Google algorithm updates. Machine learning. AI. SEO is a forever changing industry. Here’s a breakdown of some of the emerging trends we’re most interested in for the year ahead.
Ever-changing search landscape
Where do you start your search in 2023? While Google has dominated for so long that ‘Googling’ became its own adjective, there is an ever-growing list of options by which users can begin their search.
Many younger users are turning to video platforms such as TikTok, Instagram or YouTube to start their search, rather than Google. Certainly, the visual method of displaying information can assist those who are visual learners or who find this format easier to digest.
Other users are turning to forum-type platforms like Reddit or Quora for advice or product information, as they trust the information provided by peers over the carefully crafted prose of a marketing department.
Users searching for a specific type of product are also taking their search directly to their favourite product marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay or Etsy, with data suggesting that less than half of product searches now start on Google.
More recently, users have tried turning to AI platforms like ChatGPT to answer their queries. This AI chatbot allowed them to ask complex questions, and even refine searches with additional clarification, something which Google can still struggle with in comparison. For many long-tail or coding-related questions, ChatGPT came out as a better alternative to Google. However, for factual and authoritative queries, the AI tool was often to be lacking in detail or incorrect.
As a result, the future of search engines may also start to include some of these AI-generated features, with examples by smaller search engines such as Neeva and You, which are providing answers within their SERPs based on AI and backing these answers up with sources. Microsoft are heavily invested in and exploring using OpenAI, which will end up on many of their products including Bing. While in 2022, Google replaced the native reverse image search function on Google with Google Lens, an AI-powered image recognition technology, which is now used three billion times per month by users, allowing them to scan physical objects in the real world to start their search.
In 2023, we will continue to see the diversification of user journeys across platforms, and SEOs will need to take this into account. The appeal of each of these alternative search starting points are easy to understand from a user’s perspective, especially when some websites are slow loading, have stuffed too much content onto a single page or hidden useful information behind paywalls and hundreds of ads.
We’ve always encouraged our clients to understand their user journey and user engagement, and this is now more important than ever. We’ve also been encouraging clients to explore alternative content types such as videos, podcasts and more interactive content.
However, while some of these platforms have seen massive growth, such as ChatGPT growing to a million users in five days, it’s worth noting that Google is still the most visited website in the world, as well as by far the most popular search engine - processing around 8.5 billion searches every day. With most users still choosing to visit those websites within the first page of results, we don’t see this popularity waning in 2023, meaning SEO still has a large role to play in the expanding search landscape.
Expansion of structured data
To capture users across the range of search platforms, you need to inform search engines what content it can find on your site. The most common way is through the implementation of structured data on your site, where you markup the content to make it clear what is present on-page. For example, product schema will inform search engines that they should expect to find a product on the page, while FAQ schema will suggest that the page includes questions and answers to commonly asked questions.
This implementation allows search engines to serve rich results on the SERP. The types of structured data which search engines recognise and use expanded in 2022 and will continue to grow in 2023.
Voice search has been predicted to be a key search trend for a few years now. In our experience with clients who are exploring alternative content types, there have been a few discussions around the use of Speakable markup which uses text-to-speech to identify content which Google Assistant-enabled devices can read aloud. Having only recently entered Beta, it’s still early in its implementation, but use cases are easy to see. Allowing content to act as both a written piece and as audio gives users more options on how to consume content, as well as increasing accessibility access to content.
Within video content, Google introduced Key Moments in 2022, which aims to help them identify the points in the video that provide the best answer to users’ query. This especially helps those who have long-form videos on their site that aim to cover various topics, allowing users to jump in at the exact point they are most interested in. Additionally, Google is exploring various additional video schema types which help them understand the purpose of the video such as home activities, educational / learning videos, or live streams. With YouTube Shorts being introduced and short-form videos now appearing on SERPs, we know that this is a market that Google is competing against TikTok and Instagram for, so it’s likely that these formats will also be marked up soon.
Getting sign-off on many of these implementations has been difficult in the past, as reporting on the direct impact has been tricky. That said, the expansion of structured data has arrived alongside the expansion in the potential for Google Search Console to report on structured data and video indexing. This has given SEOs greater insight into the direct impact of some of the most popular structured data types and we hope to see further expansion of these reporting features in 2023, allowing SEOs to dig deeper.
Google had around ten major algorithm updates in 2022, with the Helpful Content Update and Link Spam Updates only completing in January 2023. Obviously, we would expect to see further updates in 2023, but the form which these are likely to take is up for debate.
We know that the May 2022 update impacted AI generated content pretty heavily, and we suspect that with the rise of ChatGPT and similar AI tools, there will be similar updates targeted at AI this year. This is particularly true when the two Helpful Content updates were focused on devaluing low-value or unhelpful content, which many of these AI tools can produce on mass scale. While AI may have a place in the process of creating content or automating certain processes, Google will likely be cracking down hard on AI-generated content in 2023.
If the recent Helpful Content algorithm updates are anything to judge by, Google and similar search engines are focusing on the user intent, user experience and user journeys in 2023, so SEOs should be too. This means truly understanding the customer and the steps along their journey to help solve their pain-points and questions.
If a particular brand is present at each step along the journey providing useful, quality content, then it’s more likely that users are going to go the full way with them. When your entire website is focused on providing your users with a satisfying experience, then this naturally helps to promote your brand across the SERPs.
Our recommendations are always that the foundations of SEO are still vital to rankings and will continue to be in 2023. Ensuring your website has quality content, is technically sound, and promoting your site via consistent digital PR efforts are still key factors to SEO success in 2023. SEO is a data-rich industry and there are plenty of opportunities for brands to expand and grow in 2023.