To have a successful blog, you not only need to write great content, you also need to make sure the right people see it, at the right time.
We’ve written before about how RankBrain (an important part of Google’s algorithm) works and how best to utilize this understanding with your SEO strategy going forward. We talked about how the quality of the work now matters much more to Google’s algorithm compared to the quantity of content and how the old ways of SEO (we’re looking at you, keyword stuffing) are not only outdated but counterproductive to any SEO initiative. In case you missed it, check it out here.
We continue our series of trying to help you understand how to develop, draw, and implement your SEO strategy better by taking another deep dive, this time into the exciting world of neural matching.
The reality of AI
When you enter something into a search engine and related, relevant results pop up, much of it is due to how artificial intelligence is playing a part in the way search engines work. Google and other search engines are pretty tight-lipped about the specifics, but that’s not to say that nothing of value can be gleaned from the way they work. AI has been instrumental in the way search engines have improved their capabilities through the years; you can thank AI for rendering black hat in SEO techniques like aggressive keyword stuffing, cloaking, and invisible text obsolete.
As a result of AI, search results are better. They often deliver what you or any other user is looking for; results are customized and personalized to a large extent, and content creators are pushed to deliver content that has VASTLY superior quality than what they would have gotten away with delivering a few years ago.
AI not only safeguards search engines from manipulation, but also helps with ranking algorithms (especially Google algorithms) — the AI learns how to rank algorithms, fashioning and developing an optimal list from a collection of possible outcomes, and learns from the different factors and variables (like human language and images, for example) that come into play over time. It’s a pretty complex process that is made faster and more efficient than what any individual or group of people could ever hope to achieve by themselves.
The use of AI ensures that marketers will be pushed to create good, high-quality content. That’s a win-win for everyone since good content allows digital marketers to get their message across effectively and creatively, thus giving them more leverage to not only attract customers but also to help both current and potential customers have a much better understanding of what these brands are all about. That’s not to say that keywords and SEO don’t matter anymore — it’s more a shift in how to use these tools to better maximize search engine capabilities.
What is Neural Matching, and how is it different from RankBrain?
If you read our recently published RankBrain article, you may be wondering how Neural Matching is different. Google’s official “search liaison” Danny Sullivan explains that Neural Matching is used in around 30% of searches. It’s fairly new and has been in use only since 2018. In a nutshell, Neural Matching is an “AI method to better connect words to concepts.” In essence, the Neural Matching algorithm tries to connect the search query with the contents of websites, ranking them accordingly. Sullivan simplifies by calling it a “super synonym system” — meaning that the algorithm tries to understand how words (and searches) relate to other content (results).
To illustrate it better, think of a time when your TV looked a bit weird. You’d search for that, and Google would respond by providing you pages and content related to the “soap opera effect.” The way through which Google would connect those two things — the search query “why does my TV look weird” to the “soap opera effect” — would be through Neural Matching. Take note of how none of the words in the result were in the search query. You can think of it as Google trying to do some heavy lifting for you. You don’t exactly know what you’re looking for, but Google’s algorithm learns that for you and tries to show you results that are more related to what you would have wanted to find. Sullivan explains, saying, “how people search is often different from information people write solutions about.” So Neural Matching not only identifies synonyms but also tries to understand in what context these words (or group of words) are used and, based on that, delivers results.
Neural Matching might sound similar to RankBrain, but there is a distinct difference: RankBrain relates to Google better understanding concepts and the relationship with page content, while Neural Matching looks at how words relate to searches. To better illustrate this, think of it as being like RankBrain tries to look at the bigger picture, while Neural Matching tries to analyze the smaller details. And while RankBrain and Neural Matching are distinct, their nature suggests that they work in tandem and complement each other. This marriage between these two methods is part of what makes Google’s search engine increasingly complicated but more effective and efficient over time.
For marketers and online content creators, this still means that quality is still king. You need to worry about keywords less and rely on better content more, so Google will have a better understanding of what you are trying to say and (more importantly) who you’re trying to say it to.
AI and creating content that’s Neural Matching-friendly
Google’s deep learning capabilities are making massive changes to the way the internet and search engines work (thanks to AI). While Google is tight-lipped about how their algorithms work, their advice to content marketers and creators is to come up with better content. That advice has been constant and, to their credit, the old, admittedly tiresome way to push pages and content up the ranks has lost its efficacy.
One way to harness the capability of AI and Google’s new and evolving search engine algorithms and dynamics is to consider user intent. In the past, methods like keyword stuffing meant bumping a particular page up the ranks, but it never really did deliver what people were searching for. Remember that Google’s goal is to deliver search results that are as tailor-fit for the user as possible. Content creators need to shift their focus to factor in user intent more. In alignment, this is just what Google wants to do as well. Write naturally and deliver engaging, quality, and creative content that users need and want. Simply stuffing as many words won’t do the trick anymore — users will be quick to dismiss you, and Google’s search engine WILL take notice.
Something related to factoring in user intent is trying to predict user behavior. Let’s say one user is looking for information about popular characters on a TV show, and a Wikipedia page pops up. Listed are not only the characters the user is looking for, but other possibly related information ALSO provided by the website. Your content should engage users this way, trying to provide them not just what they want at a particular moment, but what they might also need in the next 5 or 10 minutes later. Having separate pieces of content that relate to each other keeps users in your sphere of influence, and Google will recognize that you provide quality content and keep your site in the loop for related or similar searches by other users.
Understanding customer/user/visitor patterns is another key to boosting visibility in Google’s search results. It’s important to not only keep a visitor curious and engaged but also to be able to deliver on what you promise. If a user stumbled on your website needing to find specific information, then be sure that you try to have the content that delivers on that. You’d be surprised at how many websites don’t even have complete contact information — something that users will find elsewhere, like a shared question and answer forum, or a Facebook page. That means fewer visits to that page, and a more unfavorable view of the brand, product, or service that website represents. Creating content that tries to predict how users and visitors behave means a deeper mine Google can dig into for content that meets searcher’s needs.
Finally, be specific and relevant. Don’t try to paint with too broad a brush, because that means Google will have a harder time understanding who you want to reach, and who needs your content the most. That means going lower in search rankings. To try to determine through your content who your target market is. And don’t use outdated content; be diligent with updating your content. Especially in this day and age where trends quickly and constantly change, users can simply choose to ignore your page entirely just because your content is dated. So no matter how engaging your content may be, it’s useless when you can’t get users to consider it in the first place. Again, how time-sensitive and relevant your content is gets noticed by Google, which will also take note if your page is ignored in search results (and thus rank you lower in future results).
AI is a good thing, really
AI and Neural Matching are good things for content marketers, creators, and search engine users alike. Especially in the long run. It may seem idealistic, delivering what users want works; it’s a win-win. Consider the study that says that customers use brands as one way of better expressing themselves and their desired personal lifestyle. That means being boring and generic is the WRONG way to go.
Delivering specific, informative, relevant and creative content that resonates with users helps all parties involved. The more engaged users are, the more Google deems your content relevant, and the more it shows up in other related search results. It’s a repeating cycle that works for everyone.
It’s time to stop stubbornly clinging to the old way of doing things. Google’s search engine algorithms are evolving and learning — there simply is no benefit trying to use stone-age SEO techniques. It’s important to understand how AI and things like Neural Matching and RankBrain work in order to develop SEO initiatives that help both you and the people you want your message to reach.