4 min read

Adapting SEO to a more challenging environment

The phrase “Search Engine Optimisation”, according to industry analyst Danny Sullivan, probably came into use in 1997. Sullivan credits Bruce Clay as one of the first people to popularise the term, and since then the phrase has grown from something relatively niche into something that generates at least tens of thousands of searches every month.

Search Engine Optimisation is now an industry approaching $80 billion according to Forbes, which is a very big number, but one that sounds perfectly reasonable. I consider myself very lucky to work in the search industry and over the last decade I have seen it grow at an amazing pace – and there is no sign of that slowing down.

What has changed, however, is the service Google now offers to users around the world – specifically the actual search results page, which is now a much richer and diverse experience. I can’t help but think that Google has become much more than a search engine. It one of the most powerful and influential businesses on the planet, providing users something that has evolved beyond a search engine.

Why is Google more than just a search engine?

In the early days of Google, users would type in a keyword or phrase and Google would serve you a page consisting of ten results and you would click on whatever result you thought was most relevant or most appealing. Depending on what you search for now, you might only see seven or eight results on the page and a lot more than just a list of links.

A good example of just how rich Google’s results have become is by searching for “Tottenham” (yes, I’m a Spurs fan and yes, this is causing me a lot of frustration these days).

As you can see, the page offers the users a range of features, including a big featured snippet area showing the team’s recent (dismal) performances, news, the league table and players. Below this there is an area for ‘Top Stories’, then a link to the official site, then Twitter posts from the official Spurs account, then YouTube videos, then some news sites, then Google Maps, then a “People also ask” section and then links to other premier league teams.

Google is providing the user with a great range of choices and a lot more than just ten links. Yes, a user is searching for something, but the results can easily send users to other platforms such as Twitter or YouTube (or the user simply won’t click on anything because Google has provided them with the information they are looking for).

The rise of no-click searches is arguably the biggest change and challenge facing SEO today. To put things into perspective, Rand Fishkin has shown that between February 2016 and February 2018 there was a 20% drop in mobile organic CTR and a 20% increase in mobile “no-click” searches. Simply put, SEO is getting harder because Google is providing answers to queries, removing the need for the user to click.

Futureproofing SEO

As the organic space has become so competitive and the number of clicks available has decreased, it has led to a lot of discussion and debate about the future of SEO. There is a wide range of opinion and for me, the following areas are some of the more important ones for the SEO industry today:

1) Cross channel integration

  • Paid search, particularly on mobile devices, has been the big winner in the last few years as it has become harder to distinguish them from organic results. So, having the two channels working together intelligently will become even more important for businesses.

  • Being intelligent really means knowing which keywords have the highest intent behind them and bidding aggressively on them. Using your paid search budget to drive that first click for high intent keywords is one way of grabbing the traffic which you may not be getting organically. From there, making sure that the landing page is optimised for a positive user experience, resulting in the desired action is where SEO – and particularly conversion rate optimisation – can step in.

2) Conversion Rate Optimisation

  • Increasing the conversion rate of a site is hugely valuable to any business. With solutions like Google Optimize or Optimizely running split tests or multivariant tests, it has never been easier. CRO presents transparent and tangible results which, as a search agency, helps us build a good relationship with our clients.

  • Whilst it’s all well and good to grow traffic organically, if the user experience or conversion process on the site hasn’t been optimised all that hard work is somewhat going to waste.

3) Big data

  • Big data is a relatively broad term, but in this context it can refer to anything which helps improve decision-making and strategies.

  • Data is fundamental to SEO, so the bigger the better – provided it can be analysed correctly and insights gathered. As an example, keyword research (which is fundamental to SEO) provides an opportunity to use big data. Thankfully there is a lot of keyword data available to us which goes beyond just search volume, such as estimated CPC and level of difficulty, which can all be used to build a clear picture and then integrated into a comprehensive targeting strategy.

  • Measuring performance in such a complex ecosystem requires an innovative approach. Yes, we have platforms like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, a plethora of keyword ranking tools, auditing tools – the list goes on. Being able to gather all this data and condense it into insightful analysis which is tailored to a client’s needs is critical now and will continue to be so.

4) User insight and analysis

  • Knowing your audience and the different types of users that you are trying to target is incredibly valuable. With such an abundance of data, it can be easy to forget about the human being behind the screen. For different users, there are different habits and preferences, which means creating a bespoke strategy for each audience. For example, the target audience of some businesses might be incredibly active on social media channels and so building awareness there, through accurate targeting and tailored content, needs to be a priority.

5) Structured data

  • Over the last couple of years there has been a boom in structured data being used, which makes sense because it helps Google better understand your content. The better Google understands your website, the higher the probability of it being rewarded in the results page, resulting in improvements to traffic, visibility, CTR and conversions. The different types of structured data continue to grow, so whatever you do there is almost certainly some kind of structured data that can be applied to your website.


SEO has grown to become a huge industry and one that has had to evolve to keep pace with the changes we see in Google. As Darwin put it, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”.

Because of the change we have seen in Google, the phrase “SEO”, first popularised by Bruce Clay in the late 90s, has a different meaning today. The words may be the same but the meaning behind the acronym encompasses a great deal more than it did back then. SEO today is not just about optimising for Google, it is about knowing your audience, their journey from awareness to conversion and everything in between, and ensuring all the different digital channels are working together in harmony.

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