Companies that ignore marketing trends may leave thousands (or millions) of dollars on the table.
But for some marketing pros and SEOs, that’s what happens. A certain algorithm update doesn’t seem like a big deal. There’s not enough budget to invest in video. Maybe someone in the C-suite has never heard of the sunk cost fallacy.
Here’s the thing: Trends matter. Being ahead of the curve matters. And in search, where a single moment’s hesitation can set you back months, you need to be proactive—not responsive.
This isn’t just a Google thing, either. Understanding these trends and the strategies to take advantage of them applies to other engines like Bing, Naver, Baidu, Yandex, and others.
With that in mind, here’s a look back at some big trends that made 2022 a wild year in search and the things that will make huge waves in 2023.
Table of Contents:
- Google Algorithm Updates and Their Impact
- Video is Priority #1
- Still Failing Core Web Vitals Could Leave You Behind
- SERPs Have More to Offer Than Ever
- Augmented Reality Adds a New Dimension to Search
- AI Writing Brings Content At Scale
- Search is Everywhere, and Branding is Intertwined With Success
- Keywords are Trending Long-Tail and Specific
- GA4 Will Be The Only Game In Town
- Big Changes Are Coming For Paid Search
- The Anti-Trend: Quality Always Matters
What Search Engine Trends Shaped 2022?
Every year sees new trends and priorities for SEOs, and 2022 was no exception. Google continues to be the gold standard that drives priorities for digital marketing. The priorities for 2022 continued to be informative, useful content that answered user search queries.
If there’s a story to tell from 2022, it’s that Google’s algorithm updates continue to impact the past, present, and even future of both web development and content creation.
While some of the following trends had a greater impact than others, marketers who could adjust quickly and pivot to include new technologies had a leg up on their competitors who did not.
Google Algorithm Updates And Their Impact
Google pushed several key algorithm updates throughout 2022. These changes caused SEOs to adjust their strategy and see past content differently. As usual, Google did not specify any concrete changes that each update made to the algorithm. But that didn’t stop us from noting key points about each update.
- March: Product Review Update: The first of several updates this year focused on identifying high-quality reviews. This shows the importance of encouraging positive reviews and comprehensive ones that inform readers and tell them what they need to know about a business or service.
- May Algorithm Update: While Google never actively says what it prioritizes in updates, our study shows that the May algorithm update prioritized site performance (specifically load speeds). Those with faster speeds and greater performance tended to rank higher than those that performed poorly. Other priorities for this update included strong backlinks and non-invasive web content. For e-commerce sites, this meant rewarding those that produced non-product specific content only.
- September Helpful Content Update: This update had a ripple effect across all sorts of industries, but the overall impact was to reward those sites with “people-first” content. Writing for search engines may have been helpful in the past, but Google has been vocal about prioritizing anything written for its users. Sites with legacy content that hasn’t been updated or reviewed in a while may have seen some drop in rankings on the search engine results page (SERP).
The Helpful Content Update also shows the impact that true subject matter experts (SMEs) can have on authority. Companies with bonafide SMEs should consider encouraging them to review all content before publication. Once they approve, they should receive credit as an author or reviewer.
Video Is Priority #1
While social media’s much-vaunted pivot to video created issues for publishers who relied on those platforms for distribution, the importance of video to search cannot be understated. There’s a good chance this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, but video is here to stay.
Video content is performing well on platforms like TikTok and Instagram and in search itself. Marketers pointed to video as the number one format in their content strategy. Over 80 percent of marketers point to video as a significant source of increased traffic and sales. It’s a vital strategic asset, and it’s not going anywhere.
Video marketing can take several forms, and it’s not just limited to ads. For one brand, it might be building a YouTube channel or putting testimonial content on landing pages. How-to videos make for excellent content for product-focused businesses.
Let’s look at the work management company Asana. Their YouTube channel, which has over 34,000 subscribers, provides several different resources including:
- Product tips
- Short ads for the product
- In-depth how-to videos
- Examples of how the company uses its own software
Google knows that video is in high demand from the general audience, and that’s why it’s working to incorporate more video into search results via video shorts and video indexing. Companies should build out relevant content that fills these features and supports their pages to seize that popularity.
Still Failing Core Web Vitals Could Leave You Behind
Keyword optimization, mobile experience, and backlinks are all fundamental parts of SEO performance, but Core Web Vitals help describe the on-page experience. These signals represent a page’s visual stability, loading speed, and general responsiveness.
