Exactly how smart are the search engines?
The honest answer? Nobody really knows, at least no one outside of the search teams at Google, Yahoo, and Bing. But, there are some leading theories. In this post I’ll explain the reasoning behind two of them, and what you should do about it.
Theory 1: Search Engines Are Stupid
The first theory is really quite simple: search engines are stupid, but they know how to do a few things well.
The reasoning is that search engines do not understand text on the page, and many claim they will never be able to understand the text on the page.
What they can do, however, is detect patterns.
They can count words and repetitions of words, and filter those words by priority based on location on the page: title beats headers and headers beat paragraphs.
They can detect if there are images or video on the page and see which keywords the media content maps to.
They can see if you’ve copied content by looking for the same pattern of characters on other sites.
…and that’s about it.
Theory 2: Search Engines Are Smart
The other end of the spectrum is that search engines are smart, and getting smarter every day.
Google publicly states that there’s a list of 220 characteristics they evaluate when determining a page’s search rank. That’s way more items than you want to think about when writing your blog, which means that for practically purposes, you can’t game any algorithms.
Not only that, but we’re at the cusp of breaking into the semantic web, which is a world where computers will actually be able to understand more elements of language. That means the future of search engine optimization could be very different than it is today.
What Can You Do?
For starters, you can’t game the system, so stop thinking about it! Even if you were to ‘outsmart’ the search engines, any result is likely to be temporary and you put your site at risk when its time for the next algorithm change.
The biggest thing you, as a content marketer can do to ‘get noticed’ by the search engines is to become an authority by human standards. For some reason we live in a world where online marketers are obsessed with understanding SEO while search algorithms are simply trying desperately to understand the needs of real people.
The solution in my mind is simple: some basic SEO is important, but it isn’t the most important part of your blog. In general you should forget about perfecting your page optimization and instead worry about producing content your readers will love.