After almost 15 years in the search business it looks like Google has finally found what it was looking for. Despite the fact that every single person on the planet already uses Google to find what they’re looking for (sorry Bing), there were still a few kinks that needed to be ironed out.
We in the SEO industry (Search Engine Optimization for the uninitiated) play in the Google sandbox every day. For years we played word games, sorting out different iterations and combinations of syllables, looking for the perfect arrangement that would result in higher placement on Google’s infamous list of blue links. We hustled and jockeyed for position, bought AdWords and situated ourselves in the mysterious hierarchy of PageRank with links – bought, traded and sold – wearing our little white, grey and sometimes black hats as we meandered through Google’s bustling virtual marketplace. For years the rules of engagement were pretty clear, keyword-stuffing is frowned upon (but kind of works), update (or at least rearrange) your pages regularly, and get links at all costs (but don’t get caught).
Then came Panda. Unlike the cute, furry, black and white mammal for which it was named, Google’s Panda was a Shiva-like destroyer and devourer of PageRank that gobbled generic content farms like popcorn shrimp. Amidst the carnage that lay in its wake, it became clear that the Internet Gods were angry and lowly content farmers would be forced to change their ways. Then came another black and white plague across the land, the web-spam clearing Penguin update which aimed to reduce the amount of clutter clogging up genuine search results. Both updates were adjustments to Google’s algorithms that favored fresh, original content over the bogus junk sites that try to game the system but in the process end up littering the Internet with the detritus of empty promises for longer lasting fun.
Penguin and Panda reached the mainstream in a Wall Street Journal article that highlighted small businesses that were hit hard by the updates which resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue for some and more accurate search results, ideally, for the rest. With the streets clear and traffic moving along smoothly, Google moved the next piece on its chessboard for web domination.
This week Google announced that it was restructuring its search capability around something called the Knowledge Graph. Rather than search for a particular string of words, the Knowledge Graph corroborates information from a wide variety of sources including Wikipedia, the CIA World Fact Book and the Freebase Metaweb project to provide a search result that is associated with an actual entity in the real world rather than a semantic query, adding meaning to search. Now search results pages will be accompanied by a widget packed with relevant information related to your query. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Google’s algorithms are capable of searching text, optical data (colors, shapes), foreign languages and real-time occurrences which make them increasingly difficult to deceive with grammatical trickery. The final piece of the puzzle and the wooden stake through the heart of the last of the great SEO cons is social search. Google has its all-seeing eye on the holy grail of any exclusive relationship. Trust. If your friends and your friends’ friends and the friends of your friends all say that something is worthwhile, chances are it’s trustworthy. No amount of deck chair-shuffling will prevent the sinking of a titanic fraud once the reaping begins. We’re all part of the Google conspiracy now. With the virtual world beginning to resemble the real world of real things and real people, sock puppets, spam bots and hacky content don’t stand a chance. In the new paradigm, there’s only one rule for survival: Be good or be dead.