SEM include forecasting, data analytics, content creation, attribution modeling, market & audience segmentation, keyword classification, bidding automation, automation of tasks and reporting, identifying missed opportunities, and content personalization, among others.
- The use of machine learning in SEM automates and optimizes the process of data analysis and helps marketers analyze large amounts of consumer data to better understand consumer behavior like their interests, needs, and purchase intent. It also helps marketers to identify new segments of their target audience and their unique traits.
- It also assists marketers in more efficient and productive management of the multiple platforms and channels where they are present by providing in-depth analysis and cross channel insights across all these platforms. This helps marketers evaluate the efficacy of various platforms and make an informed decision about their presence on various platforms.
- In addition, the use of machine learning in SEM helps marketers to optimize their marketing messages, improve lead scoring, optimize marketing spend, and deliver timely messages to their target audience. Marketers can leverage AI to analyze search queries, demographics, location, and other factors of their key customers and send targeted messages to them.
- As per a recent survey on the application of machine learning in SEM, Bids & Budget management is the key area where machine learning has been most impactful. 85% of marketers believe that machines are more effective and capable than humans to manage bid and budget decisions within SEM accounts.
- The use of machine learning in the SEM budgeting process helps marketers to optimize their “bids and budgets across campaigns, across devices, by location, by the time of day or week, and by placement”. It enables SEM marketers to dynamically rotate their resources across various SEM platforms in real-time to get improved results.
- Acquisio Turing, Acquisio’s machine learning suite of algorithms, is an example of the successful application of machine learning in the field of SEM. The software has helped 30,000+ SEM accounts to increase their click rate by 59%. It has also yielded an average 71% increase in the conversion rate of the SEM accounts that were optimized for conversions.
2. Implementation of Voice and Visual Search in SEM
- The growing use of voice and visual search is a key innovation in the SEM space and is likely to have a significant impact on the same in the future. As per Comscore estimates, voice input is likely to form part of nearly 50% of all searches by the end of 2020 as compared to 20% reported by Google in 2016.
- In order to catch up with this innovation, SEM marketers are gearing to “include more long-tail keywords and make their landing pages more conversational, so that they match with natural voice search queries”.
- SEM accounts are also leveraging a combination of keyword matching options to ensure that they are still serving ads to users who are making queries that are similar, but not identical, to the keywords being bid on.
- Visual search is another new technology that is fast innovating the search patterns, primarily fueled by the launch of Google Lens and Microsoft’s visual search tool.
- As per a survey, 62% of the millennials prefer to search visually, and hence, brands are working towards redesigning their websites along with proper metadata information and cataloged images to support visual search and stay relevant in SEM.
- In addendum, paid and visual searches tend to be hyper-local or relevant to a particular brand. According to a report by Quora, 53 percent of smart speaker owners daily use voice search to find local businesses. Hence, SEM marketers need to be local friendly and optimize their existing content for voice search as well as future paid voice search.
SEM: The Future
There are different ways to optimize the use of search engine marketing (SEM) as an advertising channel. Some information, statistics, and trends surrounding the future of SEM include the increasing use of voice search, visual searching, more search automation such as smart bidding and automatic ad creation, use of search engines for shopping, the transition to mobile searching as the most popular device, and the high-profit potential of artificial intelligence for SEM. These are further discussed below.
Voice Search is on the Rise
- By the end of 2020, it was predicted that 50% of all searches will be categorized as voice searches. Two in every five people believe that devices that are voice-activated are essential tools for their lives.
- The increasing use of smart speakers and smartphones has largely increased the popularity of voice searches.
- About 25% of Americans now own a smart speaker. Among them, 52% keep them in their living room and 25% keep them on their bedside.
- Of these figures, 75% conduct local searches through voice search per week and 53% do it to look for businesses per day.
- As of April 2020, the usage of voice in searching is more prominent in younger age groups as 51% of 16-24-year-olds use this. It is also considered useful by 50% of 25-34-year-olds, 44% of 35-44- year-olds, 35% of 45-54-year-olds, and 26% of 55-64-year-olds.
