At any given time, you can find some major tech journalist, thought leader, martech blogger, or digital marketing guru declaring search engine optimization dead. These harbingers of the digital doomsday usually aren’t being literal. The practice of SEO isn’t dead, but the way SEO experts, consultants, and agencies have traditionally approached the subject might be. As a result, your friendly neighborhood SEO consultant has a choice: become a content strategist or go extinct.
In the past, it was relatively easy for people to collect large datasets and figure out what elements contributed to better search rankings—increase internal links, use H1 and H2 tags, etc. This ongoing practice was great for visibility and thought leadership since an SEO expert could post a new byline or video every time Google updated its algorithm. Technology companies started to capitalize as well, developing intelligent platforms that make it easy to optimize important technical factors on your site. Google even has its own tool, Google Search Console, that helps webmasters and creators maximize the visibility of their content.
At the same time, Google’s search algorithms have become more sophisticated and fluid—largely due to the company’s billion-dollar investments in artificial intelligence research and development. Rather than continuing with algorithms based on sets of rules, Google’s search technology is powered by multi-layered ‘neural networks’ meant to mimic the human brain through highly contextual pattern recognition. Those closest to these developments at Google admit that decisions made by these networks are so complex that it’s “difficult to ascertain why a particular search result ranks more highly for another result in a given inquiry.”
Create content for humans, not search engines.
So, what now? As Google’s search engine behaves more like a human reader, our most important challenge becomes creating authoritative, relevant, and unique content. Some of today’s best SEO experts are actually just the next wave of smart content strategists—even if some of them don’t know it yet.
Contently has been behind this push for quality since opening for business in 2011. And we’ve put a lot of effort into practicing what we preach with articles like this on The Content Strategist. The best thing you can do to drive traffic (without paying for it) and increase your search ranking is to create content that actually provides in-depth education for your customer. Don’t just mimic what everyone else says. If a piece of content delivers substantial value to your audience, it can even rank for a keyword not present in the headline or body text.
The best SEO experts know how to dissect a system and turn their findings into insights. At its core, content strategy works the same way. You just have to apply those skills to a different system. Understanding your audience’s challenges, questions, and habits is essential for creating content that appeals to today’s search engine. For example, the rise of virtual assistants has lead to an increase in voice searches via mobile devices, so strategists, especially those who work in B2C, may want to shape their content based on how target personas would ask a question.
Like Google, the most sophisticated content marketers will leverage software that shows how content resonates.Technology will still be a crucial part of search engine success, but we’ll have to shift from technical assistants to sophisticated analytical tools that help us scout the competitive landscape and enable us to be more creative. Our Tone Analyzer, developed with IBM Watson, exists so brands can establish and monitor a voice that’s inline with what the audience wants. We’ve invested in other features, like a headline relevancy checker, for the same reason, instead of only retrofitting our platform with traditional technical safeguards.
In the future, machine learning will continue to make algorithms harder to crack. So regardless of whether you want to keep referring to yourself as an SEO expert, you have to stay focused on one necessary mission: creating content for humans, not search engines.