The future of search is all about users and their behavior, it really is that simple. Gone are the days of Google deciding what the user wants for them, Google is (intelligently in my opinion) taking a page from the success book of Facebook and choosing to not become a MySpace story by simply following what the user wants rather than deciding it for them and, well, being wrong. Google knows what the future is and they fully intend to not only be a part of it but pretty much own it so we all should be paying very close attention to their direction right now and we should be getting on board if we want a piece of that great big world-sized pie. I know, I know, but this and that and the other, well suck it up honey buns and play nice or get left behind, this is happening whether you agree, like it or not. Google understands that the future of search is in being a part of our day-to-day lives and handing us what we want with no frustration and even better yet: predicting what we want and having it waiting for us.
Are we living in this utopian world right now? Not quite yet. Are we headed there very soon? Absolutely. Anyone who doesn’t see this and doesn’t want to accept this will very quickly be out of the game so I urge you all to accept the inevitable and jump on the train before it leaves the station.
So now that you know where I stand, let’s talk about why I think all this and what I think you should be doing about it as an online marketer who makes a living off of following Google’s whims and how this is a win/win scenario.
Why I think all of this …
Google wants money and the money to be made is in ad revenue. Nothing new there. Google’s biggest threat to this great big money maker that they have is users not using Google but rather going straight to Amazon, social media, texting, etc. In order to make ad revenue they need users to go to good ol’ Google to look things up and do their shopping etc. or else they are entirely bypassed and out of business in no time. Now as we all know users are increasingly consuming and are after all these goods via the path of least resistance. We are lazy beings who love a great big giant dose of instant gratification, that is sad but true. Google sees this and is answering this call of gluttony and laziness by providing the user with what they want (or is working towards it), they are going to the users rather than sitting back making up some ridiculous business plan and hoping the users will come to them. This is the polar opposite of “if you build it they will come” what Google sees is that nobody really wants to go off on a journey to find a baseball field on a farm. What they want is for someone to drop a plate of nachos on their lap while they sit in front of the TV live-streaming the game.
The people have spoken and Google has answered in the form of Rankbrain and their increasingly integrated AI technology built to essentially become a one stop shop for people to plug into to live their day-to-day lives that much easier. And what does Google get out of it all? Circle back to ad revenue. Google Home is the clincher here, move over Amazon Echo here we come! Google is ingraining itself into the fabric of our lives with the sole purpose of driving ad revenue. Harsh I know, but it’s true. Last I checked Google wasn’t building their business on philanthropy (though to be fair they do give back a lot and I think that’s fantastic) but in reality none of us can build our businesses on philanthropy, you need to bring in the money in in order to give it away.
So in the end quite simply, Google knows what users want and they are providing it so that they can continue to make billions of dollars in ad revenue and who can blame them? I can’t because if they don’t do it someone else will … hello again Amazon? I think you get the picture so now let’s move on to …
What I think you should be doing about it …
If you remember nothing else, remember this, Google is heading more and more toward a user behavior driven algorithm. Ack! Did she just say that? Yes she did. How do I know this? Because it makes sense. I am the first to say that I don’t have a whack of the data to back this claim up because in all reality it doesn’t exist yet but it will, I guarantee it. There are plenty of experiments to note and patents to read that support this theory along with a growing list of obvious UX based additions in search results such as Featured Snippets. Additionally, we can look to the very well documented and public UX based moves by Google over the past couple of years, none more obvious than “Mobilegeddon” and the recent announcement of mobile first indexing. Now, please understand I am not saying that you don’t need to pay attention to all of the ranking signals that have been in play for eons, these all very much matter still and need to be considered in any good overall SEO strategy. We still (and will always in my opinion) need good links, clean code, great site speed, etc. BUT here’s the thing, it all plays to the overall great user experience.
Everything from HTTPS (which omg if you haven’t switched over yet please do) to good, RELEVANT, HELPFUL links to code that not only helps the user view your site and its content quickly but also helps Google understand what you have to offer quickly, these are all major UX components. Google wants to provide the best result to the user in the easiest to use way, BE THAT! The days of leaning on rankings obtained simply from well optimized content heavy pages and oodles of decent links are fast coming to an end. With Rankbrain learning as quickly as it is the importance of recognizing all potential ranking signals and how they pertain to your site is huge. Not all sectors and sites are judged on the same scale so you must keep that in mind. The signals most important for one site are not the same set of signals that are important for another. With Rankbrain you MUST address all potential ranking signals to be in the best position for optimal rankings. Additionally, I see a world ahead where increasingly your CTR and time on site become major if not primary ranking factors so I suggest you make sure those title tags and descriptions are not only telling Google what you want them to see but also beckoning the user your way and, and here’s the key, GIVING THEM WHAT THEY ARE ACTUALLY LOOKING FOR so they don’t bounce.
Which leads us to your actual site content, create content that is user friendly. Throw out the “content is king” idea and (sorry Duane Forrester, here I go quoting you again) go with the “usefulness is king” mentality. Create a site that helps the user find what they are looking for, give the user what they want … create a site that tells Google that users want what you have because they are clicking through, they are staying, they are returning and they are sharing what you are offering. These are user behavior generated signals and they are and will impact rankings on varying degrees. With a recent patent released by Google we see a strong suggestion that in future we could see rankings being chosen on a user level based on the behavior of their network. Woah? Yes! So in a scenario like this ultimately not only do you have to have all the traditional ranking signals in place but you also need to be looking at how specific user groups are interacting with your site and be sure that you are providing a user experience that lends itself to sharing and positive interactions. In this (not too distant) future your user’s behavior would directly impact whether your site is displayed as a result for others in their network. There will always be room for and a need for the SEO strategies that we have been using for years upon years (the good ones that is) but what we are seeing now is that there are now NEW ADDITIONAL strategies that are absolutely critical to the future health of any online presence that must be paid attention to and implemented.