- To optimize a voice search, some of the best methods are to include long-tail keywords and to have a more conversational landing page.
- These methods can help in easily matching results with search queries using natural voice.
Visual Search is Revolutionizing Consumer Discovery
- Visual search is a technology that allows users to search the internet using a camera or an image from a visual environment.
- This advancement is likely to be embraced by consumers as 62% of millennials already expressed their desire to be able to search visually compared to other new technology.
- To support visual search, a brand would need to redesign its website. It should have a proper metadata implementation, together with an extensive image catalog.
- Pinterest is an example of a visual search engine that helps advertisers reach their marketing goals.
- Some popular examples are Google’s release of Google Lens and Microsoft’s launch of its visual search tool that helps users search using their camera.
More Search Automation
- Search automation is the automation of the optimization tasks that are used in repeated manual intervention.
- While search ad spending continues to rise (as Google earned $41 billion in ad revenues in 2019 and is projected to earn up to $55 billion by 2023), it is expected that investment in search automation will also increase.
- This year and in the coming years, the number of different ways in automating SEM is seen to increase. Some emerging strategic ways SEM channels are offering to manage ad accounts include bidding (e.g. smart bidding), reporting, automatic ad creation (e.g. responsive search ads or RSA), campaign optimization, and tracking.
- RSA shows the user the most relevant ad copy at a given time. It is the natural progression of dynamic keyword insertion and ad rotations.
- Bidding algorithms, on the other hand, can future-proof an account through consistency of data and performance uniformity by making good predictions in low-volume and even in high-volume searches.
Increased Use of Search Engines for Shopping
- Among internet users aged 16-64, 81% reported they have searched online to buy a product or service.
- While Google and Facebook are considered the leaders in paid advertising, Amazon is also gaining popularity, thus becoming the most common example in this future trend in SEM because of its unique ad inventory.
- Amazon’s net digital ad revenue in the US in 2018 was $7.41 billion and $9.85 billion in 2019. With this increasing trend, it is projected to reach $13.06 billion this year and $16.71 billion by 2021.
- Since the reason for searching on e-commerce platforms, like Amazon for instance, has an intent to purchase, it leads to a higher conversion rate that attracts many advertisers.
Artificial Intelligence: Highest Profit Potential for SEM
- According to Tech Emergence, search engines have the highest profit potential among different artificial intelligence (AI) applications.
- Within the SEM industry, AI does not only create reports. AI tools are used to get demographic data and audience information. It has the power to uncover customer insights.
- With its machine learning capability and predictive analysis, SEM becomes more relevant as it can anticipate what the users are about to search and enables them to offer personalized content. It therefore gives the opportunity to improve page ranking.
- Psychographic segmentation, with the help of AI, is considered a smart way of targeting the audience to control the effectiveness of SEM strategy.
- Aside from being able to predict click-through rates (CTR), it can also predict the probability of conversion because of smart AI tools’ use of historic data.
- Google started testing its Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) algorithm in the first quarter of 2020. It will allow the use of machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to have better content in search queries. Experts predict that this new technology will affect 1 out of 10 searches.
Everything is Moving to Mobile
- Due to the growth in the internet of things (IoT) technology, people acquire different sources to gain more information, and smartphones become more preferable than personal computers, laptops, and tablets.
- Since June 2019, mobile became the top option for search engine users. It has accounted for 50.71% of all searches while desktop searches dropped to 45.53% and are likely to continue to decline.
- Among internet users, as of February 2020, about 87% search via mobile.
- In this regard, mobile ad spend is projected to double by 2022.
- In terms of search engine ranking page (SERP), it will be affected by this change in search habit because 30% of results shown on the first page of desktop search results cannot be seen in the first 10 mobile search results.
- Therefore, while keeping with this SEM trend, digital advertisers are adjusting their mobile advertising landscape to stay profitable and competitive.
