5 SEO trends that will shape search marketing in 2023

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Every year brings new opportunities and challenges for search marketers and 2023 will be no different. If anything, the challenges feel like they’re mounting up after several years of uncertainty and no end in sight.

We all have to work a little harder to find the best opportunities in search marketing now and this will be even more true in 2023. So let’s take a look at the biggest trends that will shape the next year in search – and how you can turn these into wins.

What are the SEO trends we’re focusing on for 2023?

For this article, we’ve selected the top five SEO trends we think are going to have the biggest impact. This includes a mix of what SEOs will be prioritising over the next year and some outside influences from the likes of Google and other technology giants.

  1. Technical SEO: Search marketers are spending more time on technical SEO than any other activity.
  2. Machine learning & AI: Breakthroughs from Google and other tech companies will have an impact.
  3. Inspiration everywhere: Multimedia search (text, audio and visual) will allow users to find inspiration all around them.
  4. Topic exploration: Google is placing more emphasis on topic exploration and content discovery in the search experience.
  5. Search data: Will help companies navigate uncertain times in 2023 and beyond.

At the end of this article, we’ll also quickly run through some of the other trends and talking points that will play a key role in 2023, even if they didn’t make our top five.

#1: Technical SEO leads the way in 2023

In the 2023 State Of SEO report, published by Search Engine Journal (SEJ), SEOs say they now spend most of their time on technical SEO. In recent years, search marketers have often prioritised the more strategic aspects of SEO and content marketing while trying to keep up with the latest technology trends like voice search and chatbots.

However, professional SEOs have gone “back to basics while technical SEO leads the way”.

Bar chart showing what SEO pros dedicate the most time to

According to the report, SEOs are now spending most of their time on the following activities:

  • Technical SEO (15.0%)
  • SEO strategy and planning (13.5%)
  • Keyword research (13.5%)
  • On-page SEO (12.9%)

The SEO industry has an unhealthy habit of trying to hack new solutions and forgetting about the core essentials. The allure of cracking Google’s algorithm or coming up with the next strategic masterpiece is too much to resist, it seems. Unfortunately, none of this counts for anything unless you’ve got the essentials covered: technical performance, quality content, on-page SEO, etc.

Google started to place more significance on technical performance in 2015, starting with the mobile-friendly update. Since then, it has introduced ranking signals for loading times, secure encryption and – most recently – Core Web Vitals as part of the page experience update in 2021.

It doesn’t matter how well you optimise for the most important ranking signals if website performance forces users to leave as soon as they land on your page.

#2: Machine learning & AI shake things up

AI technology is a driving force across all industries and this will be a key trend in SEO for years to come. We have to be careful here because tech companies and journalists love nothing more than hyping up AI tools like they’re constantly on the verge of matching human thinking.

Of course, AI technology is nowhere close to achieving this but, the thing is, it doesn’t need to in order to make an impact. In fact, artificial intelligence and machine learning are reaching a pivotal moment where they’re going to start shaking things up in the SEO industry.

Some of these shake-ups will be more helpful than others, though. For example, we’re already seeing widespread use of AI content tools that can automatically generate content and marketing copy. Unfortunately, the quality of the content they generate is very low and they still require a lot of manual input, which limits the productivity benefits (if any).

More importantly, Google has specified that AI-generated content is against its guidelines.

On a more positive note, the same technology driving most of these AI content tools (OpenAI’s GPT-3 model) is now powering a new chatbot system called ChatGPT – and speculation is growing that it could outperform Google as a search tool.

In fact, the creator of Gmail has suggested the “scary” AI bot could kill off Google within the space of a few years.

Of course, Google itself is a global leader in AI technology but its platform and business model weren’t originally destined around the technology. The biggest name in search will face a new variety of competitors that don’t rely on ad revenue or traditional search and it will need to adapt in the years ahead.

This will, obviously, have significant impacts on the search industry and SEO.

#3: Inspiration is everywhere for users

Google’s most recent AI breakthrough, Multitask Unified Model – or MUM – is powering the latest innovations in the search experience. The traditional typing of queries is gradually becoming a smaller part of this experience as Google further expands into multimedia (audio search, image search, etc.) and content exploration – something we’ll discuss in our next trend.

