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In years past, there used to be just two schools of thought in SEO: whitehats and blackhats. The sad fact is (even if you were part of the “good guys”) your actions—whether content-related or technical—were often driven and dictated by Google’s algorithm.

It’s job security, right? I’ve even been guilty of glibly saying that Google’s 400 algorithm changes per year would ensure that I had a job for years to come. Any resistance I had to my budget and resource requests merely lengthened the time for which my services would be required. It has been very easy for SEOs to be arrogant about their roles in the past.

Today, however, with the advent of machine learning, the decentralization of Google’s search algorithm, the ever-increasing presence of personal assistants (Google Now, Siri, Cortana) and the imposition of personalized results where the query is about as generic as it could be, we’re seeing a future in which the two schools of thought in SEO will be:

  • Algorithm Chasers
  • Audience Pleasers

Algorithm Chasers

If you fall into the Algorithm Chasers group, you will continue trying to reverse-engineer each of the variations you see in your ranking reports, each rise and fall of your traffic, each major algorithm update from Google and so on. Rather than opportunities, you will focus on obstacles. At best, you’ll be a fast-follower for content trends in your industry.

Links will continue to be a focus area to compensate for poor rankings. Content strategies will appear fragmented, disjointed and random. Technical SEO efforts will have the primary focus of trying to maximize internal link equity amidst an ever-decreasing domain value.

Audience Pleasers

If you fall into this group, your focus will be creating engaging and effective content, keeping your technical infrastructure nimble and compatible with the latest interfaces, and setting the trends rather than following them.

Links and social engagement will come naturally, thanks to shifting your focus away from manipulation to conversation. Content on an Audience Pleaser’s site is not just informative and engaging; it leaves audiences wanting more, even after the purchase is made. Audience Pleasers build their brand outside of their owned media. They’re unafraid of social networks, video platforms, forums and new & evolving personal mediums.

And frankly, this shift perfectly aligns with Google’s evolution.

Google as a Personal Assistant

Many years ago, one of my first jobs out of college was a cold-call computer salesman. I did so poorly at that job that I don’t even list it on my resume. But I learned something very valuable while calling potential customers every day: executive assistants (still called “secretaries” at the time … yes, I’m old-school) are the gate-keepers for their bosses. And if you don’t get on their good side, you’ll never reach the decision-maker.

This is precisely the direction in which we see Google going. Google will be the personal assistant that will act as the gatekeeper, basing its decision on whether or not to direct its users to your site on the users’ personal habits, preferences and quirks.

Additionally, it will determine if you’re worthy based on your site’s history of either pleasing users or turning them off. Rather than one single algorithm that fits the needs of most users, there will be 7 billion separate algorithms acting with autonomy to bring their specific user the best possible information, entertainment, educational material, goods and services. Think “Samantha” from the movie “Her.”

So, how you think about search and SEO going forward matters. If you think you’ll be able to manipulate your way into the top rankings in Google moving forward, you’ll most likely just wind up frustrated. However, if you focus on your users’ needs, their wants, their desires and the way they want to interact with sites, media, and each other—you’ll know how to navigate the ever-changing landscape of SEO.

How to Prepare for a Personalized Search World

At seoClarity, we have the privilege of working with some of the most advanced SEO teams in the industry, and we’ve been able to see what successful companies do in order to be successful.

  1. They’re technically nimble, allowing them to embrace change and adapt to new channels quickly.
  2. They democratize SEO throughout their organizations, which allows their SEO to focus on analysis and personal education, while their writers, developers, promoters, executives and marketers use the best web practices in their particular disciplines.
  3. They build their content strategy specifically for their users, addressing their needs, speaking their language and meeting them wherever they are.
  4. They re-align their metrics to focus on how engaging and sticky their sites are, rather than just chasing ranking and traffic.

As you start planning for the next fiscal year, think about the intent behind your content strategies and technical requirements for the New Year. Are you trying to game the system? Are you trying to attract users with blasé content produced with no particular passion? In other words, do you still see SEO as “search engine optimization?” Or have you evolved your approach to SEO to see it as “search experience optimization?”

How you answer that question will determine your success going forward.

 

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