Emergence—what it is and why SEO pros should understand it

by | Sep 30, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

Search engine optimization is a cornerstone focus for any digital business or online content creator. Google, as the premier and most widely used search engine by far, holds the proverbial keys to the kingdom. If you want your content to be found easily by your target audience, you need to optimize that content for Google’s search engine.

Naturally, business owners and developers have taken to this challenge with vigor. They’ve devised strategies and plans to analyze Google’s various SEO algorithms and try to master the system as best as they can. The only problem is that Google updates its own algorithms once (or even multiple times) each day.

What do you do? As it turns out, the information you get from your tests or data analysis isn’t always worthless, even if it’s filled with results that only correlate weakly with one another, or if Google’s algorithm has just updated again. The scientific concept of emergence can and should be applied to SEO analysis to get a better, bird’s-eye view of the situation.

With emergence and SEO analysis, business owners and content creators can maximize their productivity and efficiency for Google searchers

What exactly is emergence? Let’s nail some basic definitions down before we go further.

“Emergence” as we’re describing it now is best understood as a scientific concept that can be boiled down into a few main ideas:

  • Given enough moving pieces, a system will naturally become complex
  • As those pieces interact with one another, they can coalesce and spontaneously form into ordered structures or “subsystems” within a greater system
  • These changes can eventually cause the greater system to become something novel or even more interesting/complex than its original form

That’s still a bit technical. A better way to put it is that “order naturally arises out of chaos, given enough time and complexity”.

You can actually see this phenomenon in real life everywhere you look

Life itself is thought to have emerged from the chaos of the Earth’s ancient primordial soup, which combined key amino acids and other particles with energy from underground magma or lightning from the sky. It’s also being seen in machine learning and artificial intelligence, and other newer technologies.

When it comes to SEO, the emergence principle essentially means that even if Google updates its algorithms every day, different factors or search inputs will still result in identifiable patterns that online businesses can make use of. When used in the context of SEO for your blog or business, this essentially means that Google (for all of its immensity and complexity) is understandable and its algorithms can be projected or predicted.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

This Aristotelian quote is especially applicable to this situation. Emergence, after you apply it to Google and SEO analysis, means that Google as a whole is still somewhat predictable when you gather enough information from disparate sources and coalesce it all together.

Does this mean that you’ll be able to predict Google or fine-tune your SEO to perfection every time? No. A system as complex as Google will still contain some mysteries no matter how hard we try to understand or predict them. But emergence does mean that greater Google trends or algorithmic biases can be understood and used to your advantage.

Besides, Google is only getting more complex and machine learning and advances in web development are impossible to stop. This complexity is here to stay, so getting a grasp of emergence will help you stay at the top of your SEO game. There’s no turning back the clock on progress.

How does this relate to SEO?

As described above, understanding how emergence works as a concept will let you translate it to your Google SEO analysis quite naturally.

The most popular SEO Tools such as Ahrefs or Semrush rely on important data such as competitive search queries, brand mentions, subdomains, estimated traffic, and backlinks to establish to rank your site’s SEO strength. Emergence means that you can take these various data sets or Google search engine analytical studies and come to very reasonable conclusions about what that information means for how to optimize your SEO marketing campaigns.

Doing this will ensure you don’t rely on outdated SEO practices that can lead you to fall behind your competitors.

But what if your analysis only comes up with weak correlations between search engine inputs and actual traffic, or any other two factors? It doesn’t matter. Weak correlations are still data, and enough weak correlations can still lead to broader trends or SEO information you can use for your business or online activities.

They will then offer valuable insight you can use to tailor your website descriptions and meta content, optimizing your images, and so on. For instance, extensive research and studies have revealed the best practices for how images should be optimized for SEO, with the optimal technique (such as whether to compress images using a lossless or lossy technique) depending on a number of factors. All the same, the ideal length to write meta descriptions varies depending upon several factors as well. In fact, sometimes it’s even okay not to write a meta description as well.

The key here is context. Weakly-correlated data is still valuable if given the correct context. Think of it like this—a million small data points can still lead to an identifiable trend on a regular X and Y axis graph. The same holds true for emergence, Google, and SEO data analysis.

Alternatively, you might try to see how your brand is searched for on Google. Even if correlation between your brand and positive or negative rank signals might be weak, there could stillbe a correlation. This is vital information for, say, measuring the impact of media on your brand.

How to use emergence when analyzing for SEO

The best way to incorporate this concept into your SEO activities is as follows:

  • Recognize that every piece of SEO analytical data you collect can be valuable, so don’t get rid of or ignore anything
  • Try to look at every piece of data you acquire, from traffic habits to search engine inputs to times of searches and so on, and compare them against one another
  • Look for identifiable trends between the different data points as you monitor Google searches, media hits, or anything else – this may lead to the emergence of a pattern that you didn’t recognize before
  • Using emergence, you can then use any identified patterns to your advantage

Don’t panic if Google updates its algorithms and presumably changes the entire way that pages are ranked (hint: it won’t). Instead, keep collecting data, finding out where you can improve, and looking at how different data points may relate to one another to offer up a few nuggets of SEO wisdom.

Conclusion

Ultimately, understanding emergence is not about revolutionizing SEO analysis or necessarily winning the SEO game compared to your competitors. It’s about understanding how Google works and recognizing that it’s far from inscrutable. Google is one big machine with far too many moving parts for any one person or organization to fully grasp.

But just as sailors can look at the ocean’s waves and see common trends or patterns that might indicate a storm is on the horizon, you too can look at the waves in Google’s digital ocean and see trends or insights to boost your SEO performance across the board.

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Dan Fries
Dan Fries is Founding Partner at Lakeview Capital in Hong Kong.

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