What is the future of SEO and how do we prepare for it? As a non-technical person who communicates with developers on the regular, I’ve come to love a good analogy in order to understand something that otherwise seems incomprehensible. So bear with me and I’ll get to the 3 main points of what you need to know.
There’s one thing we know about children - they get older. They’ll also wise up to the creative tricks parents use to get them to eat their vegetables and go to bed on time. If you want to influence what your children do, you’re going to need to change your strategy drastically as they grow into teenagers and adults.
Search engines are getting older and wiser; Google is like a kid that's growing up. It's quite literally getting smarter as the algorithm develops, improves and learns. Like a living organism, it adapts to its environment (thanks to the brilliant humans who write the algorithms and the introduction of machine learning) so it gets more effective with each new day. As soon as SEO companies catch on and update their bag of tricks accordingly, Google updates and SEO’s have to change tack. Google’s robots are getting more sophisticated and harder to trick.
For example, the Penguin algorithm that was first rolled out in April 2012, started weeding out sites cheating the system with unnatural links. The goal was to reduce the trust that Google had for websites cheating the system with unnatural backlinks created in order to rank higher in search results (MOZ). With an emphasis on a site’s trustworthiness for a ranking factor, tricks like link schemes, cloaking, sneaky redirects and doorway pages are no longer effective and are more likely to be penalised.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind for the future of SEO:
- Search engines are getting more sophisticated
Just like you won’t fool an adult into thinking you pulled a coin out of their ear, you won’t fool Google into ranking your shitty content at the top of the search results by keyword stuffing. In fact, you’ll be penalised. If the copy doesn’t sound natural to a person, chances are that Google will assume you are trying to do something dodgy and not rank you as highly.
Google updates its google search algorithm about 500-600 time per year (MOZ). And now with the new Google RankBrain algorithm, it uses a machine-learning artificial intelligence system to sort through its search results (Search Engine Land). Google is literally teaching itself.
The constant updates are filtering out the tricks and techniques, and are making it so that generation of quality content is easier than the shortcuts. It’s already more cost effective to just create quality content than to hire the most advanced (and expensive) SEO specialists.
- Work towards the same goal: quality content for your users
“If you build it, he will come” hears Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, 1989.
At the risk of sounding naive, this is a concept that’s worth considering as search engines become more and more intelligent. Focus your strategy on creating the highest quality content you can, and focus your efforts on your users' wants and needs (but also get the basics right which I’ll get to in section 3). We know that the latest tricks and hacks will be made obsolete at some point, but if you align your goals with search engines’ goals, then it’s a win-win.
If you look through all the biggest algorithm updates, you’ll see the obvious trend for improving user experience. There have been updates to fight spam and copyright infringement and to reward good user experiences like mobile optimisation.
Search engines want users to reach the best content for them and have it be a seamless experience. So create the best content for them. Sounds easy right?
It’s an age-old recommendation to get ahead. Work together towards the same goal rather than battling it out. The amount of energy spent trying to outsmart search engines and competitors should be funnelled into creating quality content.
Just create quality content… I get it, generating quality content is not easy! It takes strategy, establishing a tone of voice, research into audience needs, the list goes on. It also takes really good writing skills. Companies are going to need to structure themselves around the need for quality content - people with backgrounds in journalism and copywriting will be sought after more than ever.
Additionally, creating value for your users should rise to the top of the priority list, but it’s easier said than done. It's even harder to maintain as value erodes over time. Kent Valentine, Draw Create MD, identifies this in his article 'Innovation is about value, not change'. There are a lot of obstacles to offering what the user would value most. The most obvious one is that business needs (earning money) often trump creating value for users because the value for users is often stuff you want to charge for. And the most value to users would be free value.
- Get the basics right
The shift towards a focus on content shouldn’t be at the cost of all SEO endeavours. SEO and content marketing are not mutually exclusive, they need to be used hand in hand. Simply building content and hoping people show up is a utopian view that can't be considered in isolation. Certain elements of technical SEO will likely always be relevant and will quite possibly be even more essential as the competition gets stronger.
As I’m unable to resist using another analogy, here’s one for technical SEO. If you build a hotel, you need to consider the environment in which you're building it. For instance, make sure the foundation is right for the land and if it’s in a cold climate make sure it’s insulated and has heating. Logical stuff. It could be an absolutely stunning hotel but it will fail if you don’t consider the structure and environment. Technical SEO is the structure; the stuff you need to get right.
Any good developer or agency (such as Draw ;) ) will ensure your website and content follows technical SEO best practice. We’ll take care of your metadata, headers, structured markup, keyword trends and URL structure amongst other things to ensure your site not only makes sense to users but also to the search engines bringing them to you. Google needs to crawl and index a site in order for the world to know it exists. Make sure the technical SEO for your digital content is strong and is teamed up with your content strategy.
Google isn’t a kid anymore - we all need to work with search engines, not against them. Let’s face it, they’re too powerful and we need them. The amount of SEO information out there is easy to get bogged down with. Additionally, SEO considerations are often at odds with beautiful design and a seamless user experience on your website. It’s a balance, but ultimately, your overriding vision should be for quality content that puts the users needs first. Tricks and hacks are for kids and get penalised, move on from those. SEO will ultimately change but giving value for people is timeless.