The breakneck pace of SEO and social media development is exciting for online marketers. It offers countless new opportunities to get an edge over the competition and refine our tactics to better appeal to our audience. But at the same time, it's a little intimidating.
Though some new technologies and trends are hardly noticeable, others are game-changing, undermining some of the tactics you've poured your time and money into in favor of some new paradigm you have to learn from scratch.
So, most marketers try to make predictions about the course of development for the industry, tracing historical lines to uncover patterns and following those projected lines into the future. Though effective, doing that only prepares us for the most immediate, straightforward, and accessible possibilities for development. Instead, we need to focus on some of the potentially radical changes that lurk in our near future.
Based on my experience in the industry, some subtle hints suggested by influential companies in the space, and a bit of logic, I can see some (or all) of the following five changes taking hold in the next decade:
1. Traditional websites are on their last legs
Marketers have been predicting the death of traditional websites in favor of mobile apps for a few years now. Mobile traffic continues to rise, and users increasingly prefer app-based experiences to online browser-based ones. But the next five years or so could bring us the final nails in the coffin.
Google is slowly rolling out new search features that cater to apps and app users. For example, app streaming allows users to access in-app content for apps they haven't even downloaded directly within search results.
To prepare for that transition, either begin work on creating an app for your business or invest in apps that already exist, such as third-party review sites or directories.
2. Google is about to become a self-updating AI monster
Until recently, Google's pattern of updates has been patchy, unfolding in peaks of massive deployments that fundamentally overhaul some major portion of the algorithm (Panda and Penguin come to mind). But last year, Google released RankBrain, a machine-learning algorithm that is gradually learning how to better handle semantically complex queries from users.
Though the change is small in nature (it was out for several months before anybody even noticed), I believe RankBrain to be a harbinger for much bigger, complex AI-based algorithm changes to come. If Google becomes a self-updating, intelligent machine, it will be more important than ever to stray from gimmicky tactics and focus on providing the best user experience possible from a qualitative perspective.
3. Organic social media ROI will falter
Until now, Facebook and other social media sites have been friendly to organizations looking to distribute content to the masses, but one of Facebook's most recent updates portends a grim future for content publishers.
The social media giant is gradually reducing the organic reach of businesses, organizations, and content publishers in favor of individual users. That change makes sense since the platform is for these individual users in the first place. But losing organic reach is a development most publishers hoped would never come.
It's time to start hedging your bets with other syndication platforms and possibly biting the bullet with paid advertising when your ROI starts to decline.
4. Predictive search will take a massive step forward
When predictive search arrived in its current form, marketers were excited and worried about its implications for the future of search. This technology could finish users' queries for them with auto-complete... So, would this mean more streamlined, funneled keyword searches or a frustrating variable that would make keyword targeting more difficult?
Overall, its impact was minimal, but it has opened the gateway to an even broader kind of predictive search—a form where Google can search on your behalf before you know what to search for. It could pick up cues like your physical location, search history, or even current activities (especially with products like Google Home to display recommended search results before you even finish your query). Such a development would force search optimizers to pivot and optimize for situations and opportunities rather than for keywords or phrases.
5. Content will be forced to adapt into interactive, variable forms
Search engines and social media platforms will put increasing pressure on content creators to make better content. But what will "better" mean in the future?
Increasing competition and lower user patience will phase out the typical fluff content that runs so rampantly these days. The gap between good and flat content will widen, and the winners of the content game will be businesses that provide the most individual, variable, and adaptive experiences—the ones that are interactive.
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The progression of online marketing has been too variable and too expectation-defying to try and pin down the exact time when (and whether) any of these changes will happen. However, these examples serve as valuable thought experiments that can help you imagine possible courses for the future—and prepare for them while you still have time.