Moving into 2014, there are many changes afoot in our industry. From the consistent Google algorithm updates, to the shifting SEO and content landscape, we’re about to head into a very different year than the one we started in. In this hangout, I discussed the concerns that 3 leaders in the industry have heard from their clients, and hope this will help us all get a good context to step into the new year with the right foot forward.
Arnie: Hi, everyone. I’m Arnie Kuenn with Vertical Measures, and welcome to another edition of our monthly Google Hangout. And today we’ve got three guests, and we’re going to talk about what our biggest client concerns are going into 2014. I’ve got Matt Siltala, Rhea Drysdale, and Topher . . . excuse me. I told you I had a cold. Topher Kohan.
So I’m going to start and let Matt introduce himself, and then if you want, tell a little bit about your firm. And then maybe if you want to just quickly jump in, Matt, and talk about what your top two or three concerns for your clients are, from their perspective.
Arnie: And we’ll go from there.
Matt: I am Matt Siltala with Avalaunch Media. We are a small but steadily growing firm of 15 based out of Utah and Arizona. We have a heavy focus on content marketing, of course. We do SEO, we do digital, PPC, and landing pages and design. All that fun stuff.
But that’s not really why we’re here. You’re not here to learn about my company. You want to know about what’s going on in 2014. And that’s kind of . . . you know, I’m glad that you posted this question, Arnie, because I’ve been thinking about it a lot, some of the questions. I’ve been trying to figure out, how am I going to answer this with clients’ concerns, or just some of the stuff that’s been on my mind. And I’m going to kind of go at it from both directions.
Obviously from the client’s perspective is, hey, are we doing the things that aren’t going to get us penalized in 2014? You know, we were doing the things several years ago, and I say “we” as an industry, things that we thought were right that are getting us penalized now. For example, for anchor text, you should use this, you should not use this, you should do click here’s, now you should not do that. So, I mean, there’s lots of strategies as far as that’s concerned.
As far as our clients are, hey, are these links that we’re building good? Is the site structure, is anything that we’re doing bad? And so that’s probably, from that side of it. My side of it is, what area is Google going to come in and wipe out? We work with a lot of mortgage industries, a lot of insurance industries. I mean, are they going to be wiped out? What’s Google doing? What are they doing with some of their latest on . . . whatever you call it, just right there on their on page. What are they going to take over? What industries are they going to take over that are going to hurt my guys?
And I guess those are a couple of our biggest concerns. So from the clients’ side, are you doing things that are not going to get us penalized in 2014? Can you predict any kind of algorithm changes in 2014? And what is Google going to take over coming up in this next year?
Arnie: Yeah. Well, super, thanks. Rhea, I’ll let you introduce yourself, and then pose the same question. The biggest concerns that your clients have.
Rhea: Okay. Awesome. So as you said, Rhea Drysdale. I’m the CEO here at Outspoken Media. And we’ve got eight of us here in upstate New York. And we specialize in organic search, everything from link building to reputation management. What we say is we really help you grow, protect, and manage your brand online.
And I think in 2014, that’s what’s really exciting with a lot of our clients, is that they’re no longer just looking at SEO as this kind of vendor-type service that they can throw some cash to, set a link-building quota, and just see the magic roll in when it comes to traffic. They’re starting to accept a lot more responsibility, understand that we need to have integrated marketing campaigns. We’re seeing a lot of our clients come to us and ask about resources, and how do we align resources internally with their team as well as working with other vendors. So PR folks, social teams, and developers.
And I love that, when we can really start getting into an organization. Can consult on that level. So I think that’s really exciting for us, is that clients are starting to understand that SEO’s a bigger conversation.
We’re also seeing a lot of auditing take place. So, as Matt was saying, talking about penalties, and making sure we’re not doing anything that’s going to cause a penalty, or get an algorithm update. Trying to predict that. One of the steps that we’re seeing clients take is that they’re starting to learn to audit. Whether it’s just a link audit or a quarterly SEO audit, something along those lines. That holds both their internal teams as well as their vendors and consultants accountable. And so we’re actually at a point, and I’ve mentioned this at other speaking engagements, where we see many board of directors actually requiring that audit process.
And so I love that, at this point, SEO’s getting worked into a business process with a set of standards and regulations coming from an executive team, not just kind of siloed to the marketing department. And I think that’s really exciting, because it starts to legitimize what we’re doing, and it makes us feel a little bit more grown up as an industry.
Arnie: Good point. And we’re seeing the same things. A lot more audits, backlink audits, SEO audits, than we probably did all in 2012, we did two or three times that many in 2013. All right. I’ll turn it over to Topher and let you introduce yourself, and again, address the same question.
Topher: Sure thing. Thanks for having me on. I’m Topher Kohan. I’m the associate director of search strategies here at Rockfish. We’re an agency based out of Arkansas that has eight offices now. We’re growing pretty fast. The Atlanta office is the relatively new one.