Here’s a handy glossary I made with all the main components of CWV your team needs to be aware of:
Companies that previously put CWV at the bottom of their list of priorities may have gotten away with it in the past, but that’s no longer the case. In early 2022, just 33% of sites in a study performed by Ahrefs passed CWV checks—up 10% from the previous year.
While that number seems low, consider that more and more websites are slowly creeping up across both desktop and mobile. Sites that continue to lag and fail to improve their technical SEO will fall to the back of the pack.
If you haven’t made a plan to audit your site’s CWV and take steps to improve it, it’s time to start. Those changes don’t have to happen tomorrow, but a long-term plan is better than none.
Google places an increasingly large emphasis on passing CWV tests as part of its search ranking guidelines, and not just as a “tiebreaker.” For small businesses with limited marketing budgets, that means investing money in making sure your website meets these standards.
If you’re still on the fence, our below study spells out just how important CWV is to small and mid-sized companies:
SERPs Have More To Offer Than Ever
Have you recently noticed how much stuff lives on the SERP these days?
Between ads, Knowledge Graphs, business listings, shopping tools, and images, it’s a lot.
You may have previously heard about zero-click content, but it’s even more of a reality than ever. Zero-click content—where a person finds the information they need on a SERP without clicking through to a new page—accounted for 25.6% of desktop searches and 17.3% of mobile ones.
Google’s previously mentioned expansion into video content is part of a bigger overall strategy: the SERP page as a comprehensive source of information instead of a directory of useful resources. Some of the major features on the SERP include the following items:
- Featured snippets: The boxes at the top of a SERP that provides short answers to a user’s query. They can be paragraphs, bulleted lists, images, or other widgets.
- Knowledge Graph: A basic overview about a topic, person, or entity. It can include things like hours of operation for businesses, a brief description of what a person is best known for, or detailed information that is sourced from a longer article or story.
- Visual results: The addition of product ads, image listings, thumbnail images and image carousels in web listings to provide more context.
- Local intent mapping: Instead of showing web listings for restaurants, Google may show maps of your area with the restaurant or type of food you searched for.
- Short videos: On mobile SERPS, short videos take up significant real estate.
- Related searches: Search engines sometimes show other search queries that relate to what you’ve looked for.
Content creators may shrug this off because they feel like they’re not getting conversions from people reading the listing, but there are still plenty of reasons to optimize for those features. People still read them, after all, and information in featured snippets comes directly from well-optimized, high-ranking content.
Take full advantage of the SERP. Use schema, Google Business Profiles, and the robust Knowledge Graph info on your pages to make sure your site is the most comprehensive resource possible beyond what’s on the webpage itself.
The information you provide needs to be user-centric, however. Intent kills the unique #1 position, which means what one person sees for a term may differ from what another sees, even if they’re both logged out and in private mode. In fact, 87 people logged out of Google and searched privately, and they still saw different results.
For these reasons, brands need a deeper understanding of the intent behind a person’s search, to provide them with better information.
The Search Engine Trends That Will Shape 2023
If algorithm updates and SERP elements influenced 2022 search, what does 2023 have in store?
User behaviors are changing. New tools are expanding the scope of scalable content production and impacting how users see the world around them. Branding is back at the forefront of search concerns.
Understanding where the industry is heading lets your team lay the groundwork for success today. When it comes to search, being proactive is always better than being reactive. Changes need time to take hold after they’re implemented.
Knowing what’s coming and planning to deal with it can put you ahead of the curve (and your competitors).
Augmented Reality Adds A New Dimension To Search
Most people view augmented reality (AR) as a fun way to play with phones, but it’s more than that.
AR allows companies like IKEA and Wayfair to show users what specific furniture looks like in their homes.
Even Google is focusing more closely on the AR game. At its Google IO conference, company CEO Sundar Pichai stated:
“Looking ahead there is a new frontier of computing with potential that takes all of this even further – and that’s augmented reality…”
What does that mean for search?
Google announced the development of AR search results for late 2022, specifically within Google Maps. These AR search results place markers in a video feed in 3D space. While the hope is to eventually make that the interface for goggles or glasses, it is currently limited to phones.
