A title as BIG as that one deserves a pretty good follow-up as far as introductions go. But, be warned, the next big thing in SEO is not going to go down well in every digital marketing agency.
Well, here at Ambire, we believe that the next big thing in SEO strategies will be context.
Now, for us, context means moving away from super-specific keyword matches and towards a broader SEO strategy with a real consideration for the search intent behind specific Google queries.
Sound confusing? Never fear, we are here to simplify all of this for you,
Are you still getting your head around SEO for your business? That’s no worry. We’ve compiled a list of helpful terms and definitions which should give you a helping hand.
The next big thing in SEO has a lot to do with how smart AI is.
A SMALL NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Before we jump into this article about what exactly is going to be making waves and causing a commotion in the SEO world over the next few months – I’m just going to go ahead and say it.
SEO is not dead. Full stop (period for our American brethren).
No matter how many times an enthusiastic blogger publishes an article with a headline blaring ‘No this time SEO is really dead’, it doesn’t deter us from the truth.
What’s the truth?
Well, SEO is really really important for any business with an online presence.
That’s not to say that lots of people are still making mistakes when it comes to SEO. In fact, a lot of the time the biggest mistakes being made are by SEO consultants who still focus on old-school practices.
Some of these people think that improving website ranking, and thereby organic search traffic, is simply a matter of link building and optimising your title tags and meta descriptions – and BOOM – you’re at the top of page one of Google.
Sadly, it’s not that simple.
This is especially important to keep in mind as you read through this article. We’ve been saying it for a long time, but as Google gets even more advanced, there are less and less cookie-cutter solutions (if there ever were any?) when it comes to an SEO marketing campaign.
Although, I’m not going to lie – a good SEO consultant can definitely be cooler than Michael Jordan – especially if they are willing to adapt to changes in the industry.
Alright, enough rambling – let’s dive into that in a little more detail.
WHY SEO IS REALLY NOT DEAD
The thing about Google is that it is only getting cleverer and cleverer. That’s one of the reasons I can understand why a person might say things like ‘SEO is dead’ or ‘SEO simply doesn’t matter anymore’.
It’s a fair enough point of view to hold. After all, once upon a time it was possible to trick or hoodwink Google. Shady practices used to involve things like keyword stuffing, link farming, hidden or dead links and article spinning or creating duplicate content.
That’s dead. Good old Google caught up with what everyone was up to and they started to punish sites which were clearly doing it on purpose.
After all, imagine you’re searching for information on the ‘keto diet’ and this is the first sentence of the first page you click on.
“So what is the keto diet? Well, the Atkins and low-carb diets are both keto diets, such keto diets aim to put the body into a metabolic state called ketosis so with a keto diet your body gets very efficient at burning fat on the keto diet.”
That is horrible to read, downright appalling English and just not useful at all for users, nor is it any good at driving business for you. I’m also not going to lie, as someone who writes for a living, I found it very difficult to string together those words.
Back in eras bygone, Google’s algorithms weren’t able to spot that, and it probably would have performed well in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
These days, however, when a person clicks on this, they will be immediately appalled (and rightfully so) and will click right off again. A high bounce rate like this sends a signal to Google that this website is unhelpful, and the search engine responds by not directing anymore traffic to that particular business.
Now, imagine you’re the same user – and you click on the next page and see the exact same thing!
You see, Google also didn’t used to be smart enough to pick up on duplicate content. Thankfully, those days are also long gone.
These days, AI of all kinds is smarter, and Google’s main goal is making sure users are happy. After all, they are a business (and a very successful one at that) and need users to keep on coming back for more results.
So, like I was saying – when people cry ‘SEO is dead’ – they are right about that element of it being not only dead, but well and truly buried.
SEO IN 2021
We define search engine optimisation here at Ambire as: “the set of practices, activities and techniques aimed at making sure a website is optimised to perform well in search engine rankings.”
I hate to break it to you, but none of that is dead. You still need your website to perform well in the Google search rankings in order to drive organic traffic. If you cannot be seen you’re in that very poor marketing position of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
If you’re not at least trying to increase your SEO rankings it’s the modern equivalent of sending foot traffic on the street to a rival cafe by saying their long blacks are simply superior to yours.
Now, why would you do that?
Unless there’s something you need to tell us about sneaking in and poisoning their coffee in the middle of the night … again, though, not great for business if, and when, you get caught.
Now, there are a whole lot of legitimate or ‘white-hat’ SEO techniques that you can use to ethically increase rankings.
These include on-site and off-site adjustments which I’ll quickly run you through here.
