Sante J Achille informs SEOs that thinking like a machine, and challenging yourself to truly understand the inner workings of today’s algorithms, can reap massive dividends in 2023.
Sante says: “This is a challenge that stems from a paradigmatic shift. If you want to manage SEO at a certain level in terms of quality and an understanding of what’s really happening, you need to delve into the nuts and bolts of SEO. What is really driving the fundamentals upon which the algorithms have been built?
You can start at the very beginning, with Natural Language Processing (NLP), and try to understand what is behind it. Not everyone can tackle it at the level of sophistication that may be required. There is a lot of Mathematics involved and computer science too. However, everyone can do their best to push the envelope and push their limits to the point where they feel like they can’t take it anymore.
If you go down this path you can get a feel for what’s going on and truly understand things. It might be a difficult road ahead, especially if you don’t have a technical background, but it’ll definitely be the best approach to better understand exactly what’s going on. If you want to at least try to understand the goal and general direction you’re moving in, NLP is definitely what you need to do.”
How have machines changed the way we think we can use a word like that?
“Let’s say you go back and study the basics of NLP. If anybody starts venturing off on this path they’ll read of things like ‘a bag of words.’ There was a time when articles and so-called stop words like ‘a’, ‘the’, and ‘them’ were excluded because search engines couldn’t understand them. Now they can actually understand a sentence as it is.
There’s been quite a jump in terms of the evolution of algorithms. They’re smarter in this regard - for example with the BERT algorithm. There’s an interesting video from Google when you search for the BERT algorithm. It helps you understand the technical jargon and embrace the general philosophy and approach.”
Now bots are better at understanding natural human writing, does that mean it’s less necessary to incorporate keyword phrases within natural writing?
“No, it is still necessary to incorporate keywords. You should appreciate how far a search engine has developed an understanding of a certain niche. Things change significantly. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to algorithms and verticals. Different businesses have different ways of behaving and processing things.
The best thing to do is to research the SERPs and put lots of work in. You’ll have a certain list of terms that work and your client can come back with a set of money terms. They know what terms are converting from the analytics. You’ll want to go into the SERP and look to see how many other competitors are using those keywords. If you move away from that keyword - keeping the same meaning but changing it slightly - you can see if the same pages show up on the different SERPs. They may change and that will give you a clue; a signal that says, if they are shifting then there is a difference. Fortunately, the algorithm has the ambition to fully understand even the smallest of differences.
It’s an algorithm and it can fail, so you need to look at those phrases and the system/pages that are ranking. Try to understand the intent behind those pages. You might have a main phrase you’re looking for, but there are going to be other concepts around that phrase. You can push these so that Google understands that people searching for that phrase are interested in the concepts surrounding the main focus of that particular SERP.”
What are the trends that you’re seeing in the SERPs? What’s Google preferring to rank at the moment?
“A bit of everything actually, especially if they are not sure about your intention. If the query you’re throwing at them doesn’t disclose a clear intent, it’ll be populated with things that are related to the search but completely different. It’s no longer a case of looking at the SERP and searching for some kind of a signal, clue, chain, or connecting thread because they can be totally unrelated. This will depend on what Google see as the best options around which they can develop an understanding of your query and answer it in the best possible way. They’ll give you a menu of sorts.”
Does Google infer intent from search history?
“Yes, you can see this by clicking. For example, you can have up to 10 browsers clicking on the SERPs. With different browsers, you can use a proxy that will allow you to search from different countries to try and understand the general picture. What you observe will be different from the general picture, which will in turn be different from what visitors see. The uncertainty principle that was spoken about in 2022 still rings true. You need to take the order of magnitude of things to survive and make a sustainable, stable proposition - based on this uncertainty principle as a driver.”
What is your preferred way of defining intent for a keyword phrase? What do you do as a result of defining intent for a keyword phrase?
“The best guide is the Search Console. Somebody will write a piece and you can optimise it, let it brew, and then go back to the Search Console after maybe a month. Here you can see the search terms Google has proposed for the page. You can also check the metrics like impressions and click-through rate, to see how they fit into the bigger picture of what the page looks or reads like. Is it actually matching the intentions we had when we wrote the piece? Do they fit the queries and the searches that Google has associated with your page? If it’s not showing up then you’ll need a bit more of a boost.
You’ll need to do some link building and promoting on that page to give it a bit more of a push. It might also be going off in the wrong direction, which would mean that the algorithm is failing you and isn’t understanding what you wanted to say on that page. That’s where going back to the drawing board and tweaking it pays off. Your SEO skills must be sharp and you must have the intuition to align your content to the search terms you want the page to line up with.
Alongside Majestic, another tool that’s great to use is the Grammarly tool. This is great for everything, where even if a piece is written properly it can come back with suggestions. These are useful more often than not because they come from a machine, which will tell you when it’s not clear what you’ve written about. Within limits, you should reshape the phrase, rewrite it, cut it into pieces, and re-modulate it so that Grammarly (or an equivalent) understands it and will tell you it’s good. If the AI understands it you can be more confident that Google will understand it.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“The trend for people is to use a lot of tools. The landscape has become so complicated and the marketing has been very aggressive in terms of promoting tools. There are lots of tools out there and they all have an incredible amount of information to share. That’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s best to avoid going down different rabbit holes chasing details that aren’t that relevant.
When you live on a website, the extreme details become important. You should have all of your bases covered. However, when you have a website where the structure is all over the place, your client won’t listen to you. They’ll write things in a different way, the web server will be slow, and your core vitals won’t work. In this case, it doesn’t really make sense to start looking at the tens of signals sent from tools. One of the seven hooks we’ve been hardwired with is the alarm one. We’re encouraged to create alarm - to create this sense of agitation to act on all of these things.
Many of us fail by being hooked on the fact that there is so much that needs to be done, including all of those other little things. If you put all of your energy into this, days will go by one after another. You’ll be looking at the trees but you’ll miss the forest.”
Sante J Achille is a Search Marketing Consultant and you can find him over at achille.name.
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