November 10, 2017

Tame Search Engines Before They Tame You

Many fear the day when machines take over Earth.


The superior intellect and power of these machines will cause all of humanity to tremble. Humans will have to consider the will of machines’ metal and wire hearts rather than the hearts of flesh and blood.


Indeed, dear reader, that day has come and it’s form you are almost entirely too familiar with: The internet search engine.


It’s true. Search engines like the monstrous Google, the sneaky Duck Duck Go and, dare I say,  Bing, all use artificial intelligence through the process of machine learning to rule Cyberland.


Machine learning isn’t exactly the software used to power robots from technological-dystopian fiction, but it could be argued that this technology has a mind of its own.


For example, human engineers don’t make up the bulk of Google’s search algorithm. Instead the search engine is given a task and continually updates itself as to give searchers the best results.


Yes, it updates itself. How does this work? You guessed it, similarly to how human brains work. The search engine relies on a neural network, or a bunch of conditions, to learn.


Just like humans learn to accurately decide whether a dog is nice or not by context clues like a wagging tail or a foaming, snarled snout, search engines learn how to deliver the best search results based on the search phrase, location and time of day.


As it turns out, search engines are pretty good at using these context clues. For instance, 91.5% of the time the desired search result is on the first search page.


To put this into perspective, as of writing this blog post, there are over 1.2 billion websites on the Internet. Google is able to narrow all those websites down and return the best search results on the first page just about every time, in fractions of a moment.


That’s pretty impressive, but not enough that humans must submit to this technology, right? Isn’t the technology working for us, not the other way around?


Well, not if you’re interested in getting your website on the first page of search results and getting in front of all those content-hungry internet searchers.


If you want to do this (and who wouldn’t when it increases traffic to your site, raises your brand credibility and gives you more market data), then you’ve got to submit to the search engine and design your website according to its will.


While it’s nearly impossible to understand exactly how search engine algorithms work, as they’re always changing, there certainly are best practices.


Let’s check ‘em out!


1. Your website has to be honest


It’s true, machines are learning how to detect honesty.


In the search engine’s infancy (and I use that word purposefully) there were ways to trick the algorithm. Web developers could place high ranking keywords into their websites and expect to rank high in searches even if the keywords had no place being on the site.


Of course, the scrupulous search engine figured this out and stopped counting these websites in search results. Thus, the search engine brings justice to the dishonest.


2. Your website needs to give customers what they want


SEO guru, Mark Traphagen, of Stone Temple Consulting made this clear to me last time we spoke. He told me, “If you want people to come to your website, then you’ve got to give them what they’re searching for.”


Mark recounted the story of a backyard pool building company in the midst of the ‘08 recession. To say the least, business wasn’t doing well. Whenever they had an opportunity with a customer, much of the time was spent in answering recurring questions — many of which stemmed from the distressed economy.


The pool company began writing down these questions and forming blog posts on their company’s website around them. As it turns out, many other people had these same questions and were turning to the internet for answers. A majority of these people found their answer on the company’s site.


In the midst of a financial crisis, the pool company was dominating the Internet because they were thinking about what people were searching for and providing accordingly. The search engine provided accordingly as well, and to this day that company has a high ranking, popular website.


3. Think like a search engine, write like a search engine


While search engines are becoming powerful enough to think similarly to humans, it isn’t their native language. Providing them with as much context as possible is only going to help you reach higher on search results.


Luckily there are many ways to provide context. Providing detailed keywords to your site is important, including descriptive alt-tags to your website’s media only helps, and providing a clear title tag will make sure the search engine knows exactly what your website is and all the great information it can provide searchers.


Mark Traphagen describes these context opportunities as SEO straws which are thirsty for SEO juice. You could think of SEO juice as a protein shake for websites, spiked with anabolic steroids. The more straws the site has, the more SEO juice the site can drink up, and the better it will do against the competition.


If you keep these tips in mind then you’re on track to dominating your corner of the Internet search ranking list. Remember though that it doesn’t take a day to go from the bottom of the list to the first search result, and in order to get there your site must knock down other sites who are also trying to rank high. But if you write content foryour audience, and work with the search engine instead of against it, you’ll be off to a promising start.


So don’t be too worried about the AI takeover. As far as search engines go, they seem to have humanity’s best interest in “mind”. Take advantage of these new technologies, and start thinking like a machine because they’re starting to think like you.

Photo of Charles

Charles Perschau, An innovative optimist with his eye on the prize.