SEO is an evolving field that’s constantly changing. To excel in this area, businesses and individuals must be willing to evolve as well. One way to do this is to understand and adapt to how Google and other search engines change their algorithms and ranking factors.
One of the most prominent changes over the last few years has been Google’s use of AI technology to improve their user experience. With AI, Google can understand and mimic complex processes like image recognition, speech recognition, and natural language output. This allows for better indexing and ultimately more accurate search results and recommendations.
While some things related to SEO have remained constant, other elements have changed drastically. The prevalence of mobile users and the explosion of social media content has greatly impacted SEO across all platforms, and further increased the implementation of AI into Google’s algorithms.
Google’s AI Technology
Google has always used crawlers to find and scan websites and index content for search results. However, these crawlers have their limitations. They don’t “learn” or change the way search habits do, and they don’t process information beyond recognizing it and cataloging it in Google’s search index.
On the other hand, Google’s AI technology is now able to more accurately recognize images and classify them appropriately, analyze video and other content and understand the context to generate summaries, or better understand spoken language for verbal searches.
The end result is a better user experience with more accurate and relevant search results.
Google implemented RankBrain in 2016. Their first AI-driven algorithm was meant to help the search engine better understand a user’s intent when performing a search query. This was one of the biggest shake ups in SEO to date, but it’s truly just the beginning as AI is being utilized more frequently and in different ways.
What is RankBrain?
RankBrain is a machine learning system that allows Google to understand a user’s search intent better. RankBrain builds off the earlier Hummingbird algorithm, which used natural language elements, related search topics, and local search results.
RankBrain can “learn” by using context and associated data from various sources, which was truly remarkable at its implementation. Today, SERPs are based on Google’s interpretation of a query and other contextual information like location, the kinds of words used in the search, and other personalization data.
These changes can directly impact website traffic and SEO based on what the algorithm determines as the most useful and relevant for a particular query.
As a result, today’s SEO is much more focused on understanding the user’s search intent or context and less on simple keywords.
The BERT Algorithm
In late 2019, Google introduced a technology that expanded on what RankBrain started. BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) was a considerable change for SERPs and immediately impacted one in 10 of all search queries.
In short, BERT made it so that computers could better understand human language. The algorithm could gather context and nuances within search queries to help match users with the most relevant search results. BERT also made it easier for users to search for a specific question.
With BERT, Google could better understand a user’s search intent. It became essential for SEO professionals, business organizations, marketers, and anyone who produces online content to understand the concept of search intent while planning and creating user-driven content.
Where previous algorithms and ranking methods focused on matching keywords, BERT focuses on concepts. Using a learned understanding of human language (and one that continues to improve), BERT seeks to understand why the searcher is typing certain words into the query and delivering the most relevant and useful results based on the user’s intent.
With the integration of AI in Google’s indexing and ranking processes, the importance of user-friendly websites has also increased. The number one priority for Google is to provide users with the most useful and relevant content. Having a site that is difficult to interact with does not support that priority.
Google’s AI uses various metrics to understand how user-friendly a website is. Search engines consider dwell time, click-through rate, bounce rate, how much time users spend on the site, and how many different pages a user visits. These and other site-level factors help Google’s AI understand how users interact with a site.
Content also plays a significant role in how user-friendly the website is. Content that’s relevant to your audience’s most common questions and search queries will increase page views, dwell time, reduce bounce rate, and improve other related ranking signals.
Having quality content helps improve rankings on a search engine results page, thus increasing visibility to potential clients or customers. Still, it also provides existing page visitors with relevant content that adds value to their experience.
Mobile and Voice Search
The majority of all online searches are now occurring on mobile devices, with specific industries (like food and beverage) reaching 72% of searches occurring via mobile devices. In response to this trend, Google now considers mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
If a business’s or organization’s website is not optimized for mobile users, they are essentially irrelevant in search engine results, which is a significant risk for SEO purposes. This is especially important for local SEO when users are searching with the intention of visiting a brick-and-mortar location or making a purchase in the immediate future.
A new challenge for SEO professionals is the growing prevalence of voice searches using smartphones or virtual assistant devices like Alexa, Google Home, or Siri.
Even though the search intent may be the same, voice searches are inherently different from traditional searches. Voice search is typically conversational, or in SEO terms, a long-tailed query instead of just a few keywords.
Voice searches are like dialogues, where the user wants a specific answer rather than links to relevant pages. For example, a user might type “grilling vegetables” or “vegetables on grill.” For a voice search, they might say, “Hey Siri, what’s the best way to cook vegetables on the grill?”
The implications of these changes are that creating content and optimizing for a more conversational voice search is now essential, and SEO must consider long-tail queries in addition to main keywords.
This can benefit websites that optimize for these types of searches because being in the featured answer snippet for a long-tail query can often push those sites to be the first search result for voice search.
Being the selected result is essential to gaining a competitive advantage, as the user only receives one answer to their search, rather than a page of results to choose from.
Videos and Visual Content
Thanks to AI, videos are now more beneficial for SEO and search marketers than they’ve ever been before. With AI, Google can index video content in a meaningful way as it can discern keywords, context, and relevance for ranking purposes.
According to Statista, 85% of all users in the United States watch online video content at least once per month. In addition, Wyzowl reports that 69% of people prefer to watch a video to learn about a product or service compared to 18% who prefer to read about it.
Video is becoming a primary (and often preferred) way for users to consume content. Videos provide new ways to reach an audience and engage them in ways that text cannot. Google is starting to understand the value that users attach to video and, as such, is beginning to recognize video content as potential ranking signals.
AI Is Here To Stay
The nature of SEO is that it’s constantly changing, and the changes with Google’s AI capabilities are no exception. The use of AI allows search engines to do incredible things to better meet their users’ needs.
Knowing how AI works in tandem with Google and other search engines can help website owners and SEO professionals get ahead of the curve. AI is here to stay, and it will only become more efficient.
Presently, we can see the impact of AI and how it processes signals regarding search intent, user-friendliness, user experience, and video optimization. With the continued advancement of AI, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your brand is optimizing in these areas in order to stay relevant and accessible to users.