2 Finalist Slots on the Drum Search Awards Shortlist!

We are thrilled to announce that NMPi by Incubeta has been shortlisted for 2 awards at The Drum Search Awards! Now in their 3rd successful year, the awards ceremony brings together individuals and companies at the forefront of search marketing. We’re so grateful to be gracing the line-up.

We have been nominated for:

Most Effective Use of Data or Insights: NMPi and Tipi London – PPC

Most Effective Use of Tech in a Search Campaign: NMPi Seamless and M&S – PPC and SEO

View the shortlist:

Due to the current circumstances, we’re waiting to hear more from The Drum on the date for the awards ceremony, but until then, keep your eyes peeled and your fingers crossed for NMPi!

 

SERP Update: PDFs on Mobile

As Google continues to update what appears in the SERP and how; we are beginning to see a new feature appearing amidst mobile search results. 

After arguing that PDFs aren’t mobile-friendly in 2018, attitudes at Google have begun to change as some users report seeing the first page of a PDF appearing for some mobile searches. 

Screenshot of Google Search Results for "travel pdf", with the top result showing the first page of a PDF.

While this won’t force too many changes for brands, it’s likely that we’ll begin to see producers of PDFs working to create more attractive front pages for their documents in order to draw the users’ attention. However, more data is needed to evaluate whether PDF thumbnails impact CTR, or what causes one PDF appears rather than another.

What this does highlight is a continuing shift towards the importance of optimising the search experience as a whole. Marketers will need to think about how they approach PDFs as a part of the SEO ecosystem; something they’ve never had to do before. The focus must now be on making the most of all of our organic and owned media – tying them all together for the benefit the user.

As more information and trends become apparent, we’ll be sure to update with best practices for SEO.

NMPi Shortlisted for 4 Performance Marketing Awards

This year’s award season kicks off with the Performance Marketing Awards (PMAs) releasing their shortlist today. Now in its 14th year, we’re delighted to have been shortlisted in 5 categories:

Best Use of Data: NMPi and M&S – Delivering Seamless Search for M&S

Global Excellence: NMPi and M&S International – Not All International Markets are Created Equal

Best Lead Generation Campaign: NMPi and Tipi – Closing the Loop between Online and Offline

Community Hero: NMPi, Your Friendly Neighborhood Community Hero

We are incredibly proud of the exceptional work that our team has put in over the past twelve months, and that they’ve been recognised by the industry’s best and brightest. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for when the awards are announced on 28th April.

M&S, Klarna, and Google take Centre Stage at latest Incubeta Ignite

Last week, Incubeta kicked off their events programme for the year with an in-depth look at the retail sector. The Retail Shakedown brought together a range of experts from across the industry, covering everything from influencers to sustainability. 

Access to the full presentations and session recordings can be found on the Incubeta’s website. Below is a short description of the presentations from M&S, Klarna, HSBC, The Planet Market, Google and of course our parent company, Incubeta.  

One to One with HSBC:

We kicked off our retail shakedown with a dive into the trends and insights from across Q4 in 2019. Finance Director Sally Laycock was joined by HSBC’s David Maddison for an in-depth fireside chat. If you want to catch up on the key opportunities for 2020, this is a great starting point. (See Full Write-Up)

New Loyalty with Klarna:

Loyalty. It’s not what it used to be, or at least; that’s the premise of Klarna’s Richard Blakeborough’s presentation. Experience, it seems, has also changed. With a look into Gen Z’s attitudes to loyalty, there’s a lot of practical guidance that you can take away from Richard’s session. (See Full Write-Up)

Influencer Marketing with M&S:

Influencers are a hot topic for retailers these days, but 84% of marketers feel that proving their ROI is a challenge. Hannah Tyrrell uses her experience with M&S to show how you can think differently about influencer value to extract and maximise ROI. If you’ve got your eyes set on influencers, you won’t want to miss this. (See Full Write-Up)

Why Successful Retailers Don’t Think Digital with Incubeta:

Despite the press’s constant scaremongering, Amy Jackson’s presentation reminds us that it’s really not as bad for the high street as we might think. Retailers are sitting on a huge, untapped resource that they can take advantage of. Find out how to make the most of it in this write-up. (See Full Write-Up)

Measurement Strategy with Google:  

