Is Google conscious? Two social media strategists tackled this question at a 2011 TED talk. Using the work of philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, they made a surprisingly compelling case that the world’s biggest search engine is conscious, or will be someday, at least in a manner of speaking.
The humans are still in charge at Google, as far as we can tell. But they’re modifying the search algorithms in ways that make Google less gullible, and that’s presenting new challenges to businesses.
In October, Google stopped providing keyword data in Analytics, its web-traffic-monitoring tool. That means Analytics users can no longer see the words and phrases that brought users to their sites. Randy Taylor of Taylor Digital points out the problem this presents: “If we don’t know what keywords are being searched for, then how can we write our content, and format our HTML to emphasize these Keywords?”
That may be the point. Google has cited user privacy as at least one factor in its decision to redact keywords, and that’s probably true. But Google may also be trying to raise the bar for relevant content. In a detailed but helpfully illustrated post at The Moz Blog, Dr. Pete Myers explains that relevance and rankings are related, but separate. The former influences the latter: “In 2013, it’s likely that on-page factors are still necessary for relevance, but they’re not sufficient for top rankings. In other words, your page has to clearly be about a topic to show up in results, but just being about that topic doesn't mean that it’s going to rank well.”
And it shouldn’t. If keywords alone determined relevance, than smothering your content in them, even to the point of incoherence, would be a better route to a high ranking than providing quality content. And that’s not in anyone’s best interests.
Though unrelated, Google’s latest moves seem in line with its steps in 2011 to reduce the importance of inbound links from ezines. Like keywords, those links provide no clue as to the quality of the content.
Google’s Webmaster Tools still provide keywords, offering a partial workaround. For now. But the writing is on the wall: Google is getting more discerning, and the return on investment in quality content will continue to rise.