When I started blogging back in 2015, I thought I only had to produce the so-emphasized quality content to rank on Google.
Quality content seems almost a utopia in the digital marketing world. Everyone talks about it, we all agree on it. Yet we all think about different things.
So what do I mean when I say “quality content?”
In my mind quality content can be summarized in three simple ways: in-depth but essential, useful and well researched, educational yet actionable.
In short, you don’t need to write a 2000+ words article, just because Google is thirsty for content. You need to follow the length that is congenial to the article, based on the topic you’re covering.
Of course, quality content might mean – at least for me – something that is useful for an audience and well researched. Many small business owners are too busy focusing on keeping their enterprise profitable to spend time on researching SEO or other related topics.
Last but not least, you want to make sure people learn something they can apply quickly. However, it doesn’t have to be dull. In short, also a “how to” can be compelling if adequately written.
Long story short, when I started to write content that fit those guidelines, I didn’t get any traffic. Nothing at all! What was going on?
I simply missed the proper mindset. In this article, I want to show you the SEO hacking mindset. Based on continuous experimentation, curiosity and lack of preconceived ideas of what works and what not to compete against large publishing outlets!
A few weeks back in one of our daily conversations with Andrea Volpini, WordLift‘s CEO, we were discussing a few SEO strategies.
With Andrea, we often discuss at great length about SEO, the future of the internet and how search engines, Google, in particular, react to that.
Our conversations are a way to brainstorm ideas. That day we were walking through Via Giulia, an old street in the historic center of Rome; a road that runs parallel to the Tiber River.
One of the most famous streets in Rome during the Renaissance, Via Giulia became the home of antique dealers in the past decades. Yet today due to the crisis of antique trade, the street has become home of modern shops.
Among those shops there is WordLift. A small startup that operates at the cutting edge of semantic technologies applied to the web. That is where I work as a Head Of Business Development.
When we walk through Via Giulia, a feeling of being part of something greater permeates us, and it feels like you go back to the past, when Rome was the most powerful Empire ever existed. These feelings make ideas flow incessantly.
In that scenario, Andrea had just revealed to me a secret about Google.
I’ll summarize in this way: images have their own life in Google’s SERP, and if you take the time to produce original images and redirect them to your blog. That can become an effective SEO strategy to bring traffic back to your site.
It all started from there. When I heard that I began to run a few experiments.
This strategy is beginning to pay off. In this featured snippet on the keyword “cash conversion cycle” with a volume of 18,100 Google is picking the content from Investopedia and the image from my blog.
You’ll notice that the image redirects back to my blog. In this article, I show you what I did and how you can do it too.
Let’s take a few steps back.
It all starts with an editorial strategy
Many think of an editorial strategy as a calendar filled up with articles for the next year. That is not the way I see it.
An editorial strategy for me is about having clear in mind what are the 2-3 topics you want to cover at great length.
Based on that you need to be flexible, and opportunist. In short, you want to keep an eye open for opportunity windows that allow you to rank on large volume keywords.
Long story short I’ve implemented an editorial strategy on FourWeekMBA.com by creating content that targeted specific keywords around business modeling.
Yet those articles would hardly rank for those keywords as I was competing against large websites like Investopedia.
What to do then? Either I had to change my editorial strategy or be doomed to failure. Unless…
All you need is passion and an audience
I didn’t want to change my editorial strategy. In fact, I’m passionate about business modeling, and I know I can keep researching this topic for years.
Also, that is a topic with a broad audience. Thus, I had the two conditions I believe are critical to building a profitable website. I also needed a secret recipe to start ranking on those keywords though.
I began creating companion infographics with my articles, which had the size of a LinkedIn post. The aim was to provide a snapshot of business, quickly.
Those graphics would target the same keywords in the article.
Images have their own life on Google SERP, take advantage of that
If you look at the percentage of search results from Google there is one phenomenon to notice:
In this analysis by SparkToro in collaboration with jumpshot one thing is straightforward: images play a key role in Google search results.
