From Google announcing multi-modal ‘multisearch’ to the spam targeting efforts of its Helpful Content and Product Reviews updates, to developments in generative AI that could have disruptive implications for web search, it’s been an interesting year in search and SEO.

We reached out to a number of experts to get their thoughts on how they predict the key events of 2022 will impact 2023, where SEOs should focus their efforts over the coming year, how the tough economic climate is likely to affect SEO (and how businesses should be responding), their most “outside the box” forecast for 2023, and more.

Jump to:

  1. Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU) will be the most impactful going into 2023
  2. Here’s where SEOs should be focusing their efforts in 2023
    1. Quality, well-structured content – and topic-specific expertise
    2. Relationships with the wider business
    3. Pay close attention to the data
    4. Don’t neglect the basics!
  3. The tough economic climate could bring SEO to the fore
    1. SEO is a long-term game – and smart businesses will invest
    2. An opportunity for SEO to shine
  4. AI imagery has exciting potential for search and SEO, but the UX isn’t quite there yet
  5. Predicting outside the box: ‘wild card’ predictions for 2023

Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU) will be the most impactful going into 2023

We asked our experts which of Google’s various updates and developments from 2022 they foresee having the greatest impact in 2023, and the answer was unanimous: the Helpful Content Update (HCU), Google’s latest update aimed at rewarding truly valuable, human-created content.

The HCU initially began rolling out in August and completed its rollout in early September, with another major update making an appearance in the first half of this month. In Google’s words, the HCU is “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results”. The update goes hand-in-hand with another designed to target spammy content, the Product Reviews Update, which many of our experts also think will be influential in 2023. Here’s what they had to say:

Beth Nunnington, VP of Digital PR and Content at Journey Further:

“‘Helpful content’ will continue to have a big impact as brands will really need to take a ‘human-first’ approach in order to grow organically. Brands that have always created useful, engaging content with their target audience in mind will continue to do really well.

“More investment will be made into creating guide and advice content that not only can be used to improve rankings and capture search demand, but also be utilised across paid and owned channels too.

“Finally, non-direct link building – tying into the above point, we’ll see more investment being made into useful guides and resources that sit on site and can attract links naturally. These resources will be a key part of the customer journey for those who are looking for a brand that offers expertise and advice that they can trust. This type of content will play a key role in the conversion process, as well as helping secure links to drive better organic performance overall.”

Alex Moran, SEO Lead, Space & Time:

“I foresee Google’s Helpful Content Update and Product Reviews Update having the most impact as we head into 2023. Google is not in the business of releasing updates and never touching them again; it is constantly making tweaks. Released in August 2022, the helpful content update is still relatively new and therefore I expect more tweaks and a deeper understanding from SEOs on how to shape content. Understanding the guidelines of an update is one thing, but getting to grips with how that fits into the larger search spectrum is much more complex.”

Joe Comotto, Director of Search Experience, Incubeta:

“In the early days of SEO, experts focussed on the relevancy of results and managed their SEO by look at how well the results page aligns with the searcher’s intent. Now, the industry is moving towards optimising search results to create a good user experience. This is shown clearly with Google’s Helpful Content Update and Google’s Product Reviews update which were both implemented this year.

“Between the two, Google’s Helpful Content Update will have the biggest impact in 2023. The update is aimed at ensuring searchers only see content “by people, for people”, and it signals that the technology is now available for Google to cement its user-centric direction. Instead of SEO results showing content that has been purely designed for ranking well, the update aims to help searchers find high-quality content. While there is a space for automation, and AI-generated content there are instances when you need human input, and this update will ensure the type of content users see is informative and genuinely useful.”

Lemuel Park, CTO and Co-Founder, BrightEdge:

“We asked our customers this, and the majority of them believe that updates around helpful content would have the most impact on their work.  However, it wasn’t just the helpful content update itself but also updates around product reviews that suggest marketers continue to need to find ways to be unique and differentiate their content from everything else on the web.

“We expect Google’s expansion of multi-search and more features in the SERP will impact how we interact with search, which will inevitably inform what brands do to ensure all their content is discoverable.

