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SEO predictions for 2023 and beyond: are things really about to change radically?

Lewis Pugsley

Posted by Lewis Pugsley

13 January 2023

Hello ChatGPT, please write me an in-depth, authoritative article on SEO predictions for 2023 that brings us lots of traffic.

We may not be quite there yet in terms of AI content generators, such as ChatGPT, doing all our work for us, but this has caused a big stir in the SEO and digital worlds. (More on that later, of course.) 

Now, you may get sick of the sight of endless “SEO tips/predictions/must-dos for 2023” arriving in your inbox or propagating on Twitter at this time of year. Indeed, as we’ve alluded to above with our ChatGPT command, they’re often generalist articles that are spun up to generate quick and easy traffic as we head into the new year.

So, apologies if we’re contributing to this trend. However, if 2022 felt seismic in terms of both the quantity and disruptive nature of the Google updates throughout the year, 2023 already looks to bring a whole new set of changes to keep us on our toes.

As a website or business owner, there are some key things that we think you should be paying attention to and making central to your SEO strategy for 2023.

2022: The year of endless Google updates

We all know Google makes updates to its algorithm on an almost-daily basis. However, 2022 felt different in terms of both the number of core updates and the potential they have to disrupt things moving forward. (We won’t list them all here, though check out Google’s Search Ranking Updates log to get a full overview.)

One to call out is the Helpful Content Update, which we covered in a previous article. This update, which looks to crack down on content written for search engines rather than humans, was rolled out on a global basis in December 2022 and looks set to become a key feature for success and failure stories in SEO in 2023.

When the first iteration of the Helpful Content Update hit in August 2022, there were some examples where there had been a clear impact on sites that appeared to have relied on AI-generated or low-quality content for their SEO efforts. The December rollout, which has been billed as the full, global rollout, may reward site owners who have taken steps to address any low-quality content on their site since August, though will also likely see the full extent of what the update means for us all moving forward. It’s certainly one to watch in the coming weeks, so be sure to keep a close eye on Google’s guidelines (and give our article a read) to make sure you’re prepared for this going into 2023.

Disruptive search feature updates 

As well as some spam updates, product reviews and core algorithm updates, Google has also been rolling out some changes to its search features, which will also have a big impact on SEO. Again, Google rolls out changes to its search features (particularly on mobile) all the time, though there’s one worth noting that could bring about serious change.

The update in question is continuous desktop scrolling, which means that users will no longer have to navigate through paginated search results to access further results related to their query. This has been in place on mobile since October 2021. The rollout to desktop consolidates Google’s approach to what appears to be a wider democratisation of search results, with continuous scrolling meaning that sites that rank on page two and beyond are no longer as hidden as they were. 

This has the potential to be particularly seismic, as there are arguments that humans and users are natural scrollers and tend to sift through results until they find something that takes their fancy. Think of user behaviour on TikTok, Twitter and other social platforms, for example.

The removal of paginated search results, replacing them with up to six pages worth of continuous scrolling results, will likely see a redistribution of click-through rates from the traditional position of the top spot, allowing the lower-ranked search results access to a larger share of traffic. This is exciting for websites that have great content but struggle to rank in the top positions due to not being able to compete in areas such as big backlink profiles or content marketing budgets, as it opens up the field of play.

Existing click-through rate metrics attributed to positions – where position one has roughly 40% according to some studies – are likely to change. What does this mean for SEO strategies and visibility?

In terms of reporting, SEO strategists will likely have to move away from traditional rank tracking and selling the idea of reaching position one as the ultimate goal. Rankings will still be important but, for site owners, it will be more about capturing audiences for certain search queries within continuously scrolling SERP results that match search intent and entice the user to read on. This sits in tune with the Helpful Content Update, with the existing practices of writing snappy page titles and meta descriptions likely to play a large role.