As pointed out by Rand Fishkin, there are two things to take into account. Number one, “Google Images shrunk, but almost entirely because Google web search took that traffic for themselves (dropping the tabs to image search, embedding more image results in the web SERPs, etc.).”
Number two “given that Google Images is sending out an even more significant portion of traffic (due to their recent changes on “view image”), investing in visual content that can perform there (and appear in a web search) feels like a no-brainer for content creators.”
In other words, Google is integrating more and more images in the search results, thus making them part of the user experience. Therefore, you should be not surprised to see your pictures floating around the web, disjoined from your content and inserted in other contexts.
In fact, more and more often, images appear in the so-called featured snippets. Other times they are included in the knowledge panels.
That opens up an exciting opportunity: having original images might be a critical strategy to power up your SEO strategy. And I want to show you how to use them to gain featured snippets on very competitive keywords.
However that also opens up another challenge: as Google is thirsty for relevant content, be it text, image or video, it will happen more often than these contents will be stripped out from the context of your website to get offered in different formats.
From search results, featured snippets, knowledge panels, or voice assistants. It doesn’t matter how Google will serve that content; it will be Google to make the rules of the game unless you make sure to follow two strategies.
Number one, bring all the traffic generated through those graphics or infographics toward the original blog post that features them with a simple redirection.
Second, make sure to label your images with your brand, website or whatever can help you build awareness and help you build up search volume around the so-called “branded keyword.”
We’ll see those two aspects more in detail in a few paragraphs.
How to find featured snippet opportunities for your images
The first step I took when I was looking for featured snippet opportunities by using original graphics was to look at featured snippets where Google only had text. Some examples below:
As you can notice from this example, this featured snippet is very competitive as you might be going after Wikipedia, the same applies to the other examples:
One thing you might have noticed though is that this featured snippet only comprises text. There is no image in it. Why?
One possible reason might be that Google didn’t find relevant images to include in those featured snippets.
In short, even though Wikipedia is a trusted source of information, it doesn’t seem to provide original, and valuable images that Google can use within the featured snippet.
That is where the opportunity to get in that featured snippet comes in!
Let’s go back to our case study and what I did to get there.
Target a competitive keyword, but with your original infographic
When I was looking for featured snippet opportunities, I had identified a long-tail keyword with a large volume: amazon cash conversion.
That keyword, at the time of this writing, has an 18,100 in monthly volume. Even though that keyword was already taken and it looked like this:
In other words, Investopedia had a text featured snippet, but there was no image. The reason being they didn’t have any compelling infographic in the text, as you can see from below:
That is where I could have an opportunity even though there was no way Google would have taken my content in place of Investopedia. So I wrote the piece and worked on an original “companion” infographic.
Make your infographic relevant, compelling by targeting the featured snippet
The infographic is informative, it is quick, and it is branded.
I also picked a color that resembled The Economist infographics. Thus, making it more trusted at first glance (at least for people that know The Economist).
Structured data is the foundation of your featured snippet strategy
Structured data is about converting your content in a format that search engines can efficiently process. In other words, to make your content more sticky for the Google algorithms, structured data has become a must.
For instance, in this specific case, I used WordLift to mark up the content on my blog posts:
The significant part is the WordLift converts my content in structured data in a few clicks and with no coding so that Google can better process it. And it does that by using a format called JSON-LD that doesn’t affect the performance of the page:
WordLift passes up a set of metadata to search engines that describe the context of the page. That also includes relevant information about the infographic featured in the article!
Redirect traffic from your infographic back to your blog post
As I use WordPress as CMS, I used a simple plugin to have traffic redirected from the image – in case it ranked through Google – to the original blog post it belonged.
In short, when you have a website, you have a list of pages that you can prioritize based on a so-called sitemap. Put it shortly; the sitemap is the way you want Google and other search engines to look at your website.
That doesn’t mean Google will stick to it, but that is an indication that helps it understands a website.
Within the sitemap, you need to have also your images. In this way, you allow Google to more easily index, thus rank them (again Google will decide whether or not it makes sense, yet you give it an indication).