SEO: The Future
As of June 2020, Google commands the highest market share (87.71%) among search engines in the US. Bing (market share of 6.99%), Yahoo (3.44%), DuckDuckGo (1.5%), Ecosia (0.12%), and MSN (0.09%) trail Google by a long way when it comes to popularity among search engines. Hence, it is not surprising that SEO industry experts talk about Google when predicting the future of SEO (search engine optimization) in the US. Most of the expert articles and blogs talk extensively about the changes in Google’s algorithm and how these changes will affect SEO in the future. Five predictions surrounding the future of SEO in the US relate to the growth of the SEO market in the US, webpage loading speed becoming an important factor in SEO, voice searches dominating SEO in the future, AI and machine learning playing major roles, and Google favoring high-quality and optimized content in the future. These points along with relevant statistics are discussed below. The comments and predictions made by the SEO industry leaders are also captured in the below research report.
The US SEO Market Will Continue to Grow
- In 2016, brands and agencies spent $65 billion for SEO services in the US. This figure became $72.02 billion in 2018.
- Borrell Associates predicts that businesses will spend $80 billion for SEO services by the end of 2020. The upward investment trend indicates that the US SEO market will continue to grow in the future.
- As per a 2019 report, small businesses in the US spent a monthly average of $497.16 on SEO services.
- Also, as per the above report, companies in the US that spent >$500 per month on SEO services were 53.3% more “extremely satisfied” than companies that spent <$500 per month.
- 74% of US companies consider the reputation of an SEO provider to be very or extremely important. This indicates how seriously US companies consider SEO for the growth of their businesses.
- When questioned about the key benefit derived from their association with SEO providers, 83% of US companies mentioned about accessing new customers. The other key benefits included increasing traffic to website (82% of the respondents), increasing brand awareness (78%), and building trust among customers (76%).
Speed Will Become the Most Important Factor in SEO
- As per a survey, 57% of visitors to a website leave the site if it takes >3 seconds to load. Once the webpage loads, the average user forms an opinion to stay on the site or leave it within 0.05 seconds.
- Also, almost 70% of online consumers are influenced in their purchasing decisions by the webpage loading speed.
- Even though the average loading time of Google’s top-ranking websites is <3 seconds, the average page loading time for websites in the US is 6 seconds. This varies as per industry.
- The average loading times for websites as per industry in the US are as follows: automotive (6.3 seconds), CPG (6.6 seconds), finance (5.9 seconds), healthcare (5.4 seconds), media and entertainment (5.5 seconds), retail (6.3 seconds), technology (6.7 seconds), and travel (6 seconds).
- According to Chris Smith, Equator’s Outreach Team Leader, the future of SEO is speed. In the future, SEO providers not only have to think of the website loading speed but also have to think of providing coherent, informative, and attractive content to the users in the shortest possible time. Users should be able to access the content either through internal linking or through an organic search as quickly as possible. Otherwise, they will move on to the next website, as seen from the above statistics.
- The importance of webpage loading times can be understood from the below infographic.
Voice Searches Will Dominate SEO
- According to eMarketer, 111.8 million internet users in the US were using their voice to conduct webpage searches in 2019. This marked a 9.5% increase from 2018.
- Voice search features are growing in popularity in the US. According to eMarketer, an expected 122.7 million internet users in the US will be conducting their webpage searches using their voices in 2021.
- As per PwC, 71% of US consumers prefer to conduct webpage searches using their voice instead of typing.
- Currently, smartphones and smart speakers are the most popular devices for voice searches among US internet users. In 2018, 23% of all US households possessed smart speakers. According to Microsoft, 75% of all households in the US are expected to possess at least one smart speaker.
- According to Anirban Sengupta, the founder of Digital Marketing Chef, voice searches will increase in the future. Also, search engines would try to provide a single, specific answer for a voice query, instead of a list of webpages.
- Three factors that would help voice searches dominate SEO in the future are the increase in sales of smart speakers and the adoption of voice-based assistants like Alexa and Siri, the increase of Google users who do not like typing, and the improvement in speech-to-text technology.
