Today, classic SEO techniques like keyword targeting, high-quality inbound links, and bot-friendly page structures still matter. So do newer considerations, like snippet optimization and good rendering in any browser or device.
Within the next couple of years, however, these techniques wonâ€™t be enough. SEO is always evolving, and itâ€™s your job to keep up with the changes.
In addition to optimizing for search engines, youâ€™re increasingly going to have to optimize for user behaviors. The algorithms of the future will require a new commitment to creating outstanding content. Theyâ€™ll also force you to think about SEO in a whole new way.
The New, New SEO: User Behavior
Thanks to Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird, SEO has become more enmeshed with content creation. SEOs encourage legitimate guest posting and content creation aimed at influencers. They scour the Web for broken link opportunities to score inbound links from great sites. Their keyword research helps you optimize your on and off-page content for search. They test multiple versions of content to learn what your audience likes best.
Right now, SEO is still a very human-driven enterprise. Search itself, however, is increasingly driven by machine learning. Back in 2008, Google still manually crafted its algorithms. When Google shifted to machine learning, everything changed.
Rise of the Machines
In 2012, Google published a paper discussing their use of machine learning to predict AdWords click-through rates. Machines learning improved Googleâ€™s predictions about which ads interested users and which ads users were likely to click. In 2013, Googleâ€™s Matt Cutts said publicly that machine learning was the future of search algorithms. In his recent presentation at Mozcon 2015, Moz CEO Rand Fishkin displayed a model for how machine learning might work for search.
Machines analyze a wide range of ranking factors, including page rank, topic modeling, entities, and other elements. They also crunch data about what makes a good or bad search result. Theyâ€™re learning to correlate certain human behaviors with good search results. These behaviors include:
- Fewer bounces
- Fewer short clicks
- Fewer additional queries
- Fewer trips past the first search results page
Thanks to their ability to learn, machinesnow tweak search algorithms in real time instead of generating results based on human inputs. Certain actions, like long clicks and fewer returns to the search results page, tell machines their algorithms helped a searcher accomplish a task. In response, SEOs have to move beyond relying on keywords to create content that produces positive visitor behaviors. If they donâ€™t, theyâ€™ll find themselves tanking in the rankings.
How to Adapt
You canâ€™t know Googleâ€™s proprietary secret search sauce, but you can guess which user behaviors machines label as positive. Start considering these factors when you optimize your content.
High Click-Through Rates
If your site gets to Page One in the rankings but never gets clicked, the machines will assume your site doesnâ€™t help searchers complete their tasks. For the SEO of the future, you need to boost your click-through rates by making your snippet irresistible. Use compelling headlines and persuasive language in your meta descriptions, and take advantage of structured data markup.
More Visitor Engagement
Remove elements within your content that cause users to bounce away. Start by eliminating video ads, excessive popups, and other features that annoy visitors and slow your page load speed. Make sure your content looks great on any browser, whether desktop or mobile. Also, analyze whether your content helps compel searchers to dive further into your sites.
Deliver Complete Information
When searchers click through to your content, the information they find should do a thorough job of answering their questions. For example, if you write about New York but fail to mention Long Island or the Bronx, your page might not look comprehensive to the machines. Use terms that make your content look comprehensive to the machines, and make sure it helps visitors fulfill their tasks without requiring them to click to other domains.
Earn More Inbound Links, Repeat Visits, and Social Shares
When searchers link to your content, share it on social media, and come back again and again, machines view your site more favorably.Now more than ever, you have to create content that gets love from your audience.
Resistance Is Futile
Google and Bing want users to walk away satisfied with their searches. The future of SEO is about delivering for usersâ€”so the search engines will deliver for you.