Once I had the images in the sitemap, I made sure those images would be redirected via Yoast Plugin:
Within the “Search Appearance” on Yoast, you need to go inside “Media” and set as “Yes” at the question “Redirect attachment URLs to the attachment itself?”
Here you go:
When you click on the image of the featured snippet it will open it up:
If you click on that image, see where it goes:
Exactly, back to my blog post!
Create search volume for your branded keyword
Another critical aspect of your infographic is about generating search volume for your branded keyword. A branded keyword is merely a keyword that represents your brand.
For instance, in my case, that would be FourWeekMba, or four-week-mba and other possible variations.
Why is that important? A branded keyword is significant for several reasons.
First, gaining search volume on a branded keyword might tell Google that your brand/website is relevant.
Second, when you build up volume over time, you also start diversifying your marketing mix.
Thus, you’ll notice more direct traffic to your blog. That’s good as you don’t need to rely solely on Google for a consistent stream of traffic.
With those infographics I’ve been building a bit of search volume around my brand:
Of course, that is still very small. Yet when I look at my search console you can see some interesting findings:
For the sake of simplicity, I’m just showing you the main branded keyword. In fact, in my search console, I have other variations (like fourweekmba).
What’s interesting here is that on this branded keyword the click-through rate is pretty high (47,83%).
In fact, the click-through rate shows how many times, based on the number of impressions from the search results, the user clicks on my page.
That is critical as that points to Google that this is what the user was looking for. Thus, that – in theory – should make my website more trusted (this is wholly speculative).
There is also another aspect that is critical for this story.
SEO is not a short-term game
I published the article on February 26th, 2018 and for a while I just let it rank organically.
A few days ago, at the beginning of July I started to notice in the last days I was getting some organic traffic on the keyword “cash conversion cycle” yet I could not find it on the SERP:
In fact, I was on the third page. So that made me think, and I went to check right away what happened and that is what I saw:
In short, after about three months I managed to gain a half featured snippet with an image with my small blog by competing with Investopedia, one of the largest and most trusted sites when it comes to business.
If you’ll be implementing a strategy based on positioning your images on the featured snippet, how can you make sure you’re doing it right?
How to check the traffic coming from images
One way to keep track of this strategy is by using the Google search console. All you need is to go in Search Traffic > Search Analytics and filter it by images:
In this way, you can track your marketing effort in gaining organic traffic via original infographics.
As search engines evolve new opportunities arise. Thus, by keeping an open eye, you can take advantage of those opportunities even if you have a small blog.
In fact, in this case study, we saw how you can take advantage of existing text featured snippets by following this process:
look for featured snippet opportunities: when you see a featured snippet that has only text there is an excellent opportunity to position your infographic
create content on that featured snippet opportunity together with a compelling infographic targeting the same keyword
use structured data as the foundation for your featured snippet strategy
set up redirections from those images toward the blog post to which they belong
brand those infographics to generate search volume around your branded keyword
be patient and wait for it to be positioned in the featured snippet. SEO is not a short-term game!
By the time to time, you can check whether your effort is paying back by filtering the search traffic to see organic traffic from images
when that happens, double down on that strategy to gain more visibility
One key aspect to keep in mind. SEO hacking is not about finding the latest trick to win some traffic.
SEO hacking is a mindset – that mixed with limited resources, experimentation, and creativity – allows you to gain traction even on competitive terms. You just need to think unconventionally and experiment quickly.
Oh, wait! There is another critical aspect. That pertains to voice search. What do I mean? Look at this short video:
When you shift your mindset and start targeting featured snippets, interesting things can happen.
Indeed, this is even more interesting than the featured snippet itself. In fact, in the featured snippet the image is too small for users to click on. Yet on the voice search assistant on your smartphone, the opposite happens.
The infographic “eats up” the text coming from Wikipedia!
In fact, not only the image seems part of Wikipedia (Google is tricking you) but when you tap on it you land on my blog!