In terms of the site itself, it needs to be optimised for User Experience (UX) because Google loves making its customers happy. This means useful, readable content, title tags, headers, alt text for images, no broken links, secure URLs and a technically sound site that lets Google come along and index (crawl) it.
Basically, it needs to be really useful for a real person to visit, and really easy for Google to read technically.
Then, you need to think about improving your quality score. Getting backlinks from other qualified sites – like an industry leader that references one of your articles or some of your research is a big part of this.
Read more about the kind of SEO skills a qualified SEO agency like Ambire can provide, if this sounds interesting to you.
I think it’s fair to say, then, that SEO is not dead. But, it is changing rapidly. It can be pretty tricky for businesses to stay up to date with the latest trends and updates to Google’s algorithms.
So, we will try to remove some of the guesswork for you.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES CONTEXT MEAN IN SEO?
As I said before, the next big thing in SEO is context. Google is getting smarter and smarter – and, shock horror, for SEO… it might even move away from keywords.
Okay – now I’ve got you scared, haven’t I?
Look, it’s not to say that Google will completely stop relying on them, but they are set to become only one piece of a larger pie that the search engine giant takes into consideration when deciding on the relevant results to display.
You see, Google already knows a lot about you – its users (cue spooky music). It knows where you are (literally all the time).
That’s why you don’t need to add the near me modifier anymore – say you’re trying to find a swimming pool, just type in ‘swimming pool’ and it will spit out some local ones for you to try.
Likewise, Google knows what you’ve searched before. Yes. Let that sink in.
Every time you’re connected to a Gmail account Google remembers what you’re searching, along with every video you’ve watched on YouTube.
That means – for us SEO professionals – the ways in which we attempt to rank for certain keywords is starting to be based on things other than the keyword itself.
Little bit confusing right?
Well, think about it this way. If, like me, you spend a lot of time googling ‘SEO’ and ‘SEO agency Sydney’ because you’re in the industry and you want to keep your eye on the competition – your Google search results will, like mine, be quite specific.
There are ways of testing this.
Use a different browser to Chrome, for example. Other options are using somebody else’s laptop or phone, or browsing in private mode.
We are by no means suggesting that keywords are no longer important for driving website traffic, simply that Google knows more about its users, and so will display personalised results for everyone.
Please don’t stop doing keyword research at all, after all, this is where all good SEO services will begin. But use your real, human brain to think as well as that of a computer.
SEO campaigns, at the end of the day, need to be designed with human customers in mind.
GOOGLE’S BERT UPDATE
In 2019, which literally seems like an age ago now (oh yes, that’s because it existed in that BC (Before Covid) era when going on holiday was at least a remote possibility for most of us) ….
Anyway, I digress.
In said year, Google released BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) to try and help Google understand language the way that people do, rather than in the way that computers do.
I think we will stick to the much cuter, Sesame Street inspired name of BERT, anyway.
Google has obviously published a lot of very complex information about this update, but for the purposes of your or your clients’ SEO, it basically means Google can read and understand the meaning behind sentences.
Just a quick side note, this was (and still is), groundbreaking technology because one of the issues in AI and technology is what’s called NLP (natural language processing). Computers have a problem because, although words by themselves are not hard to understand, whole sentences are.
Basically, Google is learning to understand people like people can, taking into account context and possible ambiguity behind their queries.
Some of it is pretty nifty indeed. For example, if you misspell something, Google can pick up on it and work out what the overall intent behind your search still was. If you search for a term with a common synonym, Google may provide you with results that match the synonym instead of the word you’ve typed.
Don’t forget – this all happened in 2019! So, Google has been making some pretty good signals about where SEO trends are headed for a pretty long time now.
At the time, the search engine giant said the BERT update represents “the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search.”
Google did come out and say there is no way of optimising for RankBrain (BERT’s predecessor), and therefore, no way of optimising for BERT.
But, SPOILER ALERT: just because there is no way of specifically optimising for BERT, doesn’t mean that website, business owners and SEO teams cannot do something about this.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SEO?
SEARCH (USER) INTENT
Simply put, we will all need to shift away from really traditional best practices which will begin to hold less and less value as the search engine improves. Instead, better ROI will probably come from thinking more deeply and carefully about understanding what is happening with search intent.
What do people really want to get out of a particular search query and how can your page help them?
There are four key types of search intent – informational, preferential, transactional and navigational.
Information is pretty common when it comes to Google searches. This is simply when users want some information – it can be a recipe or a definition or just an answer. Oftentimes, these will be phrased in the form of questions.
I’ll give you a few examples, sticking to a nice pizza example.
- How to make pizza
- How many calories in pizza
- How to build a pizza oven
- What is pizza
Ok, not sure how many people would really Google the last one.
