Let's Talk About Google's Elephant in the Room
It’s no secret that marketers and search optimization pros can be a bit obsessed with Google’s zoo of algorithm updates.
We’ve weathered the Penguins and Pandas that thankfully stopped old hacks from working these past couple of years; but what about what the next algo Zebra or Walrus, or maybe that bigger Elephant in the room affecting search traffic – personalization?
This one’s even bigger and less cuddly than the two that came before. The thing we should really be aware of, however, is the fact that Google’s latest animal doesn’t have a name because personalization is invisible.
Still, I’m going to call it Elephant because that just feels right to me. A few things you have to know…
Artificial Intelligence and User Experience are Coming Together
It’s not a secret that search is becoming more personalized. A number of industry observers (myself included) noticed the trend long ago and felt it significantly last year. Google isn’t just separating search results by location and device type; it’s also further incorporating search history and user behaviour into its algorithm.
That means no two people are guaranteed to see the exact same search results. In fact, in many cases, they won’t even see results that are similar to one another, even if they use the exact same query.
The effect of personalized search has gotten even stronger with the growth of Google’s AI engine, Rankbrain. By bringing together semantic (contextual) search with intent-discerning algorithms, the underlined software follows what amounts to a five-step process in hundredths of a second:
- Let a user enter a search string (while offering suggestions)
- Decipher what the user might actually be looking for, given the query and their location, plus the search history
- Compare that to other successful searches and existing contextual databases
- Deliver the search results
- Examine user behaviour to study choices made and on-site engagement
Again, none of these elements is completely new. But the way they are combined with one another makes an enormous difference in search behaviour and outcomes at a micro level.
There’s Not One Search Algorithm Anymore
The part of this market you really need to pay attention to has to do with context and history. When Google delivers a set of search results, it “learns” which ones are better than others by seeing the way actual humans react. If a searcher visits a site, finds their answer, and keeps looking at content, the search went well.
If they immediately bounce and take their attention elsewhere, the search could be said to have been unsuccessful. Then, results can be reorganized in the future, with these kinds of tests taking place thousands of times per day.
Step back for a moment, and you’ll begin to notice that while the initial search rankings might have been built from a somewhat-static algorithm, we end up with a dynamic situation in which each combination of search strings, location, and user behaviour represents a new “market” to compete in.
Those results are going to be refined again and again, essentially making Google’s engine smarter by the hour. The volume of searches becomes less important than the intent behind a single search.
The search engine is going to figure out which web pages are offering value (particularly in terms of informational content) and start to prioritize them. That’s true even if there aren’t traditional keywords and links that would have guided spiders and enhanced search visibility in the past.
We are on the verge of entering a brand-new era where there’s not any single search algorithm. Instead, what we are going to have is a set of constantly shifting environments where AI models try to direct users toward the most helpful results. Guess who’s going to come out on top?
[ Check this article on MOZ that helps you learn how to opt-out of personalization. ]
Fresh and Relevant Information Beats Traditional SEO
At Kayak Marketing, we have been largely immune from Google’s algorithm mood swings (with the notable exception of being affected by local prioritization in the spring of 2016).
The reason is simple: we never bought into any particular tactic or gimmick; instead, we always prioritize unique content and a good user experience. From a search engine optimization perspective, that’s like wearing classic suits that never go out of style.
In a short course of time, we expect other digital agencies are going to come around to the same approach. They might be a little late to the game, but they are in the process of discovering that old-school SEO just doesn’t have value anymore. Search engine designers have gotten too smart to let them keep gaming the system, and there’s too much at stake – Google has gone from being a research project to the world’s most valuable company – for users to get low-quality results just because they fit a particular formula.
In the new world of search visibility – thanks to Google Elephant – it’s the smart marketers who provide fresh and relevant information that searchers like who is going to win.
You can hold on to what worked in the past or look ahead to the future. What will your search optimization and inbound lead generation strategy look like now?