But that is another story we’ll tackle in another case study 😉
Looking back ten years from now, we’ll probably say: “it all started with a hair salon reservation.” In fact, what seemed a simple conversation, in reality, opened up a Pandora box, for better or worse. Yet beside socio-cultural evaluations, this will have an enormous impact on businesses, online and offline.
In many other articles about Google Duplex, several perspectives have been taken into account. In this article instead, I want to give you a different angle on why, from the business standpoint, it makes sense for Google to move in that direction. In fact, when companies like Google, which most important asset is its users’ data, make a move, I believe it is essential to understand why.
The Turing Test is a thing of the past
When in the 1950s Alan Turing was thinking about machine intelligence he started with a what seemed a simple question: “Can machines think?” However, this questions carries many hidden philosophical problems. Not the least, how would you define thinking? That is why Alan Turing turned the question upside down. Rather than thinking or define thinking. Alan Turing decided to look at the problem from another perspective: “Can machines do what we (as thinking entities) can do?”
Listening to this conversation, would you even guess that this is a conversation between a human and a machine? I didn’t, and I bet you neither. But how did we get here and what implications does this have for the future?
The digital divide of small localized businesses vs. large tech conglomerates
When Google is working on practical applications for its Google assistants, deciding where to focus their effort is critical. In fact, if we look at the data related to small businesses digitalization, you realize how they are slow at adapting to the modern technological landscape.
In other words, although things like AI and machine learning resonate in the marketing world and it is the primary concern of tech giants like Google, Facebook or Amazon. In reality, small business owners not only are unconcerned about those topics. But they are still in the process of understanding why they need digitalization at all for their businesses. For instance, if you think about a small restaurant or a hair salon, which are businesses taken as an example of Google’s Duplex experiment. You realize that is easier for Google to get offline, rather than those small businesses join the online world.
As those local activities mainly rely on word of mouth and traditional media, it would be tough for Google to reach those businesses (although Google has already moved in that direction with Google my business). What to do then?
If a small business doesn’t go online, Google goes offline
We give Google for granted. Yet It’s hard to keep in mind that Google, as a digital business, monetizes thanks to the data of people that are always online. What about people offline? Google Duplex might be a way to close the digital divide and leverage on people always connected to start gathering data about businesses that are offline:
In other words, Google Duplex becomes the middleman that allows Google’s Assistants to collect critical data about offline businesses for voice search.
While technologies pass, data stay, and Google Duplex can be the growth engine toward voice search
AI, machine learning and the plentiful of new technological applications that are springing up thanks to those are at the center of today’s debate. However, although technologies play a crucial role what truly matters is data. In fact, on the one hand, new machine learning models allow the processing of large amounts of data. Thus, if in the past the data gathered couldn’t be of much use by companies or governments as we didn’t have the computing power and intelligence to process that. Now, this is possible.
On the other hand, we have to keep in mind that data is what matters. When Google and Facebook offer free services to users, they are not volunteering; they are building up a business. As voice search is expected to become a $40 billion market (in US alone) by 2022; Google Duplex can really become the growth engine that allows Google to gather the most important data through voice to take over the market.
“Hey Google,” this is a country for old men!
If you think about it, this might the most ingenious business strategy. While in the last two decades Google used the data of users to build up a business that as of 2017 made over $95 billion from advertising there was still a disconnect. In fact, while the gathering of data from Google depended and it still does from the level of digitalization of its users; in the future, it will not.
If you think about digital assistants, like Google Home, those are consumer products ready to be in any home, independently from the use of a computer. In fact, in a few months over six million home speakers were sold.
You might expect though that voice search will disrupt – after all – the usage of computers. Isn’t – in a way – voice search the natural evolution of traditional search? In reality, if we look at the statistics, voice search will not just take over some market share related to traditional search, but it will take over old media:
In short, people asked about what media were Smart Speakers replacing; the answers were staggering. In the top seven media replaced by Smart Speakers, four of them (Radio, TV, Printed Press and Sonos) are traditional media.