The importance of an effective measurement strategy cannot be understated. In his in-depth presentation, Google’s Alex Maksimov provides an overview of the lay of the land as well as tips for choosing your measurement strategy. Make sense of measurement with the help from Google in this presentation. (See Full Write-Up)

From Talk to Action with The Planet Mark:

Sustainability is one of the most important topics for both retailers and consumers, but getting your messaging right isn’t always easy. Dave Carlos of The Planet Mark offers fantastic guidance on driving businesses and consumers alike from talk to action when it comes to our planet. With this playing such a key role in the decade to come, this is essential reading. (See Full Write-Up)

NMPinsider: 5 Minutes with a Graduate Apprentice.

Here at NMPi, we like to boast that our workforce is made up of some of the greatest minds in the Digital Marketing Industry.  We pride ourselves on hiring a diverse range of staff, with varying levels of experience, across a multitude of positions. It’s not rocket science that young talent is important, as proven by the 17-year-old intern at NASA that discovered a planet on his third day on the job.

It’s #NationalApprenticeWeek this week. Whilst we’re not on the hunt for a new planet, we thought we’d give you an NMPinsider look into what you can expect from an apprenticeship at a leading digital marketing agency. We got our resident Degree Apprentice to give us the lowdown…

5 minutes with Sam Seylani: Graduate Apprentice Account Executive, Agency Team. 

So, Sam. You’re a “Degree Apprentice” for us here at NMPi. Could you explain what this means, and how this role works?

After I finished my A-Level studies in the summer, I applied for a degree apprenticeship role at NMPi. 2 interviews later, and I was hired as an Account Executive on the agency team. A degree apprenticeship combines full time paid work with part-time degree-level study.

I work full time at NMPi and travel up to Manchester Metropolitan for a couple of days every month (25 days per year) where I study for my BSC Digital Marketing Degree. We get assignments to complete, and I am given time to work on these at NMPi. 20% of my work hours are spent completing assignments, going to interactive Q&A sessions with my lecturers or participating in any other ‘off-the-job’ training.

It’s 9:00am, you’ve just arrived at the Incubeta Office. What does a general day look like for an Apprentice?

I usually start my day by catching up with my mentor, on what I need to complete in the day ahead. I work on a couple of client accounts so I spend a lot of time making sure our clients are happy, and making the desired changes to their accounts. These requests can vary from editing ads to creating budget monitors. this gives me a really detailed look into the way digital ad campaigns are run. 

At lunchtime, a group of us will usually find somewhere around Old Street to eat. We get office lunch provided once a fortnight, or we do a vote for where to go and eat out on a Friday, which is always an important topic of conversation. After eating, quite a lot of us will gather around the table football table in the office breakout area. Competition levels are high, with a league ongoing. Some people take this a little too seriously!

After lunch, I split my time between working on my university assignments, or tasks for the agency team. I get to split my time and can work on these assignments during my working week. 

A Degree Apprenticeship is a popular choice for students now-a-days. What skills have you learnt from your time here at NMPi so far?

I feel that since I joined NMPi in September, my communication skills have improved a lot. Being given the opportunity to interact with clients on a regular basis, has given me the confidence to speak to clients on a B2B basis. Working at NMPi has also given me the experience of working in an office environment at a relatively young age. I knew I wanted to go into a Degree Apprenticeship, as I felt it would suit me better than full-time study, for example; by the time my university course finishes, I will have gained 4 years’ worth of incredibly useful work experience which is so beneficial and will help with my personal progression. 

I’ve also learnt so much about the industry itself. It’s great that I can apply the knowledge I’m studying, in real-time, which is helpful because Digital Marketing is such a fast-paced industry.

We love having you as part of our hardworking team, but It’s not all hard work though, right? What’s your favourite part about working for NMPi?

My favourite part about working at NMPi is the culture. We all manage to find time for a lot of laughs whilst also remaining hard working. We get great training, which means we’re always developing our skills. Despite being the youngest person at the company, everyone has made me feel welcome and I really feel like part of the family now! There’s people of all ages here so it’s very inclusive. 

After work, my colleagues and I often stay back to get a bit of extra practice on our table football skills, or take part in one of the company social nights, which range from games nights to tropical themed parties. We also have office drinks on a Friday or go to a nearby bar to have a drink and play some pool or darts. 

