The darkart 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 thats the scenario sketched by RankScience, a YC-backed startup just graduating fromacceleratorswinter 2017 program, whose software-as-a-serviceautomates the process of running thousands of A/B tests in order toidentify which changes will improve the Google ranking of customer webpages in organic search results.
Ultimately thats 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 ifmanual analyticscan 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 subscriptionsoftware forautomated testing andcontinuously optimized web pages. RankScienceclaims anaverage boost to organic search traffic of 37 per cent within three months, arguing such gains area substantial step up from the competition albeit it only hasa 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 theyre ranking now, what theyre 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 thecustomers thus far are US-based but it does have some as far afield as Taiwan.
RankSciences methodrequires customers to route their web traffic throughitsCDN in order thatit can run thousands of concurrent split tests on their behalf, although it describes theset up for this asvery easy; two minutes and a simple one-line code change, is the claim.
It also claimsitsdoing things differently vs most of the startup competition in the SEO space because its not just doing analytics; its also automating making the changes too taking a further piece of search optimizationhassle out of its customers hands (assuming, of course, theyre comfortable relinquishing a little control over how their online content is structured, though it sends weekly reports about changes to keepcustomers in the loop).
The most similarcompetitor Bednar can be coaxed toname 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 theyre not doing. They dont have a CDN, they do hosting for companies, so I think what were doing is differentiated from what theyre doing.
Bednar says the idea for automating search engineoptimizationcamefrom 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 youre 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 were a CDN we can actually make changes to your pages. And other products cant.
RankScience not only carries outA/B tests for its customers, it also identifies which SEO experiments to run although at this point its not yet fully automated that part of its process. So it remains to be seen how they can scale that, and what impact fewerhuman inputs, as Bednar puts it, willhave on the results it can deliver for customers.
For customers its 100 per cent completely automated. On our end its mostly software with some human inputs, he says of the product at this point.When a company comes on board we do interview them to learn about things they care about etc, so there are some human inputs as well. But the rest is software.
We identify what to change and the larger our network gets the more powerful the data we have becomes because we know whats working on other sites across our network and so we have a good idea of what SEO experiments companies should be running.
Bednar emphasizes its SEOmethods are bona fide White Hat. So there are no dubious techniques being deployed in a bidto boost search visibility; its entirelycompliant with Googles best practices, he says, describing himself astotally confident the approach wont get a customers websitepenalized by Google for trying to game itsalgorithm.
As a consequence oflooping traffic through RankSciences CDN there is a very small amount oflatency involved in the process typically around 16m/s of latency or less minimal on accountof how many websites are now hosted on Amazon Web Services cloud service platform, according to Bednar.
The reason its so fast is that most companies now are on AWS and we spin up our CDNs in the same region as companies origin web servers on AWS. Thats one of the reasons that this couldve never been built before. Now everyones basically in the same data center AWS enables this speed.
And if customersare using other cloud service platforms say Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure hesays RankScience can just spin up our CDNs in the same region, so the latency will neverexceed 16m/s regardless of the platform a customer is using.
The team of five has raised a small pre-seed round from friends and the founders own money. Their next step on graduating from YC will be raising a seed.
Were totally focused on scaling right now. Weve spent this last year focusing on product, and validating a lot of our hypothesis. The past six months weve just been trying to add more customers, learn more about how this works for different sites and how people are using this. So were just totally focusing on scaling at this point, and improving the product, he adds.