SearchLove is a two-day conference organised by the people behind Distilled which covers some of the newest and most exciting things going on in the world of digital marketing. Attracting industry leaders from around the world, and some of the most well-known speakers in the field, the conference has grown to cult status and now hosts events in San Diego, Boston, and London.

Whilst each and every talk this year had some great takeaways and their own unique thoughts on digital marketing, there was a clear overall theme of the talks- digital marketing is changing. You can no longer base a strategy upon just meeting the known elements of the google algorithm – it’s unreliable and leaves your site vulnerable to updates – so instead it’s time to target your SEO to meet the needs of the user.

Why is SEO changing?

If you’re looking to change the way that your agency or in-house team is approaching SEO strategy, the first step to success has to come from getting the entire team on board. Without the crucial buy-in from the key decision-makers its unlikely that you’ll be able to action any real change. To do this, you must explain why these thoughts on how SEO is changing are so important to action today, rather than in the future.

It’s all about the Human Algorithm

Whilst we can speculate about algorithm updates and try to prepare for changes in SEO, if we continually work to an unknown algorithm then as an industry we will be consistently fire-fighting rather than looking at the wider strategy. The one thing that will remain unchanged is the fact that humans purchase our products, so why not market to their algorithm rather than a robot’s?
Ian Lurie spoke about this ‘future-proof algorithm’ as a means of approaching how we build an SEO strategy today:

Google’s work is becoming increasingly human

Google Now is evidence of a notable shift in the way Google works, as its role from major search engine provider to an intelligent, personal assistant gains momentum. Tom Anthony predicted that this trend will only continue into the future; as we see the rise of driverless cars, NEST (Google sister company that provides home automation equipment) and a better understanding of compound, implicit queries. With the search engine able to understand more and more about human behaviour, it’s not Google trying to force people to spend more time on their computers, instead Google is trying to gain a better understanding of the humans it’s looking to target.

Understand that machines aren’t “fair”

Everyone is guilty of feeling like the way their site is treated may not be fair; a site with a ‘suspect’ backlink profile might be ranking above yours and that just doesn’t seem right, after all the hours you put in to outreach. But what if it’s outperforming you on another factor that you simply cannot see?
As the majority of the ranking algorithm is run by robots, the qualitative judgement of whether it’s fair on every site is rarely made. Humans are the ones who determine if something is fair or not, which means they’ll also be the ones who choose whether they’re going to purchase or not from your site. If your brand, and its website is produced to a high quality for humans then that’s the best you can do to ensure it succeeds in line with the work you’ve put in.

How to Implement This

Understanding why it’s important to adapt your approach to SEO is key to actioning change, so some of the experts also spoke about some of the best ways to do this:

Identify your Customer’s Moments

The content on your site and marketing collateral you produce needs to be able to target potential customers at the moments where they need you. It’s important to identify what your audience is doing, and how they’re thinking at that time, rather than just targeting keywords.

Jono used the example of a person shopping for a new TV; is the awareness stage really where they start browsing types of TV or is it the point where they’re looking for a way to fix their old one? Part of SEO needs to be identifying all of these moments where someone is visiting the SERPs as a potential point of contact with customers, rather than to only be chasing keywords which have previously converted for you.

Optimise for what would happen IF you ranked

In order to optimise your site for people rather than robots, part of this comes from optimising the process of when a user does end up on your site. Whilst the time spent on page is unlikely to be a ranking signal (For more on this you should check out Rand Fishkin’s talk), Will Critchlow covered the impact of short-clicks on rankings.

Your site needs to reduce the number of short-clicks it generates by ranking relevant pages for strong keywords, and providing the audience with what they need. Traditionally this task was seen to the be the work of a user experience expert or web designer but it is now an increasingly important part of your SEO strategy.

Whilst this all sounds like a lot of change for how to approach an SEO strategy, one of the main things to remember is that change like this needs to be iterative (Ian Lurie). These suggestions look for what SEO may become in the future, not tactics that will immediately work. In the short-term we can’t simply dismiss the algorithm and the work that’s been extremely successful across the SEO industry, but longer term we can reduce our reliance and vulnerability to algorithm updates with strategies like this.