SEO Isn’t Dead, Just Modified
I know in recent posts I’ve made some not-so-positive comments about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and why it goes wrong for so many businesses… But to make something clear, SEO is great.
It is not dead, in fact it is very much alive and kicking… It has however metamorphized into a much more mature and complex form. In this article, I’d like to highlight and discuss just some of the changes SEO has endured over recent years. Hopefully, proving to you that search engine optimisation is still relevant, just not the same as it once was.
As you have probably seen from recent posts, I’m quite sick of reading some of the rubbish so-called experts claim. One of the claims often made is that SEO is dead. It’s simply not true. However, your strategy for it may be.
Does the following sound familiar? Your H1 and meta tags are optimised and you’ve created some white-hat back-links. You waited for your site to reach the top of Google’s rankings…and it never happened.
That’s because this generic SEO approach is too vague and not customised. Such tactics won’t be effective in the modern search landscape.
Conventional SEO is Dead
In a perfect world, we would all use a repeatable formula to accomplish something.
Unfortunately, there’s no one full-proof formula for great SEO. Of course, there are smart tactics, and a professional SEO expert can enhance the odds of a positive result. However, there are no guarantees in life, particularly when it comes to SEO.
Granted, there never have been any SEO guarantees. You should head for the hills if someone promises you otherwise.
For so long, people have worked under the misnomer that if we just altered our title tags a bit and obtained more backlinks, we would receive higher rankings in return.
SEO in the conventional sense is no more. Outsmarting search engines won’t be achievable for many people. SEO is still around, just in an altered format.
To truly understand what SEO is comprised of these days, let’s assess how we arrived here.
The Growth of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Search
Do you recall how Google Panda changed SEO as we knew it? In early 2011, Panda affected almost 12% of results on search engines. Websites with bland content were penalized, and sites that provided little-to-no value were pushed so far down SERP results, they might as well have not been on them at all.
Panda was the debut of machine comprehension for most people in the SEO field.
Google assembled ratings from people about the quality of a site based on a series of questions. Google’s engineer team then used machine learning algorithms to improve subjective human perceptions for the remainder of the web, launching what we know today as the Panda update.
Altering a title tag for the sake of optimizing a keyword is one thing. Assessing a page so that it provides a quality experience is another.
In his book, “Blink”, author Malcolm Gladwell implies that people judge quality within a second. These immediate judgments, which includes whether a site is “trustworthy” or “shady”, are derived from gut instinct. It’s substantially troublesome to “game” an opinion that originates from the subconscious of a human.
In the Autumn of 2013, Google brought their artificial intelligence endeavors to new heights by revealing that Hummingbird, a huge makeover of the primary search algorithm, had been unveiled. There hadn’t been that much of an overhaul to Google’s machinery since the Caffeine update.
Many SEO experts have seen the proof of the Panda algorithm’s effects. They’ve also seen Penguin, it’s spam-penalising counterpart, track huge drops in organic traffic. However, with regards to Hummingbird, for many websites, there was no blatant effect. That said, when Matt Cutts claimed that Hummingbird impacted 90% of every search (in comparison to Panda’s 12%), it was evident that something huge had occurred. What happened?
Shepherding in Semantic Search with “OK Google”
A hint had arrived during a Google presentation of wireless speech search at Google I/O: the “OK Google” voice command debuted.
It was exciting to learn that we were getting closer to seeing a technological breakthrough that allowed us to talk to machines using natural, daily language, which would not only comprehend what we were saying, but reply to us properly.
However, as far as the programming was concerned, to manage spoken queries properly, search engines needed to know the purpose and context of the query, not just the words themselves.
We had progressed from words to ideas. Learning the definition of the words, in addition to the connection between the words in a specific subject, is called semantic search. It involves the ability to comprehend definition and purpose behind words, better known as artificial intelligence. But this is just the start. It won’t be long before we’re speaking to our computers instead of typing on them.
In 2016, Google introduced RankBrain, a machine that allows the search engine to comprehend and process search queries. RankBrain has been especially helpful with long-tail queries for Google, which is sometimes conversational, and still fresh to the search engine. In the modern era, 15% of queries made by people are searches that have no history. RankBrain is being operated on all of Google’s search queries.
RankBrain is a progression towards actual semantic search realisation.
Google can determine what an article entails with semantic search. Proof of this can be seen when articles rank for keywords that aren’t contained in the content (or in anchor text that links to it). One basic instance of this can be seen when “internet marketing” is searched for, which displays a guide to internet marketing in the 1st spot. The word “internet” isn’t contained in the actual guide.
If you’re able to get a keyword ranked without having it in your meta tags or normal optimization areas (like H1 and URL), doesn’t that make on-page optimization pointless?
Title Tag Correlation with Higher Rankings Isn’t as Important as We Thought
Research from Banklinko found that, of a million Google search engine results, the correlation between the ranking for a search with a specific keyword and the same keyword in the title tag wasn’t as important as believed.
Once upon a time, it was important to have a specific matching keyword (or one that resembled it) in the title tags for the sake of ranking for that specific search query.
Banklinko’s research suggests that Google is now substantially smarter at comprehending the context of an article, and therefore, it isn’t mandatory to be too exact with the keyword you’re targeting, particularly if your content talks about the relevant entities associated with that subject.
It All Comes Down To “Entities”
What are “entities?” Let’s assume you have an article about building lists. It’s possible that the keyword “list building” would come up, but it’s also probable that terms associated with building lists (like “emails” and “subscribers”) would be seen in the article, too. These terms are connected to the subject of creating lists, so it’s likely they will be seen in the article.
We understand that “email” makes “list building” more specific. For instance, it establishes the kind of list further (it’s not a Twitter audience). Therefore, “email” and “list building” have a connection, which produces definition beyond just the words.
On that note, this might be why lengthy content performs better in search engine results these days, since the content articulates the subject better and has more of the associated entities present.
There is a great new tool called “Topic Explorer” by Searchmetrics that is ideal for discovering entities and their connections between subjects. Because Google has focused on entities rather than just keywords, we also need to perform “entity research”, rather than just conventional “keyword research”.
Succeeding at SEO these days is more than just figuring out what will work and what won’t. After you have done enough technical research to have your website more optimised for search engines, you must start thinking like a marketer and renounce the old-school SEO strategies that aren’t relevant today.
Of course, title tags should contain keywords and should be crafted to influence the user into clicking through. However, you don’t have to be concerned with getting the keyword exact. Don’t forget, keyword stuffing remains a major no-no.
Rather, concentrate on your website’s experience: how can you perfect it?
Look at your site from a customer’s perspective and determine what stimulates them into action. What do they get frustrated with? What are they searching for? You must determine this for your user, rather than a search engine.
Concentrate on making helpful content that is superior to what is offered by your competition, and then on stimulating users into regularly consuming and sharing the content you offer.
Content and SEO have always gone hand-in-hand. Today, outstanding and informative content that instigates a conversion or contributes great value is an important qualification for successful SEO.
That’s all folks.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, do the honourable thing and share this post so that others can benefit. It’s time that we move away from archaic SEO techniques, and that starts with educating business people to not get sucked into black-hat techniques and bad search marketing practices.
If you like what I’ve written a lot, then feel free to get in touch. I’d be happy to work with your company to improve your search rankings the right way.