Us SEO professionals can be compared to magicians, except instead of having people as our audience, we have search engines. And just like pulling white rabbits out of hats, we can trick search engines to rank on the first page of any search page. For instance, I have optimized this very article to appear number one for “insomnia cures”!
All jokes aside (this was actually called “Google Bombing” back in the day), we all know modern SEO is actually quite the opposite, and it’s been this way for a long time. Ever since the concept of basic information retrieval systems (e.g. Gerard Salton’s SMART informational retrieval system) has been invented – and the first web-based search engine “webcrawler” – search algorithms have been steadily improving. Instead of writing about current theory and practice, which is likely to be outdated by the time you read this, I’d like to talk about the past, present, and potential future of SEO.
The Past, Present, and Future of SEO
The Past: The inevitable problem to bring data storage and retrieval together.
If we are going to speculate on the future of SEO, it helps to provide context about the past. Over 65 years ago, Vannevar Bush accomplished many things. Besides heading the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during WWII where he initiated the Manhattan Project, he also founded Raytheon and was credited for a number of inventions. He also theorized his “memex” concept in a famous paper called “As We May Think” which would help to inspire future engineers to evolve the concept into what is now a modern-day search. Although the concept was likely inevitable, it was here it began to evolve into what we have today.
Once the World Wide Web was established, programs called “bots” were developed and used to crawl the web and store records of collected data, and with that, modern search engines were born. It was at this stage that marketers recognized the importance of what factors were involved with ranking.
Modern SEO seemed to have started back when Danny Sullivan, currently Chief Content Officer at Third Door Media, created Search Engine Watch in the early 90s and provided guidelines for webmasters to follow. As marketers began to optimize (i.e., exploit) existing algorithms, search engine companies responded by creating more advanced versions. In response to this, marketing strategies changed to adapt to these new versions. For more information on the history of SEO, take a look at HubSpot’s presentation:
The Present: Is SEO dying?
It seems with every major algorithm change, this claim resurfaces. Yet SEO adapts just as quickly, morphing with the aftershock wave after every update. If there is one thing that does remain consistent about SEO, it’s that it should be looked at as a set of best practices for your public-facing website.
At the beginning of this article, I led out with a joke. So in the end, I’d like to point out that I have actually tried to optimize this page for SEO in 2016 and beyond. What I mean is that this article was intended to be interesting and engaging, while still being professional and clean. Hopefully, it’s a topic that will be shared and discussed. “Build it and they will come” seems to be a nice catchphrase for this area of marketing.
Perhaps it’s the naming conventions that need to die. It’s not unlikely to assume that search engines, as they exist now, won’t always be this way. Even if the landscape changes, the effort to present your company, service, application, or whatever it may be, in a professional way to the public will likely always exist. But at the end of the day, Google is a utility that aims to maintain a strong brand and deliver quality results to the searcher. In order to do this, your page needs to not only follow the basic rules but also take into many other considerations. A good example of this is mobile usability. One major update penalized websites that don’t have a mobile-friendly version of their site. This should not come as a surprise.
Today, Google aims to reward marketing plans that allow websites to be more engaging and useful by creating value for the user rather than developing marketing plans to try and trick the system. This part is clear. My take is that this means parts of SEO are dying. Well, dying is the wrong word. “Evolving” fits better. And, more specifically, strategies are shifting to more pure marketing techniques. I almost think the term “optimization” isn’t needed anymore and should be instead renamed.
So if people are using Search Engines in the state they are in today, SEO will never die. But it would be unwise to assume Search Engines will remain in this state. It really comes down to a proper understanding of this odd marketing niche.
The Future: Speculation and Fact
- “Social Search”: These concepts seem to be trying to find a place in this world as well. Google+ has not caught on unfortunately, which could have included interesting concepts such as seeing hotel recommendations from a friend in your network if it was more accepted by the public at large.
- Mobile: Not so much of a future prediction, but mobile-friendly sites will still hold importance in terms of SEO.
- Fact Checking: Another interesting concept coming down the pipe for SEO is “fact checking.”Fact checking works by comparing your content against The Google Knowledge Vault to help decipher what they call the Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT) Score. As Google places higher importance on fact checking, this will reward content creators for producing more accurate articles and posts. While Google is still in the research phase with this, it’s good practice anyway. Here are some more specifics on what to keep in mind:
- Link your facts to their quality source.
- Write useful, unique, focused, and more practical pieces.
- Factual and unique pieces are what may end up at the top of search results in the future.
- Quality of (free) Content: Ensuring your content is trustworthy, well-written, and helpful will always be necessary, but it will also be important especially since Google does not crawl gate sites.
- Search engines to consider other than Google: It seems everything discussed about SEO usually involves just Google. But we can’t be so narrow-minded to assume Google will hold dominance forever. Firefox now uses Yahoo as its default search engine, and Google may lose its deal with Apple.
- Treat SEO like dating: In order to get Google to like you, you need to try, but not too hard. If anything you are doing seems “shady,” check with Google and make sure you are doing everything is within best practice guidelines.