What is the SEO? Introductive guide to search engines optimization
These are the three letters that drive our activities, that create problems to sites’ webmasters, developers and editors, that generate million of search results’ pages and as many about advices, suggestions and strategies: today we are going to take a step back and try to better define what is the SEO and what does it mean to do SEO nowadays, in a phase of constant evolution of the ranking work on search engines.
While the inexperienced and those new to the world of the Web generally see SEO as a series of off-limits strategies with which to try to fool search engines, perhaps confusing old practices or black hat SEO techniques such as regularity, in reality, the activity of optimizing site visibility on search engines is fundamental, and it is also Google that reminds us of this and explains it to us in a simple way.
What does SEO mean
From the grammar perspective, SEO is an acronym that stands for the initials of the english terms Search Engine Optimization. By extension, SEO term also refers to the actual person that deals with this activity professionally, offering support for the development and enhancing of online projects.
In practice, then, SEO means the process of improving a website to increase its visibility on Google, Microsoft Bing, and other search engines whenever people search online for products to buy that we sell, services that we provide, or information on topics in which we can claim deep expertise and/or experience (two elements that underlie the EEAT parameters that Google, for example, searches pages for).
Generally speaking, the higher the visibility of pages in search results, the greater the likelihood that our site will be found and clicked on. Ultimately, then, the goal of search engine optimization SEO work is to help attract visitors to the Web site who will become customers, readers, or an audience that keeps coming back.
As a Google guide explains, SEO serves virtually anyone who “owns, manages, monetizes, or promotes content online via Google Search,” and it is based on one essential principle: You must create a website for the benefit of users, and any optimization must be designed to improve the user experience. In this perspective, the search engine is only one of these users is the search engine, the one that helps everyone else find our content, and therefore we can also say that SEO helps search engines understand and present the content we publish on the site.
S.E.O. meaning, a clarification
Stepping back from grammatical definitions, SEO is a set of techniques and procedures one needs to improve a site’s position in search engines ranking, so to increase its visibility in free-of-charge results, generally called “pure” or “organic” ( here comes the expression “organic traffic” for those kind of visits gained by clicks generated from search engines pages), diversifying itself from SEM (search engine marketing), that rather also includes promotional and paid activities, the advertising.
Differences between SEO, SEM and SEA
It is therefore appropriate to try to understand the differences between SEO and SEM, first of all, in order to even better define the scope of operation of these activities.
SEM stands for search engine marketing or, as it is also commonly summarized, search marketing: thus, it is a type of digital marketing, and is usually the expression used in reference to the combination of SEO and SEA (or PPC) activities, intended to drive traffic through organic search and paid search, respectively.
Simply put, search marketing is the process of getting traffic and visibility from search engines through both paid and unpaid efforts, and in this view SEO is simply a part of SEM, the other side of the coin from SEA.
The latter acronym stands for Search Engine Advertising and defines a form of native Internet advertising, which involves buying ad space on search engine SERPs using targeted keywords, with cost based on market bids for those same queries in which the ads are placed. The system that powers this mechanism is called PPC, which stands for pay-per-click, and refers to the fact that advertisers pay every time one of their ads is clicked on.
Basically, advertisers bid on specific keywords or phrases for which they want their ads to appear in search engine results: when a user searches for one of these keywords or phrases, the advertiser’s ad will appear among the top results.
A key point is that, at the strategic business level, one should never think in terms of “SEO vs. SEA” (i.e., which is better) because these are complementary channels. It follows, then, that a brand should always work holistically on SEM, without choosing (if the budget allows) to focus only on paid channels or only on optimizations for organic SEO.
Why SEO is important
However, there are other considerations that should prompt us to invest in SEO as a priority. In fact, by its very nature, this activity is the basis of holistic marketing, in which everything a brand does is important, because it cares (and cares) about analyzing so many angles related to user demands and practically optimizing all the components – visible and invisible – of the site that can influence the user’s navigation and make their relationship with the proposed content positive.
If we can understand what our users want, we can apply this awareness in page content, precisely, but also in simplifying the interaction path, and then in social media properties and, above all, in campaigns, both paid and organic.
