Designer Jim provides and overview of "SEO" and how it plays it's part in our considerations for design - Mobile optimisation will continue to be important is you want a website to perform well.

For most of us, search engines such as Google, Bing (and even the lesser known Duck Duck Go – go on, Google it!) have become the de facto way to navigate the trials and tribulations of modern life. 

Business365_Speaking of search

From choosing what to wear to learning how to bake, to finding a job, these powerful and constantly evolving systems have been the key to efficient internet browsing for over 25 years. But with around 650 million websites live on the internet, how do you get your voice heard above everyone else?

To get a better understanding, let’s travel back in time briefly…

The early development of ‘search’ was pioneering - but by today’s standards of sophistication - relatively clunky. Generally agreed to be the first actual search engine – ‘Archie’ (a nickname derived from the word Archives) was developed by Canadian student Alan Emtage in the early 1990s and contained a software ‘robot’ which could locate and index files over a rudimentary version of the internet.

Since then an entire industry has been born, has evolved and has matured technologically and economically, as the commercial potential of indexing technology has been exploited.

The enormous revenue generation potential of the internet has given rise to spin-off industries and business opportunities such as search engine marketing, pay per click advertising, affiliate marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO). Google has the majority market share of search in the western world by around 90% and is currently the world’s most valuable company at $550 billion. All of this has been built, to a lesser or greater extent, on the concept of ‘keywords’.

Interesting, I hear you say, but what are keywords and how can they improve the online performance of my business?

Well in the past keywords have typically been used to help search engines decide which pages are most relevant to a user’s search – the more relevant the page content, the more likely it was to be returned on page one of the search results.

A big challenge is that the internet has become richer and user intent has become more complex; someone googling ‘Titanic’ in 1999 was most probably interested in academic research about the Titanic, or possibly if they were very tech-savvy, in buying a book about the Titanic from Amazon.com. Today, that user could be looking for information about the Titanic, buying the book, watching the movie, visiting a museum, listening to the soundtrack, looking at old photos or even looking for a hotel or restaurant of the same name, all while travelling across a city in the back of a taxi.

Industry consensus seems to be that keywords are still fairly important, but as Google makes around 100 updates per year to its algorithms in its quest to build ‘the ultimate personal assistant’ - and as internet technology evolves - there are now other, more significant, factors which will determine whether or not our websites and services are found.

For example, it’s likely that synonyms and topics will become more effective in copywriting than specific keywords. Writing naturally will be more effective than stuffing lots of your target keywords into an article.

Another big change is that mobile phone googling has now overtaken desktop googling: the infamous algorithm update during early 2015 was dubbed mobilegeddon due to the severe ranking penalties that Google slapped on websites for not providing mobile-friendly versions of their pages!

This trend has been keeping us busy at PDMS for quite a while – both on our own websites and our clients. Creating ‘responsive’ layouts for phones and tablets, increasing the speed with which pages load and providing AMP (Accelerated Mobile Page) versions pages can all help improve the mobile ‘user experience’ and therefore keep ‘Big G’ happy.

Mobile optimisation will continue to be important if you want a website to perform well, and according to recent statistics from Google, over 20% of searches carried out are now performed using spoken input: an interesting by-product of increasing mobile internet use combined with OS enhancements such as Siri and other voice recognition technology.

This is already leading to some new search trends as people tend to use slightly different phrasing when speaking than they do when typing, with an increased occurrence of question words. Google’s natural language processing is becoming sophisticated enough to understand context, intent, and even the subtleties of intonation.

Websites with a high ‘bounce rate’ (where users quickly return back to their search results or another page) will not do as well, while sites with a high ‘click through rate’ (visiting other pages on the same site) and higher than average time spent on pages should do better as this indicates to Google that users are finding useful information.

For the real geeks amongst us, web data formats – particularly those that use schema – which provide additional information about the content, are also tipped to give a boost in Google rankings as they will enable very detailed data to be stored, shared and syndicated.

In summary, usefulness seems to be the overriding factor as Google and other search providers strive to pick out the most relevant results from more than a billion websites of varying quality. Providing informative, interesting, original, accurate, meaningful, specific, readable information - be it articles, commentary, how-to videos, slides, images, maps or sound clips – should generally give good results and get you found.

Google and other large tech firms are making leaps forward in understanding context, semantics and location. For example in the near future by asking ‘what’s that building?’ mobile search may be able to identify the building from your phone’s location, then suggest some additional information or activity based on learned interests that it knows you have, such as architecture, football or social history.

We may be some way off the plot of the movie Her (for those that haven’t seen it: man falls in love with computer-generated PA) and yet two-way human-computer interaction and the internet of things is becoming a reality.

However, there are challenges ahead for us and for Google – contextual intelligence and anthropomorphic behaviour has potential but personalisation of experiences relies on extensive and very detailed personal data being stored. This raises ethical and legal questions - of personal privacy, data protection and over-reliance on technology. 

Much of our information may in fact be already available for example via facebook or other ‘walled gardens’ however this is not always shared, and is easily fractured, changed, duplicated and removed. 

As one of Google’s original founders, Sergey Brin, once said, “Some say Google is God. Others say Google is Satan. But if they think Google is too powerful, remember that with search engines unlike other companies, all it takes is a single click to go to another search engine.”

Let’s hope that choice is always a click away.

Mobile search will become increasingly important for website performance