How is SEO changing in 2023? Be ready for the future of the industry

Are you aware of SEO changes shaping the industry this year?

Great for you.

Because you can gain competitive advantage if you understand the new dynamics and forces. And if you have the ability to understand them, your SEO will thrive. Don’t understand them and your business online can fail.

In fact, the whole industry has never been more alive and it’s reaching $100 billion in the next 2 years.

This means lots and lots of the marketing budget companies spend each year goes to increasing organic traffic and sales.

So how is then SEO changing?

What are the competitive forces that are changing the landscape?

What can marketers do?

These and other questions will be answered in this article.

how is seo changing

3 external forces are changing the SEO industry

There are essentially three forces changing the SEO industry and its perceived value.

If you have been in SEO for a while, you have probably heard that industry is going through a couple of interesting changes lately.

Understanding these new trends is key to your success with SEO because it shapes the way SEO is practised and valued.

1. Too much content that is not even useful

Here is the first SEO change. 

Google is having problems serving great content on its results.

Why?

Because approximately 60 millions new blogs are created in a year. There is too much content in the search.

In fact, Google launched the Helpful Content Update in September 2022 as a way to combat this massive increase of content creation on the web.

Humans created just too much content because we were trained with the mantra “Content is King”.

But SEOs have taken this to another level by producing a staggering amount of content without any value for users.

Then SEOs have gamed Google’s algorithms and understood how to rank content, whether or not this content is actually useful for users.

In other words, we know how to beat the algorithm, so we do it.

2. The rise of Artificial Intelligence in SEO

What about the rise of Artificial Intelligence?

Recently Jasper, an AI writing tool and, in my opinion, one of the worst marketing tools out there, raised $125 Million and it’s valued $1.5 billion.

And this is just news from one AI tool, which makes it easy to understand the exponential growth of AI.

We could literally press a button and push millions of new pages on the web that will be indecipherable from human created content.

So how is Google going to differentiate human content from AI? How does Google rank and index human vs AI content?

Well, they don’t know how to do it yet.

3. The rise of TikTok as a search engine

The third SEO change is TikTok, originally born as a social media platform, then turned into a search engine.

As reported by TechCrunch: TikTok is quickly stealing users from Google. This news was reported by Google itself saying the following:

“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.”

This tendency was growing so much that the internet giant announced in 2021 that it was working on arrangements to index Instagram and TikTok videos in Search.

You can already see some of this progress if you search for a term followed by the phrase “TikTok,” and Google will display rows of TikTok video results before any conventional webpages.

tiktok on google searches

What are the SEO effects of these forces?

Ultimately, the effect of these three forces combined is that we are left with mediocre results on Google.

Google is really worried about this because when it’s not able to satisfy users’ queries, its entire business model will crumble and they get less ad spaces.

Google needs people to keep searching and coming back in order to sell more ads and increase its revenue.

Of course, we not even close to that point and we are not going to get there any time soon.

SEO is still worth it, it’s not dead at all and will never be dead until people keep searching.

However, some industries are starting to really take a hit from Google’s bad results.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

The effect of Google's mediocre results on e-commerce

One of the many industries that is affected by Google’s mediocre results is e-commerce.

Let’s see a few examples and put things into context. Let’s assume my wife has frizzy hair and needs a shampoo to fix that issue. I want to buy her a present and, as a total novice in frizzy hair shampoos, I have no idea what to buy.

Where do I start my search?

I go on Google and type “best frizzy hair shampoo”. If I scroll past the 1 paid ad on top that is not relevant to what I need, I look at Google’s organic results and notice that 9/10 results are NOT product pages.

Only 1 result is a product page which is Amazon ranking because it’s a tech giant. I am probably not going to buy a shampoo on Amazon for my wife.

Now we are going to analyse this huge list of random articles.

frizzy hair shampoo serp

When I visit the first result, cosmopolitan.com, I suddenly notice that I am in front of paid placements.

All of these brands listed on Cosmopolitan are paying to be there.

This is the work of PR team from companies like Redken, Kérastase and Biolab, doing Digital PR campaigns.

If these are not PR campaigns, then these are affiliate links.

cosmopolitan paid placements

A huge attribution problem

What does all of this mean?

This means that Google is no longer a good fit for that e-commerce, top-of-the-funnel discovery searches.

Why?

Because Google Analytics is set up by default to assign the sale to the last interaction attribution, Last Interaction attribution assigns 100% credit to the final touch points (i.e., Cosmopolitan) that immediately precede sales or conversions.

Essentially, when users land on curated lists/affiliates like Cosmopolitan, then often buy from one of listed brands, say Biolab, because they trust the brand association and because they were the first Google result.

Then the last touch attribution in Google Analytics for Biolab goes to a paid placement like Cosmopolitan, taking 100% of the credit.

last touch model

When the last touch is a paid placement like Cosmopolitan, this is a huge problem for SEO.

SEOs and business owners see referral traffic is driving lots of sales, therefore they invest even more in affiliate marketing and paid product placements, while completely missing the fact that Google is sending traffic to affiliates and paid placements, in the first place.

In other words, while Google should be credited for the sale because it triggered the initial search, according to the last touch in Google Analytics, the credit goes to Cosmopolitan instead.

In this attribution model of Google Analytics, the last touch is Cosmopolitan, not Google. This means the first touch goes untracked.

There is no way to track Google as the first channel because the tracking journey is interrupted at paid placements (or affiliates).Technically, Google can follow users throughout the entire journey thanks to cookies, but they can’t share this data with you in Google Analytics.

I mean, unless you own Cosmopolitan and can set up cross-domain attribution, the first touch goes untracked.

What’s the solution?

