SEO State: Challenges and Threats


Insights from our recent SEO Status Investigation Report show that although the last year started with uncertainty in the industry, SEO is now more in demand than ever.

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

We surveyed over 2,800 SEO professionals about their SEO experiences over the past 12 months. Read on to find out:

  • What have been the biggest challenges in the past 12 months.
  • Whether SEO results have trended better or worse over the past year.
  • What SEO professionals see as the biggest threats to the industry in the years to come.

What have been the biggest SEO challenges in the past 12 months?

At the onset of the pandemic, there was a lot of uncertainty for everyone as companies struggled to navigate an unprecedented situation marked by real-world shutdowns, a near-instant digital switchover, and massive shifts in the marketplace. consumer behavior.

As the pandemic unfolded, many businesses had to pivot quickly to survive. Some have struggled while others have thrived as the growth of digital and e-commerce has accelerated by several years.


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At the start of the pandemic, budget cuts were the biggest challenge for SEO professionals, as reported by 37.6% of survey respondents.

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

SEO industry challenge % # respondents
Budget cuts 37.6% 874
Strategy issues 34.8% 810
Lack of resources 32.9% 765
Pandemic problem 27.9% 649
Management / stakeholder approval 27.3% 635
Alignment with other departments 26.9% 627
Scaling process 25.8% 600
Customer relationship issues 14.1% 327
Legal approval 10.6% 247
No known challenges 5.2% 120

(Asked Question: Over the past 12 months, what have been your biggest challenges that have stalled SEO success? Up to 3 options can be selected. Open to all respondents. Responses: 2,325; 1.76% selected “Other”.)

Across the industry, it appears that many budgets were cut in the initial reaction, but many customers quickly returned on board. Of these, many clients have actually increased their spending and invested more in SEO.

Ron Lieback of Content Mender, for example, suffered cuts in client budgets and said, “Many have cut budgets due to the loss of their clients / clients, which has resulted in a reduction in new content and technical monitoring of referencing ”.


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However, customers then took advantage of the situation. Lieback explains, “As competitor rankings began to decline, many clients focused a lot more on their SEO efforts, some doubling up on new content, although others slashing their budgets.”

In combination with the complications of the pandemic, SEO professionals have also had to deal with a series of major and major updates from Google in 2021.

These updates created a lot of disruption. Michael Bonfils of SEM International warns that we still haven’t seen the full effects of the recent Page Experience Update.

“Google continues to place a lot more emphasis on the ‘overall’ health of a site, so even if a site is perfectly optimized for SEO, it may not perform as well as it (or its competition) should perform. due to a weaker technical base, less remunerated efforts, weaker social signals, unfavorable bonding environment, etc. ”, explains Bonfils.

He added: “We are only seeing the first mild consequences of updating the page experience and I can only assume that will become much more important over time.”

Jason Barnard, the founder of Kalicube, experienced longer wait times to crawl. He shared with us that “Google seems to have become less responsive to new and updated content, either through the normal crawling process or through Search Console submission.

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

Are the results getting better or worse for SEO?

Although budget cuts have been the biggest challenge for the industry, SEO results are improving more and more.

SEO results improved this year for 64.6% of those surveyed, with 18% saying they were “a lot” more successful than the year before.

(Asked question: Over the past 12 months, compared to the previous year, how do you rate SEO results? Open to all respondents, answered: 2,369. 2.11% selected “not sure.” “)


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It should be noted that many sites may have benefited from the “rising tide floats all boats” effect as global internet traffic increased by 40%.

Due to restrictions on physical store visits, e-commerce experienced the biggest year-over-year growth jump in a decade, with 32% growth resulting in $ 759.4 billion in sales e-commerce business in the United States.

Digital businesses have also had to contend with shifting spending habits as consumers become more cautious about spending on luxury goods.

Bonfils confirms that many of its customers have noticed this shift in traffic due to users spending less on travel, luxury items, technology, etc.

According to Google, the companies that profited the most from the pandemic were home renovations, home fitness, pets, and everything related to working from home.

Biggest SEO Threats Over the Next Two Years

The biggest threat to SEO % # respondents
Google pages without clicks 38.7% 899
Google updates 35.1% 817
Machine learning / AI 28.4% 660
Third party cookies 22.9% 534
Messaging platforms (Whatsapp, Slack) 21.3% 495
Brand awareness offline (direct traffic) 17.8% 414
Government regulations 16.7% 388
GPT-3 16.1% 375
applications 14.1% 327
Site security 13.7% 319
Email advertising 12.6% 294
Don’t think there is any 4.9% 115

(Question asked: In the next two years, what will be the biggest threat to SEO? Up to 3 options can be selected. Open to all respondents. Responses: 2,325. 1.2% selected “other”. )


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Almost 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 comes from machine learning, as reported by 28.4% of SEO professionals.

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

“I can hire people to implement and do the basics of the job, but finding an SEO professional who really understands how it all works together – page to page and a great content marketing strategy – is nearly impossible.” , did he declare. noted.

It’s 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 for potential demand? He wondered.

Every website that goes live creates a new SEO demand, he noted.


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

Right now, the shortage means talented SEO professionals are in demand and are in a strong position for salary negotiations.

Our survey data shows that 60% of SEO professionals earn as much or more than the US median, and SEO comes with a salary of over $ 100,000 for 19%. Learn more in our 2021 SEO Salary Report: How Much SEO Professionals 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.

Put SEO threats and opportunities at your service

How will you adjust your strategy for the coming year with this better understanding of the challenges your peers face?

You can use these other problems reports from our State of SEO 2021 series to refine and perfect your strategy, as well:


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

Find additional information such as:

  • The most important emerging SEO factors for the next few years.
  • Which Google changes are considered the biggest threat to SEO.
  • Which factors have the most impact on ranking.
  • Where to find new business.
  • What to focus on for next year.

Biggest Challenges & Threats in SEO [Survey Results]

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

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