It's a major facet of every marketing plan, and every brand leader wishes they had a crystal ball to tell them its fate. Every consumer, client and professional uses it to educate themselves on their options, discover their peers' findings, and consider alternatives. I'm talking about, of course, online search.

Whether you rely solely on Google, or if you tend to stray to alternatives like Bing or even DuckDuckGo, the future of search engines plays a huge part in not only your daily life, but the success of your brand. Because the technology is constantly evolving, any book you read is already outdated; in order to stay on the cutting edge of search engine progress, ensure you continuously update your knowledge by reading articles (such as this one), staying up to date on new algorithms, analyzing your competitors' successes and failures, and consult expert opinions and insights.

One such expert is Baruch Labunski, CEO and Founder of Rank Secure, a leading expert in search engine optimization for businesses. Labunski gave us the insight scoop on what search engine habits and trends he expects to become normal in 2017. Consider this guide required reading for any brand that's interested in keeping - or improving - their search engine ranking in the next twelve months:

Mobile Friendly Or Bust

As of November, Google has started making mobile a priority - with the goal of their new mobile indexing algorithm the primary algorithm by 2018. Given that mobile searches now account for well over half of all search queries, this was a long time coming.

The reality is that the era of mobile-friendly websites being a perk or extra is over. Smartphones have now reached saturation in many major markets, including the US, Canada, Japan, Western Europe and China. If you're trying to sell to markets in these major economies, mobile is no longer optional.

The Rise Of Digital Assistants Make Her A Little Closer To Reality

SEO professionals are currently staring down the barrel of a very long gun - and that gun is held by Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google's as-yet-unnamed assistant persona.

The challenge with the growing popularity of digital assistants is that, as more consumers submit their queries with voice controls, it becomes increasingly important to not just be on the front page, or the top five results, but the first result. Voice searches return only the top result - which means if you aren't it, it doesn't matter if you're the second result or on the second page, the consumer won't hear about you.

Hey Neighbor - Have You Conquered Local Search?

As Google reduces the clutter on their results page - and alternatives like Bing and DuckDuckGo follow suit, inevitably - the emphasis on local search will become all the more cut throat. By combining the highly specific locational data that's available from consumers searching on mobile, alongside Google's already in-progress goal of customizing results by location for all users, positioning your brand to those who are physically near you will become crucial in 2017.

Google is continuously improving their customer experience, and their technology has them approaching the thought patterns of actual users, however, this means that our jobs as brand managers and promoters will continue to become more complicated as time passes. The days of search engine algorithms filtering by obvious data points, or being easily manipulated are over. The new fact of search engine optimization is appealing to your immediate markets - those around you and those who are searching directly for your product.

The best way to master local search? Make sure you claim your location on as many review sites - and of course Google Places - as quickly as possible. List your locations on your main website. If you have multiple locations, give them each their own website (which should still be linked to the general brand site) with their address listed. Make it as obvious as possible where you are.

2017 will be the most challenging year yet for online marketers, as technology continues to advance at a breakneck pace. However, if you continue to stay current on updates, research your competitors and test your strategies, you'll make it through. Remember, the core goal of search engines is to find what the user is looking for; make sure that those who are looking for your product can find you, and can easily understand why you're the right option, and your brand will be just fine.

Published on: Jan 12, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.