Darwin and the evolution of SEO


Stephen Thomas

Technical SEO

Drawing an analogue between the evolution of SEO and biological evolution allows us to bring out some interesting observations regarding modern SEO when we observe the current state of human evolution. The overarching concept behind Darwinian evolution is fairly simple: a species goes through a series of random genetic mutations and if that mutation happens to be more suited to the organisms environment it will be more likely to survive and reproduce; thus resulting in natural selection.

However, the dawn of the Homosapien has arguably caused a shift in this process. The advent of autonomy and self-awareness has loosened the grip of natural selection on human-kinds genetic future, and this is because the tables have turned and we are now able to manipulate our environment. What this doesn’t mean however, is that the evolution of man has come to an end. It has simply shifted focus.

For example, Stephen Hawking has argued that we are now looking at the possibility of self-designed evolution and that evolutionary information should now be viewed not only as something that occurs within DNA but as something externally transmitted as well; the implementation and impact of the knowledge we have accumulated over the years of autonomous existence (such as medicine, engineering, technological development and so on) is simultaneously moulding the way we live.

All very interesting stuff, but how is this related to SEO? Firstly, there are clear parallels between natural selections efforts to produce the perfectly adapted biological organism and SEOs development: from the amoeba-like black-hat tactics which worked years ago, through to the modern Homosapien of content driven search marketing we find today. Although the two have taken place at very different paces, both the biological and the digital have changed dramatically and changes have taken place over a period of time.

However, the more thought-provoking parallel is the possibility that both processes have now reached an evolutionary plateau. In the same way that we are unlikely to evolve much further biologically as a result of natural selection, given our ability to manipulate our surroundings, SEO looks unlikely to deviate away from its focus on quality content given the environment of Googles guidelines. But Hawkings observations of human evolution could be considered applicable to content based SEO: “the developmental focus has shifted.”

In the same way that we continue to exist in the same biological state, content continues to be king. But the nature of our existence is continually in flux and so is the nature of great content. For example, someone without a Facebook account will inevitably lag behind in terms of peer interaction; it has become almost a social requirement for someone to allow their digital life to extend onto Facebook in order to maintain friendships and keep on top of social interactions – I don’t know how many times friends of mine have said “are you coming to so-and-sos so-and-so?!” and when I respond with a shrug of the shoulders and a vacant expression, I’m told, “well I invited you on Facebook!”

The same is true of content. Your ear must be kept to the ground, because what was sharable, likable and blogable last week may well not be this week. Current affairs, sports, the publics desires and needs, a clients aims and goals, and even in a more long term sense cultural values of an entire nation, all change over time. All of this feeds into what makes great content and its inherently dynamic; to stay on top of what makes great content is to remain in sync with the dynamic elements of what makes the content great.

Ultimately, although we are still working within fixed constraints set up by search engines, we are exercising the same ‘self-designed’ evolution that Hawking describes. Mutations are no longer random (different tactics attempted to manipulate rankings, responding slowly and unpredictably to changes in search engines algorithms) as in the early days of SEO. We are now in a position to intelligently adapt, pre-empt and tailor content to what best resonates with the contemporary audience.

What makes great content will never be etched in stone because its in a state of constant change and linked to us as people; our interests, discoveries, cultures, economies, fears, favourite foods, envisioned futures, and so on and so on. All are contributing factors. Great content will be consistently changing, just as we are constantly changing as individuals and as a collective society. The two things are inextricably linked.