If you’re interested in working for NMPi, check out our careers page.

#NAW2020 #fireitup #Lookbeyond

 

NMPi’s Top Blogs of 2019

Here at NMPi, our teams love to share their knowledge and insights. Whether that’s through training or through blogs, they’ve got heaps of expertise to share. We’ve pulled together some of our favourite blogs from throughout 2019 – so check them out below and enjoy!

G|B|U of Super Bowl LIII

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest advertising opportunities available for US-based brands, and the price of just a 30-second placement is astronomical. In some cases though, it becomes apparent that brands spend their whole Super Bowl budget just on the placement, rather than the content within it. In this edition of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, we measured up some of the best and the worst ads from this year’s game. 

From Dates to Data: NMPi’s Love Island Prediction 2019

It’s one of the staples of a British Summer: beer gardens, Pimms, and Love Island. We decided to bring two of the things we love most in the world – data and reality TV – together to see if we could predict the winners of this year’s Love Island. Spoiler: while we got the result of the show wrong, we weren’t wrong overall. Make of that what you will.

Navigating the Top Search Tips for Travel

The customer journey has always been a complicated beast, but none more so that the journey to booking a holiday. In this deep dive, we looked into some of the best ways for travel brands to make the most of Paid Search. As we move into peak season, this might be a good refresher of some quick wins!

Meet BERT – Google’s Latest Updates

Updates to Google’s algorithm usually appear with no advance warning, but have a significant impact on how marketers handle their SEO efforts. BERT – introduced in late October – has been heralded the most important update of the last 5 years and marks a shift towards conversational search. In this piece, our SEO experts walk through what BERT will mean for the average marketer, and what we might able to infer about where Google is heading. 

Amazon: The Missing Piece of the User Journey

Amazon has become a hot topic for retailers these days as their market share grows and more and more budget is funnelled into Amazon Advertising. Peter Munton’s presentation from PI Live proved so popular that we ran his talk again as a webinar, and wrote up the notes for our blog. If you missed it earlier in the year, you can brush up now. 

And an Extra….

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention our, perhaps ill-advised, sequel to our 2017 General Election predictions that we released earlier this week. Using search data, we’ve predicted the outcomes of key swing seats and, thus, the election as a whole. At the time of writing, we don’t know how accurate we are – but if it’s anything like last time, we should be fairly close!

So that’s it! Our top blogs of 2019! What were your favourites, and what would you like us to blog about next year? Let us know on social media or in the comments below. 

G|B|U of Christmas 2019

Commutes are getting quieter. The air is getting colder. Offices are slowing down ready for the holiday break. Christmas is well and truly upon us once again; bringing with it a whole host of traditions. While matching pyjamas or a “top – secret” family recipe for Christmas cake might be your most treasured tradition, there’s one that I hold very close to my heart.

The humble Christmas advert.

Okay, maybe I’m overstating the fact, but it goes without saying that Christmas ads exist as a class of their own. Never am I, an advertising professional, more passionate about advertising than during the holiday season. 

They’re not all Christmas Crackers though, and so it’s time to bring back everyone’s favourite blog series: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. 

The King of Christmas

Like last year, I’d like to consider the John Lewis Christmas advert as a festive elite. As one of the UK’s most revered Christmas traditions, we can’t review it on the same scale as any other Christmas ads. However, unlike last year when I chose to keep it separate because it was a fairly disappointing placement, John Lewis’ 2019 ad is perhaps my favourite of the crop.

Perhaps I relate to Excitable Edgar too much. Perhaps I have too broad of a definition of what counts as cute. I don’t care, I would die for that adorable little dragon. Every time I see the Twitter ads that stemmed from the original tv slot, my face lights up. It’s good to see TV placements forming the basis of bigger campaigns on other channels – not something I noticed as much in previous years.

Beyond the main character, I also really enjoy the message of the campaign. Edgar has a big heart and is just misunderstood. His friend loves him regardless of his actions, and finds him the perfect gift to let him use his skills for good. A wholesome, cute advert. Just what the doctor ordered. 