ChatGPT and the role of AI in SEO

Okay, let’s get to it then. ChatGPT, a trained AI model released by OpenAI at the end of November 2022, has got a lot of people talking. Reaching more than one million users after its first week of launch, the chatbot, in its current form, is an advanced virtual assistant that can provide data, write dialogue, help with code debugging, generate articles, and provide guidance and information on topics. 

It represents a substantial advancement in conversational AI technology. Some have commented that it represents a major threat to Google, both in terms of being able to quickly produce AI-generated content (which in theory could flood the SERPs) and, more significantly, being a more favoured resource for information than Google as it gets smarter and more accurate. Let’s go through what we think it means for Google and SEO currently, how Google deals with AI, and what the current uses of ChatGPT are.

Is ChatGPT a big content disruptor? We’re still a way off

ChatGPT has the potential to spin up web content, such as blog posts, guide content, or product pages in seconds, potentially saving copywriters (and indeed businesses) lots of time. However, you’ll be reassured to know that those of us in those roles won’t be out of the job yet.

Take a look at what it comes up with when we enter a command for it to write a blog post on the benefits of hot yoga:

While the copy is valid in its information and formatting, it’s not something the owner of a yoga studio website would expect to do them many favours when it comes to ranking well on Google, insofar as it’s very generic and not particularly detailed.

We ran this command over several times and the content, while useful in a top-level sense, has its limitations in terms of providing a personalised, in-depth run-through of the topic. At best, it’s the type of content we might occasionally see in the form of rich snippets and answer boxes, though a far cry from an expertly written, authoritative and, dare we say, trustworthy piece that a human user would want to explore. In short, it doesn’t align with the concepts of Google’s E-E-A-T (now with an extra E - Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) algorithm, which may well play an even more central role moving into 2023 and beyond.

In addition, it looks like the exact type of content that Google will look to target in both its Helpful Content and spam updates: AI-generated content used en masse with a view to manipulate search rankings and gain traffic, be it on a churn and burn basis or otherwise. Google’s spam detection updates, and in particular the Helpful Content Update, do suggest that Google is on top of AI content detection and is potentially a lot more ahead of the game than we might think.

For content writing in the context of SEO, keep doing what you’re doing in terms of producing properly researched, high-quality, in-depth, data-led content that helps solve a problem and is useful to the user.

Use cases for ChatGPT in SEO

Outside of content creation, ChatGPT does have some great uses, such as speeding up workflows for your SEO team. We’ve talked about upskilling your SEO team using tools such as Python, SQL, and SEOTools for Excel to work through datasets, categorise keywords, and automate work. ChatGPT has the potential to be a major help here, particularly to those without any coding knowledge. 

Ever struggled with coming up with the right regex during your keyword research? Take a look at the output below, which follows the command “Write me a regex code that highlights queries containing ‘blue shoes’ and ‘red shoes’”:

Excel is a cornerstone of the day-to-day job of the SEO professional, and its vast array of formulas has the potential to arrange and manipulate data in a near-limitless number of ways. However, memorising formulas and tweaking them for individual use cases without having to revert to third-party resources isn’t everyone’s forte. ChatGPT can help with this, from simple commands such as… 

… to more complex data manipulation such as this:

You can also leverage its AI for writing Xpath that can extract certain data points on a webpage:

ChatGPT can even produce structured data html for quick and easy implementation on site:

Of course, any AI-generated Excel formula or script will still need the eye of an expert to test and ratify the output. AI, for all its evolution, can’t understand the context or nuance surrounding individual use cases, and won’t be able to match the experience of a seasoned SEO or development team when it comes to the use of complex and specific data or code. You can train the AI to deliver a more detailed output. However, the above structured data code snippet will still need some degree of human tweaking, so it suits its desired use case for the website in question.

In general, ChatGPT can be a great way to help your SEO team navigate through quick fixes in certain scenarios when it comes to conjuring up Excel formulas, categorising keywords, writing content extraction scripts and more.

