No doubt, technical SEO will remain important for the rest of our lives, the better your site is indexed and the better you comply with indexing guidelines and meta-data conventions, the better your results will be. But this is merely a prerequisite for being successful.
At first, Google tried to understand visitor appreciation for online content by measuring links and keywords. All this was implemented via a complex Page Rank algorithm that made Google the search engine of choice. It didn’t take long for companies to understand they could fake this kind of appreciation measurement (Black hat SEO) and for others to optimise this (White hat SEO). The better you understood the rules of the game, the better you could score. After a while, Google started implementing penalties for pages that “over”- optimised in a battle to keep their search engine relevant for their users. Probably the most famous example was BMW Germany that got punished for using “doorway pages” in 2006 (ref). Nowadays adjustments like this are implemented on a regular basis as the so-called Panda and Penguin algorithm changes (ref).
As predicted by Moore’s law, computation power now allows companies to store all online behaviour on search engines, and thanks to the rise of social media a lot of “Word of Mouth” is now available online. This will change how search engines capture visitor appreciation in the future.
The social media liking and sharing impact
Probably the most important reason to be active on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ and other social networks is the indirect impact on search engines in the future.
By liking or sharing content, your credibility will be distributed over the content you share. The more credibility a piece of content gets, the more often content will pop up in search results. By claiming authorship, your social media profile will be linked to the content you create; this will distribute your credibility in case you have been successful in the past.
Secondly, the search results you receive will be influenced by your network and your search history. Sources you shared or liked before are more likely to appear in your search results.
Impact of online behaviour on search engines
In case you allow, your search history is captured, enabling search engines to track and learn. Why would a search engine show you the same results when you refine your search. Google already offers you the option to block a source from your search results in case you return rather quickly after visiting a page, in case you spend more time they will offer you an option to look at more results by this source. Next to this kind of personalisation, these learnings can and will be applied on a wider scale as well. It looks as if Google will be using Click-Through Rate (CTR) as a ranking factor in organic search.
An online culture, a visual culture
In a world where user behaviour becomes more important, other factors are also at play. People tend to prefer images and video over text, but search engines have been far more capable of interpreting text than images & video. So the view on content will change and being liked or preferred will become more important than using the right keywords or creating additional links.
We already know the importance of an appealing thumbnail next to your Facebook post or a thumbnail next to your videos on a Google search engine results page. It often enhances the Click-Through Rate.
Also the rise of Pinterest is a clear illustration of a more visual online experience. All content shared on Pinterest is visual, except for a small description underneath the image. This visual web experience is probably closer to our brains, remember that more than 55% of our communication is non-verbal when we are talking to somebody.
Social media is not about marketing
Like all “THIS is dead, long live THIS”, Search Engine Optimisation will remain a bare necessity but it will require additional skills in the future. Like most changes, this will be an evolution, not a revolution. But you probably will not be able to content yourself with some quick fixes as your organisation will need to adapt thoroughly to a new way of working and you will need to build a true audience or improve taking part in the community.
More and more people are talking about “Search Engine Marketing”, which is supposed to add more relevance to the content and the Click-Through Rates. Social media is considered to be about marketing, but in fact it is not just marketing, because it is still not focussing on the overall experience as people do. Especially not so in case your marketing department functions as a silo in your organization. The new marketing will need to be better integrated in the organisation, in order to manage the overall customer experience.
Towards a “brand being” attitude
It is no option to wait any longer, as you might be too late to build a brand-being organisation, adapted to the social media landscape of the future. The customers of the future will no longer accept a discrepancy between what you promise and what you deliver, being transferred from one department to another without being served.
Instead of just optimising for search, companies should start optimising the experience for their customers, not only in search but throughout everything they do. The companies that truly understand this will have the best marketing organisation ever, namely the customers they deserve. Stop “optimising” and start “brand being”.