Is SEO Facing a Crisis? Insights from Moz Search Scientist on Upcoming Challenges

  • June 10, 2024
  • SEO
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Are the Days of Organic SEO Numbered?


Are the days of organic SEO numbered? This question was recently explored by a search scientist analyzing Google’s AI-driven transformations.

During the 20th annual MozCon conference, Tom Capper, Senior Search Scientist at Moz, delivered a data-centric evaluation of the current SEO landscape.

In his presentation, Capper issued a stark warning:

“By the end of this talk, I’m going to argue that achieving full-funnel organic marketing will be nearly impossible for most businesses by 2024.”

Capper explored the ways Google’s AI overview results, monetization strategies, and changing search intents are creating obstacles for businesses that depend on traditional SEO methods.

In a subsequent interview with Search Engine Journal, Capper discussed alternative strategies for companies prepared to adapt to these shifts.

Photo taken by author at MozCon, June 2024.

The Zero-Click Threat

Capper began by detailing the evolution of search “intents” such as informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional queries.

He highlighted how Google’s new AI Overview feature, which generates immediate answers at the top of the search results page, has particularly disrupted informational searches.

“Organic is a challenging space for informational intent,” Capper explained, showcasing data indicating that these searches have the lowest share of voice in organic results due to AI overviews and other SERP features.

Tom Capper at MozCon 2024
Photo taken by author at MozCon, June 2024.

He also mentioned that 21% of informational searches now yield a Featured Snippet result, which often satisfies users without necessitating any further clicks.

“You basically can’t compete at the top of the funnel,” he concluded with candor.

AI Overviews: A “Mistake”

In the exclusive interview, Capper expressed concerns that Google’s quick adoption of AI overviews might harm the company’s reputation:

“I think Google has acted prematurely in deploying this, and yes, I believe it’s a mistake. This could be dangerous for SEO because if Google’s reputation suffers, it disrupts the whole industry.”

The Commercial Battleground

Despite the dire outlook for informational content, Capper identified commercial searches as a “sweet spot” for businesses.

Nonetheless, these mid-funnel queries have become highly “turbulent” and fiercely contested areas.

Reflecting on the Google product reviews update and other recent adjustments, Capper noted:

“The commercial area is where many of Google’s search quality issues play out… It’s become an incredibly volatile section.”

Dominant platforms such as Amazon, Reddit, and YouTube often monopolize commercial results, supplemented by numerous price listings and rich review snippets, raising the competition bar for smaller sites.

“There are niches like arts, hobbies, and real estate where competition is more realistic,” advised Capper.

He also cautioned content creators who focus solely on answerable questions:

“If you’ve been relying on this type of content, you’ve likely been struggling for a while… If you refuse to diversify your content strategy, then you might need to consider other channels.”

The Paid & Local Future?

For the bottom funnel, Capper characterized transactional searches as “pay-to-play unless you’re a brick-and-mortar business.”

Google’s monetization of product listings and experimental map embeds for transactional searches continue to diminish organic visibility.

However, Capper highlighted local SEO as a viable path forward:

“If you can perform well in local search, even under the most disruptive AI Overview rollouts, you could still see success.”

Adapting To The Changing Landscape

Despite the obstacles presented by AI-driven search features, Capper maintains that opportunities for organic marketing success still exist.

He offers several recommendations:

  • Target informational queries that lack a featured snippet for better organic visibility.
  • Focus on less competitive commercial queries in sectors like arts, hobbies, and real estate.
  • Leverage local search optimization for transactional queries, even if you operate an online-only business.
  • Use keyword modifiers such as “best,” “compare,” “top,” and “reviews” to identify commercial intent queries.
Tom Capper at MozCon 2024
Photo taken by author at MozCon, June 2024.

Looking To The Future

When asked for advice for SEO professionals concerned about the AI search revolution, Capper emphasized the need to adapt and produce high-quality, authoritative content.

He stated in the interview:

“If you’re committed to creating more engaging content, I believe there is still a place in organic search for you.”

Ultimately, Capper remains optimistic about the future of organic search. He pointed out that Google’s business model relies on driving traffic to other sites:

“I don’t think Google will ever reach a point where it ceases to send traffic to other websites. The fundamental expectation users have is that they will be redirected to other sites. If this expectation is not met, they won’t click on ads, and without ad clicks, Google’s revenue stream dries up.”

In Summary

While achieving organic ranking for informational and transactional searches has become more challenging, Capper’s research indicates there are still opportunities within commercial and local search spaces.

To adapt to these changes, focus on creating high-quality content that delves deeper than simply providing straightforward answers, and consider pivoting to less competitive commercial topics and optimizing for local search results.


Featured Image: KieferPix/Shutterstock



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