For years, the search engine optimization industry has been dominated by Google’s algorithm update. Each time marketers would hear a term like Panda, Pigeon or “Mobilegeddon“, they knew exactly what it meant: a thorough audit of their current website along with a number of improvements necessary to prevent a precarious drop in ranking.
But increasingly, a sentiment is starting to grow that we’re entering a brave new world in SEO, one that may lead to search engine optimization in which the modus operandi looks nothing like it has before. Machine learning has entered the field, and it comes with the potential to overhaul everything we know about the importance of algorithm updates to SEO.
Machine Learning? As in, Robots Who Are Taking Over?
Well, yes and no. Machine learning, as you might be able to infer from the term, refers to the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed.
No, Google’s SEO algorithm will not soon rule our world and become a machine overlord (although considering how much we as a society rely on search engines, you could argue that’s already happening). But for Google, machine learning would mean an algorithm that does not need to be updated manually in order to adjust and keep showing the most relevant results possible.
We’re not there yet. As of today, Google still relies on manual updates (the latest being an update to its Panda algorithm) to ensure relevance and avoid fraudulence in its search results. And while Google likes to infer that its algorithm is already unbeatable, there are numerous examples of old, seemingly defunct methods of SEO still working.
In fact, the company still requires an army of human quality assurance workersto make sure it’s working the way it should be working.
But we now know that the search engine giant is officially researching machine learning possibilities. And taking the human element out of the equation could have wide-reaching consequences for digital marketers everywhere.
How Machine Learning Will Impact SEO
Above all, a search algorithm that learns and updates itself automatically would mean fewer updates that throw the digital marketing world into turmoil.
Just imagine what would have happened if Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update earlier this year, which had marketers everywhere panicking and making sure their websites were compliant with Google’s mobile-friendliness standards, had happened without a prior or point-in-time announcement of intent by the search engine.
On April 21, 2015, marketers would still have seen websites that weren’t responsive or mobile friendly ranked lower on mobile searches. And over time, we’re confident that they would have adjusted to the same degree as they did with the announcement. But the panic we witnessed before, during, and shortly after that date would simply have been non-existent.
At the same time, in a machine learning environment, Google engineers themselves would not be the authority figures they are today. While noted insiders like John Mueller would clearly remain authority figures, they might not be able to gain traction as easily with specific warnings about practices like link building.
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