5 Trends That Signal The Extinction Of Organic Search Results
Who killed Lincoln?
Let’s say you know 10 historians. If you ask the first one, “Who killed Lincoln?” and he or she told you, “John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln” would you really need to ask the other nine? Probably not.
This is why Google built the Knowledge Graph. If Google knows the answer to your question, why bother showing users a list of websites that contain essentially the same answer?
In theory, Google could suppress organic results for quite a few searches, delivering just a Knowledge Graph answer and a few ads alongside it. As the Knowledge Graph improves, we could see a day where only a handful of searches require organic links to other sites.
While I’m sure Google would argue, “That’s not the plan,” there have been quite a few changes to its search engine that makes a organic-less search results page a real possibility.
1. Mass Scraping
Yes, we know that the Knowledge Graph contains answers to historic facts from trusted sources like Wikipedia, but did you also know that Google has started lifting content from lesser-known websites to answer very specific questions?
As some have pointed out, this could be considered to be nothing more than scraping content, a practice Google bans sites for using as it violates its webmaster guidelines.
If Google is able to extract just the valuable content from sites to add to its own site, what’s to prevent it from completely replacing the organic results with snippets from other sites? Or perhaps even doing an AdWords profit share with the content owners in exchange for not sending a user to their site?
2. Google’s AdWords Primary Ad
For those of us who tuned into Google’s AdWords Lifestream event, we saw a new ad format come to mobile searches: the Primary Ad. They are called “Primary Ads” because images in the ads take up about half the page, thereby taking complete priority of the user’s attention. The large ad space pushes organic listings below the fold.
What if the primary ad format became so popular, and the ad so relevant, that almost all users engaged with that ad spot? Would Google even need to show organic listings?
3. Google’s Virtual Assistant
On your mobile device, open up the Google App and say, “OK, Google.” Then ask Google a question such as, “Where was Albert Einstein born?” After a few seconds, you’ll hear a Siri-like voice say, “Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany”.
Like the computer aboard “Star Trek’s” Enterprise, Google’s virtual assistant delivers only the best answer without the vocal prompts to navigate to third-party Web pages.
4. Google Android Wear
With the success of the Apple Watch, it won’t be long until every watch is a smartwatch. And with every smart device, we’ll soon be using our wrists to perform searches.
The only problem is that tiny screen isn’t big enough for a full set of search results. That’s right, the displays of the future will be just a single result — the best result — and that best result may just be a paid ad.
5. Google Glass
I know a lot of folks believe that Glass was a failure, and it died for good last year. I agree that Glass v1.0 was a failure, but the Glass project is far from dead. We’ll see v2.0 probably within a year or so, and it’ll likely look much cooler and work much better.
Glass’ search results, at least in the Explorer Edition, was powered by Google Now style cards. Instead of a long scrolling page of search results, you see a single search result card on top of a stack you can flip through.
For all intents and purposes, it was a single result. You did have the option to flip through cards to view other results, but it was such a pain to navigate you might as well perform a new search.
What It Means For The SEO:
Whether you want to search via typing or speaking on a desktop, mobile, watch or head-mounted display, there is a good chance that you’ll be seeing fewer blue links and more “best answer” type search results.
With only a single search result available, competition is going to be fierce for that top spot. But then again, competition has always been fierce for a #1 ranking. But this time it may be a winner-takes-all competition where organic results duke it out with paid ads as well, and I think most SEOs know that’s a losing battle.
What’s An SEO To Do?
The short answer is to adapt and evolve. There are probably a dozen or more sectors and niches where an old-school SEO can pivot to attain an in-demand skill set, for example:
- Vertical search engines like Amazon and Facebook offer a very different algorithm from Google’s, yet they are increasing in importance to businesses.
- Upcoming content providers like Snapchat and Instagram offer exclusive content that is inaccessible to Google. Helping users find content within those platforms will be a huge need down the road.
- Mobile is clearly taking over desktop, yet content within apps is still incredibly difficult for users to discover. Helping users find apps within the app store is another growing sub-genre of search, along with deep-linking and app indexing.
- Virtual reality and augmented reality are two technologies that are certain to play important roles in our lives over the next few years. Getting that new, virtual content created and discovered will be an in-demand line of work for anyone interested in cutting-edge tech.
Don’t get me wrong, the SEO industry is strong and growing, and will be for the next few years. But it does seem that the practice of optimizing Web pages to show up at the top of a list of links has a limited shelf-life.
Hopefully that shelf life is long, and the transition will be a slow one. But it’s hard for anyone to deny that the transition is real, and SEOs need to be ready to adapt to the new landscape.