“On a macro level, we expect SEO to play a more prominent role as a strategic input for organizations.  Our customers indicate that they’re looking to organic search data to help them understand their customers better and what challenges they have. Particularly as budgets tighten, there’s a focus on how channels can help produce efficiencies.”

Markus Klöschen, SEO Solutions Team Lead, Searchmetrics:

“Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU) will have the strongest impact in 2023, and we will see additional improvements on this one. The HCU is a big milestone on the way to Google’s goal of providing the one best answer.

“Google is getting better and better at identifying resources with  Expertise, Authority and Trust (EAT) – considered the most helpful content for answering searchers’ intent, no matter what the type of content. Combined with the MUM update, HCU will mean searchers will get the image, video, or text document that is the best, most reliable, and unique resource that responds to their query.

“This will mean global audiences are more likely to trust and engage with the resources that are delivered by Google.

“SEOs with a solid strategy around publish motivating, helpful web content, and delivering the best possible user experience, will find it easier to improve search rankings as Google increasingly prioritises quality over quantity.

“Clean up the garbage and create good quality, helpful content.”

Should brands be using AI copywriting in the age of the Helpful Content Update?

Here’s where SEOs should be focusing their efforts in 2023

Where do our experts think that SEOs should be focusing their time and energy for the most impactful results next year? Unsurprisingly, high-quality, relevant content plays a major part here, the better to stay on the right side of Google’s HCU.

However, SEOs also shouldn’t overlook their relationships with other teams – particularly web development – and should monitor their search data to evaluate the impact of developments like Google’s implementation of endless scrolling.

Quality, well-structured content – and topic-specific expertise

Jodie Brookton, Digital Account Director, The Kite Factory:

“The activation that will see the largest impact on your organic rankings is regular publication of high-quality content that follows Google’s E-A-T* guidelines, such as:

  • Showcasing your contents authors and ad bios for them
  • Include clear sources and credit
  • Create unique content
  • Getting good reviews

*Standing for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. Google use algorithms to determine the quality of website content using the E-A-T model.”

Joe Comotto, Incubeta:

“It’s a tricky question because there are nuances between websites and the verticals the SEO is working in. Overall, in 2023 all SEOs should be looking at a comprehensive content strategy that is qualitative and useful.

“Specifically, for verticals where there is an information gap between brand and consumer, it’s really important to include an expert opinion in your content. This is particularly true for verticals that sit in the ‘Your Money or Your Life’ realm like healthcare and finance but this also spans through to areas like outdoor clothing and specialist outerwear.”

Alex Moran, Space & Time:

“Deep research into their niche and the creation of relevant, well-structured content will be imperative for SEOs looking to get the most out of their organic search next year. What are the long-tail queries that appear in People Also Ask boxes that aren’t accurately being answered? How do the SERPs differ for similar terms, e.g. difference between ‘trainers’, ‘vintage trainers’ and ‘used trainers’?

“SEOs will know their headline commercial keywords already and have goals towards working on these, but it’s important they don’t forget the top of the funnel or long tail searches. Often these can be the most valuable customers as they are at the stage of building brand trust which will pay off when they are ready to buy.”

Relationships with the wider business

Beth Nunnington, Journey Further:

“SEOs need to focus on building strong relationships with web developers to help them commercially prioritise any technical changes that need to be made. We always provide our clients with a ‘difficulty’ and ‘impact’ score using their preferred prioritisation method, which is often in the form of a traffic light system, to help them understand which changes need to be made and when. This also ensures we aren’t bombarding the web dev team unnecessarily with requests that make little impact.

“SEO experts should also consider testing their recommendations on a small number of pages, to prove incremental gain and get business buy-in before rolling out any changes that involve a lot of work and effort, in order to deliver the best ROI possible.

“Finally, SEOs tend to sit in performance teams but it’s really important they work closely with brand teams as well, to help identify wider opportunities. This is particularly important in content creation to ensure that all channel activity is working as hard as possible and is also relevant.”

