Online search has changed more in the past three years than in the 21 years since Google launched in 1998. As search developed from infancy through the toddler, tween, and teenage years, online search technology grew slowly and steadily, focusing mainly on refining existing algorithms and database technology. Search engine improvements were an evolution. Well, the revolution is here. Are you ready?
I’ll be focusing on Google because they are by far the largest search engine, and whichever direction they choose to go, the rest of the industry follows. Google’s dominance in the search world can be summed up with one word: algorithm. Everything published on the web is scrutinized, evaluated, categorized, ranked, and archived using Google’s algorithm. To maintain its dominance, Google has continually tweaked its algorithm to meet the changing behavior of online searchers.
Traditionally, SEO strategists use keyword-rich content to help Google identify and prioritize their website. If you used more or better keywords than your competitor, you ranked higher on the search engine results page (SERP). However, as people started to “game the system” by packing their content with keywords for the sake of search engine results, the quality of content plummeted. Google addressed this by putting more priority on backlinks as a way to evaluate a website better. Their philosophy was that if other people found the content worthy enough to link to, it’s probably a more valuable metric than keywords.
What Has Happened in the Past Few Years to Change How Search Engines Work?
All Hail the Single Source of Truth
Google has been working toward something they call the “single source of truth.” Yes, Google the Almighty is starting to sound a little like a cult leader, but what it means for marketers is that the traditional goal of getting your site to show up on page one of the SERP is quickly dwindling. Why? The rise of “cyber-butlers,” like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Bixby, has brought about a change in search result expectations. People want one answer to their question — a single source of truth. Google can no longer rely on a searcher scrolling down the search results list if Google’s top guess is not helpful.
The Cookie Jar is Almost Empty
Google offers Gmail, Google Analytics, and Chrome, among many other services, for free. Are they being altruistic? No. Google’s revenue comes from ad sales. Web users are their currency. The more people Google can get to use their products, the more opportunities they have to learn about you and show you ads that you may consider relevant. When you click those ads, Google makes money.
As large companies like Facebook, Target, Equifax, etc., have been breached by hackers, people are more concerned than ever about protecting their personal information. Apple has responded by recently incorporating privacy protection into the operating systems of iOS devices. In other words, if you use an iPhone (and a billion of you do), Google, Facebook, and others can no longer track your internet usage by adding tracking code, or cookies, into your browser’s cache unless you expressly permit them. Cookies have been the lynchpin of the advertising-surveillance industry, so their demise will hit Google and Facebook hard.
Google is at the forefront of replacing third-party cookies with a new search experiment called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). The goal of FLoC is to help advertisers continue to target web behavior without cookies. For example, a browser with FLoC enabled would collect your browsing behavior and then assign it to an anonymous cohort of browsers with similar interests. Google then can send relevant ads to the whole group without knowing anything about each individual. Time will tell how successful this will be.
Learn to Love Rollercoasters
Search engines are not going away anytime soon. As marketers, we need to be willing and able to change direction at a moment’s notice. I don’t mean marketers should predict future changes and prepare for them — instead, we need to be comfortable with change, no matter what that change is. Agility is the key to success in today’s lightning-fast world of constant changes in technology. When you’re comfortable and qualified for change, you can ride that rollercoaster with your hands in the air!
Throughout all the changes, one thing remains. Content is the key to success. Keep generating good, informative, well-communicated expertise, and pair it with smart marketing. Your audience will find you. Here at Envoy, we’d love to work with you to help you succeed through search engine marketing. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you get that ticket to ride, reach out to us here.