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The importance of technical SEO in an artificial intelligence world

Written by Lee
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The methodology of the SEO industry has changed, and Google has raised the bar for what it takes to deploy successful SEO campaigns for your clients.

It’s time to step up and acknowledge that the old rules no longer apply, let’s look at how you can stay ahead of the curve and why technical SEO is more important than ever before.

Artificial Intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence is not new for Google they have been using it as part of their spam detection within Gmail for some time, but the application of AI to their search results is something that Google confirmed in October 2015 – this update was named Rankbrain.

Rankbrain is a machine learning algorithm, we know that Google has several core algorithms and Rankbrain’s job is to find out what percentage of these core algorithms is best applied to each individual search result. Just to put into context how significant, and important this is that means that each search result now has its own specific mix of Google’s core algorithms.

For example for certain searches, Rankbrain may learn that an onsite element such as an optimised H1 tag is a good measure of a relevant site, giving more emphasis to this and in turn providing a better searcher experience. However, in another vertical site authority may be a better signal to use so more emphasis will be placed on this when returning results.

So to accurately perform competitor analysis, landscape analysis, keyword research etc you need to take a much narrower and niche approach to this kind of research to make sure the insight is not only actionable but relevant to the niche your client sits within. If you do a broad analysis, the chances are that recommendations made based on your findings may not be as effective as they could be.


When it comes to optimising your site context is king, you have to be contextually relevant within your niche. Google has one goal, to serve the user the most relevant and useful information possible in relation to their search term. Think about Google’s Panda algorithm, this was developed to down weight or penalise sites with thin or duplicate content.

This is focused on the quality of the content, and was Google taking steps to improve the information that gets returned when some searches. Really think about the information you are presenting, think about how much information you are providing on your products or services, then take a look at your niche and see if you can become more relevant within that niche. Maybe your competitors are not presenting the information in an easy to read manner, or there may be information missing from their site that you could expand upon which not only brings the searcher more value but also makes you that little bit more relevant.

Onsite Technical Elements

Technical SEO has always been one of the most important requirements of achieving long-term success, and now Rankbrain is here it just got a whole lot more important.

Rankbrain is a learning algorithm developed to understand each search result and deliver the most relevant results, to do this well it needs to understand which sites are the best and which sites are poor.

Now this is going to differ across different verticals, for example if you are an e-commerce site you will most likely operate a specific CMS such as Magento which carries the functionality you need. But if you are a search marketing blog you will most likely be using WordPress or something similar to run your site, this means there are different technical and architectural considerations for a Magento site VS a WordPress site.

Using the example of a Magento e-commerce site and a search marketing blog, I will use www.misguided.co.uk and searchengineland.com demonstrate a two great sites within their niches.

At the time of writing this post Misguided ranks in position 1 on Google.co.uk for “clothes” which is a good indication that Google deems it a quality site within the fashion and clothing niche. So if you have a client with an e-commerce site that is built using Magento you might look at how Misguided is technically optimised and where applicable, follow their lead and implement these things on your own site.

The same applies for Searchengineland.com they are using WordPress and rank in position 2 (on Google.co.uk) for “search marketing blog”. So if you are operating a search marketing blog and using WordPress you could look at Searchengineland and implement any relevant technical changes they are using that are missing from your own site.

Think of this as creating the right “settings” for your site by using a leader within your niche. That does not necessarily mean that these sites are the best ones within that niche, but it does signify that Google deems them high enough quality to position them at the top of their search results for very competitive keywords.

Offsite Profile

To maximise the ranking potential of your client’s site’s you need to apply the same learnings as for the onsite technical elements and context, but for the link profiles of your clients. Try to understand how Google’s Rankbrain will interpret and perceive the link profile, for example, if the site sits within the fashion niche it is likely that Google is going to expect there to be links within the sites profile coming from fashion blogs, shopping sites etc.

This means that you should focus your link acquisition on sites within the same niche, for example, you may have an idea for a campaign targeting DIY and home improvement sites using something like “what to wear when you are decorating”. Although this campaign is legitimate in your mind when it comes to how Google views a segment of links coming from DIY and home improvement sites to a site that sits within the fashion niche you could be putting the site at risk.

These links will be easy to identify due to the fact that they clearly stand out, but also do not fit the profile of the “good” or benchmark sites within the fashion niche. This could have a negative impact on the site’s ranking potential, and if you have unknowingly acquired links from site’s that are considered to be spam sites you could potentially be at the risk of a Google penalty.

Link Theming

A good way to approach link acquisition is to audit a set of high-quality sites within whichever niche your client sits within, then bucket their links into themes.  This follows the practice of focusing on being niche and strengthening your context relevant to the information or products on your client’s site.

To create link themes the best way I have found is to use Majestic.com’s site explorer tool, this allows you to input a URL and then they use their Trust Flow metric to categorise the site into one of over nearly 1000 themes. Find several of the best sites within your client’s niche that rank for a competitive keyword, input them and export the data from Majestic’s fresh index. Then if you pull the data down into excel and you will be able to view the linking domains, and also see which theme the domains sit within.

You can use also grab the data for your client’s site to see what the most prominent link theme is, then use this as a benchmark to work towards growing the number of links coming from sites that sit within that theme. Compare your client’s link profile to that of the sites you chose to analyse and see which sites link to them that do not link to your client, work out why the site is not linking to your client and see if there is a way to begin changing that.

Following this strategy will work towards making your offsite profile support your onsite technical performance, ultimately increasing your contextual relevance in the eyes of Google.

Don’t Stand Out For The Wrong Reason’s & Be Real

The requirements to succeed in organic search have become much more technical and will continue to do so, this is an opportunity for technical SEO’s to really show their value and the results will pay off if clients have the patience to allow it to be implemented.

While the key requirements have changed, the underlying message is not to stand out for the wrong reasons. Historically there has been more opportunity to bend the rules and get away with it but Google’s Rankbrain is a big step forward in reinforcing the fact that things have to be done the right way, stay true to the brand and be real and you are certainly on the path to long-term success within organic search.


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