There is no solution at present. If Google keeps showing curated lists of products on the top 10 results every time we search “best X or Y”, then unfortunately no e-commerce website will be ever able to rank its for unbranded keywords on page 1. At least, a new e-commerce website cannot.

This is what a users’ journey currently looks like:

  1. I searched “best sun glasses” on Google
  2. 9/10 times I landed on an affiliate site or paid placement
  3. I clicked on the affiliate link and credited the affiliate with the sale
google users journey

What does this all lead us to?

This is what I mean when I say Google is NOT creating demand, but just capturing it.

In turn, SEOs lost the ability to create demand on Google.

Creating demand means we, SEOs, should be able to drive people into an ecosystem and into our funnels where we can track everything on Google Analytics.

Websites should be able to create videos, top of the funnel content and other resources to make users discover the brand on Google and buy our products from Google, without having to pay affiliates or curated lists.

The problem of content independence

When brands pay huge sums to affiliates and paid placements and credit them with the sale, there are lots of other issues.

One of them is content independence.

As you know, there is already a problem with affiliate websites. Many users don’t trust reviews because affiliates are biased and incentivised by money.

They are essentially a sales force paid only from the sales they generate. Therefore to motivate their audience to buy, they have no other choice but to write nice things about a brand. Saying only nice things because you are paid means you are not independent.

If affiliates don’t generate sales, they have worked for nothing.

This is what created an issue with content independence that is taken to the extreme on Google search results, as we have seen above with 9/10 results are affiliates or paid placements.

Some brands take the extreme measure of purchasing their own curated lists and affiliates websites.

Let me give you an example.

Recently, Kape technologies, which own multiple VPN services, bought VPNMentor.com, the biggest affiliate website for VPNs.

And you know how much they paid?

$150 million!

Content independence good-bye for VPNs brands. ✈️

Until Google keeps showing affiliates and paid placements on top 10 results, there will always be a content independence issue.

Google cannot afford to lose trust in consumers, they have built their empire on gaining people’s trust.

TikTok is providing marketers with a solution for demand creation

Given these complications we just discussed, what should we, as marketers, do?

When it comes to bottom of the funnel keywords, such as “best something”, we can do what most users are starting to do. Going on TikTok.

Go on TikTok and search for “best shampoo for frizzy hair”, where we find people who are genuinely interested in showing the effects of the shampoo to their frizzy hair.

tiktok frizzy hair shampoo search

TikTok returns a list of people and influencers who are putting a lot of thought into it.

This list is different than Google’s list full of paid placements and affiliates coming from brands trying to sell me something.

TikTok results also eliminate the problem of content independence. These people know exactly what’s going on in beauty and fashion. They know the latest trends, the best products, the most scientifically advanced discoveries in shampooing.

TikTok search beats Google 10-0 when it comes to top-of-the-funnel search and product discovery.

So, do you think we can refine our users’ journey into something more appropriate, like this?

  1. Users search on TikTok for products
  2. Check influencers and brands
  3. Go back to Google after they liked a brand
  4. Land on the brand’s website and purchase

Here is a visualisation of the two journeys compared:

tiktok vs google's users journey

You can also clearly see this dynamic happening from Search Console.

If your brand is talked about on TikTok, you’ll see that lots and lots of traffic is coming from “branded keyword + product name”.

For example, “branded keyword + shampoo”.

brand and product searches

How can you use TikTok to create new product demand online?

There are two strategies I would recommend.

The first thing you should do is hire a full-time TikTok creator and let your product be known on that social platform.

You can build a lot of brand awareness and a lot of reach on TikTok.

There are a few benefits to doing that:

  • A product influencer is cheaper than starting a new SEO campaign.
  • A product influencers is also cheaper than affiliates ranking on top of Google search results.
  • Influencers can start promoting to an existing audience, cutting the delivery time compared to the time it takes Google to rank your website.
  • Influencers are also extremely knowledgeable about the products they promote and this knowledge created trust. When there is trust, there are sales.

Once you finish this TikTok strategy, you can finally start to leverage traditional content strategy on top of that.

Because we now know that people start their journey on TikTok and then they move to Google, it makes a lot of sense to now do SEO and build your presence there too.

This is the right SEO approach because using TikTok allows you to create demand and using Google allows you to capture that demand.

The other benefits of doing so is finally tracking the last touch attribution and giving credit to Google.

With this strategy, when you do SEO around a brand that people already know from TikTok, you rank on top of search results and have bypassed affiliates, giant tech companies dominating search and expensive paid placements standing in your way.

And you why you rank on top?

Because you can translate the authoritative TikTok content into blog posts for your website. You can hire the same TikTok influencer to curate your blog from an authoritative stand point, without having to rely on paid placements from people who try to sell you something because they get paid for it.

Is SEO a waste of time?

Now brands start to understand what the new ecosystem looks like, with shifting forces that create demand and then capture it.

If you have a new website, I would not recommend SEO as a strategy. First, you need to understand this new phenomenon and start to look closely at TikTok or other social platforms for your industry.

This doesn’t mean that Google SEO is not worth it, though. It means that you have to revaluate your data and your strategy.

My recommendation for your bottom of the funnel content, would be not to look at Google as your first and foremost source of traffic and sales for your product pages, unless you want to go down the affiliate/ paid sponsorship route.

In which case prepare the big budgets.

But if you have already a website with a good domain authority, some online presence and great resources to share, then I would 100% recommend SEO and bottom line content.

Because in this case, you have good chances to rank for competitive keywords and intercept some of the demand on Google, send traffic to your product pages and make sales.

If you need help with your changing SEO landscape and want to receive high impact SEO consulting, I can help you with my SEO freelance services.

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