Today’s post covers a very interesting topic – The future of SEO and is based on a Whiteboard Friday discussion by Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz. The search marketing industry is today poised on the brink of explosive growth and is seen to be the major source of advertising eclipsing the likes of the traditional mediums such as television and print media.
It is an interesting trip to the future and Rand’s views are equally interesting on what would be relevant in 5 to 10 years from now. He admits these are his personal views and is not an indicator of things to come. But it is a good reminder to be ready for it if it materialises in future.
1) Classic “Accessibility” of SEO:
Accessibility is a key factor in the successful crawl and subsequent indexation of a site. The bots should be able to access all available information on the site without any problems. The best practices prevalent at this time should be no different in future. Search engine friendly design and web development will be as vital in future as it is now.
2) Classic “Content” SEO:
The bots are very sophisticated in judging the quality of content and can distinguish very well between content that is original and content that has shades of plagiraism. Content is still king on the web and is the primary source of gaining inbound links from good quality sites well established in like minded verticals.
In short, the current capabilities of search engines with respect to crawling problems due to sticky parameters in URLs, lack of sitemaps etc are not going to be much different in future. A good site and information architecture supplemented by good design practices only serve to improve the user experience. It also makes the usage of the internet an attractive proposition to market products and services on the web.
All these factors outlined in (1) and (2) above reflect doing only good things in SEO and and and are not going to change anytime in future.
3) Social Graph Metrics:
Social media has grown in leaps and bounds and is certainly one of the hottest areas of activity gaining traction in the SEO world. Rand feels both Google and Microsoft will try to acquire more social media properties over time, either a part or full acquisition of say Twitter or Facebook or other new upcoming networks.
It would be interesting to see how much of social graph metrics will find its way into the search algorithms. There is already talk of Twitter cannibalising the link landscape. Rand feels the influence of social media metrics is going to be very small as Twitter and Facebook can still be gamed.
The general tendency among humans to agree to disagree is another factor that has to be taken into consideration. If four of your friends feel that a certain Italian restaurant is the best in town, you may not see that restaurant in the top page of search results when you do a related search. There are a lot of other considerations at play.
Rand puts a question mark against social graph metrics in terms of adding value to real search especially for searches based on intent of – I have no idea of what I am looking for or I have not explored this area in depth. An interesting article on searcher intent  is a must read to get a better understanding.
4) Usage Metrics/Query Demand:
This is a topic of much speculation in the SEO industry. The query volumes collected by Google from its Analytics program and the data it obtains from visitor tracking will make way into Google’s algorithm in good ways that go with links.
Rand paints a scenario where the visits to a site are increasing but is not matched by the growth of links to that site. Google could work on the premise that there is considerable query volume demand and the links will catch up. It can still rank this site high on the SERPs.
5) Verticalization of SEO:
There is bound to be a big dramatic change in this area of SEO. Rand cites a few examples like looking for a good Thai restaurant in Seattle. A user would be more inclined to go to urbanspoon.com or yelp.com to do such a search than on Google.
It is the same when booking a flight from Atlanta to Miami. Kayak or Farecast would be a much better option than searching on Google. So, branding wise, people tend to think about different services for different needs.
Rand predicts that verticals will take a firm hold over the next 5 to 10 years. Increased verticalization will not lead to less query volume but less intentional searches for those verticals on the major search engines.
A major challenge for SEO practitioners in future would be to become adept at optimizing sites for searches on Yelp, Craigslist, Citysearch and Zillow and real time searches on Twitter.
6) More Data Fewer “Opinions”:
SEO is going to be more data driven in future with advances in correlation analysis and link graph analysis. Testing and publishing of results of such tests will form a good benchmark for SEO practitioners and help improve their standards. This is happening in a limited way with the correlation testing done and publishing of results by the folks at SEOmoz.
Rand felt 5 years ago that this would be the present state of affairs in the SEO industry but is surprised it has not happened yet. There will be fewer opinions that will not be backed by hard results arising from extensive testing. He puts a question mark against this factor as he is not sure what the answer will be in future.