- Even industry experts like Anthony De Guzman, Shopify’s SEO Specialist, Greg Secrist, CEO of BKA Content, Antonio Johnson, SEO Head at Power Digital Marketing, and Rhys Wynne, Director of Winwar Media, have advocated about voice searches dominating the SEO landscape in the future.
AI and Machine Learning Will Play Major Roles in the Future of SEO
- In 2015, Google introduced RankBrain, a machine-based search algorithm that allows Google to show more relevant results to users.
- In October 2019, Google introduced Bidirectional Transformers for Language Understanding (BERT), a neural network-based technique for the processing of natural language. According to Google, the BERT algorithm represents one of the biggest advances in the history of search.
- BERT affects 1 in 10 searches and gives Google the understanding of how language and individual words affect search results. With RankBrain and BERT, search engine optimization professionals have been relegated to the background.
- Industry experts like Tyler Thursby, Senior SEO Analyst at the Phoenix-based Zion and Zion, agree that with the introduction of RankBrain and BERT, webmasters and SEOs have to change their thinking. Instead of creating content for the algorithm, they have to create content from the perspective of a website or a business owner or the user.
- According to Sarah Hancock, SEO Manager working at Best Company, the future of SEO will be decided by AI and machine learning. She says that if SEOs want to rank higher on the search results, they have to focus more on content strategy, not keyword density.
- According to Pete Winter, Managing Partner of Tomorrow People, Google’s implementation of AI and its ability to understand user intent and semantic search queries will lead to more personalized and predictive search results in the future.
- In a 2020 survey of SEO industry leaders, 31.3% of the respondents stated that AI optimization is an effective and worthwhile tool for SEOs, while 28.6% of the respondents stated that it is a key tactic for SEOs within 2025.
Google Will Favor High-quality and Optimized Content
- Google’s ever-changing algorithm will lead to lower search CTR and lower search volume in the future. According to industry experts, SEOs need to make three investments to drive traffic in the future: higher-quality content, more conversion, and client education.
- According to Anna Crowe, Assistant Editor of Search Engine Journal, content affects everything in SEO. Also, as per Tony Wright, CEO of WrightIMC, SEOS have to hire people that know how to write to keep up with Google’s changing algorithms.
- Jessica Levenson, content strategy and SEO consultant, and Jesse McDonald, Global SEO Strategist at IBM, have both advocated that the obsession with keywords should stop and more focus should be given to content. SEOs need to understand their audience, how they search, and the intent behind the query before presenting them results.
- One way of creating high-quality and optimized content that get the most hits is to create visual content that appeal to the users. According to Sam Mallikarjunan, Head of Growth of HubSpot Labs, search engines like Google are getting better at analyzing visual content like videos, audio clips, and images. Since Google favors YouTube videos in search results, visual content creators have to create optimized keywords for their visual content.
- In a 2020 survey of SEO industry leaders, 46.2% of the respondents stated that they believed that Google will take into account high-quality content while ranking search results in the future. This came out as the top consideration for the industry experts. Other considerations were social shares (44.8% of the respondents), accessibility (42.5%), and mobile-friendliness (41.3%).
Google and Amazon: Leverging SEO and SEM
Google leverages search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) in the automotive space by enabling car dealers to localize and optimize their listings and content on its Google My Business tool. Meanwhile, car dealers can use SEO techniques to make their car-related content higher on Amazon Garage and Amazon Vehicles.
- Google stated that the typical car shopper only go to two dealerships when looking for new vehicles. It is therefore imperative for car dealerships to rank higher in local search listings.
- Car dealerships have added layers of complexity compared to other types of local businesses. There are several layers to consider in this business such as the various offerings of the dealership, number of models and car manufacturers, multiple locations, separate site websites, and other aspects. Given this, promoting car dealerships online will also entail complex setups.
- Google has several suggested strategies to help car dealerships with their SEO and SEM setups to enable them to rank higher in search listings.
- Google My Business has been observed to have a direct link to local SEO. This is especially true when a listing need to appear in Google Local 3-pack.
