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SEO Mode: Challenges and Threats

SEO Mode: Challenges and Threats

Insights from our latest State of SEO Survey report show that even though the past year began with uncertainty across the industry, SEO is now more in demand than ever before.

Yet it is not without its challenges. What problems do SEO professionals face – and in the future, what are the threats that can block success?

We surveyed over 2,800 SEO professionals about their experiences in SEO over the last 12 months. Keep reading to find out:

What were the biggest challenges in the last 12 months. Whether SEO results are trending better or worse over the last year. What SEO professionals perceive as the industry’s biggest threats in the coming years.

What have been the biggest challenges in SEO over the last 12 months?

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was great uncertainty for everyone as companies tried to navigate an unprecedented situation filled with real-world closures, an almost instantaneous shift to digital and massive changes in consumer behavior.

As the pandemic unfolded, many companies had to turn quickly to survive. Some struggled while others thrived as digital and e-commerce growth accelerated by several years.


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Early in the pandemic, budget cuts were the biggest challenge for SEO professionals, as indicated by 37.6% of respondents in the survey.

Strategy issues (34.8%) were also a significant challenge in the SEO industry, as was the lack of resources (32.9%).

SEO Industry Challenge% # respondents Budget cut37.6% 874 Strategy issues34.8% 810 Lack of resources32.9% 765 Pandemic related problem 27.9% 649 Management / stakeholder approval 27.3% 635 Adaptation to other departments26.9% 627 Scaling processes25.8 % 600 Client relationship issues14 .1% 327 Legal approval 10.6% 247 Not experienced any challenges 5.2% 120

(Question: What were your biggest challenges in the last 12 months that blocked SEO success? Up to 3 options could be chosen. Open to all respondents. Answered: 2,325; 1.76% chose “Other”.)

Across the industry, it appears many budgets were cut as a first reaction, but many customers quickly came back on board. Out of them, many customers actually increased the expenses and invested more in SEO.

Ron Lieback from Content Mender, for example, experienced cuts in customer budgets and says: “Many people cut their budgets due to losing their clients / customers, which meant cuts in new content and technical SEO monitoring.”


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But customers then took advantage of the situation. Lieback explains, “As competitor rankings began to decline, many clients focused much more deeply on their SEO efforts, some doubling down on new content, while others cut budgets.”

Combined with the complications of the pandemic, SEO professionals also had to contend with a number of key and major Google updates in 2021.

These updates caused a lot of disruption. Michael Bonfils of SEM International warns that we still have not seen the full effects of the latest page experience update.

Google continues to place much greater emphasis on the ‘overall’ health of a site, so even though a site is perfectly optimized for SEO, it may not work as well as it should (or its competitors) due to a weaker technical foundation, less paid efforts, weaker social signals, unfavorable link environment, etc., ”explains Bonfils.

He added: “We are only seeing the first, mild consequences of the Side Experience Update and I can only assume it will become much more important with time.”

Jason Barnard, the founder of Kalicube, experienced longer waiting times for crawling. He shared with us that “Google seems to have become less reactive to new and updated content, whether through the normal crawling process or submission via Search Console.”

He noted that this has led to longer wait times to see any effect of these changes, which is frustrating.

Are the results getting better or worse for SEO?

Although budget cuts were the industry’s biggest challenge, SEO results are getting better and better.

SEO results improved this year for 64.6% of respondents, and 18% reported that they were “much” more successful than the year before.

(Question asked: During the last 12 months, compared to the previous year, how do you rate the results from SEO? Open to all respondents, answered: 2,369. 2.11% selected “not sure.”)


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It is worth considering that many websites may have benefited from the “rising tide floating all boats” effect as internet traffic worldwide increased by 40%.

As a result of restrictions on visits to physical stores, e-commerce saw the biggest jump in year-on-year growth in a decade, with 32% growth driving $ 759.4 billion in U.S. e-commerce sales.

Digital companies also had to contend with changing consumption patterns as consumers became more cautious about using luxury goods.

Bonfils confirms that many of his clients have noticed this shift in traffic due to users spending less on travel, luxury items, technology, etc. “Most consumption went to essentials, personal items and savings,” he said.

According to Google, the companies that benefited most from the pandemic were improvements in the home, fitness in the home, pet-related and everything that was work-from-home.

The biggest threats to SEO in the next two years

Biggest threat to SEO% #respondentsGoogle zero-click pages38,7% 899Google updates35.1% 817Machine learning / AI28.4% 660Third party cookies22.9% 534 Messaging platforms (Whatsapp, Slack) 21.3% 495Brand awareness offline (direct traffic) 17, 8% 414Management Regulation16.7% 388GPT-316.1% 375Apps14.1% 327Security Security13.7% 319Mailmarketing12.6% 294 Do not think there is any 4.9% 115

(Question asked: What will be the biggest threat to SEO in the next two years? Up to 3 options could be chosen. Open to all respondents. Answered: 2,325. 1.2% chose “other”.)


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Nearly three-quarters of respondents said Google is the biggest threat to SEO success over the next two years in two specific ways: Zero-Click SERPs (38.7%) and Google Updates (35.1%).

The third biggest threat to SEO is from machine learning, as reported by 28.4% of SEO professionals.

Lieback agrees that Google updates and AI pose threats and also believes that lack of talent will be an issue, especially on the strategic side.

“I can hire people to implement and execute the basics of the job, but finding an SEO pro who truly understands how everything works together — from on-page to off-page and a smart content marketing strategy — is almost impossible, “he says.

This is a challenge shared by many SEO experts, including Barnard. “I see, read and hear super smart and talented people everywhere. But how could there really be enough supply at all for the potential demand? He wondered.

Every site that comes online creates new demand for SEO, he noted.


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‘The question is whether that work would be profitable? And it depends on the talent available, ”Barnard added.

Right now, the shortage means that talented SEO professionals are in demand and are strong in terms of salary negotiations.

Our survey data shows that 60% of SEO professionals earn the same or more than the US median, and SEO comes with a $ 100,000 + salary for 19%. Learn more in our SEO Payroll Report 2021: How Many SEO Benefits Get Paid.

But that means finding enough resources to get the job done will be one of the biggest challenges over the next few years for agencies and internal brands.

One thing is for sure, employment in the SEO industry is very strong right now.

Puts SEO threats and insight opportunities to work for you

How will you adapt your strategy for the coming year with this improved understanding of the challenges your peers are experiencing?

You can also use these other problem-based reports from our State of SEO 2021 series to refine and perfect your strategy:


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Download your copy of the full report to access all the data from the Search Engine Journal State of SEO survey 2021.

Find additional insights such as:

The most important new SEO factors in the next few years. Which Google changes are considered the biggest threat to SEO. Which factors have the greatest influence on ranking. Where to find new stores. What to focus on in the next year.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita / Search Engine Journal
All images in the article created by the author, September 2021

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