Are we entering a new age of SEO?

Some people say that we are entering a new age of SEO, that the tricks of the past will become the stuff of legend, and that we will be blazing a new trail through unchartered waters – possibly even the end of SEO altogether.

Sound familiar? Well it’s not all that new a concept. People have been ringing the SEO-is-dead bell for years.

Long live SEO.

However two “facts” are clear. The first is that the basics of SEO have not changed much in a decade. I even wrote about this a year ago, so it must be true.

On the other hand

On the other hand, SEO has changed tremendously. A decade ago, nobody cared about mobile search, and Google was now offering a mobile option (AMP) that works off its own server, rather than off of yours.

A decade ago, people were not talking about bounce rates or time on site as a ranking factor.

A decade ago, nobody was making the connection between SEO and social media.

A decade ago, nobody was speculating how the Internet of Things would change the nature of searching.

And nobody was talking about an end to links as a ranking factor. Today, Brian McFarlane is wondering out loud whether we are already seeing the beginning of a slow decline of link building, an activity that often occupies over 90 percent of many SEO professionals’ time.

“Nobody believed me when I said 6 months ago that RankBrain was already at 50%. People told me, ‘Oh Brian, it’s at 15%; you should not be concerned at all about this.” RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to determine what searchers want and to deliver it to them.

Search is like pizza delivery

RankBrain won’t send me a pizza

I want a pizza, but my doorbell isn’t ringing. RankBrain still has a long way to go.

“Guys, I just wanted to know how RankBrain will affect your approach to SEO? Will you be approaching link factors and other signals a little differently now that it’s being assessed by RankBrain?” Brian asked in a private chat room (with permission to publish).

It’s a great question, given that some people think that RankBrain’s penchant for relevancy could make link-building as we know it obsolete.

My take is that link-building as we know it has been obsolete for years. One of the things that has changed is that Google has discounted crappy, obviously manipulative links. One of the things that has not changed is that good, solid links that carry meaning for the user are still worth their weight in gold.

And my money is on good quality links that really mean something to the user still being worthwhile for the foreseeable future. Even on mobile. Even on toasters and refrigerators.

SEO Royals agrees: “The future will be about context.” A great quality link is actually a pretty crappy link in the wrong context. If search engines are to value links for their usefulness, they will need artificial intelligence to determine when a link is just relevant to a topic and when it actually adds value to the content.

For instance, in this article I could have linked the words “obvious manipulative links” to a blog post about manipulative links. That would have been a relevant, contextual link. But would it have enhanced the reader’s understanding of this article?

I try to link to sources that will help readers better understand what I say, without having to go off on a tangent in my blog posts. I also link to sources I quote, so that readers better understand where the information comes from. And sometimes I link internally, so that I can keep you longer on my website. I love you so much; I hate to see you leave.

Context comes back on the other side, when the searcher is searching. As Dwayne says:

“It’s about knowing what content a person needs, when they need it. It’s proactive, not reactive to a search query in a box. And, it’s diverse in terms of format and function.
 Relevancy and semantic search will continue to impact how search engines return results. Although I sound somewhat alarming, I still think the core of Google’s algorithm (votes) will remain as a main factor. It will become harder and harder to try to manipulate these signals to gain higher rankings…”

Will the search engines get smarter?

David Harry points out that “I am going to paint the white house” is different than “I am going to paint the White House”, but that “algorithms aren’t traditionally that good at understanding meanings and semantic relevance of sentences.”

With time, that might change. As it does, SEO will also change. And the fundamentals of SEO will remain as solid as ever, even as so much changes.

“Bounce rate, time on site, three clicks deep from a unique visitor’s actions, heat map click interaction on pages, responsive websites, social media, SSL certificates – all that relates to your quality score on Google Adwords and your organic rankings,” Adrienne DeVita, CEO of Digital Media Cube expounds right after typing about how little has changed. “I’ve been doing this for 11 years and everything I typed in there is exactly what I’ve been doing for those 11 years. I have clients that contact me from 10 years ago that still haven’t been hit by Google because they implement these strategies.”

According to David Harry, the future is now. “By the time most SEOs ‘get it’ as far as new tech being implemented, it’s already been in the system for 6-12 months, anyway.”

If I could sum up all the chatter and the debate for an outsider to understand, the whole world of search is evolving so fast that you won’t recognize it in a few years, but not all that much has really changed. And almost everybody in the SEO world, including me, seems to see it that way.