- Google is now putting more importance on local-centered search results.
- Most of Google’s ranking algorithm focus more on returning quick and validated data about local businesses such as car dealerships.
- It is crucial to ensure that the data of the dealership is accurate and has important information that can help car shoppers. This is a big factor in a highly competitive environment where only a few sites can appear on Google’s search results page.
- To ensure a higher ranking using Google My Business, the following attributes need to be populated accurately: categories, car images, videos, reviews, Q&As, and other important details about the dealership.
- Another tactic to boost the ranking and backlink profile of car dealerships in Google is to have their businesses registered in online automotive directories. These online directories typically appear in the first page of Google’s search results.
- Having online reviews on the Google My Business site can also help with ranking optimization.
- To rank high on Google, car dealerships are also advised to leverage the right keywords as part of their SEO strategy in Google. These keywords need to have a “high search frequency, mid-to-low competitiveness,” and should be relevant to the dealership’s website.
- The long-tail keywords should be the actual phrases that car shoppers are typing to search for the dealership’s offerings.
- When optimizing a dealership’s website for Google, using long-tail keywords such as “2018 Ford Mustang GT features” instead of short and common phrases such as “Ford cars.” Other keywords such as MSRP and list prices are other terms that can be further expanded to generate long-tail keywords.
- As per Google, searches for images of various automotive brands is rising by 37% year-over-year.
- Dealerships are then advised to optimize their car images by including the phrase “pictures of” and other highly-searched attributes such as brand name, make, and model. This Google SEO strategy can help them be found easily by those looking for cars.
- Car dealerships should also establish local connections. This can boost their local SEO strategy as well as increase their local customers’ confidence in the dealership.
- The car dealership’s website should feature local community news or events. They can also place links to their local city’s website on their About Us webpage to boost their local visibility. The dealership can discuss about its contributions to the local community, any relevant community event that it is sponsoring, and other happenings that describe its role in the area. To further boost its local community presence, sharing pictures and providing a write-up of its involvement can help as well.
- In return, car dealerships can also request their local community websites or charity groups to put a link on their website to the dealership’s site.
- To further help Google or other search engines to know more about a car dealership’s website, placing a schema markup on the website can greatly boost a website’s ranking.
- As an example, dealerships start by applying the Vehicle “Type” schema and marking each vehicle with the “Auto schema markup JSON-LD code.”
- The following screenshot shows an example of how the JSON-LD schema markup should appear for a 2009 Volkswagen Golf:
- Google also stated that the top ranking factors are the following: content, backlinks, and references to Google’s machine learning algorithm.
- Another way for car dealers to leverage Google’s SEO ranking algorithm is to ensure that the content of their websites are useful to real people who are searching for cars to buy.
- They must also ensure to use various keywords naturally across its webpages.
- With Google’s deployment of RankBrain, having the right keywords can greatly help in propelling the ranking of a car dealership website in the search results.
- Even if it is not yet authorized to sell cars directly to the buyers, the Amazon Garage was still able to register more than 12 million cars on its site. Around 40% of those cars are already being driven.
- The site also adds other data for these cars such as related purchases. Car owners can also add more data about their car on the site.
- Amazon also posts reviews on almost all cars that ever came out of production lines. It currently has over 50,000 reviews.
- Amazon can leverage all these data points to hyper-target a new car advertisement to their intended customers. It can target these ads based on the current model owned, the stage of life of the customer, the location of their homes, age, household composition, socioeconomic status, and other relevant information.
- The site is also working with car dealers to enable potential buyers to easily select the right model on the site and connect them back to the dealer’s location. The plan is to accomplish this on a cost-per-lead basis.
- Amazon also offers its Amazon Vehicles platform for the automotive community. Car shoppers can go to this site to do their research on which cars to buy.
- Around 46% of U.S. product searches begin on Amazon.
- As the car websites above are both Amazon sites, optimizing written content and the associated images are key to ensure that Amazon’s algorithm can provide the most useful results for the prospective buyer.