The Good

As we’ve seen with John Lewis, you can’t go wrong with a memorable character. That’s why I have a soft spot for Joules’ Christmas campaign which features two of the features of my childhood: Wallace and Gromit. Christmas is a time for nostalgia, and there’s something incredibly warm and fuzzy about seeing those two getting ready for Christmas. If I’m honest, I will actively seek this advert out to help put me in the holiday spirit and bring a bit of joy to my day.

Another highlight is the McDonald’s ad, an animation which sees young Ellie playing with Archie the Reindeer after her older sister Jenny declines to join in the fun. When Ellie runs out of “Reindeer treats” for Archie, the family (including her older sister) go to McDonald’s for more – where we see the animation switch to real life and find that Archie… well I won’t spoil it. This story is all about finding the joy of Christmas, watching as Jenny finds that spark again after seeing Ellie playing and drawing. It’s incredibly sweet, and the art style is gorgeous. A definite winner. 

The Bad

Alongside our Christmas crackers must also come our Christmas turkeys and there really are a few this year. The Peloton ad has already become infamous and needs no additional comment, but there are plenty of others on my naughty list this year.

Usually, I like the Tesco’s Christmas ad. They’re alright, I recognise the background music, they’re a solid middle ground. This year, I really didn’t enjoy the story and found myself switching off within a couple of seconds. Time-traveling delivery drivers brought nothing exciting to the table. Part of me knows I shouldn’t really have expected much more, but I’m disappointed none-the-less. 

The top spot on my naughty list, however, is reserved for IKEA’s Silence the Critics advert. Grime Rapper “D double E” voices tacky knick-knacks, in the hopes to outline how easy and quick it is to order new furniture just in time for guests to come over. While it does achieve its message, it misses the mark on what Christmas is about: enjoying what you have, whilst surrounded by loved ones. 

I have explicitly told my mother not to tidy for my holiday visit. I don’t care if the house is a mess, I just want to see her, and I really don’t want her stressing about the “state of the living room” for the next week. If your family and friends care about your house’s decor, you don’t need them in your life. Bad messaging IKEA. Expect nothing but coal in your stocking this year. 

The Ugly

I’ve decided that, as Christmas is a time for celebration, I won’t be doing the “ugly” this time. Instead, I’m going to highlight the ones that made me ugly-cry by highlighting the charitable work that brands are doing this holiday season. 

First on this list is Heineken’s Brewing Good Cheer, an initiative now in its fourth year. The company hosts events in pubs up and down the country, with this clip focusing on the staff of a food bank, and the residents at a dementia centre coming together for Christmas dinner – and a few surprises. It’s a lovely reminder of the importance of local community as well as the services that can often for its backbone.

Then there’s the Age UK campaign “No One Should Have No One To Turn To”, which raises awareness of the loneliness that comes with old age following a bereavement, or should they have to care for a loved one. Christmas can be an incredibly alienating time for this generation, and the Age UK billboard campaign does an amazing job of shedding some light on these difficult circumstances. 

Christmas is the most magical time of year not just because of the snow and the presents, but also because I think it can show how we all pull together and support one another in times of need. It gives us that little bit of light in a world that can too often seem dark. As you can see from my commentary – that’s what I like the most in my Christmas ads.

From our office to yours: Merry Christmas. 

NMPi Predicts: Lib Dems Soak Up Labour Seats

A couple of years ago we wrote an article that finished a little something like this;

*DISCLAIMER – whilst we’re hopeful of being correct, thus acquiring fortune and numerous appearances on breakfast television, this is mainly in jest. Please read with a pinch of salt.*

The disclaimer was for a piece where we tried to predict the results of the 2017 UK General Election using Google search data. In the face of multiple polls suggesting otherwise, along with a handful of Twitter trolling, we predicted a Hung Parliament. 

Oddly enough, we ended up being right. 

Rather unfortunately, it turns out the amateur polling world isn’t as lucrative as we first thought. Buckets of cash and a visit to Holly and Phil’s sofa weren’t on the cards.

What did emerge, however, was a murmur of intrigue around the methodology our approach used. If it did indeed have legs, it would add an interesting and very different voice to the media circus. 

So, after our spectacular entrance to the political polling world, here we are with our, likely ill-advised, sequel. Let’s hope we’re a little more Godfather than Jaws. 

Finding the Swing Seats

Last time out, we tried to predict the result of every seat in the country by looking at search trends in key regions alone and extrapolating outwards. For this year’s effort, we took a more rigorous approach; going a floor deeper and focusing our attention at a constituency-level. 

