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What does the next 12 months look like in search?

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The last year has changed the industry more than many of us could’ve imagined thanks to one main development – ChatGPT. Dominating conversations about the future of search marketing at industry events since the start of the year, it’s given both marketers and businesses food for thought and raised questions about what the future of the search industry looks like.

With the rest of the marketing industry chasing AI, the truth is, the industry has never been more exciting. Yes, we’re at a turning point where sophisticated technology is becoming more available, but that is only going to help us do our jobs better, faster, and be more adaptable. So with 2024 just around the corner, we’re looking towards what the year might bring in the world of search marketing.

AI advances will continue to drive the importance of quality websites

The next 12 months, similarly to the last, will define the SEO world for the coming years. With ChatGPT opening up content to a whole new audience, the Smart Monkey team believes it’s pushed companies like Google to develop at the same pace as AI. Essentially, Google is now chasing to keep up with AI, as well as users.

As it stands, Google announced that it is striving to make AI ‘even more helpful for people, for business, for communities, for everyone’, and openly embraces AI generated content when it aligns to its values. Essentially, as long as it’s used to create useful, accurate and readable content, Google is more than happy. So it’s no surprise that big brands have started using AI to write content, but ensuring it’s fact checked by humans. We see this type of content being used in all sectors over the next year as Google continues to trust AI to showcase E-E-A-T.

As well as helping to create content for brands, ChatGPT is also a training tool, ideas generator and much more. As such, the whole team agrees that we’ll see it being used to help bolster teams and improve processes.

Holistic SEO will be key to driving value

Head of SEO, Jamie Dinning, believes a holistic and sophisticated approach to SEO will become more important. There has always been an air of mystery surrounding SEO. Some still adhere to the belief that investing in SEO services will automatically catapult their website to the top spot of search engine rankings. But in today’s landscape, this perception couldn’t be further from reality.

The true soul of SEO lies in recognising its potential to present your business in the best light possible, fostering trust from search engines. Google and other search engines have always refined their criteria for ranking websites, and as we approach 2024, staying tuned in to these changes is more crucial than ever.

SEO is now transforming to become a valuable repository of, to some extent, a form of business guidance. It no longer solely revolves around cherry-picking optimal keywords but entails comprehending the significance of these keywords for your website and the targeted user. In 2024, the information you provide must align with search intent to cultivate trust and authority as part of your wider SEO strategy.

More focus on E-E-A-T for onsite content

With content nowadays all about generating trust with the user, Jack Breen, Smart Monkey’s SEO Strategist, says that even the best online article for a subject isn’t enough to make a user trust you – you need the experience and expertise to back it up.

By adhering to Google’s E-E-A-T, businesses can show potential customers what they know and why they should trust them. Developing strong topical authority through content clusters is an excellent way to do this, showing users that you are the number one authority in your field.

With Google pushing for more worthwhile and helpful content, generating trust through the content you publish will be absolutely vital for success as we move into 2024.

Chasing the helpful content update

Beth Nash, Smart Monkey’s founder, says the big shift coming in the search world next year will be all about businesses adapting to Google’s helpful content updates. We’ve been getting more and more calls towards the end of this year from marketers scratching their heads, wondering why their websites aren’t showing up as much in search results.

Here’s the thing – Google’s updates have really changed the game in how we should be optimising our websites, but we’re not seeing many sites adapting to these changes. Marketing teams and agencies are still churning out content the same way they’ve been doing for years, but now, they’re seeing their sites slip down the rankings instead of climbing up.

In a lot of cases, you might have really good, helpful content being developed on your site, but it’s getting drowned out by a bunch of old, not-so-great stuff that’s been gathering digital dust for ages. So, we think that next year is going to be about rolling up our sleeves and doing some serious clean-ups on website content. We’ll be helping these sites bounce back and climb the rankings by really nailing those helpful content guidelines. It’s going to be a big year for making content that’s not just good, but great – people-first content that really answers what people are searching for.

Topic Authority will drive more focus on tangible impact

With more emphasis on E-E-A-T, Head of PR, Hannah Byrne, says the focus on Experience, Expertise, Authority and Trust will go far beyond links – it’s all about topic authority. As digital PR and traditional PR become more intertwined, the digital PR vanity metrics will essentially cease to exist, and in its place will be a more refined focus on creating content offsite that aligns with onsite content strategies, as well as the brand.

This means we’ll continue to move away from celebrating backlinks on high DA sites, to topically relevant links and brand mentions. A simple example is an accountancy firm receiving a brand mention on an industry website with a DA of 45 thanks to a story discussing the importance of companies preparing for the new financial year. The story gives tangible, expert advice for any businesses not prepared for the tax deadline, and showcases why it is important to be prepared.

The same business also receives a link from an unrelated consumer website with a story that looks at the cheapest zoos in the UK. Although the consumer site may have a higher DA and a bigger readership, the link won’t carry as much weight as the mention on the industry site because it bears no resemblance to the brand and will likely drive less traffic. Thus the impact on the accounting firm’s website will be lower.

That being said, there isn’t a magic formula, and success will depend on a myriad of factors. So it’s down to individual teams and agencies to monitor the impact of backlinks on each website and adjust strategies from there. However, prioritising building trust and authority by showcasing experience and expertise over focussing on chasing vanity metrics will help to build out the overall authority of the site in Google’s eyes, while instilling trust amongst consumers.

Search Generative Experience advances will continue and unveil new ways of searching

No trends article discussing the coming 12 months in search marketing would be complete without touching on Search Generative Experience (SGE). The biggest development from Google in years, as well as the first big development from Google since ChatGPT rose to the forefront of the industry, SGE uses generative AI to take the work out of searching.

Essentially, SGE uses three or four sources to create a three to four-paragraph answer to give users more information in one go. Google says it will allow users to find what they’re looking for, understand a topic, and explore new insights to ‘get things done more easily’.

However, going one step further, SGE also follows each suggestion with a number of prompts and expands the answer if the searcher wants to. Users can also ask follow-up questions to refine the results even further.

One of the big things to note is that SGE results are directly below the search bar. They take up around half the page, so understanding what SGE is looking for is key for businesses.

That being said, at the moment, it’s not available for every search, and instead, it tends to appear for question-led searches, such as ‘What is…’, ‘How are…’, When is…’, as well as product-led searches and even local searches that pull local listings. But we see Google making developments to this before the end of 2024 and expanding SGE into wider search terms.

Although this can seem incredibly confusing, it’s really not; it’s just the next generation of search above featured snippets and Answer Boxes. Google has always put its users at the heart of its updates, and SGE is just taking it to the next level by doubling down on its commitment to providing the best results for the searcher. As such, the Smart Monkey team believes the importance of creating quality and relevant content both on and off-site that Google sees as good enough to provide users with its answers, is key to being visible in SGE. So businesses must understand their customers and potential customers in detail to provide solutions to those specific search queries.

Hannah profile picture

About Hannah

Hannah has over 10 years’ experience building brands through the power of PR, content marketing and digital marketing campaigns. With experience working within FinTech, SaaS, FMCG and automotive, Hannah excels at B2B PR and supporting demand generation.


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