Search engine optimisation. One of the holy grails of online marketing is the first organic result for a search for your products or services. Everybody wants to be on the front page, everybody wants to be first. And equally obviously, only one result can be first, and only 10 (but probably fewer) results can be on the first page.

We all know that SEO (as usually practised by marketing companies on behalf of their clients) is based around this entire ideal of high rankings for relevant search queries, and all SEO’s live in fear of the next big algorithm update, because you never know when your hard work will be wiped out by a change that invalidates previous efforts, or worse, penalises them.

But there’s a big factor that a lot of these efforts seem to overlook…

There’s No Such Thing As A First Page Anymore

Once upon a time, if you searched for something, and I searched for that same something, we’d almost always both see the same results. Hence the coveted “first place” in Google. But that’s just not true anymore. And it’s becoming less true on almost a daily basis.

For the last few years, Google search results have become increasingly personalised, delivering results based on user behaviour, location, personal search history, similar successful searches, and probably a range of other factors they don’t disclose.

That means that even entering an identical search to somebody else is likely to provide you with a different set of results, and the increasing use of Google’s “RankBrain” AI in delivering search results is only increasing the impact of search personalisation.

Volume Makes Learning Faster

Google processes 3.5 billion searches every day. And it’s algorithms learn from every search. If somebody searches for a specific term, finds their answer, and stays on the site, that search was a success.  If they immediately bounce, then the search failed, and the next search for that term will take either success or failure of similar searches into account.

The search engine learns all the time, from every one of those billions of searches. It learns which pages offer value for which types of search, and crucially, for the various intents that users may have for a search.

Then it applies that “knowledge” to every other search, and so on, billions of times a day. The search algorithm is in the process of making itself obsolete. And it’s changing the very nature of SEO as it does so.

The Future Of SEO

A little earlier, I talked about the possibility of SEO work being wiped out by algorithm changes, and it’s certainly happened many times in the past. But there are some things about SEO that have never been threatened by those changes, and that means that the future of SEO loks, in some respects at least, remarkably similar to it’s past.

Good on-page optimisation is never going to go out of style. Unique, and in-depth content has not only always been relevant, but it seems to becoming even more relevant as we move ahead. And the last thing that’s always going to be important is a good user experience. (Another factor that’s becoming even more important now.)

Even links (I sincerely hope) will eventually stop counting as a crucial ranking factor. But a well designed site, with functionality and content aimed at user needs, is not only always going to be good, but should continue to improve over time, as long as you stick to those always important principles.