SEO prediction posts can be awful, cringe, and typically clickbait.
But let’s be clear: This is not one of those lofty prediction posts.
Think of this as more of a conversation amongst SEOs about what’s working and what changes might mean for us going into the new year.
We did our best to curate the responses that most align with what we’re seeing and can speak to further. There are more hot takes and funny opinions in the comment section if you want to see it all.
There are still new comments coming in on the original post, so feel free to follow along with what others are saying by visiting the original social media thread here.
Evergreen SEO strategies and marketing-first principles still drive success
There continues to be hysteria surrounding the future of organic search. We’ve had a slew of core updates regarding helpful content, generative AI tools exploding onto the scene, and companies like Google and Bing trying to design ways to serve us better, more personalized results with the help of AI.
And yet, according to our data across all client accounts, the tried-and-true evergreen strategies drive results. No fads, no flashy trends, just the core work that needs to be done.
In other words:
- Refresh existing content.
- Consolidate content as intent shifts.
- Invest in long-form content.
- Cluster your content strategically.
- Create a dynamic content structure.
- Focus on product-led content.
Want to see more about these fundamentals and why they work? Check out this guide: 6 No-Nonsense SEO Tips To Help SaaS Teams Exceed Their Acquisition Goals
SEO becomes a part of audience acquisition and increasing touchpoints in a stagnant (or downturn) economy
As others have pointed out, SEO’s key function (especially for content marketing) is getting people on your website. That’s the simplest way of thinking about it: If you rank, you get traffic.
The content strategy, strength of the brand, topic selection, and CTA strategy — plus demand for the product — are what separates good SEO from bad SEO.
But in an economic downturn or a stagnant economy, all things being equal and customers delaying their purchases, SEO’s return for companies will be:
- Brand affinity + authority created from multiple touchpoints around a specific topic
- Secondary conversions for nurture opportunities (email capture, podcast/YouTube subscriptions, webinar sign-ups)
- Retargeting ICP accounts that land on the website with paid ad campaigns
- Views of embedded videos, webinars, podcasts, and custom industry reports
This is largely because the space continues to grow more competitive, and searchers reward differentiated content they find on the SERPs that can lead them to a continuous flow of better experiences.
John-Henry Scherck shared his opinion below on LinkedIn earlier this year:
Optimized content will remain the top acquisition channel for PLG companies
PLG companies will continue to leverage SEO as a primary driver of organic user acquisitions and freemium activations.
When you have relatively straightforward product onboarding, a greater emphasis on investing in embeddable interactive product demos, and a channel bringing in 25-30+% of your website’s traffic, you have a channel that’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Below is a screenshot from Openview’s 2023 report about where most leads come from for product-led companies:
See how we worked with Visible to increase their free trials with consistent, relevant traffic to the site by helping them execute a killer integrated content strategy.
The biggest evolution we’re seeing for PLG companies in the SEO space who effectively turn traffic into pipeline is the ability to prioritize, create, and orchestrate multiple types of content so the full strategy feels integrated.
This means two things for most SaaS companies:
- A focus on creating more touchpoints across channels that move people between content types and introduce them to the core product (finally killing the SEO content silo strategies). That could include organic social, organic search articles and tools, subscription-based content (podcasts, newsletters), events, and webinar series.
- A focus on creating more than one type of SEO content. Blogs still remain one of the most effective and easiest means of starting an SEO investment. But PLG companies looking to differentiate themselves, drive backlink acquisitions, and encourage significant engagement will also focus on the impact of other optimizable content. This means optimizing help desks, guides, tools, and templates that are usable inside their product, support their customers in their JTBD, and have search volume associated with them.
Recommended Reading: 8 Must-Have Content Types for PLG Companies Investing in SEO [+184 SaaS Marketers Told Us Which They’d Build First]
SEO differentiators will include product articulation, SME sourcing, and unique positioning within content
There’s a balance SaaS companies need to strike when investing in SEO.
Optimized content must represent the brand as honest, helpful, and authoritative. The content should create continuity and illustrate a clear brand identity. The product information and education need to be articulated at the level of expertise your readers expect.
And with the surge of companies leaning on AI-generated articles to start their SEO programs, that balance becomes even more essential.
Here’s what standout SEO teams and SEO agency partners need to work toward this coming year:
- Establishing subject matter experts who can be associated with the published articles (author bio and links, edited by mentions, or quote injections). It’s also a lot easier if the SME has further web signals, like a well-defined presence in their industry (featured in other content, being a speaker at events, having a social media presence). Companies must develop processes to collect, synthesize, and create optimized content with these people’s input.
- Creating meaningful asset banks that act as a single source of truth. Agencies and in-house teams need to have a plan to sync on the product and learn its value to customers. This is the only way to build product-led content in a way that goes beyond the surface-level values represented on SaaS feature pages, allowing companies to get excited about using your product to solve their problems.
