SEO is a false bubble, meant to burst, from the very beginning.
It is about to burst, very very soon.
Now, why would I say something that generic and that strong. I’ll quickly come to the point. However, to do that, we need to dig deeper into this concept called ‘Search Engine Optimization.
We start from the basics. At the core of this field (for the lack of a better word) and the axis of this universe are search engines. Although, due to Google’s dominance, most of the dynamics of the industry revolve around Google search.
What is a Search Engine?
Now, let’s try and define, at a fundamental level, what a search engine is. Wikipedia’s definition of a search engine is nice but states what a search engine does. A Google search for What is a search engine, throws up:
A program for the retrieval of data, files, or documents from a database or network, esp. the Internet.
Which is right, but doesn’t help me much. Let’s try and understand a search engine like 10 year olds. The internet is a like a library, vaster than any we’ve known in our lives. Each website is a book with, at times, millions of pages. To find anything in this library is impossible for a human being. Books solve this problem by creating table of contents and indices. Libraries create further indexes of books. However, if you go to the librarian and ask for a recipe for a samosa, there is no guarantee, they’ll find it. If they do, there is no guarantee, it will be the best recipe.
A search engine is like this index, only it is dynamic. By dynamic, I mean that the index is continuously updated and changed. There is a lot of content on the internet that you and I can never be able to access or interact with meaningfully, without this tool that lets us do that. So, my definition is
A search engine is a tool between people and content, to create meaningful interactions.
For, a long time search engines followed the definition thrown up by the Google search above. Then, along came Google that sought to become the tool that creates meaningful interactions between users and content.
The Ideal Search Engine
That paved the way for the world dominance of Google. It’s purpose and goal were very clear from the beginning:
Get the result that the user is looking for.
And to do that, Google kept doing things. It kept formulating ways of doing this better. It has been striving to give you and me, the exact thing that we are looking for. In fact, it’s trying to do it so well, that if you and I typed the same query, Google will return different results, because it has learnt more about you from your earlier interactions.
The Happy Honest Internet
The happy, honest internet is an Utopian concept promoted by the likes of Facebook and Google. It basically means that people write what they want to. When a lot of people demonstrate to Google that they prefer to click and stay longer to read a particular page over other pages in a result, Google believes it is good and ranks it higher.
The Search Engine Problem
It is very difficult to find the right result. It takes complex algorithms and heavy data analysis. The engine needs to learn as it searches. So, a lot of times, the first result is not the ideal result. This is because, to an extent, the way the search engine works, is not the ideal, finished, superlative piece of art that all of us want it to be. It has its limitations.
As shown in the picture above, this problem is actually a set of two problems:
- The search engine may not understand what the user is looking for, let’s call it the User Behaviour Analysis problem.
- The search engine may not understand the content well enough, again, let’s just call it Content Analysis problem.
The Ideal Solution
What should a search engine do? It must bridge the gap both ways. It must improve its understanding of what the user is looking for. At the same time it must improve its understanding of content to be able to match its understanding of the user’s need.
Understanding the User
This is the more complicated part, but Google seems to be the best at it. This is also the part where the search engine is in control. This is where the user interacts with the engine, directly. So, the engine can do whatever it takes to make sure it makes the best guess about what the user is looking for.
No one gets between the user and the search engine, not even the parent company, not even its other products. That’s where Yahoo and Bing lost.
This is the impossible part. Being a web developer, I can tell you, the number of shoddy, sub standard websites that exist are mind boggling. Then, how do you know what content is good, what is bad. This is where search engines have no control. This is where, the task is immense and again Google seems to be the best at it. Even now, Search Engines depend on some algorithms to analyse and understand content. There are parameters to consider.
Exploiting the Gap, Gaming the System: Birth of the SEO Professional
So, now suddenly, there are search engines that users like so much that they use it as a starting point for their browsing. A lot of websites, obviously want to get users to their site. Irrespective of whether the content is good or not. This is where, a whole new profession was born. One that observes the search engine’s behaviour, figures the parameters and algorithms and then games the content. This way, the Search Engine is made to believe, that the gamed content is the best content for the users’ query. In other words, it cheats the Search Engine, which, indirectly cheats the user.
The user is made to believe that the gamed results are the best results. There are various ways of gaming this system, or cheating this system. Some are believed to be legitimate, called white-hat ways of cheating and some are black-hat ways of cheating. Sooner or later, the search engine will get tired of the gaming because the users will start getting tired of the game. The useless, but SEOed results will push useful, but non SEOed results downwards into the pit of anonymity.
The Revenge of the Search Engine
And then the search engine will try and do something about it. Here is what Google did and announced it in a blog post.
But more important than that, are the comments,at times they are super hilarious!
SEO vs the Search Engine: the War Continues
Search Engines are most likely to continue this way. Keep disposing off the ways of the SEO industry so that it can interact directly with content (and hence the content writer). This is the only way it can solve its second part of the problem: understanding content. The SEO industry will be made redundant, also by a couple of simultaneous developments:
- Increased use of CMSes and automated content deployment solutions that take care of the basic SEO parameters, still used by Search Engines.
- Evolution of the web page into more semantic structures (html5 tags like article, aside, footer pretty much indicate what is important and what is accessory or redundant on a page).
