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As marketers finish out the year with the most traditional SEO tactics such as canonicalization, link profiles, H1 optimization, and meta tags, many are completely oblivious to the fact that the SEO industry has changed completely thanks to one, burgeoning trend.
Yes, this trend may even be described as disruptive. What am I referring to?
What Is Machine Learning?
Machine learning is just another form of artificial intelligence which gives computers the ability to learn without having to be programmed by humans. This means that as time progresses, computers will learn more and more to adapt and respond to all variations of human interactions online.
However, this type of technology is far from new. We have seen it with the introduction of self-driving cars as well as machines that have the ability to create illustrations. We are starting to see changes in the aviation industry in which aviation companies are beginning to deploy consumer-facing technology which will help to vastly improve customer service. And, perhaps its presence is most widely known on social media, particularly Facebook. Since the popular platform has changed from its EdgeRank algorithm to a new system, Facebook can now observe user behavior, so news feeds can be prioritized for each and every individual user based on their personal preferences.
However, it is only recently that we have gotten a glimpse into what type of effect this will have on online marketing, specifically in SEO.
How Is Machine Learning Changing SEO?
Google is a pioneer when it comes to the latest trends in technology and in the case of SEO, it is no different.
The company's drive to better understand their users and constantly improve its search results has led to their employing the use of machine learning. And to those who have been watching closely over the years, this should come as no surprise.
Google's RankBrain, has been adapting itself to our searches for quite some time now. You see, in 2007 content was not king, links were. Unfortunately, the more favor that Google showed towards the websites that contained the most links to other websites online, the more link spam ran rampant.
There had to be a change--a significant one. So, within the last three years, Google has dethroned links, to some extent, and made content one of the most important factors when it comes to ranking. Instead of counting the number of links a website has, Google and other search engines have become more interested in giving users exactly what they are looking for. And this tends to go much deeper than simple keywords.
By 2012, Google started its machine learning. Google’s machine-learning algorithm was first used to optimize advertising. Since this time, machine learning has been incorporated into the search algorithm in order to help determine a website's ranking factors. Search engines are now beginning to reward websites that are up-to-date, informative and put more stock in whole phrases rather than simple keywords.
Here Is How You Can Keep Up
So let's say that you are an experienced SEO practitioner. You know the most traditional methods. You are familiar with all of the tricks and techniques. What you need to consider now is how the users will actually interact with your page.
If you would like to keep up with machine learning, it is important that you keep one thing at the forefront of your mind: what matters most to the machine is user experience. This is because the better the user experience, the more the user is likely to be engaged.
Sure, you have quality information, and your website has been properly optimized, but if the user does not feel comfortable interacting with your page, then he or she is not likely to stay.
What this means is that SEO practitioners are going to have to put more of a focus on UX. If you are not familiar with UX best practices, you may even consider hiring an experienced designer. If you are up for the challenge, then you should be prepared to immerse yourself in what type of design will offer the best experience.
Ways To Improve Your UX
A huge part of ensuring that you keep up with machine learning is by offering a positive and unforgettable user experience. While this may seem like a no-brainer, there are many SEO practitioners who could stand a bit of improvement in this area.
Here are seven tips you should use to offer a great user experience.
Reduce the number of clicks.
If you want to ensure that your users have a great experience, it is essential that you don't make them do any more work than they absolutely have to. This means that everything on your website needs to be executed more efficiently. A great way to do this by reducing the number of clicks that your users need to do. Just a couple of examples of this is when users complete online transactions or when customers fill out forms.
Take pride in your visual design.
There are several ways in which visual design can provide value. It increases the perceived value of whatever product or service you are selling and customers will expect that what you offer is easy to use. It helps to increase the level of brand recognition. But most importantly, your visitors feel more comfortable with the idea of being more engaged. This means that when it comes to visual design, you should use a considerable amount of imagery, shapes, colors, and typography in order to improve user experience. It is important to remember that the small details count here. The first impression does matter, especially when your users have millions of other websites from which they can choose.
It is extremely important when designing your website for user-experience that you follow UI patterns. Your design needs to make sense no matter where you initiate. This is especially the case when it comes to your mobile platforms
Keep it simple.
Most people understand the importance of simplicity, but this concept can sometimes be thrown out the window when it comes to website design.
If you would like to ensure that your design is balanced and functional, then it is crucial that you remember that simplicity is key. This means that you should not try to be too clever or try any over-the-top gimmicks. Your users must always understand what direction your website is going in.
Allow room for mistakes.
The best UX designs are forgiving, meaning no matter what actions your users take they are easily reversible. And the actions that are not reversible should be protected with confirmation prompts which will give the user an opportunity to correct their mistake or back out of the process. For example, you may offer preview modes so that users can see the results before they actually choose the action. There are also certain instances in which the user may need to open their last browser in case the tab was accidentally closed.
Do away with clutter.
No matter how useful your information is, it will be useless if it is organized in a way that your users cannot understand. So when writing content, make sure that you divide it in a way that it is easy to take in. Too little content can result in a low ranking by Google. However, too much can overwhelm the user. A great way to make sure that you are not overwhelming them is by leaving enough white space between each section and paragraph. There needs to be a sense of contrast.
Get rid of all potential barriers.
When designing your website for the best users experience, keep in mind that there are certain instances in which tasks may be viewed as difficult. Even if they are not difficult, the simple perception can make a world of difference in whether or not the user stays. This may be something as simple as your onboarding process; if this seems hard or too time-consuming, then you will likely lose the user. So, you need to do your best to get rid of these particular barriers. And, what this means is that you make your users feel very smart when visiting your website.
The Ultimate Takeaway
This is not to say that you should suddenly scrap all of your SEO plans. The work you have done so far is not lost. Sure, there is definitely a rise in deep learning, but you must keep in mind that it takes time for SEO best practices to change; these changes will not happen overnight. They will indeed be gradual and allow you to adapt. Artificial intelligence is still somewhat reliant on humans and in the best case, it is still here to serve our best interests.
However, you should put much of your focus on optimizing your website for human use. Create content that everyone will enjoy, appreciate, and find very useful. The main goal here is to create happy users. And what this means is that you will either have to develop a deep interest in UX or higher a designer who will be able to help you with user testing and more.
No matter how much research you perform or how much of an expert you become, it is important to keep in mind that technology will always continue to evolve. And if you would like to continue to swim in an industry that one can easily sink, you must be vigilant about staying ahead of the trends. Continue to monitor the goals and attitude of large search engines such as Google.