Ahead of their judging roles at The Drum Search Awards USA, we spoke to three experts from Microsoft, Acronym and Distilled on what is still working, what is on the rise, and what we will see in the future.
Purna Virji, senior manager of global engagement, Microsoft
There are three key areas that I’m watching closely. Visual search, conversational bots, and audience targeting. All of these have been getting far more powerful with advances made in AI.
AI allows search engines to reason over all of the data on the web, using natural language process to learn the context of websites and data, and then to develop the graph that understands entities and entity relationships, people, and actions. This collective knowledge is the fuel AI algorithms need to make better, more personalized decisions for individual users.
In this way, search is becoming more intelligent, and more human. SEOs would do well to optimize for images and vocal queries, essentially the better a search engine can understand you, the better and more relevantly they can surface you to searchers.
Mike Grehan, chief marketing officer, Acronym
The notion of “ranking” at search engines has moved from being arcane to, pretty much, being archaic. Visibility at search engines depends on so much more than text on a page and hyperlink based algorithms alone. Context and intent are so much more important now. Who you are, where you are, what time of day it is, previous search history, more variables and multimodel content experiences count heavily where overall visibility is concerned now. Best practice remains. Being relevant for a query is one thing. But being relevant and useful in the moment is what’s really required now.
Mike Teluka, vice president, Distilled
As Google has moved to rely more on AI with the advent of Brain across platforms, "ranking factors" have become even woollier. Our own testing has shown that even experienced SEOs are no better than a coin flip at predicting which of two pages will outrank the other no matter how many metrics/elements they review. It's best to split test changes as hindsight is not 20/20 (unless the impact is dramatic, it can be confounding to look for proof that a given change had a positive impact).
Links still matter a great deal and are often the winning difference in competitive markets. Earning links is still hard work, but projects in this area are often the most fun (you have to build something interesting or highly-useful to earn high-value editorial links, and it's often intrinsically-rewarding to do so).
UX is paramount, and Google is getting better daily at measuring and rewarding a solid user experience. This is it's own discipline, but we expect further democratization of tools/knowledge in this area, broader contribution to content testing programs and SEO practitioners to become increasingly involved in initiatives to get the right content in front of the right people at the right time.
I also expect that as teams running large websites become more SEO-savvy, the explosion of "just pass the processing to the client/browser" (client-side JS everywhere) will swing back to a middle-ground where more prerendered content is delivered to the user (and Googlebot).
Virji, Grehan and Teluka are judges for The Drum Search Awards USA. The entry deadline is Thursday 30 August, download your entry pack now and show the industry the outstanding work you have been producing.
Sponsors of the awards are Sempo