Why is this important at all? For a few reasons – I argue. First, Voice Search might disrupt once and forever old media. In fact, while the web is still on a race against traditional media (it was just in 2017 that digital ad spending surpassed TV ad spending), Voice Search has the potential to disrupt it as it will have many potential practical applications for worldwide households.
Second, the web created a greater divide between generations. This might not be the case for Voice Search. Smart Speakers can be activated with something humans have been using forever: spoken language.
Third, as the Mark Zuckerberg Senate Testimony showed, those tech giants business models aren’t easy to understand. We saw the scenes of struggling adult men and women trying to make sense of Facebook. In a way, many on the web read this, as a lack of intelligence from those politicians. In reality, it seems clear to me that companies like Facebook and Google, thanks to their asymmetric business models, make it hard for people to understand how they operate. As Voice Search will make it hard for Google to monetize on ads (imagine the only answer given by the Smart Speaker was an ad, would you trust it?) would they be willing to experiment with alternative, symmetric business models?
In this article, we saw how Google Duplex might be opening new business scenarios for Google. However, we also saw how Google Duplex would help the tech giant from Mountain View to target a few things at once. The critical aspects are:
Close the digital divide between tech giants and small offline businesses
Start collecting critical data by using connected users to collect data from offline small businesses
Although AI and machine learning are critical technologies that allow Google to become more sophisticated; the real asset is data
While the web is still competing with traditional media, Voice Search isn’t only taking market share from the web, but mostly from media like TV, Radio and Printed
While computers are still hard to understand for older or less tech-savvy people. Voice search is pretty much a technology that can be used by anyone
As Voice Search will make it harder for Google to monetize with ads alone, would this be an opportunity to experiment with more symmetrical business models?
Those are open questions. It is clear though that the power of Voice Search is its ability to unite digital to non-digital, millennials to baby-boomers, tech-savvy to non-tech savvy. From the business standpoint, it will be all about Voice Search domination!
Anywhere we look, there is an area where Artificial Intelligence is changing the rules of the game. From personal assistants that are changing the way we interact with machines; to self-driving cars and diagnostics systems that can diagnose certain diseases more accurately than doctors. That isn’t only due to the buzz of the media (that also contributes). This is due instead to the fact that AI is a vast area that touches several disciplines.
In this article, I want to show you how a field of Artificial Intelligence, called Natural Language Processing (NLP) helped Quora to become one of the most popular Q&A sites in the world. In fact, NLP has become so critical to Quora that it also has open vacancies for NLP engineers.
As WordLift was born as a university project from a Natural Language Processing research, we always look for best practices to see how the industry is evolving and helping the web become smarter.
Natural Language Processing applications
The main aim of NLP is to help computers’ program to process large amounts of natural language data by making sense of that. On platforms like Quora, with hundreds of millions of users keeping the quality of its content high is critical.
Hundreds of millions of people use Quora to discover high-quality answers to questions important to them. The quality of our content and the civility of our community are two important factors that make Quora special. We want to maintain that quality even as billions of people start using Quora.
The most effective way to be able to keep high-quality standards, while growing the user base is the ability to process that data in a way that makes it more valuable to its users. In fact, as explained further:
Such a rich dataset puts us in a unique position to use various Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques to solve exciting problems critical to our success.
How’s Quora applying NLP? Here are 13 interesting ways.
Quality is critical for any platform to survive. For a Q&A platform like Quora, this is even more important. In fact, where users contribute all Quora content, how does it make sure to keep its quality high? First, we must define quality. Quora looks at things like writing style, readability, completeness, and trustworthiness.
This is a ranking issue. In fact, Quora has to look at many variables and give it a ranking based on its relevance and helpfulness such that most helpful answers show at the top.
To define the relevance an helpfulness Quora it needs to have five properties:
Answers the question that was asked.
Provides knowledge that is reusable by anyone interested in the question.
Answers that are supported by rationale.
Demonstrates credibility and is factually correct.
Is clear and easy to read.