- Increased usage of microformats like ratings, reviews, products on web-pages for better identification of content.
- Growth of Social Media (Google already values recommendations of your online social circle, for better results).
The Unfortunate Casualities of the War
On some of the comments on Google’s blog post above, you might notice people complaining that their original content has been outranked by copy-thieves. That’s because Google decides which is better based on what users decide is better. It is the standard tussle between pop art and true art. A genius will write a good article that nobody will find. However, a copycat wil just copy it, present it in a more interesting or popular manner and that will win in the race. It’s obvious. It’s not the Search Engine’s fault or responsibility. There is no feasible way of correcting culture via a search engine.
When the War Ends
Once, SEO is finished, what will be? That is more speculation and philosophy and the subject of another blog post (if there is one).
Disclaimer: This is just a point of view and philosophical ruminations. Do feel free to rebuke me, if you need to!
Editor’s Note: This post is part of our TDIS ( Thank Devil It’s Sunday) feature, where we publish casual and personal posts. You can read other TDIS posts here.
SEO is becoming useless as we can see Google is personalizing everyone’s search results!
SEO will never die.SEO now a days means search experience optimization and not search engine optimization.
Interesting. And what does Search Experience Optimisation mean and who does it?
Yep, it’s done for! It will morph a bit but, on the whole, it’s going bye bye. And then I’ll be out of the job. Bollocks.
Very well written and presented post on the future of SEO, which is being ruthlessly debated and subjected to critical observation. I liked the way you explained the whole process and in the end, presented a good theoretical solution. However, I must say, that your theory is 100% applicable for blogging genre. But if we roam a little, and view things from 100 feet above the ground, then we will realize that traditional form of SEO still rules of roost in most of the niches such as ecommerce, B2B and travel. It is the war of the keywords, and the party which invests heavily into it, finally wins. But yes, as always, things will change for good!
Change is only possible, from the ground up. Besides, this keyword war mongers are huge investors in adwords and adsense. So, I feel Google will keep them happy for a while. However, there are a lot of niche sites coming up in these domains who stand no chance against these big spenders. These are the ones serving original well formed content and products, and exploiting social reach better than any company that’s trying to do everything.
As the age-old saying goes, Truth always wins, no matter what. So, time shall prove what is legit and what is not.
Content Marketing is the keyword here, which, along with Inbound Marketing is the new dress for traditional SEO. For instance, having worked with some of the largest SEO firms in India who have clients paying more than $10,000 per month for doing SEO; targeting keywords such as Rolex watches and Diamond Watches (ranking in first page too :), I realized that content along with traditional approach which is to build more and more backlinks by hook or by crook (which you termed as gamification of Google, liked that term) does bring in results.. although for a temp period. But during this temp period, their investment of $10,000 brings them sales of more than a million dollars a month! A balanced approach is needed.. besides theory, we should live in reality too.. Google attracts a billion hits a day. And in order to survive, you gotto be on page one.!
Google already knows some incredible things about us. It know what sort of language proficiency we possess with information on what we read or what we watch on YouTube, it will be able to pick up how we access their site (Wifi or mobile networks) and which device we access it from. The list of data on us goes on and on.
Plot this data against time and we get context and relevance.
With more and more results moving toward context I find the role of SEO consulting and experts diminishing.
No, it is not exactly round the corner but it is a going to happen sometime in the future.
Luckily (for me), I doubt technology will be able to replicate creativity so bloggers and designers will be around, in form or the other. 😛
Search Engine has become LOC, if you cross, you will die, Take every single step think fully. There is no such SEO techniques will be effective except Content Marketing.
Just start your content marketing from now to get good SERP.
Thanks Saurabh for sharing good information. I liked posts under TDIS
People just want the best, most meaningful content and information and identifying what and who gives this is one tough job! I wouldn’t want start thinking how Google’s “mind” works.
I need my website to get high rank. How is this possible. Help me to do this
IMO its not SEO which has to die in fact it is blackhat SEO which has die, search engines should concentrate on penalizing webmasters who implement odd techniques but at the same have to make clear about things that actually work and encourage white hat SEO.. ultimately what every search engine want to serve is the useful content for the end user.. instead the point search engines are concentrating is fast loading themes, responsive skins and other irrelevant technical stuff which is no where related for non technical users who dominate the Internet space…
This is a very well written and well analysed piece of work. Any SEO work is by default unnatural if we think of the Google way; yet Matt Cutts answers tirelessly explaining with a little bit of YES and a little bit of NO to the SEO questions. And what I see a war between these guys Designers, Developers, SEOs and Content Writers while in fact they should be working together to a common GOAL.
Now the question is about the origin of SEO – who/what/how/why SEOs? This question directly relates to “Why Need A Website?” The final answer would be “$$”. So, all it started to get revenue, the whole system is gamed for personal benefits without knowing/acknowledging/bothering how much pollution it is creating to the WWW (In just 25 yrs it has seen much).
Leaving all these apart, the main point of concern is
“How Designers, Developers, Content Writers and SEOs (this seems to be misnomer – a better may be – User Experience Optimization – UEO) work together to make WEB a better place without hurting any businesses goals and users alike?
May be you would like to write a post on this or keep this as an agenda for next meetup.