Matt Cutts recently answered the question “Will SEO exist in five years?” via video. Don’t worry, this is a really short clip, and there’s not a lot of geek speak in it at all. However, keep in mind that he’s a Google employee and he’s talking about SEO in the context of Google.
As we’ve pointed out here before, Google is the engine everyone is optimized for, at least for now. But if there’s one thing we know for sure about the web, it’s that things change on the web quickly. What if things are completely turned on their head in five years? Will SEO still exist then?
SEO is a lot like NASCAR–the rules are always being changed and tweaked, even mid-race. But the rule changes aren’t published out in the open. Instead, the information about the changes trickles down. Google changes their search algorithm, and the guys who live and breathe SEO notice the changes and adjust their strategies. As the rules become more apparent to everyone else, more and more people adjust, and more and more people exploit blackhat ways to game the new system. As a result, Google must adjust once again.
When we talk about search in the future, the conversation will likely go well beyond what Matt talked about in his video. As we shift towards real time search, the game is likely to change drastically in ways we can’t foresee. This is going to be like adding the forward pass to football. So when we talk about SEO in the future, we aren’t necessarily talking about Google alone.
Twitter is already making waves with folks at Google over their ability to provide up-to-the-second information about what’s happening on the web. Twitter let’s you know what’s going on right now, and there’s huge value in that. At this point, that is pretty simple to game though, right? Get a bunch of followers (real or fake) and retweet the hell out of a link to your page. So how will search engines get around that in the future?
Context, context, context
I can see context and reputation becoming more and more a part of search, and I think reputation is going to have huge value in the future.
For instance, let’s say you’ve been on Twitter for a year or so already and have updated with a few thousand tweets, many of which center around local news stories. You’re engaging and have established yourself as credible, so you’ve built a good following of other locals on Twitter who discuss local issues with you and click on the links you tweet.
Bots and junk accounts are pretty easy to spot on Twitter, so I’m making the assumption that there’s a scoring algorithm that can tell “good” accounts from “bad” ones. As a result, you have a “good” Twitter account. I’m thinking of something like Google’s Page Rank, but for Twitter–check out Twitter Grader for an idea of what this would look like.
So a link from you about a local event will be considered relatively authoritative, much more so than a link from a junk account coming from the other side of the world. This should be reflected in real-time search results. Your credible link to a story should carry some weight.
Not Just Twitter, Google Can Play Too
It’s true that Google doesn’t do real time search yet, but they a mountain of contextual information at their disposal. What about all those gmail messages we’ve been “archiving” instead of deleting for the last few years? There are lots of links buried in those messages, and lots of organic, authentic content around them to provide context. And don’t forget chat. This is all archived information, which doesn’t really lend itself to up-to-the-second search, but emails and chat sessions are still flying around like crazy, and once Google can grab and process this information on the fly they will. If nothing else, there’s plenty of test data to train an algorithm.
Oh yeah…then there’s that mountain of cash they are sitting on. It looks like Google is more interested in a partnership than Twitter is–for now. At some point the Twitter guys may actually give in and cut a deal. Everybody has a price, right?
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