Here is the simple truth about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Whether one is using white hat or black hat practices, SEO techniques are for the purpose of gaming the system. We are using what we know, or think we know, about how search engine algorithms rank websites, to get webpages listed higher in search results than simply on the quality of the content.
However, despite attempting to keep to Search Engine Optimization best practices, I have come to accept the idea that innovations from search engines are for the purpose of making SEO obsolete. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Think back to your high school and college days. When you were asked to write an essay, was the grade at all dependent on a focus keyword in the title, within the first sentence of the first paragraph, and then repeated enough times to have a keyword density between 1% and 2.5%? No, it didn’t. Quality writing does not rely on such weak standards.
Is SEO Obsolete?
I have briefly touched on this in the past, search engine algorithms are the closest thing we have to true artificial intelligence. They have reached the point that they can figure out the topic of content without writers stuffing keywords in titles, meta tags, and post content. Moreover, they have the ability to learn, based on user activity, identifying the information users most want to see.
My example for demonstrating SEO obsolescence is searching Donald Trump on Google, but you can do this experiment with any celebrity or major corporation. Google makes assumptions about what a user wants to see that obviously places SEO very low on the scale, and emphasizes perceived authority.
- The Trump Organization website,
- Donald Trump on Google, Twitter, and Facebook,
- Wikipedia’s Donald Trump entry, and
- News articles from major media sources.
Authority vs SEO
This is happening because Google has determined these sites are what users are most likely searching for, and a human person does not care if the site meets SEO best practices of using subheadings, keyword density, headings less than 70 characters, or if there are alt tags used with images. The searcher is only concerned with the results being relevant and authoritative.
Now, each of these sites do adhere to good SEO practices, some better than others, but they don’t seem to be listed in any order suggesting SEO is all that important. It may be true that one mainstream news article can be shown to rank a space higher than another because of better SEO, but it is obvious that good SEO is not going to get a run-of-the-mill blog post, even with the highest quality SEO, on the first page of results, even using so-called long-tail keywords.
Semantic Context Optimization
Back in November 2015, Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers (@jaysondemers) wrote an article, 7 SEO Practices That Will Become Obsolete By The End Of 2016. Of each listed, the most important for content creators, in my opinion, is the continual move to, and focus on, semantic context of content, and the moving away from keywords.
Semantic context is an interpretation of content, using the meaning attributed to words due to the content, form, style and/or origin of a text. The search engines are seeking to provide results with less emphasis on the exact phrases searched, and more on the desired information users actually want, which means an emphasis on more authoritative content from more authoritative sources.
The New Face of SEO
The big question becomes, “What does this all mean?” The two big threats to “traditional” SEO are search engines using user behavior and semantic context to develop their results. There will always be best practices for designing an SEO webpage. However, search engine algorithms are becoming so sophisticated and intelligent, that whether or not one is using alt tags with images (as one example) will soon not matter.
The new face of SEO is becoming much less formulaic. Search engines are working to more effectively predict what users are actually searching for, despite the search query may be. Learning technology being developed and used by search engines will mean the overall context and quality of content, and building the online authority of the source, will make what we call Search Engine Optimization obsolete.