A really great read on the future of search engine optimization.
Although companies like ours have been predicting the death of traditional SEO for what seems like ages, it’s taken a while to actually understand what kind of search marketing process is going to take its place. In his latest book, Google Semantic Search, author David Amerland gives us an inside (and occasionally technical) look at how Google is undergoing an evolution… and what it means for businesses who want to stay ahead of the curve.
While some of the philosophy and mathematical details behind the research in this book – which include insights from fuzzy logic, behavioural economics, and other corners of the academic world – might be a little tough for the novice marketer to grasp, the core concepts and takeaways aren’t. In fact, if you have a few hours to devote to understanding the future of search and Internet marketing, you might find yourself entertained and informed at the same time.
A Short Summary of Semantic Search
To reduce such a great book, and an even bigger topic, into a few hundred words is going to mean skipping some important details, but the most important point is one you’re already familiar with: Google is on a mission to do things differently. And by differently, I mean better.
There are some great reasons for this. Foremost among them is the recognition that search has gone from cataloging the Internet to actually affecting it directly. And, with so much information being added to the web every day, and so many people trying to game the system for financial gain, less-than-reputable SEO firms are really pushing the envelope trying to find an edge. This, in turn, has led to low-quality search results, which then leads to algorithm updates, and ultimately even more SEO tricks and worse search results for actual users.
The best way for Google to buck this trend is not by tweaking its existing search formulas further, but to add an entirely new system that is more intuitive and less reliant on keywords. In other words, to use search spiders to not just scan pages, but to understand what they are actually about. At the same time, it wants to get to know users individually and collectively to figure out what kinds of results they’re actually looking for.
The result will take Google, in Amerland‘s words, “from a search engine to an answers engine.” That difference isn’t just profound in terms of the user experience, but also in the way it makes the system much, much more difficult to fool. Because meaningful answers aren’t just built on keyword matches (and in fact might not be based purely on keywords at all), things like the age of the content, author credibility, and relevant citations all come into play.
In the end, we’ll get smarter, more accurate search with far fewer “spam” type results.
What Marketers Can do to Prepare For Semantic Search
Along with better search results, Amerland predicts that the full implementation of semantic search will render most gimmicky SEO tactics unproductive or inefficient. It’s going to become easier for marketers to simply do the right things than to bother trying to trick Google, since the latter would require more work and effort.
He offers a handful of steps companies can start taking right away, if they aren’t already:
- Compose unique, relevant content on a regular basis. And only publish it on sites with a high reputation. In other words, stop looking for “easy” keyword-stuffed articles or quick, cheap back-links.
- Prioritize viewer or reader engagement over keywords and other traditional metrics. Soon, it probably won’t matter how many search terms you have in your article, but the way actual customers respond to your work that will factor heavily into search rankings.
- Build a platform, and not just a content strategy. Websites and authors with high degrees of trust and credibility are going to be greatly preferred to unknown content producers. That means social media, review sites, and other third-party verifiers matter more than ever.
- Understand that there are no more SEO shortcuts. Trying to fight the tide of semantic search is like trying to ski uphill in an avalanche – no matter how hard you work, the momentum will just keep carrying you backward.
What’s Old is New Again
Amerland points out in the book that a lot of the “new” best practices for SEO aren’t actually that original, but are simply becoming relevant again. In fact, for regular readers of our blog (or those who have read my own book, Findability), the lessons and warnings in Semantic Search might seem comfortably familiar.
The writing is on the wall, and has been for some time: Old SEO tactics are on their way out.