Pay close attention to the data

Markus Klöschen, Searchmetrics:

“As well as the MUM and Helpful Content updates, Google has rolled out endless scrolling and we can only guess at how this will change user behaviour. Probably trusted content will perform better, and the gap between 10th and 11th place in SERP rankings will narrow. But it is better to optimize existing processes and data, than act on assumptions in haste.

“SEOs need to closely monitor their search data over the next six months to get a better understanding of how these changes have impacted search and their business specifically – then they can adjust accordingly if demand shifts and there is a new distribution of clicks.”

Don’t neglect the basics!

Lemuel Park, BrightEdge:

“The basics still matter!  First, you must ensure all your content performs for you in search.  You need to make sure your pages load efficiently.

“If you haven’t yet, you must ensure your structured data is working and schema is implemented on your images and rich media. Especially with many improvements to visual experiences coming from Google in 2023.”

Marcus Tober, SVP Enterprise Solutions at Semrush:

“I’m a big believer that being great in SEO basics will be important in 2023 especially information architecture, page speed and internal linking before other topics. While this might seem simple, some SEOs are distracted by the hype train of GPT3, ML, Dall-E or ChatGPT and forget that mastering the basics is key to building a strong foundation.

“Looking ahead, it will also be important for SEOs to understand that Google is going to own more bottom of the funnel traffic in the new year so they will need to prepare to invest more in top-of-funnel content.”

The tough economic climate could bring SEO to the fore

It’s been an incredibly tough year economically, and this has impacted all areas of life. In marketing, budgets have been increasingly squeezed, which is likely to continue into 2023 – so, where will this leave SEO? Will it find additional favour as a “free” marketing channel, or fall victim to budget and resource cuts as businesses seek to make short-term gains? Here’s what our experts had to say.

SEO is a long-term game – and smart businesses will invest

Jodie Brookton, The Kite Factory:

“The tough economic outlook is likely to cause a decrease in budgets across the board. This is because it is the most straightforward, short-term solution for many brands.

“Unfortunately, it can take up to four to six months to see an increase in traffic as a result of SEO, meaning that budgets allocated to organic search may be shifted into paid search in order to see an immediate effect on the brand’s bottom line.”

Benoit Gourdon, President, EMEA at Botify:

“During a recession, businesses often look to reduce spending–and marketing budgets are often the first to get cut. However, companies that invest in marketing are the ones that bounce back faster and, in many cases, stronger.

“Investing in the long term instead of simply focusing on the ‘now’ provides sustainability for future branding and business success.

“Digital marketing, in particular organic search marketing, is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure profitability during an economic downturn. For example, a popular ticket search site saw a 20% increase in site visits when they invested in organic search marketing over the course of the pandemic.

“Investing in organic search marketing now will future-proof revenue during a recession and beyond, by helping businesses build further brand awareness through their online presence. Optimising web pages so that your company repeatedly appears in organic searches keeps working long after the initial investment, continuously driving customers to your website for many weeks and months.”

Beth Nunnington, Journey Further:

“If [businesses] are looking for instant quick fixes, it’s likely they will invest money into performance channels such as paid media, as it seemingly drives return on investment quicker. However, this will result in an increased cost per click (CPCs), and I would argue that this short-sighted approach will only cost more money in the long run.

“Brands that are happy to invest more in digital PR, and use it to drive performance through links and brand visibility through high-quality coverage and fame-driving campaigns will likely see better return, as this will help drive organic growth, both through increased ranking improvements and better brand search.

“Of course, there is little point in investing in lots of demand generating activity, if your website isn’t technically sound to be able to capture it properly, so brands that are able to continue to invest in both on-page and off-page SEO will win overall. In short, if businesses are focusing on long-term gains, then I think the economic outlook will be beneficial for SEO professionals, as long as they’re utilising the three key pillars; Digital PR, Content and Technical SEO.”

Marcus Tober, Semrush:

Theoretically, when marketing spend is squeezed and online demand stays the same, SEO should win even when there are no further investments being made in SEO. This could ultimately change many businesses’ perception of SEO – it is a long-term game that works well without requiring any paid marketing efforts.

I don’t expect many companies to put a pause on their SEO efforts, but at the same time, many companies might not see that investing more in SEO will be a great opportunity in 2023.