SEO is in fact generates real business results for brands, companies and organizations of all sizes, and it is a channel that can direct the traffic we need to achieve key business goals (such as conversions, visits or sales), but also build trust, because a website that ranks well is generally considered authoritative or trustworthy, which are key elements that Google usually rewards with better rankings (triggering a sort of virtuous circle, so to speak).
And the numbers confirm the value and importance of SEO – and, in particular, well-done SEO! – because, first of all, organic search generates 53 percent of all website traffic (according to the most recent surveys on the subject), and then nearly 70 percent of an online experience starts with a search engine: whenever people want to go somewhere, do something, find information, research or buy a product/service, their journey typically starts by opening Google (which remains “the” most widely used search engine in the world)-although, today, the landscape is increasingly fragmented, with, for example, more and more people turning to Amazon for product searches, or to social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.
Trillion of searches are conducted each year, and organic is often the main source of traffic for websites (according to Google, SEO traffic is 10 times higher than social media traffic and 5 times higher than PPC traffic), making it essential to be SEO-friendly (literally, “search engine friendly”) on any platform where people may search for the brand or business. An additional critical element then comes from the fact that search engine results pages (the SERPs) are super-competitive, full of PPC ads and search features that take away visibility from organic links
Another aspect to consider, then, concerns the effects of good SEO work, which, unlike other marketing channels, is more sustainable in the long term: traffic from social media is often unreliable and increasingly fractional, while paid traffic ends the same time a paid campaign ends. Optimization efforts, on the other hand, remain and can drive success and returns over time, though of course it is ongoing and constant work, as we shall see.
What SEO is
Returning, then, to the theoretical and practical meaning, SEO is a simple, multidisciplinary subject in a complex and variable ecosystem that studies and applies a set of strategies that serve to support the growth of a site’s visibility on search engines, a key element in increasing visits and thus increasing the revenue derived from the site itself.
When we use Google to make a search (query), the engine responds with a page of results called SERP (acronym for Search Engine Results Pages); the classic SERP contains 10 blue links, which are the results positioned according to the criteria of the algorithm (but today other additional features and multimedia results that enrich, and change, the user experience are common), and each position has a different “weight” in terms of its ability to attract the user’s click, which is the ultimate goal of each site.
It is important to consider that even though SEO is changing by the day, there are two binding parameters that remain priorities: users have needs and they are looking online for answers. The goal of search engines is to process all the data in the archives and provide a useful answer, the best according to their knowledge: what changes are the technology and predictive algorithms that define what this useful and relevant answer is from time to time.
Working on SEO therefore means many things and combines many disciplines, but more than anything else it encapsulates the search for a strategic global vision in line with constant change.
The areas of focus of SEO: the branches and specialties
SEO is thus a big puzzle, involving various areas, and it also has a number of subgenres or areas of specialization, each of which is different from “normal SEO” in its own way, generally requires additional tactics, and presents different challenges.
The five main specialties, which in turn determine what SEO activities are, can be defined as follows:
- E-commerce SEO, which additionally focuses on optimizing category pages, product pages, faceted navigation, internal linking structures, product images, product reviews, schema management, and more.
- Enterprise SEO, the large-scale SEO. Typically, this means managing a Web site (or multiple Web sites/brands) with more than 1 million pages, or domains of huge organizations (such as those making millions or billions in revenue per year). This type of work typically involves more complex business management, and for example, SEO changes must be implemented by a development team and each step requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders.
- International SEO. This is global SEO performed for international companies that have multi-regional or multilingual Web sites and also require optimization for international search engines such as Baidu or Naver.
- Local SEO. Its goal is to optimize Web sites to achieve visibility in local organic search engine results, particularly by obtaining reviews and managing business listings.
- News SEO. For news sites, speed is of utmost importance, particularly to make sure you get into Google’s index as quickly as possible and appear in surfaces such as Google Discover, Top Stories and Google News. The work starts with understanding best practices for paywalls, section pages, news-specific structured data and more.
In general, however, there are no “universal” truths or big secrets to SEO-the truth is that no matter the scope, type of site or specific goals, it is critical to engage in all phases of the work to succeed in increasing visibility, clicks, traffic, authority, conversions, sales and revenue.
