Mastering the Dark Arts: What's Next for SEO?

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By James Moffat, Founder and Executive Director at Organic

It’s impossible to think about SEO without Google being the focus. As Google continues its quest to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ they have fundamentally changed, and improved, SEO and how it serves people who use the Internet.

People use the Internet for more than just information gathering. They use it to buy things, book holidays, find their next job, set up and run a business and all kinds of other important tasks. And so they expect to find the information they want quickly and pain-free. By and large, that’s where we are now, but if we look at how it’s changed in the last ten years we can expect some major changes in the future.

But what’s the next step for SEO? We need to look at the present to begin to answer that question.   

The state of SEO

SEO has grown and evolved into a complex arena that requires an artful combination of technical optimisation and content-driven pages. Google is constantly trying to implicate best practice, putting the foot down on outdated approaches that used to allow companies to ‘cheat’ their way to the top. This means the current landscape is much fairer, but many brands still struggle to cut through the noise.

Let’s be blunt. In reality, Google doesn’t care about your business or site. It’s interested in maximising your content to drive ad sales. But, despite having no personal affinity, it still puts people at the centre of its strategy. To deliver on SEO objectives, brands need to put people at the heart of their efforts as well.

Evolution of interaction

When search engines first appeared people used them as a broad filtering tool. They would put in searches and then trawl through the results, hunting for relevant information, following links, and delving deep into pages that may not offer exactly what they want. It took time and effort.

As search engines matured, and with the advent of faster computers, tablets, and mobile phones that can retrieve data for us in a split second (providing you have a decent 4G connection) we started to demand something more from our technology. We want to be served only information that is close to what we want, and if it isn’t there on the first page of search results we won’t be looking further.

Basically, we were once prepared to put effort in, but now we want the technology to do all the heavy lifting.

But isn’t typing a bit old school? We have to stop, think, type (and deal with annoying typos that mangle our searches, though Google will try its best to second guess you). Who has time for that? Hence the first faltering steps towards voice search.

With Siri, Cortana, and Google Now, proving to be increasingly popular people are warming to the idea of voice search. The problem is that how we speak varies so wildly from person to person, region to region and country to country. Accents, dialects, idioms, slang, difference in pitch, stress and speed. And that’s just the start.

As people on the go want answers and information faster and faster, we can expect to see voice search becoming more important.  

People first

Technical SEO is important, let’s get that right off the bat. Without the proper technical approach to SEO you’re going to struggle with visibility, and could be penalised by Google for black hat techniques. And it’s important to understand that technical SEO is in fact inherently user-centric; it underpins all your efforts to gain reach, engagement and authority.

But once your technical SEO is sound you should always be focusing on fulfilling the needs of the searcher, not the search engine. Don’t forget that Google only wants to serve people the most relevant content to their search, so if you don’t provide content that does that, you’re not going to succeed even if it is technically perfect.

So SEO specialists, marketing agencies and brands need to understand the intent and desires of their customers more than ever. Knowing their buying cycle, where they are in it, and what searches they are making will dictate what kind of content you focus on.

The shape of things to come

SEO is only just graduating from college. Practitioners are faced with both the opportunity – and duty – of shaping the future of this industry. As search engines and terms evolve, and as connected devices get smarter and faster, SEO will only become more important. To connect with the customers of today and tomorrow, brands need to master the ‘Dark Arts’ of SEO and implement a strategy that puts the customer at the heart of everything they do.