The words ‘machine learning’ have started appearing in conversations more and more over the past few years – especially in the world of SEO. Machine learning is not a new concept, it has actually been around since the 1950s, it is changing and developing so rapidly at the moment that we must learn how to adapt quickly if we wish to take advantage of this new technology.

What is machine learning?

In Toby Segaran’s book ‘Programming Collective Intelligence’ book he defines machine learning as a subfield of artificial intelligence concerned with the algorithms that allow computers to learn. He further goes on to define artificial intelligence as the science of making computers perform task that require humans to use intelligence to do.

How is machine learning affecting SEO?

Google, the largest search engine, has shifted its concentration to focus on understanding users intent when they search for things – something we have seen in the past few algorithm updates. They want to know how to look better at things and provide searchers with the answers that satisfy their intent.

This means that if the websites that will rank highly on SERPs in the future will be websites packed full of content which adds value to users, and gives them a positive experience when they are on your website.

 How does this affect us as SEO’s?

Content has always been important for SEO, and it is only going to get more so in the future. With the introduction of ‘RankBrain’ Google is sending a clear message that their focus is now on content more than it has ever been. They are telling us that they want to provide searchers with relevant and useful content across every channel they choose to search on – be that mobile, tablet or laptop.

Content should therefore be optimised around intent, ensuring it provides a high-quality experience for searchers wherever they are on the customer journey. Writing content can be difficult with many people struggling with questions such as:

  • What to write about
  • What topics are trending?

This is where having a strong content strategy and keeping on top of content development is key to finding the topics that people are talking about, and developing content that helps people with a particular problem they have at the moment.

Will technical SEO still be relevant?

Technical SEO is still important but more and more technology is being developed that means it will need less and less interaction. It is highly likely that Google Search Console (GSC) will soon be run completely on machine learning technology with little to no human interaction at all. This can be seen in the crawl error messages that GSC sends out at the moment, and we don’t think it will be long before Google fixes the issues for you as the machines involved get smarter and smarter. This almost removes the need for any human interaction at all, so what is left for us as human SEOs to do?

Structured data can help

We can’t stress how important structured data is enough – it is vital for allowing the search engines to better understand the content you are sharing, and allowing them to return a more informative result to searchers.

Using structured data to give the search engines what they want in a way they can understand it will not only increase your websites visibility and slot on the SERPs, but should also have a positive impact on click through rates as well. This can also help rankings as well, as having high click through rates is a signal to Google that your content is popular and that readers are engaged with it.

Are On-Page Optimisation and Links still important?

Many SEOs believe that on-page optimisation doesn’t have the same impact on rankings as it used to. If you take a closer look at some of the pages that are ranking highly, they don’t have the keyword in their main body or any of the other important elements. Yet they are still ranking highly for competitive keywords without these once vital SEO elements.

 Links, on the other hand, are still important but we need to focus on the quality of these links rather than just going for quantity. If we want to rank highly on SERPs than not only do we need to be posting quality content but we also need quality links to this content from other highly ranked sites.

User Experience should be the Priority

As well as content, Google is also focusing on page speed – meaning it wants user experience on your site to be as painless as possible. Pages should load in two seconds or less, otherwise there will be a lack of user engagement which will have a negative effect on your rankings.

What Content Formats are Important

The answer box is a fairly new appearance on the SERPs and they seem to be something that is here to stay. Answer box optimisation is therefore important if you want to dominate the SERPs. Voice search results are also pulled from these answer boxes and so if you can get your site to appear in these boxes it is likely that your company will appear as answers to voice searches as well. This is important with the vast growth in voice search that we have seen in recent months. 


Machine learning is already having an impact on SEO and will continue to do so in the future. It is important for companies and SEOs to focus on helping to connect searchers with the right content at the right time, to deliver them the best content experience on the web.