SEO optimization, areas of intervention and stages of activity
Wanting to summarize the discussion as much as possible, it can be said that SEO interventions focus particularly on two major areas, within which there are then further subdivisions.
That is, we have the block of on-page SEO, which encompasses all types of activities and interventions that can be performed literally on the page, that is, within one’s own site, and then the other large element of off-page SEO, which instead focuses on efforts to be made on third-party sites, outside precisely one’s own pages.
On-page SEO mainly includes tactics related to technical SEO, which serve to make a site’s structure and content palatable to search engines, easy for their crawlers to access and index, and smooth and fast for human users to navigate, and content work. That is, SEO copywriting in the broader sense, which aims to produce content that is appreciated by readers and search engines, responds to the user’s search intent, and offers optimal answers to their queries.
After ensuring the technical optimization of the pages and working on the creation of strategic and quality content, the final link to achieve high rankings, among the first results returned when a user searches Google for a certain keyword related to their industry, is to ensure adequate dissemination of this content: an effective SEO campaign, in fact, cannot neglect the content promotion phase, which is commonly performed through link building or backlink acquisition strategies, but can also take advantage of social or forms such as content marketing, citations and brand building and strengthening tools.
An introductive guide to search engines optimization
We talked about search engines, as plural, but in reality most part of SEO activities are strictly tied to Google, the absolutely most used system in the whole world, and to its algorithms, that remain “mysterious”.
To be precise, we have a more or less vague idea that currently the algorithms that animate Google’s engine use about 200 ranking factors to bring SERPs to life, but their exact weight and characteristics are known perhaps only to Googlers (those who work on Big G’s Search system). All the rest of the world tries to put in place interventions that can be effective in achieving the goal of making the algorithm appreciate sites (and their keywords) more, net of the constant updates that are made and that mess up again the certainties achieved.
Google’s guidelines are the real starting point
A reference point does exist, and is represented by the document “Introductive guide to search engines optimization (SEO)“, a.k.a Google’s guidelines for this activity, which contain guidance and instructions for anyone who “owns, manages, monetizes, or promotes online content via Google Search,” whether “owner of a successful growing business, webmaster of a dozen different sites, SEO expert in a web agency, or DIY SEO specialist who is interested in information about the mechanics of Google Search.”
No secrets, but a set of best practices and fundamental principles for any web page that, if implemented effectively, can generate “a noticeable impact on user experience and site performance in organic search results.”
The starting point is simple, that is, the site must be designed and optimized to meet the needs of users, considering the search engine one of those users, but with a special feature: helping all other “surfers” find that content.
SEO is a strategic and very practical discipline
So, search engines’ optimization means to work so that Google and the other search engines could understand and present a website’s contents.
In practical terms, SEO is a discipline that refers to technical and strategical aspects: the keyword research to rightly choose the keywords to focus on, the backlink profile management (both inbound and outbound links), the optimization of textual contents and images, the improving of the site’s structure, the analysis of both market and competitors, the attention on the user’s experience, the speed and the chance to also access from mobile devices and so on, always swimming inside the required rules (written or not) to try and avoid any Google’s penalty.
The history of the name SEO (and the attempt to make it a brand name)
As mentioned in talking about the history of the Internet, according to U.S. studies ante-litteram SEO would have been born as early as 1991, when the first website was launched online followed immediately by many others: the following crowding made it necessary to structure and improve the accessibility of the content provided, leading to the creation of the first search engine and then, a year later, to the birth of Google.
It is with Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s search engine that we begin to talk more specifically about ranking activities, and many, in fact, locate the debut of SEO between 1997 and 1998. Certainly, in 1997 Danny Sullivan created Search Engine Watch, perhaps the first site to provide advice on how to have good search engine results, and in 1999 the first search marketing conference, Search Engine Strategies (SES), was organized, helping to spread the expression around the world.
To effectively reconstruct the chronology of the history of SEO, however, we have to rely on the voices of some of the pioneers of the work in the digital sector; in particular, the most credible theory with respect to the authorship of the name is the one claimed by Bob Heyman in an (old) article in SearchEngineLand, in which he recounts and reconstructs the baptism.