It’s not hard to imagine a use case for these search results, especially when it comes to local SEO. Ensuring businesses have updated business listings can put them in the viewport of searchers as they use their phones to help navigate the world.
Will AR make sense for all marketers or businesses? No. But much like videos became a greater priority in 2022, it might be worth exploring in 2023. Google Lens is helping to create new categories for SEOs to consider: visual search optimization.
SEO experts have always stressed optimizing images for search. The rise in AR makes this even more of a priority. The best ways to ensure images are ready for search are to:
- Use high-quality images.
- Write appropriate, descriptive alt-text.
- Write captions to provide more detail for users.
AI Writing Brings Content At Scale
Another innovation in marketing is the absolute explosion of AI writing (and AI art) tools. These controversial products use machine learning to scan large portions of the internet and train AI to write coherent, usable content. It’s an impressive idea, but the results have been mixed.
Immediately after these products hit the market, think piece after think piece started rolling in. Will AI replace professional writers? Can these tools speed up the process of content creation? There’s a healthy mixture of optimism and skepticism around the utility of these products, and content professionals have a reason to be skeptical. After all, they have skin in the game regarding writing.
Some content professionals assume the AI writer can generate a firehose of unlimited, instant, and immediately usable content. Others believe AI-written content is poor quality. Because it’s important to know what’s on the horizon, we’ve started to work with some of these tools. We’ve discovered that the results fall in the middle.
Plenty of AI writing tools exist that can help content marketing organizations scale production, but let’s make one thing clear: They all require a heavy hand to be effective. An AI writer is only as good as the inputs they use to produce the content, and they’ll never replace the human emotion that matters in marketing.
If you’ve never used one of these platforms to boost your writing process, it’s time to start. The Ubersuggest AI writing tool offers plenty of robust options to help generate blog topics, subject headings, meta descriptions, and more.
Writers must supply the AI with baseline information like keywords, suggested tone, and topics. They also need to edit the fresh content each program spits out. Some paragraphs may require more massaging than others. To their credit, many AI writer tools are upfront about this.
Skilled human writers are just as crucial to the content marketing process as they’ve always been. For organizations who need to scale up content production, AI tools can help—provided there’s still a core team of writers standing by to support them.
Saving time and energy with efficient content production isn’t just good for SEO. Paid media and organic channels benefit from the lift in traffic and search visibility that comes with high-ranking content for reasons we’re about to talk about.
Search is Everywhere, and Branding is Intertwined With Success
As a consumer, what’s the most valuable digital tool you use daily? Is it email? Social media? Online maps?
In a 2019 survey of how much compensation they’d need to give up digital services, the “most valuable” resource was search engines. They were valued twice as much as email and nearly five times as much as online maps. As far as “valuable tools” are concerned, social media was close to the bottom of the list.
Fast-forward to 2023, and while search engines are still king when it comes to resources online, there’s one social site that has immense value (especially for Gen Z): TikTok. In fact, among Gen Z, TikTok ranks number 1 on the list of media usage in an internet minute.
Google ranks fifth.
That’s right. TikTok is the top search engine for members of Gen Z, but not in the ways you might think.
40% of young people use TikTok or Instagram to find lunch spots or other destinations. Prabhakar Raghavan, the Senior Vice President who heads up Google’s Knowledge and Information division, explains it this way:
“We keep learning, over and over again, that new internet users don’t have the expectations and the mindset that we have become accustomed to…the queries they ask are completely different.”
Search is one of the most popular features on all social media platforms. From YouTube to Pinterest and TikTok to Twitter, users are searching for content there. That means “social search” is becoming a bigger priority for users. And where the users go, brands should follow.
Digital marketers need to pivot and think about ways to build their brand presence across all platforms, not just traditional search engines. SEO and content are still worthwhile investments, but newer opportunities such as influencer marketing and digital PR should also be part of the plan.
Not yet convinced? Consider this: Nearly 89% of surveyed shoppers agree that YouTube creators give the most trustworthy information when it comes to products and brands.
Not blogs. Not review websites.
In addition to the pure search considerations, it’s essential to realize that social media platforms have their own algorithmic pressures. And sometimes their best practices don’t align with Google’s.
Need proof that social media involvement leads to brand recognition? We have it. In addition to more traffic and visibility, we’ve built our place in the industry on it. Let’s look at the below study to start:
The main takeaway here is that social ads, descriptions, livestreams and engagement are strongly affecting purchasing behavior, especially video.
