What Fortune Tellers Have to Say About AI and SEO

Jen Saunders

A few years ago the Chicago Cubs were one of the worse teams in baseball. Last year they won the World Series, this year they won their division and now they are in the National League Division Series. What happened? Over time they nurtured their farm system, brought up top talent, made smart trades, and ultimately the organization was able to understand and execute on necessary tasks to put together a winning team.

Google is no different; it is constantly making improvements to its algorithm to give users a winning experience; a best possible result match to their search query. While three years ago nobody would have ever guessed the Cubs were a few years away from winning a World Series, most of the best SEO agencies would have never predicted the way search optimization has now evolved into an art and science that offers the best user experience Google has ever seen. But this is nothing compared to what we will have ahead.

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Where Big Change Began

Although Google has always been making changes to its algorithm and penalty updates, it wasn’t until Hummingbird that SEO as we knew it began transforming into something completely different. The search algorithm update became active around August 30, 2013 and was announced on September 26, Google’s 15th anniversary. Hummingbird saw to it that content stuffed with exact match keywords depreciated while well-written, educational content that answered search queries was regarded in high authority and rewarded with organic rank juice.

SEO RankBrain

What is SEO in a Post Hummingbird Landscape with RankBrain?

If you were a true white hat agency with skilled writers and strategists, SEO became a service reliant on people just like you, and not much changed. Google ultimately created a digital world that sought to weed out black hats, subpar content, and unskilled keyword stuffers trapped in 2010. High quality content became favored, especially if it answered specific questions made by searchers, contained educational information, and clearly defined the products and services at hand with oodles of relevancy.

In October 2015 tech news exploded with the report that Google made a move to embrace artificial intelligence and machine learning into its search algorithm. Google made itself more human; RankBrain reads into human intentions behind the searches to offer more accurate results related to one’s emotional-driven queries.

With a Hummingbird backbone and a focus on AI, SEO has evolved into a thing that requires marketing experts to truly understand their clients, their client’s customers, the client’s market, and optimize high-quality content that triggers human emotional needs while pleasing the bots with topic-focused, contextual content.

SEO content strategy

SEO Will Require a Greater Content Strategy

We are well passed Hummingbird, and RankBrain has already raised the bar; today SEO is already evolving and will continue to require topic cluster content strategies. This is where a single pillar page exists as the primary hub housing the subject’s main content (like a primary service or product page) for overlapping topic pages of content related to the same subject. These pages then require an interlinking strategy, and additional tactics can be applied if SEO agencies are especially clever and know how to use the right touches to enhance the original strategy’s main goal. The interlinking and connectivity to the main pillar sends signals to Google that there is greater authority to the topic on this page. The bots also love well organized blogs. Just as Google loves an organized site map, so too does it love organized content. When using this model you can expect to see a huge boost in organic ranking.

SEO keyword optimization

Hey SEO Agencies! Keywords Will Rely Less on Exact Match!

This is already happening, and smart SEO agencies are already straying from this strategy, but in time expect to see an even greater focus on straying from exact keyword matching. Why? Because consumers are smarter, they do their research, and they ask detailed questions that eventually lead to making a buying decision. Your answer to their problem needs to go way beyond keyword matching with engaging content that focuses on the emotional need behind the customer’s questions.

If you run a fishing equipment shop then stop filling your content with “kids fishing pole” and instead use keywords like “best fishing poles for kids”, “fishing poles for toddlers” and “how old should kids be to start fishing”. Then build engaging content that taps into the emotional fibers that power your customer’s questions. Remember, a question is a concern, and your content must ease their concern with well-written, detailed content. Then they will be in the buying mindset.

SEO predictions for content

Evidence that Emotional Detailed Content Works

When you write content using longtail keywords embedded in content that feeds into buyer emotions, is highly educational, and covers a variety of related sub-questions, your content will rank organically all day long.

Go ahead and do a Google search on “how old should kids be to start fishing”. This is what you get:

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As you can see, the Knowledge Graph has a 2014 blog result that directly answers the question with lots of information parents look for. From age considerations to equipment recommendations, this article covers everything a parent would ask regarding this specific topic. It even has a number of detailed infographics stressing the main concerns.

The second result reveals a message board from 2010. But that’s not “content”, right? Wrong. Even though this is 7 years old it ranks above the fold because it is filled with emotionally-driven questions like, “what age is good to get a child a fishing pole”. It also asks what size of pole to buy, the age a child is capable of learning, and how old a child must be to have the coordination required to fish. Then there are numerous answers that justify these queries with specific responses backed by examples. THIS IS SEVEN YEARS OLD! Yet it has the right fuel to reach page one of Google.

Below is our next organic result: an antiquated article from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources on a father’s guide to fishing with children. This article is very detailed and speaks directly to a parent’s emotional intentions behind the query, has great educational information, tips on fishing and parental bonding, covers equipment and bait, and it was published in 2009 (a year older than the source that beats them).

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Fishing Online Fuels SEO Predictions

You see the ranking factors: emotional content, longtail keywords, informative, topic-focused, and contextual settings–these are things the search engine ranks, even if they were written before Hummingbird was a twinkle in Google’s eye. Another thing: age matters. Google awarded better authority to the more recent publications.

You may be asking yourself these questions: But fishing with kids is a huge topic and surely there are thousands of people blogging about this, right? So why isn’t week-old content ranking? The answer is simple; yes, there are thousands of search results that touch on this topic, but these other web pages and blogs don’t use language, context, or the right kind of keywords to give their content any authority, even if it is a decade fresher.

Now imagine someone coming in and using a SEO strategy that takes the pillar cluster model and touches on this subject, and many more related topics. Then think about feeding the content with current social signals from Facebook shares and Twitter tweets after you have made a fresh submit to Google’s index. The old articles will turn into old news with your fresh content taking center stage.

All of this spells out one big SEO prediction: Considering the changes SEO has gone through, one can look into a crystal ball using the same considerations to how and why Google enhanced its algorithm. Then this needs to be applied to a predicted outcome. AI and machine learning is where it’s at right now, so a strong SEO prediction would be to see how this art and science will be enhanced to accommodate the way people will search for goods and services in the future.

Several years ago mobile search advances were the talk of SEO. Today, mobile searches continue to go up. So what’s next? Smart home devices and search technology from cars will be the next jump. People want detailed, fast answers. Devices like Alexa and Google Home offer web-assisted detailed answers through natural voice searches, and more auto manufacturers like Hyundai are linking to Google Assistant so drivers can perform voice searches from the road to locate the nearest dry cleaner or find the best Italian restaurant in the neighborhood.

When you put on your “Google historian hat” and uncover how and why the search engine has enhanced its algorithm over the last decade, your SEO predictions for the next several years can continue this evolution. From Hummingbird to RankBrain, from mobile search capabilities to smart home device searches, Google has and will continue to demand SEO strategies that compliment the way searches are performed while tapping into the emotional and psychological state of the people behind the queries.

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About
Jen Saunders is the Director of SEO for WEBITMD bringing more than 15 years of search marketing experience. She spent 13 years in Europe earning her PhD while looking at lots of old neat stuff. Jen enjoys simple things, like trees, sunrises, and the delicate lull of a 16th century harpsichord. Jen enjoys meditating and studies Buddhism. She is a certified master scuba diver, dolls make her nervous, and she enjoys craft beer. Jen has two cats, Chairman Thaddeus Whiskers and Lord Joffrey Gaius Pitty-Paws. They are her heirs.


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