We used to think that search engines were pretty clever, but in comparison to their modern-day counterparts, they were actually uninspiring and basic. All you had to do was drop the same keyword into your title, headers, and tags, then pepper it a few times throughout your content and you’d be pretty confident that you’d appear on the first page of searches.
However, it then became a battle between competitors to see who could jam the keyword into their website the most, and in as many different ways as possible. Thankfully, those days are long gone, and things are a little more natural these days. In fact, in 2018, search engines and devices that enable us to search are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to aid our queries and try to point us towards the most relevant content based on our search terms.
The most basic, possibly overlooked forms of AI are our personal assistants on our mobile phones and devices. Voice search is becoming a huge trend in SEO, as more and more people are using Siri, Alexa, and similar to run their queries. We need to be able to shape our SEO efforts in line with this growing trend. Here are some facts to get your head around as we enter the world of AI-driven search:
The new maths
Search engines no longer use a static formula. It’s a constantly evolving system designed to identify, sort, and present the data that is most likely to meet the needs of users at that specific time, based on a multitude of variables that go far beyond just a simple keyword phrase. The AI strategies now used by search engines surpass the old methods of simple formulas, such as keyword density and meta tags. Search engines now take a complete, more holistic view in order to improve user experience, which at the same time makes it easier for search engines to grasp what your content is actually about. There are many different factors search engines now pick up on to rank your content - things such as mobile responsiveness, page speed, and how the user actually interacts with the site. All of these factors now play a significant role in technical SEO. AI is trained by using known data, such as:
Let’s look at Google’s AI algorithm for search, RankBrain. I want to run a search for the football player, Alexis Sanchez. I type his name in the search bar and it comes up with his stats on Google, his Wikipedia page, and even some recent news stories.
Then, when I head back up to the search bar for a fresh search, I type in the letter “M”, and the top suggested result in the dropdown bar is Manchester United, followed by Mesut Ozil, Messi and Man City.
Why did it give me all these Manchester, football, and sport-related suggested queries? If I then open a brand new Google tab and type in the letter “M”, the top suggested results are Maps, MotoGP and Matalan.
So, from just one search for a football player, Google predicted that I would want to read more about world football. This is the perfect example of how Google’s AI works; it remembers your last search and assumes that that is the field you’re primarily interested in. The AI will become more and more precise depending upon how much and how deeply you search into a specific topic.
Engagement is the new royalty
It’s an over-used phrase, but “content is still king” to a certain extent. More accurately, though, “engagement is king”. It’s not simply about the volume of keywords on your site, but how your site engages with users. How long are they spending on-site and how are they interacting with it? Factors such as page speed and mobile compatibility play a massive part in this.
This is why new, cutting-edge, and often interactive content matters so much and will continue to be a driving factor for your rankings. Keyword density and backlinks matter, but does your site offer great shareability? Does it offer something new and interesting? Why will the user want to spend time on the site? Having interactive and engaging pieces of content that lean away from the traditional forms of content are becoming more and more important and carry a huge weight when it comes to your ranking. This is only set to increase. As search engines are looking at your complete behaviour and experience, they will learn patterns and trends in terms of how and what people search for. Suggestions will get more accurate as search engines learn the patterns and trends regarding how a user searches for a certain topic.
Artificial intelligence will begin to overhaul SEO over the coming years. Rather than a flat formula that looks at keyword density, search engines are now learning. They utilise user experience, data, as well as actual machine learning to predict and produce results that meet the user’s needs and actual internet experiences through machine learning. Machine learning sounds intense, but it’s literally just a computer being able to learn from collected, rather than inputted, data. It may be in the early stages and far from perfect, but it relies on users actually searching and using the search engines to learn from our behaviour. As marketers, we can genuinely shape how AI works and understands users' needs, while creating world-class content that the search engines love, and our clients love, too.
If you could do with a hand creating more engaging, truly interactive content for your site, no matter your niche, get in touch with us today!