The inception of the word is supposed to date back to the summer of 1995, when the Internet marketing agency Cybernautics – founded by Heyman himself along with partner Leland Harden – found itself working on behalf of a U.S. rock band, Jefferson Starship. The website created by the agency’s developers was only appearing on the fourth page on a search engine (this is pre-Google time!) for the query “Jefferson Starship,” and the band’s manager called at night to complain about the situation.
The word SEO was born in 1995
The story is also reported in the book “Net Results: Web Marketing that Works,” published in 1998 by Rick E. Bruner, who also reports an excerpt of the more-than-angry phone call Bob received: basically, the band was on the road and the manager wanted to show a club promoter that Jefferson Starship was hip enough to have their own site. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember the exact URL (www.jstarship.com, now defunct), so he resorted to a search engine but, to his considerable annoyance, the band’s home page came nowhere near the top positions in the results.
The next morning, Bob assembled the Cybernautics team and explained that “mastering the art of search engine ranking was a new priority for the company,” calling this new field Search Engine Optimization and hiring the first SEOM (Search Engine Optimization Manager) after a short time.
The effects of the first SEO job
The article also describes what the first optimization work on the band’s site was: at the time, organic search results were dominated by keyword density, that is, they simply evaluated the number of times the keyword appeared on the web page. The Cybernautics designers had instead worked more rationally, without overdoing it, but in doing so the dry keyword Jefferson Starship appeared less frequently than fan pages about the band.
Bob Heyman then had the intuition to have his designers put the words Jefferson Starship on the page with a tiny black text on a black background (basically, a tactic that now falls under Black Hat SEO!) and, before long, the site’s ranking shot up to the number one position, to the enormous satisfaction of the band, the manager, and the agency itself.
Controversies over the name
Since then, the term SEO has become something of a shared heritage of the practitioner community, which has contributed to both the spread of the word and the growth of the business. Yet, between 2007 and 2010 there was a case that threatened to change history, with Jason Gambert’s attempt to claim authorship over SEO and even apply for a trademark on this acronym.
Jason Gambert’s trademark attempt
Basically, the unknown Gambert-who, as the story went at the time, had no visibility in the SEO community or a referenced website-had applied for a trademark on SEO to the U.S. agency that deals with this issue, the United States Patent and Trademark Office. After a series of rejections, he had succeeded in getting his application granted in 2008, which would then be processed and analyzed for a final decision.
Gambert was self-proclaimed inventor of the word SEO, which he first used via email just in 2007, and his intent was to register the term to prevent agencies from selling SEO processes that did not meet the requirements and standards set by Gambert himself and the committee of supervisors he would create. And therefore, if he had won, the word SEO today would not have the same meaning or indicate the same activity, because he (and his BBB) would have basically decided what it should indicate and contain.
The reaction of the SEO community
The SEO community, in its infancy but nonetheless already quite vibrant, found out about this affair almost accidentally thanks to Sarah Bird, General Counsel of SEOmoz (today’s Moz), who from the company blog recounted Jason Gambert’s attempt and called everyone to action.
In addition to SEOMoz, ArteWorks.biz, Jonathan Hochman, and Rhea Drysdale also opposed the trademark request, and after a long series of appeals, hearings, and bureaucratic processes, it was the latter who made her case and won, on behalf of the entire community.
Who is Rhea Drysdale, the savior of SEO
Then 23 years old and active in the SEO industry since 2004, Drysdale decided to invest time and money to fight Gambert’s trademark attempt on behalf of the entire digital industry. And while other oppositions were rejected by the USPTO, she held out for a full two years, until March 11, 2010, when the U.S. agency officially halted Gambert’s trademark registration by accepting her argument.
It took her two years and nearly $20,000 (personally spent) to fight this battle and, at the end of this grueling affair, she then got the rightful recognition from the community, which contributed with a campaign of donations to make her at least recoup her financial investments.
SEO’s father and the savior of the name
And so, if we can use the term SEO regularly and freely today, we owe it (probably) to Bob Heyman, who coined the expression in 1995, and certainly to Rhea Drysdale, who exactly 10 years ago succeeded in blocking Jason Gambert’s appropriation attempt.
