Back in the day, SEO was all about discovering what the algorithms liked and creating sites that tickled them in just the right spot. Nothing made the algorithms happier — to indulge in a bit of anthropomorphism — than to see lots of keywords and lots of links with lots of relevant anchor text.
The natural result was sites that appealed to algorithms, but weren’t quite up to snuff for human beings. Over the years, however, Google has become better at determining what it is that human beings like in their SERPS, and many of the previously successful SEO methods have fallen by the wayside.
Anyone who keeps an eye on the SEO blogging world can’t have failed to notice the shift from “50 Ways To Build Links” type articles to the current overabundance of “Content Marketing is Where It’s At” articles. That’s a symptom of SEOs realizing the sea change that has occurred in the range of effective SEO techniques as the search engine algorithms have increased in complexity and accuracy.
Google’s aim is to make its algorithms as human as possible, and beyond that, as specific to particular humans as possible. It wants to know what you like, what you want, what you need, and it wants to give you that along with some advertising.
Unfortunately, some SEOs don’t seem to have gotten the memo, as the recent InterFlora debacle amply demonstrated. Presumably, InterFlora was paying big money to SEOs. In return they got screwed, largely because those SEOs failed to behave like human beings providing something that other human beings wanted or needed.
British newspapers made the same mistake, which says a lot about the state of journalism. If anyone should be aware of the need to create content for humans it’s journalists.
Big cases like this are going to jolt even the most entrenched and obtuse out of their sense of complacency.
Technical SEO isn’t going away. We’ll still need multiple IP hosting, on-page optimizations of tags and metadata, conversion rate optimizations, and so on, but the heart of SEO is going to be content that goes above and beyond, and that is sharable because it is admirable and compels a response.
We can think of a Venn diagram, with circles representing algorithms and search users. As time goes by the intersection of those circles will grow. It’s unlikely to ever be perfect, unless Google cracks the hard-AI problem — although, if anyone will it’ll be them. But, it will get good enough that the SEO world will have to make the shift towards targeting the human users of search engines, and away from targeting the algorithms.