In Google’s own words, this multisearch experience is moving “beyond the search box” where people can find inspiration all around them. If they hear a song they like, they can ask Google Assistant to identify it.

They can even hum a tune from memory and ask Google to identify it for them.

When Google announced MUM back in mid-2021, it teased a new search experience that would allow users to combine images and text queries using Google Lens.

Let’s say someone sees an item of clothing they like in a magazine or an ad while they’re out and about. They can use Google Lens to take a quick snap and Google will find similar products available through Google Shopping.

Google's MUM technology

Taking this even further, users might see a shirt in a store and really like the pattern. The only thing is, they’re not interested in a shirt but like the idea of socks with the same or similar pattern.

All they need to do is take a picture of the shirt, add a search query like “socks with this pattern” and Google will try to find socks with a similar look.

Google's MUM technology

This new search experience turns the entire world around users into a source of inspiration. They can identify travel destinations, come up with new outfit ideas, identify songs playing in a cafe, translate menus in a foreign language or find out what that broken thing on the hoover is called.

Google is bringing the real world into a multimedia search experience that helps people get more out of their day-to-day lives. And it can connect these people with the information they’re looking for or the purchase options they need to make something happen, whether it’s naming a song, booking a flight or buying that fancy pair of socks.

#4: Less search, more topic exploration

While Google’s AI innovations are powering multimedia searches, they’re also enhancing one of the most important aspects of search: information. The search giant wants users to spend less time performing multiple searches to find the information they’re looking for.

MUM plays a key role in this by helping it to understand complex queries and deliver relevant information with a single search. Google can even translate information from multiple languages to give users the most relevant info in their native tongue.

For example, if someone seeks information about hiking Mt. Fuji in Japan, Google can source information in Japanese and translate it into English.

Example of Google's MUM technology in action

Expanding upon this, Google is moving into a search experience that involves more topical exploration in place of typing multiple queries. It’s using AI (MUM, once again, in this case) to match relevant queries to topics and allow users to refine their search or broaden it from results pages.

Using Google MUM technology to refine or broaden your search

Refining a search essentially makes the query more specific, allowing users to navigate from “acrylic painting” to something like “acrylic painting techniques” or “acrylic painting online courses”.

Broadening a search does the opposite so someone initially searching for “acrylic painting” may be interested in looking at other styles of painting.

This interface allows users to go deeper and deeper into topics and step back at any point while always having the freedom to type a fresh query if they want to. Google is putting relevant ideas in front of the eyes of searchers instead of relying upon them to think of every query for themselves and manually type them out.

Google will be hoping this increases engagement with its search engine and extends the duration of sessions. How successful this will be and how much it changes search habits remain to be seen. However, it continues a long-running trend of moving towards content discovery and relying less on traditional search – something we’ve seen with the aptly-named Discover feed and apps like Google News.

For SEOs and website owners, this raises new opportunities and challenges, placing even more emphasis on content being discoverable in sessions where users aren’t actively typing your target keywords.

#5: Search data takes centre stage

The past few years have been the most disruptive to businesses and consumer habits in living memory for most of us. The Covid-19 pandemic alone has shaken up the world in ways we’re still coming to terms with and we’re now grappling with global financial downturns, political turmoil, military conflicts and a growing list of social crises.

The catch-22 during difficult times is that it’s the uncertainty that causes the most damage. Investors lose confidence, businesses hold back on spending and financial bodies revise their predictions – of all which (and many other factors) fuel further economic decline.

Traditionally, companies might reduce as many expenses as possible and simply try to survive during economic downturns. However, the pandemic was so devastating that it forced businesses to take different approaches.

Tackling economic challenges head-on

Obviously, a select number of industries were naturally positioned to benefit from lockdowns, such as takeaway restaurants and home entertainment. But it was the companies that innovated ways to overcome the challenges of lockdown and quickly respond to changing consumer demands that thrived during the pandemic.

