If you work in SEO right now, your role may not exist in the future. At least, not as it exists currently. Of course, anyone who has worked in SEO for longer than a few years probably knows this already. The role of an SEO has been changing constantly since the early days of the internet.
History of SEO
Search engine optimisation was born at the same time as me, right at the start of the ’90s. The year after I popped out, the first website popped up. Now-ancient search engines began to crawl. Unlike me, websites began to reproduce quickly and soon crowded the internet.
It was an age of discovery and there was a huge need for structure and accessibility. The world’s first search engines were created to do just that.
In 1990, Archie transformed how content was categorised.
In 1994, Alta Vista, Yahoo, Dogpile, and others around the world joined the party.
In 1996, Sergey Brin and Larry Page created what would become the most popular search engine to date: BackRub…
…which became Google in 1998.
Early SEO was like the Wild West
In the ’90s and early ’00s, SEO was oh-so exploitable. The rules were fast and loose. Hacky practices like keyword stuffing and spammy links could be used to leverage higher rankings. But Google decided to do something that other search engines weren’t.
Google created an algorithm that rewarded the most user-friendly content. That is, whatever content Google felt was most relevant to the users’ query.
After hundreds of algorithm changes, SEO has rapidly evolved. The dark days of black hat SEO are all but gone. The history of SEO teaches us that the best way to prepare for the future of SEO is to do what Google does: try to please the user.
The future of SEO is position zero
Position zero is the information that Google offers at the very top of the search results. It’s the holy grail of SEO. It’s often referred to as the featured snippet – but it’s more than just that.
In my opinion, position zero also includes the definitions, calculations, translations, pronunciations, and everything else Google decides to put at the top of the page.
We’ve all seen them, sitting high above the hard-earned number one organic search result. Even above the ads for websites paying good money to be at the top. With voice-search, position zero results are the ones that get to be read out by your little computerised assistant. Each result even gets its own little feature frame.
Perhaps you’ve even managed to claim a few of those spots for yourself.
When it comes to the future of SEO, what we called ‘position zero’ is going to be first place. It’s this space where one brand can dominate a specific search query. When Google says that your website has the best possible answer to a search query, that’s a powerful testimonial.
A dark future for SEO?
There is a darker timeline for SEO. What is Google’s endgame here? The way they’re going, organic results are being pushed further and further down the page, even in favour of pay-to-play advertising. But Google are just doing what they’ve always done: trying to please the user.
It should be no surprise that Google believes the user is best served by Google. The algorithm doesn’t particularly want people clicking on your website unless it decides that it’s the best place to send them based on their search query.
SEOs and digital marketers initially protested that position zero would hurt their website traffic. Then the subsequent combining of the number one searching ranking with position zero in early 2020 really shook things up.
There have been reports that position zero doesn’t hurt stats, others that say it does, and still others that say they’ve experienced positive results. The truth is, it all depends on how good Google thinks your content is.
Look at the information in position zero. Google still pulls it from other websites around the internet. There’s even a link to the site as a reference. Google shifted the goalposts, and a good SEO will adjust their aim.
Please Google enough to gain a position zero ranking, you are bound to be succeeding with similar keywords as well. There’s still plenty of search result real estate without position zero rankings…yet. See if you can grab them.
So how do we optimise for position zero?
Quality content always wins the ranking race
Every time Google changes something, SEOs scramble. It’s part of the job. We have to stay on the algorithm’s cutting edge to get the best results.
Our approach to content needs to evolve with the algorithm too. Evergreen content doesn’t exist when the algorithm is constantly changing. Change with it. Just like you might try out different designs on your homepage to improve CRO, the rest of your website shouldn’t remain static either.
Create good content and go over old content regularly. Consolidate if you can. Make sure the on-page SEO checklist is complete, write the code for any necessary schemas, and add some more relevant copy. Use all of your SEO tools. There will be things to tweak or reassess in the future, but the underlying goal should always be to create the best content you can with the resources available to you at the time.
SEO, as far as Google goes at least, is ultimately about pleasing the user. While the future of SEO evolves more and more towards this goal, marketing at its core won’t ever change. It has and always will be about reaching the right people, with the right content, at the right time.