With 2021 coming to a close, many will be looking to what’s to come in 2022 for ecommerce and SEO. The way we engage with search is always growing and evolving, and with it so too do the technologies and developments search engines are hard at work creating.
So what are the primary trends we’re going to have our sights set on in the first half of 2022?
#1 - Artificial Intelligence
Tech giants are always looking for the next big thing to set themselves apart from competitors - to make their service the best, most advanced possible to attract more users. In 2021, Google announced two major AI updates - LaMDA and MUM. Years in the making, they both build on the foundations of other AI models like BERT to better understand how humans actually communicate, process information and use search beyond basic terms and phrases.
LaMDA stands for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, and is a huge step forward for Google’s AI capabilities. Similarly to BERT, LaMDA is based on Google’s open-source Transformer architecture. In more plain terms, that architecture is what allows these AI models to predict and interpret nuanced language that normal humans may use. The difference with LaMDA is that it has been trained on dialogue, and picks up on several nuances that distinguish open-ended conversations. In other words, the difference between a straight-forward answer versus how conversations actually work in practice. The example given by Google is how talking about a movie can go on a number of tangents and end up talking about a country that movie was filmed in - LaMDA can better understand the nature of such an interaction, and interpret the flow of a conversation. It aims to offer answers that are:
- Sensible - the answers make sense in natural conversation
- Specific - the answers clearly relate to the context of the conversation
- Interesting - LaMDA ongoingly determines whether its answers are insightful, unexpected, or even witty.
- Factual - as ever, factuality is important to Google so all answers must not only be compelling, but correct. This in particular is something previous natural speech models have struggled to understand.
LaMDA will in all likelihood significantly advance chatbot technology, and may have an effect on voice search in the near future also.
MUM - Multitask Unified Model - is another AI focussed on algorithm, or how Google chooses which results to show users. Typically when researching a specific topic, users will make several different carefully considered searches to get the answers they’re looking for whereas if you spoke to an expert on the topic they could give you all the answers you need with a simple question. Google’s example is if you were to climb a mountain and then want information about climbing Mt Fuji - you may want to ask “how do I prepare” or “preparing to climb Mt Fuji vs Mt Kilimanjaro, however in order to get every answer you need about elevation, climate, equipment etc., you’d need to submit several queries. Today’s search engine algorithms aren’t quite sophisticated enough to do this, but MUM is one big step closer.
MUM’s goal is to make it so that a user needs to conduct fewer searches to get the answers they want on a specific topic. It not only understands language, but generates it. In the same example, MUM could understand that you’re comparing two mountains and so it would provide information about trails and elevation, and then understand it is in the context of hiking so it might provide links to gear and training required. Even more impressively, it can surface helpful subtopics and transfer knowledge across languages. If there’s a useful answer from an article in a different language, it will use insights to find the most relevant results in your native language. To use the same example, in the future the MUM algorithm may also display results about popular tourist spots near Mt Fuji or souvenir shops.
These much more advanced AI will have a huge impact on how people use search, and as we see more of their effect it will inevitably be important to SEO and how we optimize for this more conversational, multi-tasking led style of search. It may reprioritize content and how search results are displayed such as different SERP features, or the kind of content that the algorithm determines to be most useful in context. Especially as we go into 2022, this is something all merchants and SEO experts alike will want to keep a close watch on.
#2 - Security and first-party data
We’ve previously written an article about customer experience trends for 2022, and in that we mentioned the consumer desire for greater personalization coupled with a strong need for privacy and data protection. This carries through to how merchants will have to adapt their SEO strategy also, to accommodate that desire for privacy. Especially as if it’s something that’s important to users, it’s going to be a big concern for Google and other search engines.
Users are more than aware that companies use their data in order to personalize content, but what they don’t want is for that to follow them around as they browse other sites. They equally don’t want their data to be sold on for a profit. People are so concerned by their security online, that in a recent survey 87% said they wouldn’t do business with a company if they had concerns about their security practices. Google takes these concerns seriously, and HTTPS is even a ranking factor to ensure that users’ private information is protected as they browse the web. It comes down to trust - Google wants its users to trust that the results it provides are reliable, safe, and useful. If a user suffers from identity theft after following a link Google suggests, that’s an extremely bad user experience. Therefore the more trust signals a site can provide through its security protocols, the more likely it will be to be ranked above a competitor who doesn’t provide the same level of protection.
This need for greater privacy and security has also been reflected in Google’s plans to stop the use of third-party cookies. While they’ve since announced that it would be delaying its plans to stop the use of third-party cookies in 2023, however that really isn’t all that far away. This means 2022 should be a year of bolstering security, and how to best use first-party data to better your SEO strategy to attract the audiences you want in a way that isn’t intrusive.
#3 - User Experience
While user experience has always been a big part of SEO, it will only continue to grow in importance to SEO strategy in 2022. In 2020 and 2021, more users were online using search engines to find out vital information and discover new brands. More brands also put a greater focus on their online presence, and this of course leads to increased competition both in the market in general and on SERPs.
The key differentiator, especially for search engines, is user experience. Your products might be the best there is, but unless your site provides users with an amazing experience that’s fast, reliable, and engaging, it will struggle to rank in SERPs. However there are a few key user experience factors that we feel merchants should pay very close attention to as they audit their store’s SEO in the new year:
- Page speed
- Mobile optimization
Beyond these factors, merchants should also look at the kind of SEO-led content they create in the new year. Adhering more to Google’s EAT principles, optimizing for SERP features, and improving more static content such as product pages and FAQs will improve the user experience. This will in turn ensure that your store meets Google’s desires for rank-worthy content, as you’ll not only have a site that’s super fast and technically optimized, but one which also has useful, reliable, and relevant content.
#4 - Voice Search
Voice enabled search is on the rise - more and more people are adopting voice enabled tech as part of their daily routines. Users no longer need to rely on screen based search to find out the information they need, especially for things like checking the weather, or traffic updates. Moreover, using voice search for shopping has been a growing trend throughout 2021 - the trust in voice technology is building as algorithms become more advanced.
The way in which people use voice search has changed from a novelty to an everyday occurrence, and the more this happens the more we’ll start to see people use it as part of how they engage with ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores. In 2022, this will become a much bigger aspect of voice enabled search, and ecommerce merchants should start looking at how they can optimize their stores now to get ahead in the new year. Especially if you have a physical retail store, local SEO is already a big part of voice search - when a user is looking for a nearby store that sells a specific product, you want to be the first suggestion a voice enabled speaker offers. This sort of nuanced search will inevitably be affected by new AI like LaMDA and MUM, as search engines learn more not just about typed complex human language but also spoken conversation. Adapting content to suit conversational search, creating snippet optimized content, and keeping your GMB profile up to date are just some of the ways merchants can prepare for a more speech oriented search algorithm in 2022.