There have been many significant developments in SEO practices in a relatively small number of years and, with each new algorithm update, marketers have looked at ways to adapt to the complex set of rules that Google uses to rank search results.
However, in October last year, Google announced that machine learning had been part of their Hummingbird algorithm for months. This move to incorporate artificial intelligence – nicknamed ‘Rankbrain’ – into search results has been something of a game-changer in Google’s ultimate quest to deliver a brutally efficient user experience. Google is now able to understand a wide range search queries better than ever before and importantly, interpret semantic meaning. So what are the implications for SEO, specifically in terms of creating content?
The end of keyword targeting?
For many years, the main focus for SEO content was selecting the keywords you wanted to target and placing them strategically throughout your site. Although this is still the case to some extent, with the help of Rankbrain, Google is much better at interpreting meaning when it comes to keywords.
For example, if you wanted to rank for ‘Glasgow hotels’ you would need to mention this keyword throughout the copy, and also within your title tag and H1 tag. Google is increasingly able to interpret semantics so if you had ‘luxury hotel experience in Glasgow’ in your content, it’s more likely this would also rank for the term ‘Glasgow hotels’. This means that content writers can now focus on creating genuinely descriptive page copy and still rank for generic industry terms without worrying how many times they have shoe-horned certain words into the mix.
Crucially, longer tail search terms are becoming the norm. People are not generally getting the result they want from one or two-word queries. To get quality results they are going up to five words.
Moz has created a new feature aimed at helping content creators understand the way that search engines interpret different topics and phrases. This development will also give prevalence to longer content. It used to be the norm that most shared content was around 300 words long, but articles between 1,200 and 1,500 are actually performing better in search. The changes Google are implementing are ranking longer, more informative pieces highly with the aim of answering the longer tail search queries of users.
Analysis of user interaction
The focus for SEO used to be about getting the initial click from the search results. However, Google is now increasingly able to examine post-click user interaction. How long does the user spend on the site? Are they leaving your site to look back through other results? Google analyses this data to determine whether users are able to find the information they need on a website and using it to assess which sites should be returned for certain queries.