3 SEO Trends to Watch in 2024
See what we believe lies ahead for the SEO profession in the new year– including a continuation of trends from 2023 and some new potential focus areas.
The start of a new year always leads to wild predictions in the SEO industry– and marketers racing to Google for their annual answer to “is SEO dead”. Save for some anomalies this year (likely related to the generative AI race) the term peaks every year around late Q4 and early Q1.
This year, we’re seeing a +101% increase in volume for “is SEO dead” in December vs November and a +31% increase over last year.
Search Volume Trend for “Is SEO dead” (source: Google Trends + Glimpse Extension)
To quickly put that question to rest– no, SEO is not dead (Google’s John Mueller agrees). In fact, the SEO industry might have its biggest year yet in 2024.
Generative AI, ongoing antitrust lawsuits against Google, and major shifts in SERP features and ranking algorithms have laid the groundwork for some (much-needed) industry changes.
If you’re investing in SEO today, or considering it for 2024, here are the trends we believe you (and your agency) should be monitoring closely heading into the new year:
1) SERP Personalization & Human Perspectives
Google announced some noteworthy changes in Q4 2023 that may change the way SEO pros think about optimization. To summarize, Google is doubling down on a human-first approach in search results to combat the rise of generative AI.
Google has long advocated that quality content should offer opinions and insights from authors with first-hand experience or individual expertise in the subject matter. They’re now extending this human-first approach to new tests, SERP features, and quality indicators, including:
Helpful Content Updates: The first official helpful content update rolled out in 2022, and there have been 2 additional updates to this ranking system since. This system “aims to better reward content where visitors feel they've had a satisfying experience” (source).
More Personalization: Visiting a site from search multiple times means it will show at the top more often for you (source).
“Follow” Topics: Google is allowing searchers to follow topics they search for often, and will notify searchers about new information related to the topic (source).
Highlights on Content Creators: Includes social handles & follower counts appearing directly in search results (source).
Hidden Gems: Surfaces content in search that might live in hard-to-find places, like within a forum thread (source).
These are just a few recent noteworthy updates Google has shared that focus on providing quality, human-led search experiences. Interestingly, many digital marketers have already observed increased website traffic to sites that focus primarily on user-generated content (UGC)– including a 3x+ traffic increase to popular forum website Reddit:
Estimated Non-Brand Traffic Organic Traffic Increase to Reddit (source: SEMrush).
It’s Not (All) About Keywords
This evolution marks another milestone in the journey away from ”keywords” and toward content quality as a focus area for SEO enhancement. It will still likely be important (for now) to ensure content is aligned with how users are searching, but the authorship and quality of the content (aka, how well it meets the needs of the searcher) is likely the more critical starting point.
Rethinking SEO KPIs
Keyword rankings have long been a primary KPI for many SEOs. With more personalization, new SERP features, and likely significant SERP volatility in the year ahead, the expectation that keyword rankings can be a single indicator of SEO success needs to be adjusted. Instead, you might shift your focus to indicators that are slightly more controllable.
Examples include total non-brand traffic, revenue from organic search, or, where possible, estimated non-brand revenue from sections of the site where SEO enhancements have been implemented. Keyword rankings may still be leveraged as a “leading indicator” but not necessarily a KPI SEO efforts should be solely focused on. This will be increasingly important with the introduction of new SERP features like Google’s Search Generative Experience (more on that later).
2) New SERPs & SERP Features
Google is constantly altering its search engine to find new ways to surface info directly in search results. Gone are the days of 10 blue links; the SERP now has dozens of different features that surface content and websites in different ways, and all require slightly different approaches to SEO.
Possible Release of SGE
Google announced its Search Generative Experience (SGE) in May of 2023– marking its official march toward a search experience that’s blended with generative AI capabilities. SGE, in its current state, has the potential to massively disrupt website traffic from search– especially for informational queries (i.e., questions). It may be slightly less disruptive to websites that rely primarily on brand traffic, “near me” traffic, or searches for specific products (though we should still expect some shake-ups there, too).
While SGE isn’t yet live, it can be tested using a personal G-Suite login. Some SEOs are claiming a 2024 release, and due to the potential impact of SGE, it’s worth following closely for updates and a confirmed rollout timeline.
While Google will likely continue to claim 90%+ market share in search, the ongoing antitrust lawsuits may leave a dent in its user base. The search giant has been under fire from the DOJ for a few years, but the ultimate breaking point may lead to a deal where Google is no longer the default search engine for most smartphones and browsers. The alternative may be Bing or other home-grown alternatives (there were whispers at one point of an Apple search engine…).
New SERP features in Google, such as SGE, and the rise of competing search products (including generative AI tools) may mean SEOs need to consider SERPs as more “situational” and less “static” than they have been. SEO has never been one-size-fits-all, but SEOs may need to think outside the standard toolbox even more in 2024.
This means SEO research needs to determine not only what the audience is looking for, but also where they’re looking, what SERP features they’re engaging with, and how these engagements should be measured (given that SGE, as an example, will likely result in fewer website clicks).
3) Creating Associations Across a Digital Footprint
Industry updates are shaping the future of SEO– so it's up to SEO professionals to test and evolve how we think about and execute the practice. Over the past several years SEO has been granted a stronger seat at the table in the overall marketing strategy and more resources to support execution. The best SEO strategies leverage resources from web development, content, PR, customer research, and design teams to launch sustainable approaches to growing the value of organic traffic. While SEO has never been a one-man band, it does need to find more ways to sing in chorus with the rest of the marketing mix.
One way we can do that is by thinking about SEO implementation as one of many exercises for creating (or strengthening) signals that associate a brand with the product or service their audience is looking for. This principle elevates SEO from industry jargon and creates a level playing field with brand, digital, and creative teams.
Google will continue to improve its understanding of quality website experiences vs website experiences that have been crafted for the sole purpose of search performance. This shift is indicated by helpful content updates, spam updates, and improvements in other ranking systems that limit the effectiveness of shady, black-hat SEO practices. Google may now be leveraging all content and data across the web to better understand how well a website or webpage aligns with a search query (and these efforts will continue, especially with the introduction of SGE).
It may be worthwhile to consider how your SEO strategy aligns with other marketing efforts when it comes to a few key areas:
- How your brand talks about itself online
- How users talk about your brand online
- How other related, reputable brands talk about your brand online
If the SEO strategy can tap into those key areas in concert with other marketing communications initiatives, it has the potential to supercharge (and future-proof) SEO performance– provided, of course, the foundational technical needs are also being satisfied.
Interested in a Look Under the Hood?
If you think you’re in need of an SEO strategy adjustment, or even a second set of eyes to make sure your current strategy will work in 2024, Adept can help. We’re well-versed in collaborating with numerous stakeholders to identify where SEO can be most successful for enterprise brands.