By Gennaro Cuofano, WordLift
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin invented PageRank back in 1996, they had one simple idea in mind: Organize the web based on “link popularity.”
In short, in the universe of pages existing in a (at the time almost) shapeless web, Page and Brin wanted to organize that information to make it become knowledge. The logic was pretty simple, yet extremely powerful. First, if a page was connected to multiple pages, which in turn linked back to it, that page improved in relevance. Also if a page had less links from other pages, yet those pages
were more important, then it also improved the ranking of the linked page.
In other words, how much a page was linked to others and how much other important pages linked back to it, determined a score from 0 to 10. A higher score meant more relevance, thus more chances of being shown by what would eventually become the greatest search engines of all times, Google.
Nowadays when you open the internet browser, you are not looking at the web itself, but rather the way Google indexes it. Presently, Google is the most visited website and chances are this scenario will remain unchallenged at least in the near future.
What does that imply? Simply that if Google doesn’t know you exist, de facto you don’t. Thus, how can you make Google know you exist?
Web writing at the time of PageRank
Before 2013, machines and humans used two completely different languages. Almost like a bird of paradise’s chant is indifferent to an eagle, search engines could not understand human language, unless humans did change their writing process.
It was the birth of the web writing industry. This industry was based on a premise, follow what Google says is relevant. This premise generated a cascade of consequences that still affects the web today.
In fact, up to 2013, Google’s algorithm took into account over 200 factors to determine the relevance of a piece of content. Yet those factors weren’t necessarily in line to what human readers wanted to see. Thus, for the first time in human history, men started to write for machines’ sake. That changed when in 2013, Google launched RankBrain.
How RankBrain and Artificial Intelligence changed web writing
Out of the more than 200 factors that Google accounts for when deciding whether the content on the web is relevant, RankBrain became the third most relevant.
Yet what is revolutionary about RankBrain is the fact that it uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to translate human language in machine language, leaving the writing process unaffected. Thus, rather than worrying about search engine optimization, writers can finally go back and do what they have been doing best for the last five thousand years: writing compelling stories.
Although it may sound trivial for a traditional writer, that was a revolution for web writers.
There is one caveat tough. Instead of thinking in terms of the single article, writers should start thinking in terms of entities. What is an entity then?
The birth of the Semantic Web
As we saw, before 2013 Google incentivized writing standards that were tailored for machines rather than humans. This scenario changed when RankBrain was launched.
The new algorithm allowed the coming forward to a new way of thinking about the web, a semantic web. Its father was Tim Berners-Lee, which in 2006 called for a transition from web to semantic web.
Why is that relevant and what does Semantic Web stand for?
First, the semantic web is a set of rules and standards that make human language readable to machines. Second, there was a transition from the single word to the general context, or put in technical jargon from keyword to entity.
In short, to make a piece of content relevant to search engines, it was crucial to place a set of keywords within an article. Yet that strategy is not enough anymore. Indeed, what nowadays makes a piece of content relevant is the context on which it stands.
In semantic web jargon an entity is a subject which has unambiguous meaning because it has a strong contextual foundation. Although strong and solid, that foundation is in constant flux. That makes the information structured as an entity way more reliable that any set of keywords. At the same time an entity is also more powerful as it adapts to the context in which it stands.
What does that imply? A single entity can replace a whole set of keywords. Thus, making writing more human.
The future of web writing
Even though no one really knows how the future will unfold, the hope is that finally thanks to Artificial Intelligence writers will be empowered, as they will be free to write amazing stories that will enrich the human collective intelligence. In other words, instead of going from writing to web writing as unconsciously as the human race transitioned from hunter-gathering to farming, it is time to take this step forward deliberately and intentionally. That means giving the web writing’s stage to whom it belongs, human beings!
Gennaro Cuofano is a Growth Hacker at WordLift, a software company that helps web writers organize their content and reach more readers while remaining focused on what they do best, writing.