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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Future of SEO

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Last Friday I had the joy to read Brighton SEO and listening to Philip Sheldrake’s presentation on future visions for SEO. He presented some very interesting stuff on how the World Wide Web as we know it will evolve and how we will make sense of the ever increasing volume of data contained within the web. Our role in SEO is set to change, however SEOs that are adaptable, flexible and willing to work with different types of information and different departments within the organisation will survive.

More People, More Things, More Data

The world’s population is rapidly growing and is set to reach 8 billion people in the next decade. We produce and consume large quantities of resources. The amount of data we produce is extensive; from content and documents on the internet, to output signals from electronic devices to environmental sensory trackers that measure things like temperature, electricity consumption, traffic and flow of water. We can quite easily collect this data however applying intelligence to turn it into useful information by identifying patterns is becoming more and more difficult.

Big Data, Big Info & Maybe Big Knowledge?

Big data is the term coined to describe data sets that are so large it becomes difficult and awkward to extract valuable information from them within a reasonable time frame. We can quite easily collect this data however the larger the sample set the more difficult turning it into useful information becomes.. To take it one step further is to turn this information into knowledge and make the data work for us in ways that have been previously unattainable.

A New Era For The Web

The third decade of the web and we are beginning to witness a change in how the data contained within the internet is being rationalised and organised. Sheldrake used three different names for to describe this new era.
“Web 3.0”
“The Web of Data”
“The Semantic Web”
I wish to use the term The Semantic Web as semantics is the study of meaning and this era represents how we will make sense of the data contained within the internet. We are growing and evolving the web to convert the current web of unstructured documents into meaningful data that can be manipulated and filtered by machines. These machines will be able to join sets of complicated data, helping us become aware of what is going on and solve problems that previously were not able to achieve.

How will this work?

Resource Description Framework (RDF) provides a standardised language for defining web based ontologies which enable richer integration and interoperability of data. It’s a way of structuring web information using a variety syntax formats called triples.

{subject}                {predicate}                 {object}
Gillian Cook            works in                         SEO.

RDF extends the linking structure of the Web to use URIs to name the relationship between things as well as the two ends of the link. Using this simple model, it allows structured and semi-structured data to be mixed, exposed, and shared across different applications.
Using RDF we are able to categorise data correctly and by doing this we are able to link data in new ways. Linked Data is a term coined for the best practice of exposing, sharing and connecting pieces of data, information, and knowledge on the Semantic Web using URIs and RDF.
This isn’t something that is forecast for the future it’s something that is already happening now. Google are already encouraging the use of Microformats – simple conventions or entities with their own properties that can be used on web pages to describe a specific type of information – e.g. a review, a recipe, a business.

What Does This Mean For SEO

When we consider how SEO is perceived, at times it seems like SEO’s are doing everything in their power to elevate their websites to the golden prize of 1st position in the SERPs, even if it means breaking the rules of the Google game. Yet when conceived in this way, SEO is a limited practice as the internet will become more regulated and transparent hence diminishing this type of online behaviour.
However if we consider our role in SEO as working with search engines to deliver users the right content at the right time in the right format then our position is no longer in jeopardy. Content for content’s sake will need to change as organisations become defined by their flows of data and information. The role of SEO will be defined as “improving the presentation, discoverability, machinability and usefulness of data, information and knowledge for all stakeholders”. As Pierre Farr mentioned at the start of the conference, SEO is not dying it is simply evolving over time as we have seen it do in the past. What’s good to know is that that according to Sheldrake, SEOs have the relevant skills to take on the challenges of the future.

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