Is SEO really dead? Almost every solopreneur in content marketing would like to know. Neil Patel, the renowned internet marketer, has an article where he shows the same question being asked as far back as May 2010! But even those who do believe that SEO, after all these years, is finally dead, seem to accept there there is now going to be an SEO “reincarnation”. The old SEO is gone forever – but it’s place is going to be born a new being that seems to fit in with a “technological leap” we are about to experience.
As lay marketers (without the jargon), even we can tell that SEO earlier used to be more about singular keywords and page optimization, and Google ranking was the key. Now it seems to be more about broader user engagement. Keyword research is not the top priority any more. Other things like topic research, keyword intent, conversion rate, performance metrics and social media impact have become more important. But the real interesting thing is what experts see on the horizon. SEO is going to be impacted by the Internet Of Things (IoT), Voice-Search, and Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality. The new reincarnated SEO isn’t fully here yet, but it could be arriving any moment!
A brief history of SEO – then and now. Are you at least at the present?
If you are into things like keyword research and keyword stuffing and black-hat backlinking and other such tactics, you are too old to belong to the present, is my guess. After a series of algorithmic changes from Google, you will have surely noticed that Google has become … well, more “intelligent” and more “human”.
Earlier, when Google was nascent, it used to behave more like a machine. It searched web pages for keywords, and the more keywords it saw on a page it thought the page was a good fit for a searcher searching for that keyword. Google also linked the quality of web pages to the idea that if more good sites on the same topic were backlinking to that web page it must be a good page. All this, as I said, was a machine’s way of sensing a good web page from a bad one.
Slowly, over time, Google started building in more intelligence and human-like analytical abilities into its machine. It developed the idea of Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI). What that means is when somebody, for example, searches for “ankle injuries”, Google now also shows related things like shoes designed for people with ankle pains. It senses the relationship between things smartly – and most importantly, it senses the searcher intent, and supplies answers accordingly.
Therefore, there is no more need for content marketers to stuff “ankle injuries” as a keyword about 40 times in the same article, and neither is it necessary to get 500 backlinks to the web page all with the anchor text as “ankle injuries”.
In fact, nowadays, we marketers too have to guess at searcher intent and do “topic research” rather than just “keyword research”. We have to gather information that is in-depth and fully valuable to the person with an ankle injury – for example, why ankle injuries happen, what can be done for them as first-aid, what sort of shoes to wear to prevent worsening, what kind of medical attention may be needed, how to get it cured etc.
Again, on the issue of backlinks, where earlier there was a mad scramble to show our web pages as “highly-linked-to” by other sites, now there is a focus on “natural backlinks that are editorial”. In other words, people have to cite your web pages as a good resource and meld the backlink into the text of their web page as part of their natural writing.
You can’t just get your web pages submitted to some 500 third-rate directories and claim their listings as backlinks, and neither can you leave meaningless comments on other people’s posts, or try to write pathetic guest posts to pathetic sites, just to get the backlinks in the author bios of these posts. In short, you can’t game Google any more.
So what do experts recommend your SEO method should be for now, before even bigger changes come to the SEO world? First let’s see what you should no longer do, and then see what you should be doing instead.
The 3 silly old SEO methods that are well past their “sell by date”!
#1: Stop being obsessed with getting the No. 1 ranking on Google. So many marketers can’t seem to think beyond getting the top spot on Google rankings, but I can’t remember the last time I clicked the very first listing on the results page. Ranking Number 1 doesn’t have that strong correlation of increased website traffic that it used to have. Plus, today we have so much more going on in a search results page – we have ads, featured snippets, and question boxes. So, even after ranking on the top spot, your listing may get buried under all these other new Google features on the page. Your focus should instead be on maximizing your click-through rate. That happens when your headlines are catchy or you have a compelling meta description … or your relevance to the search query feels more “right” to the searcher.
#2: Don’t get fussy and over-optimize your focus keyword. The days are over for stuffing your opening paragraph (or indeed, your entire article) with a certain keyword – or trying variations like making it bold or italicised for extra effect. It’s more important to optimize your content for readability, user experience, and solving user queries. Google has gone a great distance in understanding the intent behind the keywords, and doesn’t simply match the actual keywords themselves. So the blog posts that will rank in the future will be the ones that provide the highest quality relevant answers and user experience. Aim to be the last content a user has to visit to solve his or her problem.
#3: Stop valuing search engines over people, and don’t write for Google. When Google has taken a lot of trouble to try and become more human-like, what’s the point of writing for Google instead of people? You no longer have to focus on satisfying a machine, you can be as natural as you would be, and write to please and tease people into taking action on your posts. The more natural and authentic your blog posts are, the more Google will love them, because Google too wants to satisfy people and not itself! The two phrases that must enter your writing paradigm are “searcher intent” and “user experience”. If the blog posts you write match “searcher intent”, they will be clicked and visited. If they provide good “user experience”, people will linger on the pages long enough for the pages to work their magic on them.
