Much of what we do for Online Reputation Management involves getting pages to show up on the first page of Google search results. That in turn means a lot of search engine optimization (SEO) on the web pages that we want to rank higher. Sometimes, however, it seems we get so focused on ranking in Google that the idea of people actually reading the pages becomes secondary.
So, is the tail wagging the dog? In other words, have search results become more important than the human-readable content itself? Well, yes and no.
Granted, if you’re a company that sells anything, you still want to provide your customers and prospects with online content that they’ll find helpful, and which will ultimately lead to a sale. But if they don’t find you online, or if your online reputation suffers by having too many negative reviews in the first page of the search results, it may not matter how great your website content is. Your prospects will end up going to a competitor.
As an online reputation management specialist, my job is to make sure that most of the first page search results for your brand, company, or personal name show you in a good light. That may mean writing press releases or articles, creating websites, or optimizing web pages to show up higher in the search results page. And yes, we want it to be good, readable content. But the main goal is to help the page rank higher.
Of course, the days of keyword stuffing are long gone. Google caught on to that years ago. It’s now considered a “black hat” tactic and isn’t effective. You can’t just cram a bunch of gobbledygook onto a page, or hide a ton of keywords in invisible text, and expect Google to blindly think it’s relevant to a searcher. On the other hand, the writing doesn’t have to be of the highest literary quality. There’s a lot of poorly-written junk out there that ranks well, at least for now.
But that can change, because computers are getting smarter. IBM has created machines that beat a chess master and won at Jeopardy. More recently, Google’s AlphaGo won four out of five games against a champion player of Go, an ancient Chinese board game with simple rules but very complex strategy. That was seen as a huge breakthrough in the development of artificial intelligence.
Couple this with advances in natural language processing, and we’re now rapidly approaching the point where Google will read, understand, and qualify web pages as well as any human can. That means their computers will easily see through any attempts at gaming the algorithms. In fact, their machines will be better than people at gauging the relevancy of web pages in searches. Not only can they look at the content itself, but they have tons of other data about the page, including how many inbound links the page has and how many people have already clicked on the search result.
One prediction is that we’ll no longer see the occasional release of some disruptive new set of Google algorithms for ranking pages in search results. Rather, Google’s DeepMind team — the ones who brought you AlphaGo — will create an artificial intelligence that will continually learn on its own what is relevant to human searches, and will adjust page rankings accordingly.
Where does this leave us? As always, content is king. So until the machines completely take over, we just have to do our best at continuing to create well-written, informative pages that are relevant and which other highly-ranked websites will want to link to.