Sometimes, however, these are not entered as questions.
- Pizza recipe
- Directions to nearest pizza shop
Then, there are preferential searches, which is what people often do before they make a purchase. They want information, but specifically about a product in order to choose which one suits them.
- Best pizza oven
- Best pizza restaurant near me
- Dominos v Pizza Hut
The next search type is transactional – people looking to actually buy something. They’ve got their info, done the research and now they are ready to part with some of their cold, hard cash.
- Order Crust pizza
- Buy matador pizza oven
Lastly, there are navigational searches. These are when you’re just trying to get to a specific page and using Google as the guide to get you there.
- Bunnings pizza oven
- Dominos pizza
As a website or business owner, you have to think about these. There is more than likely going to be more than one way of getting potential customers to your site.
You really need to think long and hard about how to get people onto your website from all of the different stages of their journey. Do they just want information? Services?
It also pays to focus on what the SERPs are telling you. Google a particular query and just spend a bit of time familiarising yourself with what pops up – after all, in this instance, Google probably does know best.
Remember – Google is now smart enough to analyse search queries based on the semantic intent the search engine giant believes them to have.
Luckily, however, one thing which is set to become much easier is that when you’re actually writing copy, you no longer need to match the exact keywords you think a user might type in the box.
This is great news.
After all, no offence, but Google searchers are often lazy and they might put something like ‘good doctor Sydney’ in the search box.
I don’t know about you but coming up with a title for an article that includes the exact match ‘good doctor Sydney’ and is still grammatically correct is almost impossible.
Let alone having to re-use this keyword throughout the excerpt, meta-description and the body text of the article.
No thank you.
So, these days, when you or someone in your team is writing content, tricky as it may be, think about what a searcher would actually want to read, and make the whole article informative, creative and unique. This means, even when the articles are being hosted on your company site, that you make your content marketing read well.
Potential customers, after all, have to be engaged before they are willing to buy.
Gone are the days when you could get away with writing content to satisfy the needs of Google’s crawlers.
Let’s leave pop-ups and forced registrations to the past – really think about what users want. The same goes with elements like image size – if your page load is really slow, site visitors and potential clients will simply not wait around.
You might also want to think about diversifying the type of content you’re hosting on your websites. People are keen to digest information in a myriad of ways from video to photos, pdf to blog posts. Make sure you’ve really thought about what your target demographic wants to get out of their searches.
Think long and hard about who is in this demographic, what they do for work, where they live, how old they are, whether they have families, whether they have lots of expendable income for holidays and weekend activities, whether they are budget conscious and all the other things that can tell us a lot about someone’s consumer behaviour.
THE END OF THE NUMBERS GAME?
Okay, probably not yet. But it does shift SEO strategy away from being a very data-focused practice to one which is a lot to do with psychology, semantics and ‘psychographics’ (data on people’s psychological and emotional motivations).
For those of us who love numbers, well, this can be a difficult thing to get to grips with.
For me, however, as someone who really enjoys writing, words and all things grammar (yeah, sorry – nerdy, I know), this is great news.
In fact, this should be really good news for everybody who is into digital marketing, no matter how many years of experience they’ve had in the field. Simply put, it’s a good indicator that search marketing is becoming more and more advanced, more high quality and that SEO trends are being noticed in the real world.
Of course, numbers still matter when it comes to delivering results to clients, and if you’re doing all your SEO alone these are still good benchmarks to use.
At the end of the day, businesses still need to be given information about their return on investment (ROI) in a clear and concise manner – this is where numbers are important.
But words, and the meaning behind words, are becoming equally as important.
A SHORT CONCLUSION
Phew. If you made it this far through I think you deserve a pat on the back (or maybe some more visitors to your site).
Let’s quickly sum up the key learnings then (I’d say to take into 2021, but we really seem to be hurtling through) to apply to your SEO practices.
As Google gets smarter, context matters. BERT, the 2019 Google algorithm update made Google better able to understand the search intent behind a user’s query – and understand what whole sentences mean. This effectively put an end to the need for exact match keywords.
However, as Google trends towards personalisation of results for every user – based on a variety of factors including location, previous searches and demographics/psychographics – SEO experts need to hone in even further to find what the target audience really wants and needs from their search.
The key takeaway – SEO services and strategy needs to be specific, think about user intent (a lot) more exact keyword matches and really produce targeted content that satisfies your audience.
You think this is cool? Just wait until we delve into voice search…
Still got an appetite for more? Have a read of a cool little article about why SEO consultants are scarier than clowns.
Just feel like you’d like somebody else to take over your SEO for you? Get in touch with us today.