Search Engine Optimization or SEO is a process many businesses religiously follow to increase their online visibility. By studying and understanding popular search queries, brands construct their content around certain relevant ‘key words’. So when prospective customers like you and I do a quick Google search, the business’ website link is more likely to pop up as a result, improving the probability of a conversion.
Fair enough, but why do businesses spend so much time and money on it? Where does it all take us? And is there an end in sight?
These are questions that market researchers constantly grapple with. Today, the SEO industry is thriving and is expected to continue on its upward trajectory. But turn the clock back a few years, and you’d find that researchers didn’t quite grasp the extent to which it would take over the business world. In 2008, for instance, the SEO spend estimated for the year 2016 was around $20 billion. The reality is that it’s closer to the $65 billion mark ‒ more than three times the anticipated figure!
This is expected to further rise to $72 billion in 2018 and to an astounding $79 billion in 2020. Is the growth likely to even out at some point or is the end nowhere in sight?
The graph below shows the expected growth of the SEO industry for the next five years:
Here’s why the SEO industry could grow endlessly:
Improved Access to the Internet
With conglomerates such as Facebook and Google trying to make the web accessible for all ‒ irrespective of geographical or economic status ‒ the number of users is expected to rise to $4.17 billion by 2020. With more than half the world surfing the net, businesses will have considerably more at stake and are likely to be more inclined to invest in SEO.
This graph depicts the continuous growth of internet users, worldwide, for the next five years:
With younger generations becoming increasingly tech-savvy, searches across platforms and search engines are going to continue rising. And with internet connections growing in number and speed, it is likely that both per capita and overall searches will increase exponentially.
Rise of Alternative Search Avenues
Most searches today are on conventional engines such as Google and Bing. Assuming tech experts are right about the rise of alternative search engines (Baidu, AOL, Ask etc.) it would force businesses to expand their SEO budgets to help optimize their content on these new avenues.
Falling Impact of Traditional Ads
It is no great secret that the impact of traditional forms of advertising is dwindling. And businesses are responding to this reality by allocating less of their budgets to traditional media. Soon, the minority of marketers that still vouches for TVCs and other offline ads will have little choice but to adopt online forms of advertising to improve their visibility.
Growing Power of Data and Analytics
Business decisions today are largely fueled by data and analytics. Decisions regarding SEO are no different. The development of powerful technologies in this space is helping businesses adopt SEO, knowing they have the tools to track ROI, traffic, and other key metrics effectively.
While most expect SEO spend to continue rising for the foreseeable future, there are some skeptics who have valid concerns that cannot be ignored.
Here is why the SEO industry could eventually hit a deadend:
Stringent Competition and Prohibitive Cost
There could come a time when the increasing competition for online space will make SEO too expensive for businesses. This ‘tipping point’ could then result in lower SEO spend, channeling investments into alternative means of advertising.
Emergence of Knowledge Graph
Google’s Knowledge Graph ‒ a knowledge base used by Google to enhance search results ‒ helps users find the information they are looking for on the search page. This disincentivizes users to actually visit the advertiser’s site, thereby minimizing the impact of SEO.
Complex Ranking Systems
SEO relies heavily on scores, which is determined by the ‘rank’ given to each link. Although it is common knowledge now that mobile compatibility and readability go a long way in improving rank, there is still considerable ambiguity in the actual processes used to determine these ranks. The uncertainty caused by this new reality could dissuade businesses from investing heavily in SEO.
What Next for the SEO Industry
If history is anything to go by, we should acknowledge the fact that it is hard to look further than a few years down the road. Access to technologies will continue to grow (mobile phones, internet, wearables), and businesses will formulate new strategies to adapt to these changes. Although there are a few question marks over the sustainability and effectiveness of SEO, there is enough evidence to suggest that the industry’s best years are still ahead of it.