Artificial Intelligence and SEO: the pen example

AI and machine learning are fascinating and ever-evolving topics, and I spend a lot of time studying and thinking about them. This is going to be the first of a series of articles from a web marketing perspective, which is all I have knowledge about. If you are into AI, I recommend finding your own way into it, and a better teacher than myself.

During presentations, may it be in a course or with clients, I always use the Tratto Pen example to illustrate the concept of a Search Engine behaving like a human, and not like a computer.

This is a Tratto Pen: it’s my favourite pen and I’m yet to find an equivalent here in the UK. Its quality is irrelevant though, I only use it to prove a point:

I normally do this with a real pen (which is also useful to avoid Italian over-handgesturing): I display the object in my hands and ask: “do you know what this is?”. They immediately go “a pen?”.

There you have it: how do you know it’s a pen? I think it’s not plausible you’d seen this brand before because it might not even exist here, not to mention this specific pen. You most definitely never really saw this before. So how did your brain come up with the immediate idea that it was a pen? Well, it’s all a matter of probability: your senses scan the world around you, gathering information; your brain compares the surroundings with what’s seen in the past (memory) and assumes. Now, you are seeing an object, its dimensions are X*Y*Z, its colour black. We are in an office, or in a similar space. I’m handling it, pointing at things with it. It appears to have a cap. 99.9% it’s a pen. It might be a bomb or a laser pointer or a car, but it’s simply less likely (respectively, 1%, 20%, 0%). So even if you’ve never seen this specific item before, and I’ve never mentioned its name, you can assume it’s a pen.

In Google’s case, its senses are the crawlers (spiders, bots, whatever you call them). It’s got memory (way more memory than a human’s, in fact). It does not need mentions: it can assume based on clues. It will understand that this blog is about SEO, even if I were to never even mention SEO at all. Because the words I use are normally associated with a high percentage by other SEO blogs; because when people talk about me they do it in association with that set of words; because using the terms SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is largely the same for humans, so it’s become the same for the Search Engine. And so on: there’s plenty of examples of how this works, my favourite being how Google Translate has evolved in the past couple of years. When I was studying translation, Google Translate was synonym of “crappy quality”, now it’s just impressive. This is an interesting article about it: btw, I’m not using a relevant anchor text to link to that page, do you think Google will have trouble understanding what I’m giving that page relevance for? Of course, linking is influenced by this, too.

So in the end: I don’t care at all if you link towards my site with a relevant anchor; hell, I barely care if you actually link at all! Being linked to is now, and will be ever more, only a way of flexing to your client or boss or colleagues. Truth is, a link is but a consequence of people giving signals. Signals are what’s important for the search engine, because it’s using them to create a map of the world.

Soundtrack: Act IV by The Dear Hunter

PS. I SWEAR, I was not ever paid by Tratto Pen/Fila for this post (but hey you guys, if you wanted to send me a box with 100 black Trattos I wouldn’t mind really…)