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SEO times they are a changin’

Search Engine Optimization…. Come to think of it, the term itself seems to imply a bit of double standards. That websites need to be optimized for search engines instead of the visitors who should have been the real targets.

Perhaps an analogy could be designing homes for realtors who bring in buyers rather than for the buyers themselves. Clearly that makes no sense in the real world. But then the digital world is different.

With some websites engineered just to rank on search engine result pages without having to serve meaningful content to visitors, it was just a matter of time before Google caught on. After all they were not about to give up search traffic to rivals.

Consequently Google came out with a series of updates and revisions to their algorithm.

The Panda update was about returning more high quality sites, eliminating poor quality ones. (As an aside, I found it somewhat disconcerting that most web pages describing this update feature pictures of Panda bears. Whereas the actual update was named after a Google engineer, Navneet Panda!)

Manipulative link building was taken on by the Penguin update.

Then the Hummingbird update increased the ability to deal with complex search queries and handle conversational queries. Focus shifted to the meaning of a search phrase. Emphasis moved to users, understanding what they want, and providing better answers.

More recently the Pigeon update gave a leg up to local businesses.

Which brings up back to where we started: Ultimately websites should be all about users and their experience. And that is apparently where the train is headed.

Till date SEO has a been a tale of title tags, meta tags, keywords, links and the like. Evidently these still matter. But lately user engagement has been tossed into the mix. And it is certainly becoming more and more important as Google’s algorithms get retooled.

A related matter is the distinction between voice search and typed search. Voice search was the focus of the Hummingbird update. With the age of wearables coming upon us, the future of search looks to be voice driven. Of course certain searches will continue to be typed on a desktop. But it looks like volumes are moving to mobile devices, where voice beats typing any day.

So what does it mean for SEO? Shift away from keywords toward context, longer queries; time to be thinking hard about what users are looking for.

Perhaps a key step in website development might be the building of use cases that map out several user scenarios, followed by optimizing web content for each of these use cases and scenarios.

Meanwhile it is time to consider renaming SEO. User Experience Optimization (UEO), anyone?

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