The new “topic clusters” for site structure are more meaningful tactics!
What are topic clusters? And why are they important? The answers are available in a very interesting article by Hubspot titled “Topic Clusters: The Next Evolution of SEO”. The author Mimi An writes:
“SEO is now shifting to a topic cluster model, where a single “pillar” page acts as the main hub of content for a overarching topic and multiple content pages that are related to that same topic link back to the pillar page and to each other. This linking action signals to search engines that the pillar page is an authority on the topic, and over time, the page may rank higher and higher for the topic it covers. The topic cluster model, at its very essence, is a way of organizing a site’s content pages using a cleaner and more deliberate site architecture.
Years ago, people posed fragmented keyword queries to search engines to find answers to their questions. Nowadays, most are comfortable posing complex questions to a search engine, and they expect an accurate and timely result. Searchers who want a specific answer also use many different phrases in their queries. And now search engines are smart enough to recognize the connections across queries. Algorithms have evolved to the point where they can understand the topical context behind the search intent, tie it back to similar searches they have encountered in the past, and deliver web pages that best answer the query.”
To explain this concept more fully, Hubspot have these diagrams and a video that I have reproduced below. You’ll notice that websites that focus on topics rather than keywords should follow a pillar-and-cluster model where a central “topic cornerstone post” or “pillar post” can be interlinked with a group of other posts, all on related subjects, thus making a cluster of great informational breadth and depth for the searcher of a topic.
Image courtesy: Matt Barby
If you follow this principle of organizing deep and broad information on key topics related to your site’s niche, you should end up with a site architecture that looks like this image below.
Image courtesy: Matt Barby
Changing from a keywords approach to a “topic cluster” approach will at least put you in the present of the state-of-SEO. But there are big new changes to keep track of even as you catch up with the present, so keep your eyes peeled on the oncoming concepts that follow …
Where the future and the total reincarnation of SEO can be expected …
Three trends are worth watching, according to experts. You may have heard of some of these, but here’s an explanation of how they can impact SEO …
SEO and the Internet of Things (IoT)
Although the words “Internet of Things” sound onerous, the idea is simple enough. It’s about the future of our homes when we all may be living in “smart” homes. The fridge will communicate with the oven, and the oven will communicate with the dishwasher, so they are all on standby and ready as our car has messaged them that we are heading home from work. Our TV and laptop screens will also prime up to show us recipes using what they hear from the fridge as available ingredients … and all in all, everything around our homes will be in sync, letting us live happily ever after.
Now in this brave new world of silently communicating gadgets around us, Google is also going to be there. The idea will be that you may still want to search on your own … for example, if you need to search for a different recipe than what your TV or oven suggests, you may like to tap into the most convenient web browser available near you (perhaps on your fridge door or embedded on your dining table). Do you see how SEO can now become a new friend helping you intervene with your own searching, to upstage the devices around you that are making their own recommendations? In a sense, SEO may be the tool that still keeps you in command, without your life being vicariously lived by your “smart home”.
SEO and Voice Search
The difference in how we search the web in the future may be that textual search will give way to voice search. With voice search, more words will be spoken and obviously long-tail keywords will become more important. Let’s take an example: if you were typing into a Google search box you may think and write as few words as possible like “what is content marketing?” … but if you were speaking, you’d talk as you think, and say something probably like “… what is this content marketing thing … I mean, what’s it used for and why is it the thing that everyone’s doing?” You see what I mean?
Writing requires pre-thinking. Speaking requires concurrent thinking. So brevity of search terms is going to go for a toss. And what will Google then do? Most probably it will return just one suitable answer to your search – the topmost one it would probably have put on a page full of search results. This is all going to make SEO even more competitive. You’ll have to be the ultimate single-best-fit for the voice search terms, since only one result may be given to the searcher. I can imagine this already. The ruthless battlefield of SEO competition is going to be strewn with bodies!
SEO in AI and VR
AI is Artificial Intelligence and VR is Virtual Reality. Both these new technologies will end up creating wholly different user and brand experiences if they are incorporated into web pages. And that includes game-like content as well. Analysts say the VR and AI markets will be worth over $41 billion in the next five years.
Search engines will surely have to level up, to enable us to ask queries of such artificial or virtual elements of on-page experience that we have not quite encountered before. Who knows what creative marketers will create out of these technologies to enrich the web experience, and what we then may search for in these experiences that Google will have to serve up? It’s all out there as uncharted territory …
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