Google explains what SEO is
Leaving history behind and returning to practical matters, Google has also tried several times to explain its view of SEO, and in particular has devoted an episode of its Search for Beginners series on YouTube – focuses devoted to the basics of the world of Web and Search (especially for eCommerce owners)-to answering two frequently asked questions: what is SEO and what is it for? The video does not offer any sensational news, but it is a useful reference for understanding what Search Engine Optimization activities are and how to use these strategies to bring new customers to the site, with indications of methods and best practices for increasing visibility and the possibility of finding the site in the search system.
What SEO is for
“Your website must attract new potential customers,” the voice of the Google video begins, adding that “appearing in search results” is one way to achieve this goal. Methods of getting your site to appear “when people search for what you sell, for example children’s clothes, are called SEO, or search engine optimization.”
And here comes the first explanation: according to Google, “SEO is like a storefront,” which we must “make interesting and eye-catching,” consists of “using the right words and providing relevant information to potential customers on your websites,” and can be done in various ways.
What the first SEO techniques are
The first step involves our site itself: we need to make sure it “contains useful information such as inventory, selection, pricing, location and opening hours.” The video then also lists best practices for having sites that are potentially attractive to users and search engines, namely:
- Create short, meaningful page titles.
- Use headings that communicate the topic of the page.
- Include a detailed “About Us” section, including contact information, a description of the business, possibly countries of operation and, if applicable, location and store hours.
The work of image optimization
In addition, if the website includes and contains images and videos, it is necessary to “describe them with the alt text tag and other attributes,” which serve to make the content better understood by Google and to give possibility of understanding also to users with disabilities.
In the case of eCommerce, the use of images is even more important because it allows you to illustrate what the site is selling and to “describe items using keywords such as brands, colors and descriptions.” Image SEO optimization work is also about taking care of the accuracy of images, the wording of descriptions, and the relevance of page titles.
Checking the site’s presence on Google
Of course, it is also important to “pay attention to the site’s actual presence in search results for business-related queries and when people search for the products you offer, using techniques to check whether the site appears on Google.”
Avoid black hat SEO tactics
At the tail end, there is an inevitable mention of tactics that are not recommended: “We’ve talked about positive ways to increase your site’s visibility, but there are also not-so-positive methods,” Google tells us. Among these black strategies “are things like adding invisible text to get people to view content,” but also “other sneaky techniques designed to cheat indexing algorithms” that “should be avoided.”
The video highlights how Google has “many ways to detect techniques intended to manipulate search rankings,” which are a safeguard to “ensure that search results are relevant and accurate for users.” In practical terms, then, “most of these black hat techniques, by themselves, do not work and, in the long run, cause a great waste of time and money.”
Google’s tools for doing SEO
The last thing they remind us from Mountain View is that “Google provides tools to help you manage SEO,” such as Search Console, the free tool that helps manage your site and monitor its performance, which “even sends you an email if a problem occurs so you can focus on business.”
SEO needs to be simple, according to the Googlers
We mentioned earlier the Googlers, the public voices working in various branches of the search engine, and over the years it happened that some of the familiar faces of the company took a stand to have their say about SEO.
In particular, these Mountain View exponents often send almost between the lines an unambiguous message: search engine optimization work must go back to being simple, targeting the basic goals for a website’s growth and ranking on Google, without getting lost in excessive philosophies and interventions that can, on the contrary, produce negative effects.
Simple and effective SEO
The most direct on this topic was Gary Illyes, who, in an appointment with the AMA on Reddit , expressly stated that his hope is that SEO professionals go back to the basics of their work (i really wish SEOs went back to the basics, he wrote) and specifically that they focus first and foremost on making sites navigable/scannable, using the expression “MAKE THAT DAMN SITE CRAWLABLE” that immediately went viral.
Gary Illyes’ advice
Google‘s Webmaster Trend Analyst also joked about the waste of effort that SEOs generally make, who instead of minding their own business and improving the basics of their site in concert with developers get “distracted” by silly updates (silly updates, he makes clear) that add nothing on the usability or user (and search engine) experience front or focus on terms invented by rank trackers, which cause them to lose sight of the primary focus of their work.