We’ve also established before that more and more people, especially younger generations, are turning to social media as their first point of truth when looking for guidance.
Remember we also mentioned the rise of zero-click content as more and more users don’t want to have to click different pages to get their answers.
Is it all starting to come together?
It’s not going to be enough just to rank high in SERPs anymore, as more and more people are looking elsewhere at first when making their decisions about a company. You need to invest time and effort into other areas.
You need that DPR presence, you need that social media presence, you need to start working with influencers.
It’s about meeting your audience where they are, and in 2023, that’s going to start changing.
Branding and Search in Practice
I’m a firm believer in practicing what I preach.
So when I say that you need to start combining conventional SEO with other branding methods, my agency, NP Digital, is already doing it.
Even if your company is reluctant to leap feet-first something like, say, influencer marketing, a little bit of branding goes a long way.
For one of our clients, we implemented a conventional combination of content and SEO creation, but also added DPR support to boost awareness of our efforts. Here’s a breakdown of the campaign:
Digital PR was a crucial part of our efforts here. It ensured the new content we created got in front of important publishers, while helping create a cohesive brand narrative. Want to know what this blended approach got our client?
While finding the right branding approaches is going to vary from business to business, these are conversations you want to start having now. I’ve also been working to increase my personal branding across different platforms.
The greater the audience I can help with digital marketing, the better. The audience gets immediate help, and also knows they can come to me or my agency if they need further support.
Keywords Are Trending Long-Tail and Specific
We know long-tail keywords have always been important to SEO, but they’re trending to become necessary in 2023 and beyond.
It’s easy to look at keywords with high search value and assume that those should be your focus, but being more specific and anticipating user needs may serve marketing teams better in the long run.
Competition for clicks and views is heavy. Between core algorithm updates, ads, knowledge graphs, and attempts by Google to keep users on the SERP, it can be challenging to stand out. Long-tail keywords allow marketers to get granular as people adopt voice search and more detailed questions to search for what they need.
Companies can even adopt a long-term keyword strategy focusing on hitting users at different stages of a sales funnel or adoption cycle. Consider putting one together that caters to users out of the information-seeking stage and ready to buy.
GA4 Will Be The Only Game In Town
Have you taken steps to transition to Google Analytics 4 (GA4)? If you haven’t, you’re already depriving your future self of valuable data.
Google recently reiterated that it is officially sunsetting Universal Analytics for most users on July 1, 2023. While users can continue to collect new data in Universal Analytics and access that data for six months after the stop date, GA4 will be the only available option moving forward.
Enterprise users can still use Universal Analytics until July 2024, but we strongly recommend setting up GA4 properties now to ensure your marketing team or business is ready for the transition.
Why? GA4 offers a new dashboard that streamlines reporting features. In addition, generalized data like pageviews are out, and events are in. Because some of the old metrics aren’t moving forward to GA4, you should prepare to find replacements or equivalents in future reporting.
There’s plenty of excitement around the new features in GA4—including the updated dashboard—but it can look overwhelming if you haven’t experienced it before. By taking the time now to get familiar with the new elements and features, you’ll be ready to report on data by the time GA4 becomes the standard of analytics.
Big Changes Are Coming For Paid Search
We’ve been talking about organic trends mostly until this point, but it’s important to recognize upcoming trends in paid search as well. In many cases, these two pillars support any strong digital marketing strategy.
Here’s a rapid-fire look at some of the paid search trends that my team and I are keeping an eye on in 2023:
User Privacy Is Changing How We Approach Audience Insights
Google recently announced that Similar Audiences will be sunsetting by May 2023 as user privacy continues to become a focal point of online advertising.
What does this mean for advertisers?
You need to start shifting your audience strategy to focus on alternative solutions such as Audience Expansion and Optimized Targeting.
First-party data is also more important than ever to make sure Google is able to utilize customer intent signals and optimize toward high-value audiences.
Advertisers will need to strategically implement a diverse audience strategy to their paid campaigns that incorporates the upcoming audience solution changes as well as leverage in-market, affinity, and custom audience segments.
Haven’t Implemented Google Enhanced Conversions Yet? You Need To Move Now
Yes, third-party cookies aren’t getting phased out until 2024 at the earliest, and we still don’t know the entire story there. With that said, there’s still a clear paradigm shift to a more privacy-centric advertising model, and it’s coming soon.