An opportunity for SEO to shine

Markus Klöschen, Searchmetrics:

“Now is a great time to invest in SEO as PPC budgets are squeezed! SEO gives a better ROI than paid because it has lasting impact rather than exposure on hire. And SEO is sustainable because costs do not fluctuate with economic trends and changes in users behaviour like paid search does.”

Alex Moran, Space & Time:

“I think it’s an opportunity to invest more time in SEO. SEO is not just about monetary investment, it’s also about a time investment. For example, how about taking a look at those page speed issues you saw, but never spent the time fixing? Working on them, or any other SEO improvements, will be very profitable in the long term.

“As SEOs we also have a barometer that isn’t dictated by seasonal or economic trends. Rankings can improve, which indicates that we are implementing the right tactics to succeed when there is an upturn in the economy again. So the option may be to invest more in a paid channel but still get less visitors, or look at improving rankings (even if the number of visits goes down, you know long term the result is positive).”

Lemuel Park, BrightEdge:

“We’re seeing that 90% of our customers have indicated SEO as a must-have channel next year.  They know organic search has a compounding value where work you do today produces results tomorrow. It also helps content work harder and other media do their job better. So as companies scrutinize budgets, we expect many of them will see SEO as an underpinning that has to be in play to get the most value out of their marketing possible.

Image: BrightEdge

“Despite market fluctuations, search continues to be a channel that has grown over 20 years. As traditional and paid media costs rise, SEO has become the go-to marketing channel that provides the most profitable return on investment and offers vital business insights across all digital channels – content, paid search, email, and display.

“This past year has been no different. We study a number of different industries at BrightEdge and we’re seeing that leaders from last year get a return on their work that grows over time. For example, we took a sample of the top-ranking pages for the top 1,000 ecommerce terms and tracked how they performed over the last year.

“To put this in perspective, if you wanted to increase traffic by 20% in this space using paid search, and your site was already driving one million visitors out of search, you would need massive incremental paid spend to realize that same number.  And the minute you stop spending, the traffic goes away.”

Image: BrightEdge

“So, when we think about what that compounding effect of SEO is worth in terms of the media equivalent, this is driving significant value for these ecommerce pages.

“This year, those same pages are driving 20% more keywords each. Based on click data, this 20% increase actually equated to a 120% lift in traffic.  This compounding effect is due largely in part to the way the algorithm is designed to work.  If users are engaging your page it builds authority and as more searches emerge related to that page, they are shown for those different keywords as well

“Organizations can unlock the long-term potential of SEO and gain valuable incremental value from it. Investing in a comprehensive strategy now will pay dividends now and well into the future.”

Joe Comotto, Incubeta:

“Overall, I’d like to think that the economic outlook should be beneficial to SEO. The pandemic taught brands a big lesson about maximising marketing budgets, and one of these lessons highlighted the power of organic vs. paid search.

“Brands that didn’t take on these learnings might now be feeling the pinch, but those who have successfully built a loyal, and engaged audience will be able to make the most of their organically higher search rankings.”

AI imagery has exciting potential for search and SEO, but the UX isn’t quite there yet

Generative AI is the buzz of the entire marketing industry, and with new tools and technical improvements coming thick and fast, it’s sure to remain a major theme into 2023.

Recently, Microsoft announced that it would be integrating Dall-E 2, the latest version of the Dall-E image generation AI, directly into Bing – raising interesting questions about the potential for generative AI to fulfil some of the needs currently fulfilled by search. (I also explored this topic in some depth in a recent piece about the potential for ChatGPT to pose a ‘threat’ to search engines). Here’s what our experts thought about the role that AI imagery may play in search and SEO in 2023.

Jodie Brookton, The Kite Factory:

“The Dall-E 2 powered image generator is an incredibly special tool. Not only is it fun to use, but it can also help to create unique images to add to website content, which can improve search rankings. For example, a blog on the history of paid search automation in Google is a very dry topic, but it can be brought to life with the imagery created using Bing’s tool.

“There is already an increase in people creating written content with AI tools for SEO purposes, and now we can do the same with the imagery on these pieces of content. I expect to see this trend continue to grow, with rumours of AI video creation in the works for 2023.”