The Kondo method applied to SEO
Around the same days came a “tweet” from Danny Sullivan, who took a cue from one of the phenomena of the moment (the series Tidying up with Marie Kondo, which has been watched on Netflix) to make his final suggestion to those working in the field of search engine optimization.
“Only do what gives your visitors joy.”
— The Marie Kondo guide to SEO.
If there was one. There’s not, but I think someone should do a talk or panel with this theme. Because Marie Kondo.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) February 11, 2019
According to Google’s public Search Liaison, there would be a Marie Kondo method applicable to SEO, which can be summarized in the objective phrase “Only do what gives your visitors joy.”
Don’t go overboard with techniques
In the following Twitter message, Sullivan also added that this would be the ideal advice to be given to all SEOs, but not to go overboard with the techniques proposed by the “Japanese expert of home tidying up,” which are far too extreme (so much so that, with timely irony, well-known SEO Gianluca Fiorelli pointed out to him that “if we literally followed Marie Kondo our sites would have to be made of only one page!”).
The konmari for websites: eliminate the superfluous and focus only on what gives joy
But what is the Marie Kondo method and how could it be applied to a site? As mentioned, the trend for tidy advice given by this Japanese personality stems from the airing of a show on Netflix, which had a very high return in terms of worldwide views. Kondo’s philosophy is based on a two-pronged approach, both pragmatic and spiritual, and can be summarized in the principle of keeping only those objects in the home that “spark joy,” as Sullivan later declined in a Web version.
Konmari (Marie Kondo’s method as it is known on social) has a rather radical practical application, which is to get rid of and throw away every object that, upon reflection, one discovers one does not really need and is not fond of.
There has been no shortage of early internetside declinations of the system, such as cleaning up social contacts, but the “potential” for a Web site has only been sketched out by Danny Sullivan. Concretely, we can say that certainly konmari applied to SEO could give us benefits, because a cleaning and optimization of pages that no longer generate traffic or that propose outdated or poor quality content could give benefits to the site, but it is also interesting the focus on users that the expert Googler includes in his tweet.
What a simple SEO means
This is not the first time Sullivan has urged SEOs or otherwise webmasters not to underestimate the human aspect in the content production phase, always stressing the importance of focusing on the quality of articles and the goal of providing added value to the reader’s experience. And it is precisely this that could be the “joy” to be given to visitors, the presence on the site of quality content, interesting articles, an easy navigation system, and so on: in short, the classic basic SEO tips, referring once again to simplicity.
From Google tips on site structure
Precisely on navigability and, more specifically, on the best structure to give to a site, John Mueller also spoke during one of the classic Hangouts with webmasters around the world. The Search Advocate issued a further call for simplicity, admitting that conventional site structures are popular because they work.
Their advantage, particularly over a flat type structure (examined in the virtual “chat”), comes from the implementation of a hierarchical type of site architecture, which provides key and obvious markers of what is fundamental and priority for the pages of the website and the way in which the same categories, pages, etc. are linked together.
Hierarchical structure is the simplest and most efficient
From this cue, we can also draw another indication that confirms something we have often focused on, namely the importance of well-organized internal link structuring, which can provide Google with valuable context to better interpret the importance and significance of each of the web pages.
In addition, there should never be any orphan pages, unrelated to the others, and pillar content should be linked to both on the page and throughout the site-this provides Google with an effective indication to understand the context, scan and make sense of all onpage material.
Is SEO dead? Far from it, it is alive and healthy
We have dealt with these topics more specifically, as evidenced by some of the links added above (to which we refer for more specific insights), and so this simple and introductory guide to SEO ends only with a thought, taken from an old post by Ivano Di Biasi that still remains very relevant: SEO is not dead, but it is a complex, constant and rigorous activity, whose results are seen in the medium to long term and which is often approached in a superficial or coarse way by self-styled experts.
And that is why we still talk about it all the time, trying to intercept the new developments in SEO, to understand what will be the concrete innovations of voice searches or artificial intelligence systems and so on.
