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 spoiled 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 Miami” 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 “June 22, 1949” by the relationship “has birthday”. In clearly establishing the relationships between entities that you own, you are able to signal 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 Optimization 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 easy 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 are 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 panelists 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 organize 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.