Markus Klöschen, Searchmetrics:

“The potential in AI generation and search is amazing – imagine you are looking for an infographic on a specific subject, but one does not exist, so the AI creates one for you! But to do this at scale is just too expensive right now so understanding the right usage and where it will have the most impact will be key to Bing’s success and successful SEO strategies.”

Marcus Tober, Semrush:

“I doubt any mass adoption of generative AI like Dall-E 2 in Bing or Edge will take off in the new year. While Dall-E 2 is impressive, the USP is not quite there. It seems unlikely the end-consumer using a search engine will frequently start using Bing.”

Predicting outside the box: ‘wild card’ predictions for 2023

Finally, we asked our experts for their most unusual, left field or ‘outside the box’ predictions for search and SEO in 2023. Here are some of the highlights:

Extra search verticals will emerge – Alex Moran, Space & Time:

“Extra search types including ‘social’ and maybe even ‘reviews’. We expect at least Images, News, Videos and Shopping to appear for almost any search now. But there’s lots more already like Books, Finance, Flights, Jobs etc. With Twitter, YouTube and TikTok all now appearing as rich results in search, I expect it won’t be too long before we see Social there as well.”

Brand-building will be vital to organic growth – Beth Nunnington, Journey Further:

“Brand building activity will become a key consideration and a vital part of organic growth. Links won’t be the only consideration when it comes to ranking factors; brand salience, awareness and advocacy will start to be metrics that performance teams will start to look at, and as such will align their strategy with the brand teams more closely.”

An increased focus on transactional queries – Marcus Tober, Semrush:

“I predict Google will launch more integrations for transactional queries in 2023, with a focus on improving the UX and functionality for their popular products box.

“With the rise of GPT3 and other AI models, I also anticipate Google will double down on E.A.T., Helpful content and their Spam update models. Additionally, 2023 will be the year to invest in better content and UX, not just content.”

No code and edge automation to the fore – Adrien Menard, CEO at Botify:

“Modern organic search strategies will soon require no code solutions, employ edge automation, and deliver a clear connection to business results like never before – enabling marketers to implement optimisations at higher speeds with the support of artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

A new role for search data – Markus Klöschen, Searchmetrics:

“I think we will start to see search data being used not just for optimising website search performance, but also for its ability to give companies a better all-round understanding of their customers and their markets. Search provides a huge, accessible, constantly updated data set that can provide important strategic insights for marketers. Companies just are not using it enough yet.

“This trend is already emerging. A study by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) demonstrated that there is a close correlation between a brand’s ‘share of search’ and its market share. This was based on evidence from brands operating in a variety of categories in multiple countries and the IPA has set up a dedicated think tank to look further into the area.

“But search data can do more than this. By aggregating and analysing the searches people make, it is possible for companies to answer questions such as how much demand is there for our products and how does this vary by region and over time? What new features are customers wanting in our products and who are our main competitors?”

Searches will get increasingly long-tail – and results more visual – Lemuel Park, BrightEdge:

“Expect searches to get more long tail and sophisticated. Not only are people searching with voice more, but Google rolled out some auto-complete elements at Search On in September that should make it easier for people to be really specific in how they search. The impact of this will be that SEOs will need to place a greater focus on their deeper content and support really specific queries more than broad ones.

“Many people might be surprised with how much more visual the search results will become. There could be a big leap that might take some by surprise. Google ‘London’ today and you will see how more and more visual elements are being added to the results. This goes back to my point earlier – If you haven’t yet, you must ensure your structured data is working and schema is implemented on your images and rich media. Especially with many improvements to visual experiences coming from Google in 2023.

“As organizations face transformation of all kinds, SEOs have a big opportunity to help guide the way as trusted consultants and business advisors. SEOs can provide both short-term solutions for achieving goals quickly and long-term frameworks that ensure lasting prosperity.”

Read more of our experts’ predictions for marketing in 2023:

And for much more on 2023 trends, don’t miss our Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Trends 2023 briefing – taking place on 24 January 2023 at 3pm GMT.