Search Engine Optimization and the Google Search Rewrite

August 4, 2013

I read an amazing article called “In Mastering Machine Intelligence, Google Rewrites Search Engine Rules.” For a person who takes a casual interest in Google, the write up appears to be “about” artificial intelligence and search engine optimization or SEO.

For a Google watchers, the article contains a number of gem-like assertions and a couple of factoids that warrant discussion.

First, let’s look at the gem-like assertions.

Artificial intelligence. The article highlights the Google[x] Labs’ self-driving vehicle. This is a project nominally under the direction of the person who created an online learning system. The idea is that a self-driving vehicle demonstrates prowess in “artificial intelligence,” a term which is not defined. Another example is Google’s voice-to-text capability. The article emphasizes “artificial intelligence.” In my work, the performance of Google’s voice-to-text is more dependent on knowledgebases and brute force methods than “artificial intelligence.” The third example is embedded in this passage:

Google has finally started to figure out how to stop bad actors from gaming its crown jewel – the Google search engine. We say finally because it’s something Google has always talked about, but, until recently, has never actually been able to do.

The idea combines “artificial intelligence” with figuring out how search results have been shaped by search engine optimization experts. The idea behind SEO is that when a user enters a query, the search system displays the link to the Web page that the SEO expert is boosting. Relevance to the user? Well, maybe not so much. The result is that “relevance” is not longer precision and recall. Relevance is what I interpret as a spoof, a trick, or a cheat.

And what about SEO? Forget that I think SEO is a stepping stone to buying online advertising or paying money to appear in a results list. A more subtle version of this is the filtering that some news release vendors do to ensure that nothing enters the stream which is negative to a certain gatekeeper. Each of these actions contributes to distortion of search results. Users may get information which is incomplete or presented to advance a specific agenda such as the SEO expert’s client.

Here’s what the article says about SEO:

Google chasing down and excluding content from bad actors is a huge opportunity for web content creators. Creating great content and working with SEO professionals from inception through maintenance can produce amazing results. Some of our sites have even doubled in Google traffic over the past 12 months. So don’t think of Google’s changes as another offensive in the ongoing SEO battles. If played correctly, everyone will be better off now.

What’s between the examples of Google’s “artificial intelligence” and the blunt “factoid” that SEO is really important?

The answer is a series of tips about content. The idea is that a Web site which must render correctly on any device has to contain certain characteristics or features. I don’t want to repeat what’s in the source article, but I can flag three points that I found interesting:

  1. Keep sites simple. The author’s phrase is “clean, well-structured site architecture.” Now how many legacy sites are “clear and well structured”? In my experience, exactly zero. Legacy sites are everywhere. Anyone who has tried to reengineer a legacy site knows that the work required is like plastic surgery on an unattractive person — expensive and almost certain to disappoint. Talk is easy. Remediating a legacy site is something that few organizations in today’s financial environment embrace eagerly.
  2. Content: interesting, open, and original. Who creates knowingly uninteresting, closed, and imitative content? My thought is that SEO experts, marketing managers who do not know what makes content sing or just stand without stumbling, and folks who think they are a combination of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jane Austen. Remember college freshman English? Remember how many students cranked out disappointing essays week after week? Are those folks doing Web content? Some are.
  3. Markup. Yep, the glory of unstructured content sucks up processing cycles. The future belongs to tagged content which conforms to the guidelines promulgated by some large, irritable gorillas. Author tag? Insert it, now. Follow the rules or the “artificial intelligence” will give you a lower grade just like that college teacher grading those English 101 personal experience essays.

My reaction to this article is positive. Here’s why:

First, the summary of the problems with Google’s Web search system are clearly articulated. The author of the article has first hand experience dealing with queries that generate results which are surprising or unexpected.

Second, the article illustrates how the general perception of Google’s preeminent position in search has become part of the furniture of living. Even facts about flawed results do not tarnish the belief that Google’s artificial intelligence is outstanding and getting better.

Third, the unwavering support of SEO is exactly what the SEO experts need. Many firms have spent large sums of money on SEO only to see no significant impact. Some SEO activities make clients really happy? Is this because clients were clueless in the first place? Other SEO activities produce cancelled contracts. Is this because a particular site was demoted or removed from the index?

I urge you to read the article. Spend much money on SEO. Follow the guidelines for “better” content. Life will be good. Remember. One can buy traffic or use online advertising to produce visitors to a Web site. Are the visitors going to buy? Well, that’s not part of the source document’s analysis. Hire and SEO expert to explain the details.

Stephen E Arnold, August 4, 2013

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