This is going to be a slightly incoherent rant about the changing world of search, as I’m currently quite jetlagged and doped up to my eyeballs with drugs to fight a chest infection. I’m not complaining though as all this is the result of a rather magnificent three-week honeymoon in New Zealand (yes we did plan it around the Rugby World Cup) (no it was her idea) (why do you think I married her?!), it’s just an explanation for my somewhat unhinged output.
I think everyone who works in search understands on some level that we’re living in truly interesting times. There’s a sense of anticipation, a mood of imminent revolutionary change.
SEO has never been a static industry. As long as search engines have existed, and thus as long as SEO has been around, there’s been a ceaseless state of flux, a continuous exchange of fire between search engines and optimisers. SEO is all about change.
But I think there’s something different going on right now. It’s more than just the usual tactical shifts and changes in arsenals. It feels as if there’s a truly epic revolution on the horizon, one that we don’t yet fully comprehend. Something we probably won’t understand until it’s hit us square in the face.
The rise of social media, and its growing impact on search, seems the likely source of this imminent revolution. But somehow I don’t think social is at the true core of what our industry is going through right now. The embedding of social in search is, to me, more a symptom than a root cause.
No, I think that this imminent change in search, whatever form it may take, is about search quality. Specifically about how search engines like Google have lost the fight against spam.
You may not see it at a glance, but when you look deeper it becomes a nearly unavoidable reality: search engines suck at fighting webspam.
Yes there’ve been some major algorithmic changes with varying degrees of success (most recently the ongoing Panda updates) but those versed in the intricacies of search know that these are just band-aids. Patchjobs aimed at fixing enormously glaring flaws. They’re not structural solutions that address the core problem with search today.
That core problem being, of course, that search results still primarily rely on link profiles, and that link profiles are easily manipulated.
Google has been throwing all kinds of weapons against webspam, everything from algorithm updates to enlisting (i.e. brainwashing) SEOs to help clean up the SERPs and file spam reports, all the way to its recent endeavours in social signals with Google+.
But I get the distinct impression that core people at Google realise all too well that these measures are not going to last. These are just temporary fixes to keep the machine running for a wee bit longer.
A fundamental shift in search engines’ approach to search is required. That much seems clear. What exactly this shift should be, that remains an open question.
Change is coming, as it always has in SEO. But this time, I believe it might be a change so drastic it’ll be on a par with Google’s original launch back in the ’90s as a link-based search engine.
There’s a new Google coming, but it doesn’t have a name yet.