Search in a Two Algorithm World
Rand Fishkin has strong feelings about things. Bobby Flay. Ticketmaster. How to cook steak. But he feels strongest about search and how it has changed. As DFWSEM’s State of Search initial keynote speaker, he covered all of the above — and the rise of the machines.
Once upon a time
In days of yore, triumphing in search meant optimizing pages for human eyes. The eyes of specific humans, kept in a secret bunker deep beneath Google. Tragically, however, this led to link spam as every SEO in the biz discovered these particular humans thought that sites with reputable links were likely to be better.
Back then, Google wasn’t on board the machine learning train. As recently as 2012, they said it was only a part of PPC prediction. By 2013, that tune changed. Machine learning was announced as being part of the search algorithm. And this year? Greg Corrado said artificial intelligence RankBrain was officially in the house.
For now, Corrado says RankBrain is one of “hundreds” of signals that feeds the mighty Google algorithm. But machine learning is on route to evolve. Yep. Just like the Terminator.
Now they know their ABCs
Machine learning is pretty amazing stuff. Google feeds the mecha-brain potential ID factors, then gives it training data to work from, ie: this is a good result, this is a miss. The end result is a learning process whereby the machine helps refine its best match algorithm.
Here’s where it gets funky. Like, Paisley Park levels of funky.
Deep learning. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Rand himself said it was disturbing. And he’s not wrong. In deep learning, all the mecha-brain needs is the initial set of ID factors. Then it starts creating an algorithm to create its own algorithm. No additional human input required.
“Come with me if you want to rank.”
Fascinating stuff, if a little too Skynet-y for some folks. But what does it mean for SEO in the future?
First of all, the future is now. This is already a factor in rankings. No putting this particular genie back in the bottle. Second, it means that Google won’t always know exactly why X is ranking higher than Y. Luckily, there are a few hints to be found in the query success matrix.
SEO folks worth the title need to start taking these factors into consideration now, not at some nebulous point in The Future. We have entered a dual algorithm age.
The two algorithms
What are these two “audiences” SEO needs to keep in mind? The first is still and will (hopefully) always be humans. Humans are the ones using these search results, after all, and that informs things like long clicks and engagement. Basically, keep doing what you’re doing. There’s just more to do as well.
Because algorithm number two is all about getting the search AI to serve you up to the humans. Rand broke down five steps to make sure the mecha-brain loves your stuff.
- Punch above the average click through rate (CTR). That means every bit of your preview snippet matters! Get your rich snippet on.
- Beat out your fellow SERP page residents with engagement. Write content that prevents the dreaded pogo stick effect, where people click on your link, take a glance, and hit the back arrow because your page bores them. And make sure your page loads as quickly as possible.
- Fill the gaps in your visitors’ knowledge. If you just pack your page with keywords that get people there but can’t give them the information they’re after? You’ve failed them.
- Fulfill the searcher’s task. Are they searching for general information or trying to accomplish something? If you provide a way to get that something accomplished, make it easy. And that’s where the ramen comes in. (You’d forgotten about the ramen, hadn’t you?) The Ramen Rater isn’t an SEO genius, but he does provide people exactly what they want — at great cost to his own sodium levels. And that’s why he ranks the way he does.
- Earn more shares/links/loyalty than competitors. While an avalanche of Fiverr lackeys tweeting about your product might sound like a good idea, that’s not genuine mojo. Build community, thank people for interacting, and give them stuff that’s irresistibly shareable.
The human factor
Human beings mean much more than search results, of course. Which Rand also knows. When Teresa Hurtado reached out to him about her sons, Blaine and Brandon, who are forging marketing careers here in Dallas, Rand agreed to meet with them and give them a little face-time. State of Search got wind of this and provided mother and sons with free admission to help make that happen.
SEO is about algorithms, sure. But people are the ones who type in those queries. That’s an important thing for all digital marketers to remember.