In 1976 computers started to appear in offices; by 1986 they were becoming popular in homes with models like the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum; in 1996 the internet was taking off with around 50,000 websites and in 2006 mobile web devices and responsive web design were new phenomena.
In 2016 Google will handle over 2 trillion searches. There are over a billion websites, accessed by all manner of devices and progress is continuing as computers double in speed and memory roughly every two years. Webmasters have to deal with a constant influx of new software, CMS systems, apps and hardware and it’s a challenge keeping up.
So, how do you design for the future? How can you create a website now, using today’s technology to make it as future-proof as possible? How can you optimize it for Google and future-proof it against future SEO updates, or even a new search engine?
The first essential when designing for the modern world is a responsive web design. Your images and text should change layout to display well on a small or large screen, so your site always looks beautiful. It’s also important to position useful information near the top of the page so that visitors can quickly see what each page is about, even if they’re using a small mobile device.
Menus should also be responsive and only include items visitors are likely to actually use. Check your Google Analytics and consider the enquiries or sales you receive. If no-one visits a particular page, either edit it, or remove it from the main menu.
Google are also planning on introducing a separate algorithm for page speed when ranking websites for mobile users, so ensure your images are compressed and you have a decent host.
We may not be at the Starship Enterprise level of voice recognition yet, but Cortana (the Windows 10 virtual assistant) and similar voice technologies are the way of the future and as voice to text software improves, it will become increasingly popular.
In May 2016 Google announced that 20% of searches in the US are voice and the popular opinion among developers is that “voice-based search is set to displace text search as the feature of the future”
From an SEO perspective this means that short 1 or 2 word searches will become less common, e.g. “Hotel Paris” and longer phrases e.g. “Find me a local hotel with a family room” increasingly common. Keywords are likely to always play some role and including them in your Metatag Title in particular is essential, however this suggests that focusing on long-tail searches and writing Metatags and content for human beings first and search engines second is the way to go.
Again, we’re not yet at the level of advancement seen in many science-fiction movies, however Google’s artificial intelligence system (called RankBrain) is currently their third most important factor (with content and links being joint first).
As search engines refine their algorithms to determine which website is the best for a particular keyword or phrase and are increasingly able to take real-time data into account, it means that having a high quality website will equate more and more with a high search engine position. It also means that completing a quality content marketing campaign will be far more successful than other types of marketing.
What does ‘quality’ mean? Simply put, it’s whatever your customers or site visitors define it as! Whatever keeps readers on your site, increases the likelihood that they will order a product or use your service and keeps them informed, entertained or educated, is more and more how Google will be able to measure quality. As artificial intelligence develops, it actually means that you should design more and more for your end-user, rather than for an algorithm.
Read more on how to optimize websites for Google RankBrain.
Google can also tell what’s in a photo and even where a photo was taken and this will make having relevant, original photos or illustrations more important over time. Having at least one image on a page will already help that page appear significantly higher in the search results.
While they might have got off to a rough start, it seems inevitable that Google Glass, HoloLens, or a competitor’s Smart Glasses will become the latest fashion and it won’t be long before a tube journey is filled with people gazing into a virtual world, rather than interacting with someone or something on their mobile.
Will the new ‘responsive’ web design become ‘transparent’ web design? Microsoft are focusing more on allowing people using the HoloLens to also interact with the world around them, playing virtual games on a table top for example. If this is the trend of the future, then perhaps visitors will surf the net from their Smart Glasses while out and about. If so, they may still want to see the world around them to some extent, so having plenty of white space in your design could be a start!
With self-drive cars people are more likely to view websites on the move, or read recipes online while using a Pantelligent, a pan that teaches you how to cook. Using a clear layout and reasonably large font size on your site are therefore also essential.
The future of SEO and Web Design
We can’t predict what new technology will be invented, however we can take into account what technology is already in development and we can design and optimize websites with this in mind. A lot of this is about designing for user-experience. As Google gets smarter, it will more closely mimic a human being, so think first about people and second about machines.