Despite how much free time we may appear to have, completing such a depth of analysis across 650 micro-regions was beyond our comprehension. Try doing that during Black Friday. That’s why this time we decided to focus on potential swing seats only. Whilst we were correct with 2017’s end result, the addition of specific seat allocations to the mix will hopefully bring even greater accuracy, with all of our time and effort being spent in the granular details of key battlegrounds. 

Our first challenge was to define where these elusive swing seats lay. Rather than taking the easy route and asking someone, we chose the data-driven option (as we tend to do). 

Step one was straightforward enough. We took the results from the 2010, 2015 and 2017 elections and built a picture of the voting history for each constituency. Any seat that had swung during those last three events were included within our analysis. 

The next stage was to then look all those that were left. How do we calculate the potential instability of all remaining seats, some of which haven’t changed hands in over a decade? 

For this, we modelled the average seat swing for each party in every constituency over the last three elections. The fluctuations over time gave us an idea of seat volatility which we then applied the following formula to:

All those with a value below 1 were added to our list of potential swing candidates, leaving us with a total pool of 209 seats to go forth and predict using our latest algorithm update. 

The Formula

We learnt from our past efforts that the prediction formula should take into account three separate elements. The candidate in the borough, the parties themselves, and respective party leaders. 

We started by sourcing the previous months number of searches for every local candidate in those 209 seats from Google’s Keyword Tool. The number of impressions were considered their vote share. This was then weighted against searches for each party and party leader, leading to the following formula: 

What we ended up with was a value considered to be their share of the electorate’s vote in any given seat. Whichever local candidate had the highest share was thus predicted to be our victor. These numbers were then added to the seats unlikely to swing. 

Makes sense in principle, but how did it stand up in practice? Sadly limitations in search term data restricted our testing to the 2017 election only. The output however was extremely encouraging. 

Upon running the formula, we ended up with this:

A 4% margin of error, or a 96% confidence level. A positive sign for any pollster. 

We settled on our approach and applied it to the battle to come. 

The Prediction

In an election where almost everyone appears to be queueing up to lose, we have our winner. A very slender Conservative majority. Regrettably, not quite the bombshell that we landed with last time around. 

There are however three things that are very interesting. The first is the predicted performance of the Liberal Democrats. In a campaign where the whole notion of ‘tactical voting’ appears to have taken root, it doesn’t seem to have worked in the way that we had anticipated. Rather than reducing the Conservative majority, the Lib Dems are predicted a surge of seats from 21 to 35 at the expense of Labour; implying that anti-Brexit voters are sticking firm. This hasn’t been predicted to this scale anywhere else.

The second is the drop in seats for the SNP – a sign perhaps that the ‘indyref2’ campaign message hasn’t resonated with voters in the region? Whatever the cause, Nicola Sturgeon will likely see this as an opportunity missed if results do indeed end up this way. 

The final point to mention is some of the shock swings our analysis has revealed.

We have Sheffield Hallam switching to the Conservatives (following a slim Labour victory in 2017), Southport opting for the Lib Dems (after the 2017 Conservative victory), and perhaps most surprisingly Wimbledon moving into the hands of the Labour Party (a Conservative hold for over a decade). If the latter in particular were to happen early on in election results night, it could see pollsters scrambling to add a couple more notches of red to their bar charts.  

And there we have it. Phase two complete. Whether we’re hoisted aloft and buried in awards (like The Godfather II), or quickly forgotten and relegated to the annals of history (like Jaws II), only time will tell. All we do hope for is that we last a little longer on your screens than a picture of an ill child being waved in front of a Prime Minister. 

The Power of Uncertainty: Impacts of Brexit On Retail, Travel & Digital

Read Time: 5 mins

No matter which way you spin it, Brexit will undeniably have a unique effect on every vertical within British industry. Direct or indirect, businesses across the country will have to adapt to whatever unknown situation or agreement we eventually end up with – and that’s exactly the issue: the ongoing uncertainty.

