Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely heard about machine learning over the past couple years. At its core, machine learning allows computers to continuously learn without needing to be reprogramed; they evolve and change with the data they process.
While you may not realize it, machine learning is present all around you. Everything from those targeted ads you’ll see online to the movies Netflix suggests you is based partially on machine learning. And since you’re reading this, you’ll probably guess what comes next: machine learning and how it affects SEO.
We know machine learning is being implemented in a plethora of different fields and applications, but how exactly does it affect us as SEOs and what skills will we need in order to keep up in the near future? In the past if a client were to suddenly lose search visibility or conversions, it could have been attributed to a change in algorithm or traced back to a number of poor on-site SEO tactics, but with the rise of machine learning we now have to consider it as a force to be reckoned with, especially with the roll-out of Google’s RankBrain back in June 2016.
RankBrain is essentially Google’s artificial intelligence machine learning system that helps to asses the SERPS. So is RankBrain currently responsible for the way sites are ranked now? No, it’s simply another part of Google’s algorithm used to process the billions of pages online and serve you the most relevant results possible.
Why is this all changing? What’s with all the updates?
In life, the only constant is change – the same can be said about nearly everything, including SEO, and as SEOs we should be happy because it not only keeps things interesting for us, it also allows us to continue making the web a better place.
If you’re a seasoned search professional, you know that back-in-the-day gaming the system was relatively easy. Black-hat tactics gave us nearly surefire results and link farms were plentiful. However, say you ranked for a keyword with particularly high search volume and upon making their way to your site users immediately bounced – how would that make you feel? Have you really accomplished your goal as an SEO? Maybe, if you’re only concerned about ranking for a particular phrase or keyword. But does that help businesses or netizens? Not really. If anything, it’d probably frustrate them more.
This is precisely why Google and other search engines continue to evolve. They want you to enjoy surfing the big waves of the internet; spending more time cruising big breaks as opposed to paddling out.
So how will AI, Machine Learning and RankBrain Change Things for SEO?
It’s been said for years, but having content that is useful to your audience is key. Providing value to your users will never go out of style and fortunately for everyone, it’s the way of the future. As search professionals, we need to make sure we have meaningful, relevant content available across all platforms, devices and networks. Simple stuff really. The best thing you can do is try to put yourself in your customer’s (or your clients customers) shoes and see things from their perspective.
To really stay ahead of the curve, SEOs should start thinking less about optimizing for search engines and more about the content experience they can provide.
Its Role In the Buyer’s Journey
Let’s say you’ve been getting into bicycle commuting. You’ve been leaving the car at home and your bike is quickly becoming your main form of transportation. First of all: CONGRATS! Secondly, you’ve probably had a flat tire or two along the way. For all intents and purposes here, let’s say you’ve been getting flat tires a little too often and you decide to do a search for “why do I keep getting flat tires on my bike?”.
You’ll probably come across Mr. Sheldon Brown’s encyclopedia of bicycle knowledge and by the end of the article on flats, you’ll feel like an expert on flat tires. You’ll also learn about kevlar-lined tires and their reputation for decreasing punctures. You click on a link within the article and it takes your to their page to purchase a set of Continental Gatorskins. With the content experience Sheldon’s provided you’ve not only gained new knowledge, but you’ve also solved your puncture problem by purchasing a set of high quality rubber.
Sheldon Brown has been content marketing before “content marketing” was a thing, simply by writing about what he loves and putting himself in the shoes of his customers.
But What About Technical SEO? On-Page Optimization & Structured Data
As search engines continue to get smarter, technical SEO will become less and less important. Web platforms and software providers are creating tools that are SEO-friendly out of the box. I’m not saying to stop writing good meta titles and descriptions; or to ignore internally linking your site; or to write-off structured data. I’m saying that you shouldn’t worry about things like “crawl errors” as much – search spiders will get smarter and learn new patterns. Good news right? More time to focus on creating the best possible content for your users.
Something often overlooked but just as important as ever is structured data. Giving search engines as much possible information about your content will only increase visibility and click-through rates. Higher click-through rates signals to Google that your content is popular and that web surfers are engaging with it. So pay Schema a visit and make sure your microdata game is on-point.
Don’t Forget Social!
I know I’ve been preaching about creating quality content, but it simply isn’t enough these days. Having the best content means nothing if there aren’t eyes reading it.
This is where paid social comes in. Developing a solid paid social strategy will not only get your content seen, but also shared and linked. Start small with a low budget if you’re new to paid social media and see what works. Also consider finding other authorities in your space and perhaps doing some outreach.
SEO now is all about creating the most relevant content experience possible. End user data is becoming paramount and is just as important (if not more so) as having quality links.
User intent is of the essence here as machine learning within search is on the rise. Being able to anticipate the needs of your customers and the intent of their search habits will keep you ahead of the competition, especially if you use social channels to ensure your content is seen and shared.