Even according to Google, SEO has a long future ahead
The expression SEO is dead, cyclically comes back into vogue, especially now with advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence applied to Search that seem to cast a pessimistic shadow over the fate of the activity of manually optimizing a site’s pages. Yet it is Google itself that reassures and comforts professionals in the field, with John Mueller in particular saying he is convinced that search engines will not become so advanced as to make SEO obsolete, and therefore there will still be room for professional site optimization work.
The future of SEO according to Google
The topic was the focus of an English Google SEO office-hours hangout, the question-and-answer session posed by users to John Mueller, Search Advocate from Google’s Search relations team.
One of the participants explicitly asked the well-known public face of the company what his vision for the future of SEO was, in light of concerns about the possible decline of the business due to continued advances in search engines that make optimization work almost redundant.
Mueller completely disagrees with this pessimistic view and clearly states that, in his opinion, SEO will never become obsolete and useless.
Mueller: SEO will not be obsolete despite AI and machine learning
The Googler explained his position further, starting with what usually worries people and, in particular, those in the industry: the fear that, given the continuous and constant advances in technology and machine learning (as in the recent case of MUM or other AI applications presented at Google I/O 2021), “Google’s algorithms will get to the point where they automatically understand every website, making SEO obsolete because no one will need to do it.”
From his point of view, therefore, even if machine learning continues to evolve, it will not get to a point where it will be advanced that Google can understand websites and everything about them without any additional optimization.
Leveraging the tools and adapting to new developments
Rather, the evolution of tools offers great opportunities for those working on sites, because “with all these new technologies there are new tool ways to look at your site, and that can make it easier to create really good content and clear structures for your site,” Mueller adds.
From this point of view, SEO specialists can look optimistically at what happened (or didn’t happen) with the web design industry, where today’s most modern and advanced CMSs however have not made professional and human website development obsolete, because the web design industry has been able to adapt and evolve in the face of the new problems to be faced.
The Search Advocate urges people to look at the way “things have evolved over the last 10 to 20 years: in the beginning, you wrote your PHP code and created your HTML, and it was a lot of work; over time, all these CMSs have evolved, and essentially anyone can jump in and create a Web site without really having to understand HTML or the basics of the server side.”
The evolution of SEO work on sites
For John Mueller, SEO is going in the same direction, and in the near future some of the things we do manually, such as writing H1 and H2 tags, may eventually be handled by the website’s CMS.
This is precisely the future of SEO as described by Mueller, that is, an activity largely automated by various tools, where, however, human input still remains fundamental and central.
To make this clearer, the Search Advocate gives the example of loading the main content of a Web page and having the CMS automatically optimize the heading tags: the SEO can delegate this compilation, but he or she will necessarily have to check that everything is adequate with respect to the strategy he or she intends to follow.
“I think the evolution will continue and there will be more and more tools available that will allow you to do more and more things in a way that works well enough for the search engines: so, it’s not that SEO work will go away, but rather it will evolve,” the Googler says precisely. “For example, perhaps instead of manually editing the H2 and H1 tags you will delegate this task to a CMS that makes sure that the most important content is already included as a page header.”
An activity that is learned in the field
And so, it is true that machine learning continues to refine the ability of search engines to understand and that AI tools can (and will increasingly) automate various processes, but for John Mueller these are not negative aspects for the future of SEO, which will still not become obsolete even if, for example, CMSs optimize “more things for search engines on their own.”
The good fortune of SEO and SEOs, arguably, is that this activity is learned on the field and is by nature extremely adaptive: just look at the results of the survey launched on Twitter by Carolyn Lyden (and reported by Seroundtable), which asked the community “how did you learn SEO?”
The overwhelming majority of professionals-77.4 percent-revealed that they learned SEO “practically and on the field,” while a 10.7 percent took do-it-yourself courses, 9.8 percent said they had a mentor to guide their learning, and only 2.2 percent said they took specific courses.
The picture is likely to change as new generations of specialists come on the scene, but in any case, this activity remains extremely practical, and therefore more likely to be ready to take advantage of the tools that are available to us rather than be crushed by novelties that can undermine the theoretical foundations.