Quora also gives an example of how it uses Natural Language Processing to extract relevant data to assess and rank answers:
As you can see Quora looks at various things; most of those are in the form of text. However, the text needs to be converted into data. Once that content becomes structured data that is how NLP helps turn that text in machine-readable data easily processed by its algorithms.
This gives Quora the opportunity to be more sophisticated in creating ranking systems by considering things such as author credibility, formatting, upvotes, and many other variables.
The flip of the coin of answers’ quality is questions’ quality. In fact, if you know Quora chances are you found it through Google’s search. In fact, if we look at its marketing mix more than 80% of traffic comes from search:
That’s because Quora is well positioned on so-called long-tail keywords that allow Quora to take over the SERP. Of course, this is also thanks to the fact that Quora can provide quality content to those answers. Yet, if Quora didn’t use a process driven by AI and machine learning, it would have been impossible to leverage on such a mole of natural language data.
That is why Quora uses the same ranking system that we saw above also to assess the relevance of Questions.
When you type something in Quora’s box, that has several functions:
In fact, this isn’t only a Q&A tool that allows anyone to ask something but also a way to search anything on the platform. You might think that the retrieval of information from that search box is mainly based on keyword matching. However, that is not the case as specified by Quora engineering team:
We use NLP techniques in this information retrieval problem space to help us better understand user queries and questions, as well as better rank content in the form of questions, answers, topics and user biographies. Unlike regular search engines with simple keyword matching, we can also support searches done with longer queries that are in the form of questions well.
Other NLP applications that make Quora smarter
When you transform the text into structured data, suddenly that knowledge which before was only accessible to humans becomes easily accessible to machines. Natural language processing helps make that transition, which translates human text in machine-readable data that can be fed to a system to make it more relevant for its users.
In this article, we saw how Quora uses NLP in three key areas. However, that is just the beginning. There are other areas in which NLP is crucial for Quora’s success:
Automatic Grammar Correction
Duplicate Question Detection
Related Question Generation
Topic Biography Quality
Automatic Answer Wikis
Hate SpeechHarassment Detection
Question Edit Quality
At WordLift we also use NLP to automate an important part of the digital marketing strategy, the so-called SEO. This article wanted to show you all the practical way in which AI is helping startups to build smarter systems that become more useful to their users beyond the buzz and hype created by media.
If you want to try NLP on your website, book a demo and let’s talk about your project. 🤓
Schema markup is significant for anyone that wants to contribute to today’s web.
Many think of structured data as the future. Yet it is the present. Many big players understood the importance of structured data a few years ago already. Now small players have the chance to take advantage of those technologies to win the SEO game.
When you go to schema.org you’ll see the initiative was launched and founded by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex. It is not a case those big players contributed to the foundation of the Semantic Web. It was the most logical step in the evolution of search engines.
Facebook, Google, and Amazon spent the last years building their knowledge graphs. You might think that is irrelevant for a small player. Yet it’s not. In a world where big players control the web, it is crucial to guarantee that each of us can contribute to the development of the internet. Structured data and Knowledge graphs are the tools that allow anyone to build today’s web.
Now those technologies are available to anyone with tools like WordLift.
It doesn’t matter how well-written is your content. If machines can’t read it, humans can’t find it. If people can’t find it, your content will get buried in the organic search. Thus, no one will know you ever wrote it.
Using Schema markup is like translating that content for search engines. Eventually, they’ll be able to find it more easily. Also, through Schema markup search engines will be able to read better and interpret the user’s question to locate the content he/she is looking for. That is how your content goes from nada to armada in a few clicks.
In this way, rather than having your piece of content buried in the organic search, you’ll make it easier to find and more prone to be suggested to a user.
2. Who finds the right related article finds a treasure
Slow content doesn’t ride news waves, but it can ride the longer, smoother industry waves to create stellar, valuable content that is quoted and cited for years to come.
