If you head over to the biggest SEO forums at the moment, you’ll find them abuzz with a new and mysterious ranking factor called “Searcher Task Accomplishment”. It’s being dubbed the most important ranking factor to date. Forget about backlinks, traditional onsite SEO, Rankbrain and every other ranking factor you’ve ever worked on. Searcher Task Accomplishment is what ranking is all about, or is it?
What Is Searcher Task Accomplishment?
Before anybody starts to panic, I must stress that Searcher Task Accomplishment (STA) is not an official Google ranking factor. Google has not made any announcements regarding STA, and we have not encountered any major algorithm updates that suggest that STA actually exists. That said, there have been numerous little updates and tweaks that suggest that STA is indeed a real thing, and that it is Google’s ultimate endgame for search results.
STA is the idea that search results should be determined by the objectives of the user performing the search, and the satisfaction the user experiences when they receive those results.
According to Rand Fishkin, the man who recently put the idea forward, “no matter what someone is searching for, it’s not just that they want a set of results. They’re actually trying to solve a problem. For Google, the results that solve that problem fastest and best and with the most quality are the ones that they want to rank.”
Why Is This Google’s Goal?
To understand STA and where the idea comes from, we’ve got to take a look at industry insights, Google’s official statements, the updates Google have releasing over a number of years, and their overall goals for search. In 2004 the Nielson Norman Group noticed that users were no longer engaging with websites as they used to. Instead, they were asking search engines direct questions to get answers to their immediate needs.
In 2012, Google unveiled its knowledge graph, an algorithm designed to enhance its search engine’s search results with semantic-search information gathered from a wide variety of sources. In 2013, Google rolled out the hummingbird update to give search results more context. They’ve been on a roll ever since. Since the rise of the knowledge graph, Google has been rolling out hundreds of minor tweaks and updates to search results to provide direct answers to questions in search results. Most recently Google put forward a patent to use user facial expressions to gauge users reactions to search results and use those reactions as a ranking factor. From our point of view, Google is using STA. If not as a clearly defined algorithm, then certainly as an objective for search results.
What Does STA Mean For Content Marketing?
Searcher task accomplishment is something that SEOs have been aware of for some time, even if we didn’t have a name for it. We’ve been tailoring our content for Google’s Knowledge Graph to deliver quick punchy answers to common questions and related searches. We’ve noticed the gains in traffic when we achieve a Knowledge Graph ranking and we’ve risen to the challenge. Our article structures have changed as have the criteria we use to grade quality content.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t always had the desired effect of improving the overall quality of writing on the internet. In the 90s and early 2000s SEOs ruined the world wide web by stuffing articles with keywords and using bots to build millions of terrible backlinks.
STAs are having a similar detrimental effect on content created for the internet today.
The content being written by SEOs at the moment is not awful. It’s relevant. It answers a specific question; that’s where it ends.
This is making it more difficult for users to find content with any depth.
It’s easier to achieve a knowledge graph ranking with a simple question and answer format than it is to put in hours of research or hard-won technical expertise into an article.
Ranking For Content
To give you an example, if we conduct a simple search “how to grow your business on youtube” We’re greeted with rather lacklustre results that are thin on actual content or any useful marketing advice. Instead, we’re presented with formulaic thin content, written for rankings, not users. The formula looks something like this [Number+Ways/Tips+Promising Search Question]=Rankings.
If we look at our top three organic search results the content and structure matches the question, but the answers provide very little information that answers the question.
In position 1, Business.com suggests that we set up an account, stuff it with keywords, and copy someone else in their first 3 steps. The next four steps aren’t particularly useful either. Nowhere along the way do we actually get an answer to how to market to market a business on YouTube, or get any technical expertise on the subject matter. Instead, we’re presented with lacklustre fluff that’s easy to write.
In Position 2, the second most useful result on the internet, we’ve got Business2Community.com. Their information gets a little closer to answering our question. They’re covered some types of content you should produce and have even managed to gloss over advertising and they’ve touched on branding. The still haven’t actually covered how to actually market my business on YouTube. Bullet point ideas at best.
In Position 3, we’ve got a course from Udemy.com, who are normally pretty good with their courses, but they’re not free, and don’t happen to answer my actual question with this result.
The rest of the results on page one follow the same formula and offer very similar content with a very similar structure. They all attempt to answer a question. They all employ a bullet point answer format. They’re all attempting to achieve a knowledge graph ranking of some sort or another. None of them actually answer the initial question.
If we head over to page 2, we’ll find an article by Forbes. It’s not the definitive guide to YouTube marketing, but it does actually cover some aspects of channel creation, content dissemination, keyword research, audience engagement and more. It makes an effort to provide us with useful information on our topic and, while it has followed the bullet point format, it has not done so in a manner designed to cater to the knowledge graph. The bullet points actually make sense in relation to our question.
Where To From Here?
Google’s content guidelines have not changed much since they were released. The emphasis is still placed on creating on high-quality, useful content that is engaging, relevant, and, most importantly, does not employ tricks to improve SERP rankings. That said, part of an SEO’s job description is identifying ranking factors and finding ways to exploit them.
Our prediction has more to do with precedent than clairvoyance. We will continue to see a slew of content created specifically to cater to the knowledge graph. It will continue to be designed to answer specific one line questions, with generic fluff-based bullet point answers. The quality of the information provided by Google’s knowledge graph will continue to decline. At some point, Google will notice that searcher task accomplishment and the knowledge graph are being abused for the purpose of marketing, directly undermining their business model. At this point, Google will roll out a an update. SEOs will probably call it something-magedon.
Organic Traffic for those who employ the strategy will plummet. We’ll blame Google. It’ll be super sad.
What Do We Suggest?
Well, when it gets right down to it, the same thing we’ve been saying for years. Stay focussed on quality. Write great, meaningful content that is designed to present your users with the information they need.
Should you steer clear of knowledge graph strategies? Of course not. They’re working. They do increase traffic. They do increase visibility. Just don’t employ the strategy without focussing on the same criterion that rules them all: Quality.