In some ways, Google remains pretty consistent with its algorithm updates. Though major updates like Panda and Penguin have shaken up search rankings and caused frantic business owners to scramble to update their strategies, ultimately Google just wants to give the people what they’re looking for.
Still, as people search in new ways using new technologies, different qualities become important to them. As a result, Google and other search engines gradually refine their approach, catering to these new technologies, and forcing search marketers to adapt their SEO strategy as well. Understanding the complex relationship between technology and search can help business owners adapt those SEO strategies proactively, anticipating the needs of their users and staying ahead of the curve in the world of search.
Historically, there have been many phases of search evolution as a result of new technology. Looking back at these calls and responses can help you see the pattern that Google and other search engines continue to follow. Even the rise of search itself began as a response to the need to search the ever-growing amount of information on the web. In each of these milestones, you’ll see a distinct series of steps; an emergence of new technology, the adoption of new technology, and eventually an algorithm to address the popularity of the technology.
The Discovery of SEO
Search first emerged as a solution to a problem: how do you find relevant information on the web? In a sense, search technology was the first new technology to influence search. When Google came on the scene, people quickly realized how it worked, and made frantic efforts to get their sites ranked using whatever tactics they could, including black hat practices and spam. It worked, for a time, but Google soon caught on. Because so many websites were trying to take advantage of search technology and more people were demanding more relevant results, they refined their quality standards and started penalizing sites that engaged in black hat strategies.
The Onset of Social Media
Social media started out as a fleeting hobby by niche groups of adolescents, but it quickly evolved into the ubiquitous medium we know it as today. People began to rely on social media for daily communications, updates, and even relationships with their favorite brands and companies.Responding to this emerging trend of use, Google started incorporating social signals into its algorithm. Relevant social media profiles began to emerge in branded searches, and the social followings of companies were incorporated into their overall domain authority. Today, it’s almost impossible to get ranked without engaging in social media in some way.
Tablets and Mobile Devices
Desktop computers have been slowly dying over the past five years or so. Smartphones started out as a novelty, which a small percentage of users owned and a smaller percentage of users relied on. But within a few years, people across the country were ditching their traditional phones for upgraded smartphones, and starting to rely on them for online searches. Now, users rely on all kinds of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, and in response, Google has refined its algorithm to make search easier for users relying on such devices. Sites that are optimized for mobile rank higher than ones that aren’t, even in desktop searches, and the better user experience you offer for mobile users, the more likely you are to rank high.
Apps and Services
In part due to the emergence of mobile devices, users are starting to rely on the information of third-party apps more than information they can uncover through traditional searches. Local directories like Yelp provide detailed information, including reviews, on local establishments, and utilities like Google Maps can offer functionality independent of a separate website. Because of this, Google has incorporated signals from more third-party apps into its ranking process. For example, companies with a large number of positive reviews rank higher than those with bad reviews.
The best way to apply the insights you’ve gained from looking back on Google’s response to new technology is to anticipate the changes that are to come. If you can proactively change your strategy to cater to the first users of a new technology, you’ll stand to see massive benefits while the competition is still struggling to catch up.
Wearable technology, most notably in the form of smart watches, will soon start to grow in popularity. Due to their small screen size, search results will be restricted, and users will rely even more on apps to get their information. Similarly, they’ll rely on more visual information, and Google will reward sites will ample images and videos to serve those users. Smart watches will also be used frequently by usersen route somewhere, so local search will become more important than ever. Voice search will also be popular, due in part to smart watches’ small screen sizes, so companies can benefit from writing in a more conversational format.
Of course, emerging technology won’t just stop at wearable smart devices. It will continue to evolve, year after year, and user adoption trends will change in response. Your goal as a business owner should be to spot those trends early, predicting the next wave of technological evolution, and anticipating the needs of those users. As a general rule, making your users happy will get you ranked higher on search engines, but more importantly, you’ll be improving your customers’ satisfaction and loyalty.