The dark art of search engine optimization could be next in line for software-powered automation — potentially putting hundreds of thousands of ‘SEO consultants’ out of a job.
At least that’s the scenario sketched by RankScience, a YC-backed startup just graduating from accelerator’s winter 2017 program, whose software-as-a-service automates the process of running thousands of A/B tests in order to identify which changes will improve the Google ranking of customer webpages in organic search results.
“Ultimately that’s who we do see ourselves replacing,” says founder Ryan Bednar of the humble human SEO consultant who spends their days eyeballing scores of dashboards to try to identify beneficial tweaks. But whose days of gainful employment could be numbered if manual analytics can be overtaken by automation.
“It is an industry that I think we can disrupt,” he continues. “Humans are tweaking and measuring and changing, and software is really where things are going — and we think this is the start of that.”
So the pitch is: goodbye SEO dashboards and specialized in-house staff; and hello subscription software for automated testing and continuously optimized web pages. RankScience claims an average boost to organic search traffic of 37 per cent within three months, arguing such gains are a substantial step up from the competition — albeit it only has “a couple of dozen” customers at this point.
While Bednar says the SEO automation testing approach works well for “all sorts of different sites”, he flags particular benefits for ecommerce sites, marketplaces, directories, Q&A pages — “anything where companies have lots of pages”.
“Our software identifies areas of opportunity and things that companies should be testing based on where they’re ranking now, what they’re competitors are doing, and what opportunities we see. And also this data that we have from across our network — things that we see that are working elsewhere on similar sites.”
The SaaS platform soft-launched in May last year, and the team has not yet done any active marketing. Most of the customers thus far are US-based but it does have some as far afield as Taiwan.
RankScience’s method requires customers to route their web traffic through its CDN in order that it can run thousands of concurrent split tests on their behalf, although it describes the set up for this as very easy; “two minutes” and a simple “one-line code change”, is the claim.
It also claims it’s doing things differently vs most of the startup competition in the SEO space because it’s not just doing analytics; it’s also automating making the changes too — taking a further piece of search optimization hassle out of its customers’ hands (assuming, of course, they’re comfortable relinquishing a little control over how their online content is structured, though it sends weekly reports about changes to keep customers in the loop).
The “most similar” competitor Bednar can be coaxed to name is BloomReach, which does ecommerce SEO for Fortune 500 companies, but he adds: “As far as I know, our continuous, automated split testing software is something they’re not doing. They don’t have a CDN, they do hosting for companies, so I think what we’re doing is differentiated from what they’re doing.”
Bednar says the idea for automating search engine optimization came from his “previous life” as an SEO consultant. “I realized my main advantage, related to other consultants, was that I was a programmer, and so companies could add me to GitHub, and instead of just sending them PDFs with recommended changes I could actually execute the changes myself… Our CDN is an attempt to productize that,” he tells TechCrunch.
“Almost all of the other SEO software products are analytics tools. They give you insights into how you’re doing with rankings, or they maybe make recommendations around things that you should change,” he adds.
“Our product is the only piece of SEO software that actually does work for you. So instead of creating tasks for engineers or product managers, our software actually handles the work for you, and executes for you. Because we’re a CDN — we can actually make changes to your pages. And other products can’t.”