What happens when you take the word’s biggest search engine and give it computers that can think for themselves? The answer, according to a recent op-ed by Nate Dame, could be an “unsettling” future for SEO.
Not Quite Chicken Little
First off I want to be clear: Nate is not crazy. He’s not suggesting that Google has built an army of sentient robots, and nothing he’s said is hyped up or exaggerated. The reality is that much of our current tech already uses “soft” AI—computers that can learn from experience and improve their algorithms—and this technology is only getting better with each passing year. Nate isn’t picturing a distant sci-fi future, he’s discussing what Google can do with the tech we already know it has.
And he has a good point. He asks if others in the SEO community have noticed less algorithm update announcements from Google lately, but he didn’t have to; Google explicitly told us that Penguin would be on auto-update from now on, without announcements for each individual change. The switch to subtle, near continuous updates has already been well chronicled.
But Nate doesn’t think these changes are harmless. In fact, he thinks they could have big effects on the SEO landscape.
AI and SEO
Nate has several concerns about how the use of AI and continuous algorithm updates will effect SEO. Two of the biggest are:
- Invisible updates. One problem of the frequent, minor algorithm changes is that it’s hard for SEO professionals to keep track of what’s changing. In some cases, we will notice a difference and quickly do research to isolate what happened. In other cases it may be difficult to determine what factor was responsible, or worse, it will be hard to verify whether there was an algorithm change at all. This problem will only intensify as Google’s AI gets better, because it will move faster and faster and consider combinations of factors that humans wouldn’t think of.
- Ranking based on disruptive new factors. Algorithm changes don’t always have to involve fine tuning of how existing ranking factors are considered. Until the Penguin update, for example, no one had to consider the quality of the links pointing to them, only the number of them and the page rank of their sites. Likewise, AI could come up with all sorts of new factors that we’re not prepared for. The example Nate gives is factual accuracy. What if your site ranked lower because it doesn’t cite all its sources, or contains ideas that go against scientific opinion?
Luckily, we as SEO’s have the ability to deal with these challenges.
Stay the Course
While there will be many new surprises from Google in the coming years, the SEO industry as a whole is in a good position to meet each one smoothly and help our clients keep their rankings—without the big shakeups of early algorithm updates like Penguin and Panda.
The shift to smaller but more frequent updates may even be a welcome one. It’s easier to sail a ship in a sea of three-foot waves than into the face of a 100’ tsunami, and it’s a lot easier for a business to stay on top of minor, constant algorithm updates. We recommend checking your ranking once or more per week; you may see some fluctuation but, if you use clean links and good content, you’re unlikely to see major surprises. Meanwhile, SEO research will continue to show the direction Google is headed, allowing us to adjust as needed.
And the introduction of new ranking factors is a real possibility, but not a bad one. Google has moved into a position of working with the mainstream SEO industry, to help us stay on top of major new changes. That was demonstrated very clearly with the months of advance notice on upcoming mobile algorithm updates.
So our advice? Don’t live in fear of what’s on the horizon. All of Google’s changes point in one direction: higher quality content will win out. As long as you’re providing value to your customers on each and every page of your website, the AI will like you and rank your page higher.
Need help making that quality content? That’s what we’re here for. We offer a complete SEO technical audit, copywriting and internet marketing services. And a free consultation. Contact us and get your free consultation today.