The first step to prepare for this?
Implementing Google Enhanced Conversions should be a focal point for advertisers in 2023 if you haven’t done it already. This feature helps improve the accuracy of conversion measurement by supplementing your existing conversion tags.
How does this work? By sending hashed, anonymized first-party conversion data from your website or offline customer data to Google in a privacy-safe way.
Build A Strategic Adoption Plan for Automation and AI Machine Learning
We’re headed into a time of uncertainty in the global economy. It can be scary, but we need to prepare.
Under these conditions, some of Google’s automation solutions can work for you rather than against you.
In 2022, Google released an update that customer match lists will be applied to smart bidding as intent signals for optimization. With that said, since ad spending may fluctuate throughout 2023, advertisers will need to consistently evaluate performance of their automated bidding.
This is best done by
- utilizing high-value customer data
- ensuring conversion actions are set up with data-driven attribution
- consistently adjusting bid targets to meet performance targets.
AI and machine learning have been a focal point for years now, but Google continues to make enhancements, and advertisers should expect further automation updates in 2023.
Performance Max Will Be More Prominent
Performance Max provides the ability to scale performance by opening up a larger inventory of ad placements across all of Google’s channels such as YouTube, Display, Search, Discover, Gmail, and Maps. Released in 2022, advertiser adoption has been steadily growing.
Granted, it’s not perfect. We still have growing pains like questionable traffic and fraudulent leads, but Google has been receptive to advertisers’ feedback. In fact, they have issued significant refunds from invalid and click fraud activity this past year.
On top of that, Performance Max will continue to evolve and improve over time with recent product updates. Examples include the ability to optimize to new customer acquisition goals as well as more optimization levers such as negative keywords coming in 2023.
After all, automated bidding was not a wildly successful product at first launch, but over time it has become an essential part of campaign optimization with its ability to achieve ROI goals.
Expect Performance Max to continue improving with better controls and data transparency in 2023.
Microsoft Search Ads and Partner Networks Are Expanding
Microsoft’s search volume has been quietly growing, but its overall digital advertising business has been making some noise. Key milestones in this direction include its acquisition of Xandr and recent partnership with Netflix to offer an ad-supported version of the platform.
Microsoft is expecting to double the size of its ad business from $10 billion to $20 billion per year in 2023, and with that comes changes to Microsoft’s ad distribution settings.
Microsoft Ads will shift from its traditional partner network of AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft-owned sites to a larger extended network.
Standalone search partner network campaigns will no longer be an option, but exclusions of specific placements will still be available.
Also, as the partnership between Microsoft and Xandr matures, expect an increase in traffic from search partners through the Xandr network.
This could potentially offer a comparable alternative to Google search partners. This option includes Microsoft sites and additional partner traffic for extended reach and expected lower cost-per-click.
The Anti-Trend: Quality Always Matters
No matter how much search trends change, some things don’t. One of those is that Google consistently wants to put the best content forward for its users. One of the best things any marketing team can do is prioritize high-quality content on their pages.
That still doesn’t mean producing content for content’s sake. It needs to be useful, actionable, and catered to specific audiences. Remember Google’s three values: expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T).
The emphasis on quality may not change, but the ways to ensure it might. Even with new and exciting tools like AI writing, expanded mobile features like AR, and the increased search reliance of TikTok, solving users’ specific needs reigns supreme. SEOs and marketing teams who lose sight of that priority will struggle in the new year.
Are trends the most important thing to consider when it comes to marketing?
But being aware of them can help inform your digital strategy for the next year. Remember: Failing to be proactive is a recipe for missed goals.
In addition, you need to think about Google’s goals. They want to make the SERP more of a destination and not just part of the journey. If SEOs wish to be at the party, they need to reach for every tool in their bag of tricks to make it happen: schema, business listings, accurate information on the Knowledge Graph, and more. Even if being there doesn’t lead to clicks or conversions, the brand authority still counts.
With the rise of TikTok and Instagram as authoritative platforms, it’s no longer enough just to be an SEO expert. Marketers can follow all the best practices and still miss out. You’re leaving money on the table if you’re not putting energy (and money) into social media or influencer campaigns.
What 2022 trends worked for you? What 2023 trend are you most excited about?
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