- Performing customer research, in-house SME interviews, and product comprehension. This should lead to a unique POV that establishes differentiation between you and your competitors on the SERP.
Recommended Reading: Thinking About Working With a SaaS Content Agency? What You Should Know [+ Tips From In-House Marketing Leaders]
Non-SEO consultants and agencies will use AI as a reason to write “SEO is dead” articles
Proclaiming “SEO is dead!” isn’t new. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.
However, this past year (and presumably in the coming year), the AI discussion has emboldened the nay-sayers of the largest acquisition channel for SaaS and PLG companies: SEO.
It makes sense that in-house team members and outsource partners from consultancies/agencies are trying to convince companies that the new way forward is in video content, social audience development, bespoke industry and data reports, and skit-based entertainment. However, they remain dismayed that the more reliable and predictable channels (like paid advertising and SEO) see the bulk of budget allocation.
*As an SEO agency, we’re big proponents of companies having more than just optimized articles on the website and being aggressive with social media marketing, so don’t @ us.
The “SEO is dead, and AI killed it” discussion falls into two broad categories:
- Businesses are abusing AI-generation tools, producing a wild volume of ineffective, poor-quality website content.
- AI-generated results for Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) that remains in Beta (sign up to test it) will change how the SERP looks and feels and might reduce clicks to the site.
Without a doubt, more people than ever are attempting to execute SEO and content volume strategies. And to be fair, I don’t know anyone in the writing and SEO space who isn’t leveraging AI in some capacity to produce copy.
The problem with the claim that “AI content will kill SEO” is that it’s not in Google’s best interest to sabotage its role in promoting and using content creators for its platform. It still needs new content and ad space, and it needs to remain helpful to searchers.
Generative AI for SEO will continue and is effective when the content strategy prioritizes helpfulness
Google’s helpful content updates continue to get better at serving up what’s “helpful.” It’ll never be perfect. The algorithms will take left turns that are sometimes worse for specific industries. But Google knows it needs people to enjoy and trust its search engine long-term.
And, as Jack Virag points out in his recent post, content and SEO folks who prioritize helpfulness (and make it a guiding philosophy by which they create content) will continue to rank at the top of the SERP after each core update.
At Ten Speed, we’ve introduced AI into multiple parts of our content production workflows, too: from title tag and meta description assistance to section prompts for initial rough drafts and content outlines.
We’ve found that you can absolutely successfully leverage AI as part of SEO content creation — as long as you still put the care into it to include SMEs, product assets, and a genuine attempt at helpfulness.
In fact, in the newsletter article at the end of this section (see below), we point out that we’ve actually used AI-generated tools to create hybrid content that ranks for clients. And not only does it rank, it hasn’t tanked as a result of the most recent core updates.
If the state of AI, SEO, and content generation interests you, you can explore it more in the rest of our newsletter: Is AI good at content yet?
SGE will roll out slowly, but will become a go-to SEO tool for creating more informative content based on longtail prompts
SGE has seen several changes as the Beta version continues: It has featured citations, not featured citations, and right now, the ads are above the SGE box. For a lot of SaaS queries, the SGE option exists, but it doesn’t open unless a user clicks on it. And within the Discover feed, the SGE box is largely a Wikipedia answer that very vaguely relates to a news story in your feed.
All that is to say, we can’t predict when SGE will launch. But given the continued changes and the slump in people using ChatGPT, their largest competitor’s AI tool, Google probably isn’t feeling the pressure to launch a “bad” product right now.
More concretely, based on what we’re seeing happen to ranked content where an SGE result is available, Google is giving users multiple citation sources for each part of an SGE results intent.
This, like featured snippets, People Also Ask, and other rich snippets on the SERPs should serve as a research guide for SEOs who want to get their content featured inside this AI experience.
Here are two examples of our content ranking inside the experience based on the various intents we answered in that piece of content:
Keyword: Content Decay
Keyword: BoFu Content
More SEOs will start to take Google Discover optimization seriously
Google has historically given very little information about how content ends up in their Discover feed. They’ve brought up simple recommendations around title design, image size, newsworthiness, and being relevant to a person's search history as clues. But they’ve given us very little in terms of how to get your articles featured in the feed consistently.
However, if algorithms power it and there’s an incentive to figure out how it works, SEOs will find a way.
And it turns out that both the looming SGE shake-up potential and the huge daily traffic numbers a post can get for being in the Discover feed are just the incentives most of us needed to start learning more.
One of the leading voices in this Google News and Google Discover space has been Lily Ray. Give her a follow if you’re into the real weeds of various SEO tracking across industries after specific updates.
2024 will be another exciting year for the SEO industry
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