A few weeks ago, I had a Road to Damascus moment over fish and chips on Brighton seafront. I was at the quite brilliant Brighton SEO conference, an event which started above a pub and now is the UK's largest search marketing event, with over 3,500 attendees at its most recent event.
I'd spent all morning listening to Search Engine Optimisation experts speaking at the event telling the gathered great and good from the digital marketing world that Google is changing. Google has amassed an armoury of ways of understanding how users search for products - it has built it's own browser, mobile operating system, phones, tablets, PCs, set-top boxes and now even Google Home to help consumers with voice-based search requests. It has a panoply of potential data points that it can collect to understand how someone is searching for a product or service, and when they've found what they are looking for.
To date, a key driver of search engine ranking of sites has been links from third party websites to a particular site online. Changes to Google's algorithm over time have led the the quality and authority of the linking website to be a factor in this, as some less scrupulous agencies got to learn how the algorithm worked and "gamed" it. Now, SEO agencies and more enlightened PR agencies, which understand how their work can have an impact on search, build quality links from authoritative third party sites to their clients' websites to improve search engine ranking.
The message I heard from a number of speakers at Brighton SEO was clear: As Google has amassed more and more ways of understanding consumer's behaviour online, links may become a less potent indicator for Google's algorithm in comparison to other signals it is capable of gathering directly from consumers, rather than via the proxy of links. Understanding consumer behaviour and creating online experiences for consumers which are more compelling and make them want to spend more time on your site is one piece. Building a trusted and loved brand which makes people prefer you to competitors online is another.
This piece from The Drum definitely tallied with what I heard at Brighton SEO, and what I thought about as I tucked into my cod and chips on the seafront - improving our understanding of consumers and their behaviour will become an even more important activity for marketers. After all, I didn't use Google Maps, Alexa, my laptop or my phone once to find the shop I bought my dinner from. I just found it beside the seaside.
“If you want to continue to optimize over the next five to six years, the ripple effect is important – you need to understand everything about consumers more than ever before,” Mills said. “We are moving away as marketers and publishers from hacking algorithms to hacking people.”