- A9 is Amazon’s search algorithm that is equivalent to the one being used by Google. However, A9 is less complex as there is no requirement to discern the site visitor’s intent on a deeper level. The type of searches done on Amazon are all intended to find or buy a product.
- Given A9’s simplicity, it is much simpler to optimize the content that will be placed in Amazon sites. However, the battle for the top place in organic rankings is much more competitive.
- A9 makes use of multiple signals when it ranks various items in its search results. These signals can be classified as on-page signals such as product names, descriptions, product pictures, and keywords. The rest of the signals are considered off-page ones and can include customer search and purchase history, competitor SEO techniques, the amount of search done, product advertisement listings, go-to search terms, and other relevant data.
- Top ranking listings on Amazon sites are optimized mainly to ensure the visibility of product benefits, relevance to the product being searched, and information to increase conversion.
- Sellers on Amazon sites should ensure that they perform search engine optimization on their product’s content such as product names, descriptions, benefits, backend keywords, and product pictures.
- Sellers can also try to automate their feedback process to ensure that they have enough reviews that can contribute to the optimization of their content.
SEO and SEM: CarGurus
CarGurus’ focus on local search has allowed it to obtain 1.6 times the monthly unique visitors and around 2.8 times more monthly visitors than its competitor AutoTrader. The company also receives traffic from 15 sources, enabling it to avoid undue influence from one particular source and survive any changes in Google’s algorithm.
CarGurus’ Expertise in the SEO Space
- CarGurus has been able to greatly leverage local search, as opposed to investing in broad metrics, to surpass its competitors in its market, after discovering that SEO was becoming more commoditized. One advantage it has over its various competitors is their focus on local searches and keywords from individuals that seek to purchase a vehicle locally, resulting in those potential buyers choosing CarGurus. This strategy has contributed to CarGurus garnering 1.6 times the monthly unique visitors (18.73 million) and 2.8 times more monthly visitors (50.08 million) when compared to AutoTrader, along with a total of 150.02 million domain visits worldwide from October 2019 to December 2019, more than twice its closest competitor.
- CarGurus receives traffic from about 15 various sources, preventing any single traffic source from having any form of undue influence on its business as they are not dependent on just one source. As a result, the company is able to withstand alterations in Google’s algorithm from having significant and long-lasting effects on the overall traffic to its website. Furthermore, its monthly average sessions in the United States have grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 70% since the year 2008 despite numerous changes to Google’s algorithm.
- A thorough 2018 analysis from SimilarWeb revealed that due to its SEO targeting efforts, CarGurus was able to capture close to half (49%) of all searches for specific automobile brands from April 2017 to March 2018. This figure was more than twice the percentage share of its next closest competitor in the category True Car (23% share).
CarGurus’ Expertise in the SEM Space
- CarGurus’ SEM Plus, which was released in 2018, utilizes the company’s search engine marketing data set and proprietary knowledge to assist dealerships in operating their online marketing programs more efficiently. It provides dealerships with benefits such as dynamic advertisements that are inventory based and update in real time, real-time optimizations and algorithmic bidding strategies, advantage of scale (1 million keywords for every account), account management from digital consultants that are Google-certified, and audience retargeting via Facebook and Google. Users have raved about SEM Plus (4.4 out of 5 stars on Driving Sales), claiming that it has boosted their ROI, improved their leads, etc.
- The Jaguar Land Rover Retailer Marketing Program, or JLRMP, named CarGurus a Certified Vendor in 2018, making it one of the leading recommended selections regarding SEM products, among other things, for dealers of Jaguar Land Rover, the largest automotive manufacturer in the United Kingdom. This distinction means that Jaguar Land Rover trusts CarGurus enough to enable the company to offer those dealers SEM services, such as the SEM Plus product.
- After switching to the search engine marketing offering from CarGurus, SEM Plus, due to the performance of the listings platform, King Chevrolet Buick GMC and King Buick GMC in Colorado witnessed a 100% rise in leads and sales when compared to the companies’ previous SEM supplier.