SEO is a constantly changing job
When I started working with SEO in the late 90s, it was undoubtedly a much simpler task than it is today. The search engines were far from as advanced and smart as they are today, and there were fewer parameters that we as SEO people had to deal with.
When I wrote my first book on SEO “Search Engines for Web Designers”, which was published by IDG publishing house in 1999, the work with SEO could be fairly adequately described in 87 densely written pages.
In my biggest book to date “SEO 2.0”, which was published just 10 years later in 2009, I had to allocate approx. 1,400 pages, to describe just a part of everything that SEO had evolved into.
And since 2009, a lot more has happened!
Development has by no means come to a standstill. On the contrary! And of course this constantly places new demands on our work with SEO.
A few years ago, a Google representative told me at a conference in London how many updates they make. At the time, it was in the region of 10,000 annually – equivalent to more than 25 daily!
However, very few of these many updates have any real impact on SEO. These are small adjustments in e.g. interface and underlying functions. But some of them have. And we have to deal with that all the time when we work with SEO – if we want to continue to benefit from the visibility.
Change is not death of SEO
Every time there have been major changes in the way search engines interpret and display data, SEO has been declared dead.
One of the first times I really noticed it was when search engines started analyzing link data many years ago.
Contrary to what many people think, it was not actually Google who were the first, but they developed the technique further and became, among other things, known for their (or actually initially Stanford’s) patented PageRank algorithm.
When link data as a ranking signal became more widespread, many believed that SEO was now dead.
Until then, it had largely only been “on-site” parameters that we had to optimize – and we had full control of that.
Now we suddenly had to deal with external parameters – what others do (in this case, who they link to) and we cannot fully control that.
However, it turned out very quickly that we could of course also influence links and so the whole link building industry was born. It remains large and important to this day.
The point is that while there were some who thought SEO would die with the proliferation of link data, SEO definitely did not die. It just evolved. It has not died!
AI will change search and SEO
Now we have come to AI – and everything that is happening in this time. Especially Google’s presentation of their new “Search Generative Experience” (SGE), at the most recently held I/O conference, has (again) led many to predict that SEO will die.
Some fear that all answers will be given directly in Google without the possibility or motivation for users to click on the sources about which answers are given.
I believe that fear is greatly exaggerated. But there is no doubt that interfaces like SGE – regardless of how it ends, will be another major change in our industry.
But as always, we who work with SEO will adapt to the new reality and learn to take advantage of the new challenges, rather than just giving up.
From SEO to LLO
Large Language Models (LLM), which is the term used for services such as ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, have already changed many of the tasks we solve every day.
The integration of LLM in searches, so that more answers are given directly in the search engine, is guaranteed to also change a lot. However, despite the fact that many see it as an important competitive parameter for search engines, the preliminary statistics do not suggest that.
When Bing launched an integration with ChatGPT in their search engine, we admittedly experienced a slight increase in their market share. And Google lost a correspondingly small amount. But very shortly after, it fell back to the same level as before – even though Google has not yet fully integrated LLM.
Personally, I think for sure that the LLM will change a lot of things in search and and the way we work with SEO. It would be strange if it didn’t. A technological jump forward as significant as this is will of course change the market.
But it won’t kill SEO. It will just – once again – change it.
If LLMs become a more integrated part of the search experience, as many signs suggest it will, then it is “just” another factor we as SEOs must influence. Like when links became a factor.
And perhaps, as some have suggested, in a few years we will spend so much of our time influencing LLM’s that we will have to rename our work from SEO to LLO.
Regardless of what name we give the work we do, I am quite sure that I will still be working on optimization next year. And the years to come. But it will certainly not be in quite the same way as today.
Will organic links disappear completely?
There is no doubt that the search engines would love the search users to stay with them a little longer. The integration of answers, directly in the search engine, will certainly influence that.
But, and there are a few very important “buts”…
Firstly, it is important to remember that Google makes a living from advertisements – the vast majority of which are paid for by clicks. So if all answers are given directly in Google and no one clicks on anything, then they make no money.
Some fear that it will all just be a mix of LLM answers and ads, but I don’t think that will happen either.
Because fundamentally, Google is not fundamentally different from other media.
A good newspaper is supported by good editorial material. Good articles that are selected and written on journalistic principles. Then a lot of advertisements can be stuffed around them, but if New York Times or Wall Street Journal dropped all the articles and just filled the newspapers with advertisements, no one would buy it. Then it’s just a coupon booklet.
The same applies to search engines like Google.
Although it might well be a wet dream in Google’s sales department that you could only leave Google by clicking on an ad, I don’t think it will ever happen.
To summarize: Partly because the objective integrity would disappear, and partly because a complete removal of the organic links would undermine users’ natural desire to click on more information. And then the click rate on the ads will also decrease.
In addition, Google – as a pure advertising machine – would also open a gate for new competitors.
Many may not remember that today. But Google actually got the first big boost in popularity precisely because they launched the service as an advertising-free search engine at a time when the dominant competitors – such as Alta Vista and Yahoo – were stuffed with extremely disturbing advertisements and animated GIFs.
The same thing could happen again!
If Google and Bing make the same mistake that Yahoo and Alta Viste did over 20 years ago, a more ad-free search engine could quickly gain very large market shares. And then that’s just the ones our SEO focus will land on.
Be ready for change!
As a wise man once said, it is difficult to predict – especially about the future!
However, you have to accept the fact that SEO will continue to change. Day by day – year by year. What we do today is (almost) guaranteed not to work as well next year.
This means that you must be ready for constant change. And not only that, you have to keep up with developments, learn to understand the new challenges and how you can take advantage of them.
How will we apply SEO in a few years? I don’t know now, but I guarantee you that I will when the time comes! That is essentially what I have been doing for over 25 years now.
Those who, with genuine interest and curiosity, throw themselves into the new opportunities – which right now are very much centered around AI and LLM, will win the race tomorrow. As such, there is nothing new in that, but not everyone remembers it, so it is worth repeating.
And yes, I know it can seem really annoying that all the effort you’ve spent on learning everything about SEO can feel wasted when everything changes. When you have just spent enormous resources on implementing the (today’s) perfect SEO strategy, it is a bit annoying to have to change a lot of things when the search engines change.
But that’s how it is. Like it or not!
If you hate change and constantly having to adjust your strategies, then unfortunately I have to say that you are in the wrong industry. The Internet – not just the search engines – is constantly changing. This is how it has always been and there is nothing to indicate that the development will stop.
In practical terms, it can naturally be a challenge to keep up. But this is precisely why there will continue to be a need for SEO geeks like me, who enjoy rising to the many new challenges every single morning – and conveying them to my clients so that they can benefit from it – and get their (un-) fair share of the market.