SEO changed the world

We changed the world last week and no-one noticed.

Disclaimer: while this article touches on political topics, I’m not going to bring any personal viewpoints into it and I won’t be discussing the merits of ideological arguments – this is purely about SEO.

With all the confusion surrounding American politics, it’s easy to overlook important details. Let’s face it, in amongst the new legislation, staff turn-over and twitter commentary, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything. But something significant happened in the last couple of weeks that will change the SEO landscape for everyone.

The president of the United States, arguably the most important man in the western world, posted this on twitter:

Instead of just ranking news articles, SEO became a major story, in and of itself. Although the mainstream media isn’t yet using the language we take for granted, they’re suddenly talking about us and about what we do. More significantly, they’re starting to realise how critical SEO has become. It’s a short jump to realise that news articles, opinion pieces and discussion points are worthless if nobody sees them. SEO has gone from the dedicated but unseen lighting technician, to the brand new star in the spotlight.

It seems that everyone is finally catching onto the idea that, as a discipline, SEO has a huge amount of power. People talk about what they see. If something isn’t visible, it’s not part of the debate. That visibility, or lack thereof, is a weapon that devastates the political landscape when it’s deployed effectively.

But watching the news coverage of the issue was… painful. For example, here’s CNN covering the story while trying to explain to their viewers how news and information is ranked on a search engine.

They’re discussing how most of the information in the world is propagated. It’s incredibly important. But the video above is fairly typical of the coverage on the subject so far. It’s basic and overly simplified.

Even intelligent mainstream coverage of the President’s tweets doesn’t really feel like it’s showcasing informed, intelligent people discussing technical concepts. It’s more like hearing your Grandparents explain to you how they got an email from a very nice man who told them their PC is broken and offered to fix it remotely for a reasonable price.

The President of the United States has now entered the debate and, with a broader and less technical audience asking questions, complex concepts are being dumbed down. This 72 year old grandfather is trying to wrap his head around concepts that determine how much authority a site has and how that’s determined by seemingly arbitrary measurements like backlinks from other authoritative sites, frequency and amount of content, etc, etc.

This is part of a much wider debate. Regardless of your politics, think about what this means. The president of the United States – someone who deals with military and financial issues on a global scale – is going to have one of his advisors sit down and explain to him how things like backlinks, unique content, domain authority and so on, help a site rank.

Think of that conversation and how that might go. It’s not a pretty picture, is it?

SEO is about to blow up and go mainstream – are you ready?

We control what people see. In the US, 83% of adults are online, of those, 89% go online daily and 31% are online almost constantly. Plus, two thirds of US adults get their news from social media. So we, as SEOs and digital marketers, are in the driving seat when it comes to the information that people consume on a daily basis. But for the first time ever, not only do we help shape the news and information that people see, we’re also making the news.

This year, the news has featured Google, Cambridge Analytica, Mark Zuckerberg speaking before Congress, Russian involvement in the US election – huge topics, but ones that people not involved on a day-to-day basis don’t truly understand.

For example, ask a non-tech outside the SEO industry, how the Russians got involved in the US election. Go on, give it a go now – I’ll wait.

Chances are they just said something like “didn’t they hack emails or something”, or “I think they hacked Facebook and got a load of people’s details to sell to”, right?

Most people aren’t aware that what’s happening now is SEO in some of its various forms. No hacking, just a mix of black and white hat SEO. But now, thanks to Trump and his recent tweets, it’s becoming part of the conversation.

Right now, SEO is a hidden science. But very soon, as people start learning the words and the attributes that help you get ranked, it’s going to be a big deal. Bet you never thought the US President would be an instrumental part of that happening?

It’s got to the point where the mainstream media is turning to our guys for more information. Here’s a CBS video where they’ve approached past UnGagged speaker, Bill Hertzer, for a brief overview of what it’s about:

This clip is a prime example of how things are changing. The wider world might have limited understanding right now, but awareness is growing and people are becoming more and more interested.

What does that mean for the SEO industry?

It doesn’t matter if you’re black hat or white hat. Gaming the system is what we’ve always done. Regardless of what colour hat we wear, we’re all working towards the same goal, we’re just using different methods. That’s always been the case, but now, everyone else is starting to pay attention. Which means that scrutiny over what you do is going to grow. We should take the opportunity to show everyone that what we do is in response to an algorithm. It’s not about attacking people, it’s about fighting for visibility.

The White House is now looking at investigating the tech giants – Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon have all found themselves in the cross-hairs. So it seems that this was not an isolated incident, and the furore isn’t going to die down anytime soon.

Black hat, white hat, or somewhere in between, it doesn’t matter; you have the power and the responsibility to control what people see. Now that everyone else is starting to understand that, it’s more important than ever that we use that power wisely.