One huge issue that any website or online magazine faces is the lack of essential interconnectedness between one piece of content with the other. Often you land on a cool website. Read an interesting article, just to find at the end of it a “related article” widget. That widget too often points toward a plethora of junk items (from how to get tanned, to which razor to use when shaving!). For dismal ad earnings, many websites and magazines are losing their opportunity to build quality traffic that will make them successful in the long-run.
With Schema markup you can connect each piece of content to the next semantically, meaningfully and consciously. Therefore making it easier to navigate to the user.
3. Let me hang out with your website
If you want your prospects and customers to think of your brand as exceptional, you have to deliver exceptional experiences with content. Every time. At every touch point. Period.
We often think of a website as a static place. The user clicks in, scrolls a bit, then clicks out. Our perspective is quickly changing. With the rise of voice search, websites become interactive. More and more people will want to hang out with a website. Rather than just click, tap and scroll; users want to ask, argue and talk. In this scenario Schema markup, and Knowledge Graphs are the tools that allow machines to read, and manipulate enough connected information to extrapolate knowledge that can answer the reader’s questions.
For instance, when I meet new people. They often ask me “what’s your job?” and I say “I’m BizDev at WordLift.” Next thing they ask is “what is WordLift?”
What if your website could interact at the same way with a user? It turns out it can, and our website already does!
Wrapping up and Conclusions
Structured data is what can bring your business to the next level. In fact, through that you can achieve several goals:
Make your content machine-friendly. Therefore, easier to find for your tribe
Let users navigate within the website by finding meaningful content. Thus, allowing them to create a long-term relationship with your website
Have your website ready to talk. In this way, it won’t be a static page but a place your tribe would love to hang out
In conclusion, people in the future won’t ask how many clicks your website is getting but rather if that is a place people would love to hang out. Is your website that place?
When I started to write on the web I realized I was supposed to change my writing style if I wanted search engines to understand what I wrote. Yet semantic technologies allow our stories to be understood by search engines even though their authors manage to write them for humans only. How is that possible? Read on…
Once upon a time a crow was sitting on a branch of a tree with a piece of cheese in her beak when a Fox observed her and set his wits to work to discover some way of getting the cheese. Coming and standing under the tree he looked up and said,
“What a noble bird I see above me! Her beauty is without equal, the hue of her plumage exquisite. If only her voice is as sweet as her looks are fair, she ought without doubt to be Queen of the birds.”
The Crow was hugely flattered by this, and just to show the Fox that she could sing she gave a loud caw. Down came the cheese, of course, and the Fox, snatching it up, said
“You have a voice, madam, I see: what you want is wits.”
Written around the sixth century B.C. presumably by Aesop. Even though we don’t know for sure if Aesop ever existed. Those fables are a powerful narrative device. If you ever heard any of those stories, chances are you never forgot. Why?
Human Memory in a Nutshell
Human memory is slightly different from a computer’s memory. In short, we know there are certain parts of the human brain that play a key role in forming memories. Yet those regions work in unison with other parts of our brains to make those memories formed.
Like a symphony. Our memories get shaped by the interactions between billions of neurons, in a wild dance in which those nerve cells make synaptic connections. Those connections also become memories. The more neurons fire together, the more those thoughts become sticky. Psychologists like to summarize this process in neurons that fire together wire together.
If we looked at your brain with an MRI scanner – think of the MRI as a camera that takes pictures of your brain in action – while listening to a story, you would see several regions of your brain lighting up.
Although ancient people didn’t have MRI scanners, they understood what happened behind the scenes of the human brain. They already grasped the importance of metaphors as devices to create memories. Those memories could last for decades and get spread for millennia to come. Jumping from brain to brain they got tied together by metaphors. Yet it seems we have forgotten this lesson in the last two decades, when search engines took over the web. Ever since, keywords ruled over content.
Aesop the Blogger
Imagine Aesop was a literary author in today’s world. He has this great book in his hands, yet no big publishing house willing to sponsor it. What to do?