Further areas of consideration for SEO in 2023

At the risk of emulating the aforementioned “SEO tips for 2023” listicles, let’s cover a few more areas we think business owners should be considering in their SEO efforts for next year.

Conversational queries and zero search volume keywords

This isn’t a bold prediction on voice search finally coming into prominence, but it does play a role here. Google is moving to further understand natural language processing (NLP) as part of its core algorithm, that being the ability to understand conversational queries as opposed to traditional straightforward search queries. As the behaviour of the user evolves, so does the complexity of the search query, and Google searches these days are becoming much more conversational.

This also aligns with the concept of search intent: the ability for Google to understand what the user wants in terms of their end goal and rewarding content that does this. 

With increasing the prominence of search features such as People Also Ask and related searches in the SERPs, brands will need to consider alternative content strategies and keyword research methods that may not be available to them via traditional tooling to capture more specific consumer queries. This is where the use of concepts such as zero search volume keywords (long-tail, specific queries found in areas such as People Also Ask that don’t yield search volume data from some tools) can help you with developing content topics that keep you ahead of your competition. Think about targeting phrasing and optimising for verbal searches in your content too.

Reinforcing the role of E-E-A-T

We’ve touched on this in the context of ChatGPT, but it’s clear that with the rollout of the Helpful Content Update and the tackling of low-quality AI-generated content, E-E-A-T will play a huge role in search moving forward.

Ensure your site content is written by someone with clear expertise on the topic at hand, is relevant to the semantics and topic of the brand and pulls in elements such as source citations, accurate statistics, associated video content and author bios to consolidate authority. The E-E-A-T update has seen negative impacts on sites that were ranking for content that they perhaps shouldn’t have been. Think about a travel blogger who might have capitalised on search demand around the topic of clearing credit card debt, for example. Google is getting better at assessing the authoritativeness of subject matter in the context of a brand’s website.

Think about ways you can improve your E-E-A-T signals in your content to ensure that in the eyes of both Google and the user, you’re deemed a respectable source in your industry moving into 2023 and beyond.

GA4 and the big reporting shift

If you haven’t done this yet, make sure you put 1 July 2023 in your diary as this is the day that Universal Analytics (aka GA3) will be switched off. On this date, Universal Analytics properties will stop processing data (however, you have until 1 July 2024 if you have an Analytics 360 property). If you haven’t switched on GA4, do this now. 

Google has said that Universal Analytics data will be in place for at least six months before the big switch-off. We wrote about transitioning to Google Analytics 4 and what you need to do before this date, though from a macro point of view and how GA4 works, it does represent a switch in how we need to think about our reporting in the future. 

Unlike GA3, GA4 tracks data based on an event-tracking model. This means familiar metrics such as page views and sessions are all tracked as “events”. There are different reporting sections on GA4 with regard to user and traffic acquisitions. Traditional behaviour metrics such as pages per session have been replaced with new metrics such as “engaged sessions”, which we all need to interpret and communicate to our stakeholders. 

GA4 does have some great enhancement potential, however, with the links to additional products such as BigQuery, and the “Explore” section in the platforms allow you to build out new custom reporting dashboards. 

Learning GA4, which does feel like a new reporting product altogether in terms of how it represents a change in how we report back on, should be a top consideration in 2023.

Keeping an eye on what Google say

Along with all the sizable shifts in SEO as we head into 2023, it’s safe to say that a key trend that looks set to continue is the levels of communication and information being shared by Google itself. Whether this is from their Google Search Central Blog, their well-maintained documentation on SEO or in the form of their Google Search Liaison Twitter account, Google has certainly come on leaps and bounds in communicating updates to the industry.

In addition, the time that Google employees such as John Mueller put in to actively contribute to questions and conversations on SEO is now an integral part of the industry’s community. 

Expect this to continue as we head into 2023 with all the seismic updates on the horizon, and make sure you and your team are following the conversation so nothing is missed.