The lack of public knowledge or clear political direction has resulted in a general sense of economic uncertainty. A slowing economy – or perception of a slowing economy – could have a significant negative effect on retail, travel and beyond due to changes in UK consumer intent and spending. Surveys conducted by the Bank Of England and the Treasury found that the UK’s private sector fell into a shock contraction in September of this year, with the blame placed on the economic stress of an ever-impending Brexit. After a similar decline in the previous quarter, the UK economy is thought to be slipping towards recession. If profits slump further, discretionary budgets will be the first on the chopping block for businesses, and the growth of the UK’s digital marketing sector might be threatened.

‘Failure to find a way forward could result in a delayed budget, weaker pound and lower growth forecast’  Larry Elliot – Economics Editor, The Guardian.

With the 12th December General Election looming, the outcome of Brexit has become even more unclear, leaving UK businesses with no guaranteed circumstances to prepare for. Leave or stay, deal or no deal, the waiting and decision-making is already having a tangibly detrimental effect to the economy.

Retail: Consumers, Staffing, and other potential problems

The retail industry has already suffered a slew of issues over the last few years. Problematic transitions to digital, rising rent costs and decreasing consumer brand loyalty are all systemic challenges that this industry faces. Unfortunately, the current forecasts suggest that Brexit isn’t looking like it’s going to alleviate any of these pressures.

The fluctuating decline of the pound means that retailers importing goods from the EU are facing rising costs and weaker margins, alongside strained access to labour – the retail industry employs an EU migrant workforce of over 170,000 according to the CBI. If retailers start to feel the squeeze, will they continue with increased investment in media and advertising?

Travel: ‘Open Skies’, but for how much longer?

One of the largest concerns for the travel industry is the future of the EU’s ‘open skies’ agreement that the UK has enjoyed since 1997, which allows any EU airline to fly freely between any member country. UK airlines such as Flybe and British Airways have been able to offer discounted fares and cheaper flights as a result, but for how much longer is yet to be seen.

Both British and European airlines have acted pre-emptively in the event this agreement is nullified, with EasyJet setting up a European subsidiary and Hungarian-based Wizz Air founding ‘Wizz Air UK’ to ensure operations wouldn’t be disrupted. In fact, Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi has said that he sees Brexit as an ‘opportunity’, in the hope that as competitors struggle to operate with new restrictions, Wizz Air can make the most of a gap in the market. Nonetheless, consultancy firm Oxford Economics has said a no-deal Brexit could cause a 5% fall in overseas travel and tourism trips by Britons in 2020.

What do all of these retail and travel changes mean for digital? Reduced media spend, supply chain issues and complex data laws will all inevitably shape the world of post-Brexit digital marketing.

Digital Media & Marketing – Are you as prepared as you think you are?

UK companies reduced marketing budgets for the first time in seven years during Q3 2019, according to the IPA’s quarterly Bellwether report. Stemming from a lack of confidence in the UK economy and consumer spend, marketing budgets across all verticals are being chipped away as businesses continue to hold their breath until a final Brexit relationship with the EU becomes clear.

No one can forget the omnipresent elephant in the room either – GDPR. There are many EU data laws that the UK would no longer have to abide by post-Brexit, but the UK’s new official status as a ‘third country’ throws up a number of pressing issues that are guaranteed to keep you up at night. The future legality of sending or receiving personal data from somewhere else in the EU is worryingly unclear – even storing data on servers hosted in Europe could be potentially illegal after a hard Brexit.

But, the highly adaptable nature of digital marketing makes it a frontrunner for continued investment, despite economic and regulatory concerns. In Q3, the Bellwether reported that digital (or ‘Internet’) was the only marketing sector that saw a net increase of firms reporting budget growth, aided by advancements in data management and an increasing prevalence of social media advertising.

Similarly, international trade in UK advertising services actually grew to nearly £7bn in 2017, an increase of 18% year on year according to the Advertising Association’s 2019 exports report. As Europe’s largest advertising market, the UK is in an advantageous position to capitalise on international advertising trade, with a focus on Asian markets as tensions between China and the US refuse to dissipate.

Takeaways

Ultimately, no one can provide definitive answers. As long as the UK remains trapped in the malaise of Brexit negotiations, confident predictions on the future of the industry are almost impossible. Successful digital agencies will navigate ambiguous data laws with agility and will be well-prepared for any potential trade restrictions through extensive planning and evaluation of access to new non-EU markets, especially at a stage where multiple eventual outcomes are still possible.