Aesop could self-publish that literary work. Yet he wants to test and see if there is an audience for it. Thus, Aesop creates a WordPress blog. That is the most logical choice, as he doesn’t have any coding skills – coming from Ancient Greece. Opening for the first time his internet browser he finds himself in a weird place. That place’s name is Google. From gurus to marketers Aesop is looking for inspiration. He dives in an article that tells him how to start a blog in ten steps, three somersaults, and a loop-de-loop. He seems very confused.
Finally, Aesop finds an article from a bold and bald man. That article has a magic formula inside. That is the formula to becoming the most known author in the Googlesphere. Taken aback by his ignorance Aesop finally learns about keywords!
Thus, in front of a ten-page how-to article on how to make his fables more “machine-friendly”, Aesop’s work goes to ashes.
What had happened? To make his content ranked, Aesop decided to convert all the metaphors and fables in keywords!
Thank god this is only a thought experiment and Aesop never made it through our times. Otherwise, we would have lost one of the most important literary works ever created. Yet if keywords were the rule of thumb in the last decades, can we expect to see a paradigm shift anytime soon?
When Keywords Become Metaphors
In the last two decades search engines took over the web and they created a net for their own sake. This net revolved around the use of keywords. How could not be so? To make us find what we were looking for we had to adjust our thinking to fit that little quest box.
That is how we went from thinking out of the box to thinking within that narrow search box. That is also how we moved away from the why and more toward the how of things. The era of tutorials, how-to articles, and how to become a magician in ten steps arose. Is that era is close to an end? In part, it might be.
Since 2013, whenRankBrain got launched, search engines are picking up. In fact, throughNLP (natural language processing) machines now understand human language. Thus, we are finally going back to think out of that little search box into our human consciousness.
For instance, through our digital assistants, we ask more and more questions. In short, rather than using keywords, we now ask questions and we want an answer. The revolution though is that we now want answers not only from Google. But also from the websites that populate the web. Would you ever talk to a website that speaks in keywords? Of course not! Yet while it made sense a few years ago, it doesn’t anymore.
Search engines are becoming better and better at “interpreting” human language. They can extrapolate the information needed to answer our questions. Thus, make those blogs and websites speak to us.
Rather than make our text fit machines’ requirements (as it happened so far), finally authors, bloggers, and content creators canfocus on writing stories. Metaphors and anecdotes, in this era, should be the rule. Rather than focusing all our efforts on keywords, we can finally go back to write for people.
Google meets Aesop
While writing an article you can now focus on inspiring others while software like WordLift does the rest for you. For instance, within this article, I created a set of entities within my vocabulary, which explained to search engines what my article is about. In fact, by adding a schema markup to my article, I put search engines in condition to understand the content. Thus, without placing any keyword within the text I connected the fable to other concepts such as Google and Technology. You can see it from the schema markup I created through WordLift:
Linked metadata describing this article
In the meanwhile, WordLift is also putting things into context by creating a knowledge graph.
The Metadata visualized using LOD View
In other words, in a few seconds and without placing a line of code I achieved those results:
Passed toward search engines the definition of the concepts within the articles trough schema
Contextualized the content of the article through the knowledge graph
In other words, search engines are enabled to realize that The Fox and The Crow is a fable, but it was told in the context of SEO. Thus, by making this article unique.
In the last two decades, a new style of writing was born. A style based on 200-pages long how-to-articles. Most of us caught into this game. We also thought we determined it. The truth is we never chose it. It was imposed on us. In fact, that style was (in part) born from the necessity to make search engines understand our content. Either we did that or we were out of the web. The price to pay was too high. Therefore, we started to write dry content, mainly based on keywords to make sure it was ranked. In the meanwhile, we lost track of ancient wisdom.
Over two thousand years ago people already knew the importance of fictional stories. In the last decade, neuroscience confirmed that our brain likes those stories. In short, the human mind does not want the truth to be given on a silver plate. Our mind wants to dig, interpret, wonder and visualize before getting to the truth.
Now semantic technologies allow us to tell stories, fables, and anecdotes again. The web doesn’t have to be a dry land but it can finally become a place of wonder.