The Future of SEO

Apple vs. Google

Over the past few years, many top startups have elected to go mobile first, and build app only experiences. While some have had success, mobile first companies such as Uber and Hotel Tonight have missed out on the large opportunity of SEO. Soon, pages within an app will be as easy to search for as pages on a website, and mobile only companies will be able to compete directly with websites via search. SEO is about to see the most dramatic change in over a decade.

Google has introduced several changes over the years to improve search quality including Panda and Penguin, and many have claimed that old school SEO tactics are dead. However, by and large, successful SEO tactics remain largely unchanged. Tactics range from building algorithms writing thousands of articles, creating 10’s of millions of pages, and paying people to link your website. New search companies have attempted to compete in search, but the incumbents of Google, Yahoo, and Bing remain dominant controlling over 97% of search within the United States.

Despite the rise of Facebook and social media, most organic acquisition comes from web based search engines. Everything is about to change.

Times Are Changing

Google is actively working to closely integrate its search engine with its Android operating system. Over the past few months, they have released several related changes including app indexing, deep linking, and Google Now On Tap. Companies like URX, Branch, and Tapstream have created tools to make it easy for app developers to integrate these new technologies. These changes mean that users can now search for app content directly from Google search and even have app content pushed to them within the Android operating system. Apple recently announced its own search engine launching with iOS 9 and El Capitan this Fall. Users will be able to search for content directly from their devices via spotlight and Safari search.

All these changes signal that Google and Apple are actively working to move search from the Web directly to your device, and to make app content as easy to discover as a web page.

Apple vs. Google

In the new world of SEO, those who own the the operating system own the search experience. Google’s Android operating system will give them further leverage to increase their share of search. With 43% of mobile users powered by iOS, Apple will immediately become a major player in search. The biggest losers will be companies like Microsoft who have struggled to gain traction with Windows mobile devices, and Yahoo, Ask, and AOL who have no mobile operating system strategy.

The Best Products Will Dominate SEO. No Really.

Google has always encouraged webmasters to focus on building great products in order to grow their SEO. However, often times it is companies with the best marketing and PR who rank high, not companies with the best products. As a result, it is common for great new products to struggle against entrenched competitors.

This is a difficult problem to solve because once a user leaves a web based search page, the search engine largely cannot track whether a user’s experience was good or bad. When users search directly from their device, the operating system now has access to engagement data, which means that they can and will use this information to rank search results. Apple’s new search algorithm will consider factors like how long and how often you spend engaging with a piece of content. In fact, engagement is one of their most important ranking factors and will only increase with time. For example, if a user searches for a poutine recipe, Apple can not only track which recipes are clicked the most but which recipes people actually cook the most. These changes will mean that the best content will win, and startups with great new products can better compete against larger competitors.

Overall, biggest winners of the new SEO will be the end users, who will now be able to easily search and discover the best web and app content in the right place at the right time.

This post was originally published on Venture Beat.

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