Despite the challenges, there are clear signs of strong growth in digital, and it’s up to agencies to translate this growth for other sectors struggling under the pressures of Brexit.

NMPignite Debates: The Future of SEO

Read time: 4 mins 30 secs

NMPi welcomed guests for our first NMPignite Debates event; a panel discussion all about the future of SEO. We were joined by Jennifer Hoffman (DeepCrawl), Joe Doveton (Binary Bear), Michael Bass (Marks and Spencer), Fred Maude (Incubeta) and Joe Comotto (NMPi) for a hugely insightful morning of discussion and debate.

It’s easier to forget that Google is not just here to serve us as marketers, but is a business of its own with its own goals and targets. As we watch how Google has changed over the last 20 years or so, building out their own properties, we can see how they have been driven by one singular goal: creating a positive user experience that answers search queries in the quickest and most effective way possible. 

Building an Entity

Our panel couldn’t agree on whether we should be considering Google as a competitor or simply as the landscape that we exist within. Regardless, with the changes that we’ve seen in the SERP, savvy marketers would do well to build their businesses and SEO strategies to provide that same positive user experience while circumventing Google.

The key to success lies in building a brand: you want users to remember you, the service you provide, and how you can help them answer their specific queries. We were spoilt by SEO and Google in the early days, but there is perhaps now an overreliance on Google to send us traffic. In building your brand, you’re able to reduce your reliance on generic key terms so that rather than searching for “flights to Belfast” and being served things like Google’s travel aggregator, a user would search “Expedia” or go direct to site, trusting the service and experience that they receive from Expedia to be able to help them with their query. 

One way that you can do this is by building an entity, as this is how Google is understanding not only brands but specific ideas, dates and concepts. While the idea of entities isn’t entirely new, it certainly deserves more recognition. Google not only understands things in terms of entities, but it uses machine learning to make sense of the relationships between them to serve better results in the SERP. For example, the entity “Meryl Streep” connects to “22 June 1949” by the relationship “has birthday”. In clearly establishing the relationships between entities that you own, you are able to signpost to Google what your brand is about, and the types of content that are relevant to your brand. 

Own the SERP

A subtlety that some of our panel have noticed is this shift away from Search Engine Optimisation and towards a full Search Experience. This brings both SEO and UX specialists closer together as we consider the user journey all the way from search query to conversion. First here is the rise of things like Featured Snippets and Zero-Click Searches, which provide opportunities for brands to “skip the queue” so to speak, and end up in that coveted position zero. While it isn’t as easier to measure interactions with these positions, they do allow brands to build up their brand awareness. On top of this, Structured Data is also playing a huge role in technical SEO strategies. 

If organic clicks are at a premium, it puts more of an impetus on brands to improve the landing experience in order to reinforce a positive user journey. This means working to reduce friction and increasing engagement, to name a few best practices. There are other examples of how UX or CRO can fit into SEO – such as site speeds, the length of content, and whether or not you are answering a user’s question – that can all be taken into account here.

Technology

To serve users the most relevant answers, Machine Learning and AI is gradually becoming more and more relevant within search; take the rollout of BERT as a key signal to this end. While it only affects about 10% of search results at the moment, the idea behind this particular update is to get consumers used to using natural language when searching, rather than talking in keywords. This certainly nods towards preparations for voice search which, despite being something of a red herring right now, is where we seem to be heading. For now though, BERT will be most relevant for the long-tail of the long-tail search terms; helping to understand the most complicated of searches. 

On the brand-side, automation is a growing trend for SEOs to help them become more efficient. Technology can also help to pull together and unlock the potential of all of your data sources – paid, organic, channel – to find the incrementality of paid search compared to SEO and vice versa. 

Takeaways

We are now in the death-throes of using search as a tactic for driving traffic; SEOs should focus on putting digital at the heart of all of their marketing efforts as we move into 2020. Our panellists ended the session by giving their single biggest takeaway for the year to come:

  • Build a brand, think about your content as an entity and how you communicate this to Google: don’t put all your eggs in one Google basket;
  • Effectively organise your data, as this will help you to make decisions;
  • De-silo your SEO so that it can work more effectively with PPC;
  • CRO is rebranding as experimentation, and this will be the year it goes mainstream;
  • Create positive customer experiences – at the end of the day, this is why they keep coming back.