Dine-in restaurants started takeaway and delivery services, bakeries started selling online and retailers restocked their goods to prioritise the most in-demand items (ranging from flour and kitchenware to curtains and balloon deliveries).

When consumer habits were changing overnight, companies that responded quickly not only survived successive lockdowns, but thrived.

So how did companies identify spikes in demand for things as obscure as balloon deliveries?

Using search data to inform key business decisions

The pandemic proved the power of search data in making key business decisions. Search provides real-time insights into consumer demand in a way that the biggest consumer research groups could never dream of. The pandemic wiped out all data predictions, rendering historical data almost useless in terms of informing key business decisions.

Meanwhile, search data provided a live feed of what consumers cared about most.

No consumer research campaigns could have predicted the spike in demand for balloon deliveries during lockdown but search data revealed this trend in real-time. At the same time, it revealed the surge of home baking, home improvements and exercise alongside declines for beauty products, clothing and consumer electronics.

We’ve covered this topic in more detail several times:

Companies that were tapped into this search data could react to consumer demands in real-time and know exactly where to spend their money – and when.

For example, the travel industry was one of the worst hit by the pandemic and companies couldn’t afford to make mistakes. Travel searches would boom or bust in response to government announcements and many of our customers had their best days on record when the UK lifted travel restrictions to key European destinations.

As soon as a spike in search volumes was registered, we could automatically activate their PPC campaigns and increase bids to take full advantage.

Google itself recently talked about the importance of companies using search data to navigate uncertain times and this will be just as relevant in the years ahead as it was during the peak of the pandemic.

What else will the industry be talking about in 2023?

Before we wrap this up, let’s take a quick look at some of the other trends and talking points that will shape SEO in 2023:

  • Cost of living: This will be the biggest disrupter to UK consumer spending but people have shown surprising resilience in recent years.
  • AI content tools: Whether it’s a good thing or not, AI content tools are playing a bigger role in SEO and content marketing now – the big question is whether Google will respond in 2023.
  • Data privacy: This becomes increasingly important as Google and other industry leaders move towards cookie-less browsing.
  • Google Analytics 4: With Google sunsetting Universal Analytics in July 2023, time is running out to migrate over to Google Analytics 4.
  • Automation: A lack of resources featured as the top concern raised in SEJ’s State Of SEO report 2023 linked to earlier, highlighting the importance of automation.
  • Google updates: Google’s algorithm updates have been more disruptive over the past few years – something that could continue in 2023.
  • Predictive analytics: As data privacy limits access to data, predictive analytics will increasingly fill the gaps left behind.
  • Video clips: With Gen Z using TikTok “like Google,” search engines may need to evolve sooner than later to stay relevant.

These may not have made it into our top five SEO trends for 2023 but they will all play their part in shaping the search marketing industry.

Are you ready to make things happen in 2023?

If you have any concerns about your SEO strategy heading into the next year or the challenges ahead, our team of SEO specialists are ready to help. Call us on 023 9283 0281 or fill out this contact form and we’ll get right back to you.

Lee Wilson profile picture
Lee Wilson

Lee has been working in the online arena, leading digital departments since the early 2000s, and oversees all our delivery services at Vertical Leap, having joined back in 2010. Lee joined our company Operations Team in May 2019. Before working at Vertical Leap, Lee completed a degree in Business Management & Communications at Winchester University, headed up the online development and direct marketing department for an international financial services company for ~7 years, and set up/run a limited company providing website design, development and digital marketing solutions. Lee had his first solely authored industry book (Tactical SEO) published in 2016, with 2 further industry books being published in 2019, and can be seen regularly expert contributing to industry websites including State of Digital, Search Engine Journal, The Drum, plus many others. Lee has a passion for management in the digital industry and loves to see the progression of others through personal learning, training and development. Outside the office he looks to help others while challenging himself, having skydived, bungie jumped and abseiled (despite a fear of heights) with many more fundraising and voluntary events completed and on the horizon. As a husband and dad, Lee loves to spend time with his family and friends. His hobbies include exercising, trying new experiences, eating out, playing countless team sports, as well as watching films (Gangster movies in particular – “forget about it”).

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