I think that . . . so I’m a big geek, and if you know me, you know this about me. And there’s a show that I’m a huge fan of called “Torchwood.” And there’s an opening line in there that says, “In the 21st century, everything changes.” I think that really speaks about our industry. In 2014, everything changes.
I think that the things our clients are concerned about, and really should be concerned about, is mobile. I think it’s a bigger push now than ever before, with mobile SEO and how it affects SEO in general.
I think that content . . . if you have heard me speak ever, you know I bang this drum like John Bonham. Content is king. Good content will win over everything else. And I think that it always floors me when you get to a client who wants to spend money on SEO, but when you tell them that they need to write user-friendly, search-friendly, quality content for every page on their site, they look at you like you’re crazy. Like, “Why would I do that?”
And I think the other thing is that for the first time in a very long time, technical SEO is going to become more prominently important than it ever has before. Don’t get me wrong. I think we’re all smart enough to know that you had to get the technical part right. But now, I think it’s more than just getting it right. It’s innovating. It’s taking it to the next level. It’s showing the clients that through technical innovation, and the use of good code and good processes, you can really kind of win this game.
Arnie: Yeah. That’s a great point about mobile, too. I’ve seen a lot of the recent numbers over the whole holidays, last four or five days shopping, numbers. And I see what they’re reporting, anyway, is the mobile statistics for purchasing from the mobile, and it’s still stunning to me how quickly it’s happening. And I don’t think I’ve actually ever bought anything from my phone. I have definitely done some shopping and sent the links maybe to my computer, and looked at it from my office and purchased from there. But what they’re talking about, buying directly from the phone, was big numbers.
Rhea: I can say that, with a newborn child, I did some damage on Black Friday night on the phone.
Arnie: On your phone
Arnie: Wow. Yeah.
Topher: On Black Friday, I bought items on my phone from in a store.
Arnie: Yeah, there you go.
Matt: Amazon makes it too easy.
Topher: Yeah, exactly. Especially with their scan app, so you can check the prices. It’s brilliant.
Arnie: And is that actually what you did, Topher?
Topher: I went in, and was looking for something very specific for my wife. And I picked it up, I scanned it with my phone, and Amazon had it with Prime, and it was cheaper. So I pulled the trigger and said, “Let’s go.”
Arnie: Yeah. So everybody’s talked about SEO and the technical side of it. And I totally agree with that. I think that’s really starting to take off again. Not that it ever really stopped, but . . . and the focus on content.
So one of the issues I know, and I’ll just throw it out, that we’re having, and see if you guys are having the same thing, though, is that whole content buying is still a bit of a challenge. I know a bunch of agencies, SEO agencies, jumped into the content marketing world, and I think they’re learning lessons that it isn’t quite as easy as everybody might have thought. There’s a whole lot of issues when you actually bring the content to the client, getting approvals, getting it through legal, marketing, whatever it might be depending on whatever markets you’re in.
So how do you think that’s going to be handled and addressed in 2014? Do you think it’s going to get any better? Stay the same? Maybe Rhea, we’ll start with you.
Rhea: Yeah. So I think there’s a level of awareness. I think that a lot of the technical hurdles have to do with the CMS. You know, is the CMS capable of even allowing someone that you’re working with internally to post that content on the site. A lot of times, especially with larger retailers or large B to B organizations, we’re finding that just technically, the site isn’t set up in an effective way to streamline that content process.
So that’s a big one, is I think at this point, most people are aware of those problems, and we’re seeing a lot of implementation take place in 2013/2014, where they are moving to a platform that’s going to be able to support that more.
We’re also finding more complex problems with a lot of our clients, where content marketing, it varies by industry, right? So for some of our clients, they deal with publications online, and we’re having to battle Google Scholar and understanding what that means, and look at other considerations.
And so I like what Topher said, because content does get into technical in how you deliver that content, and I think that that’s a really interesting area that clients are just starting to look at. And what we’re finding is, on the whole, they don’t even have the analytics in place to understand the impact that that content can have, or what’s lacking, or what’s getting indexed.
And so I think that . . . I don’t know. Content marketing is just such a trendy word, and it’s so frustrating. But at least it’s better than “content is king,” maybe.
Rhea: I know. I said it. But it’s good to see that people are understanding it. And what we’re seeing is that most clients get it. They understand the value. It’s just a matter of getting that prioritized. We get a lot of clients that need help with getting their entire editorial team to understand best practices for SEO. And I think we’re all bringing it to a higher quality and level of work, and so that’s good.
But yes, you do have a lot of scrappy SEOs that are basically saying that link building is now content marketing. And unless you really elevate it, no, it’s not.
Arnie: Yeah. Hey, Matt. So I know you guys place a lot of content on client sites. So what kind of struggles have you run into with the clients, and how do you see that getting better in the next year?
Matt: Well, maybe we’re fortunate, we’re lucky to work with a lot of people that don’t have those issues. I mean, obviously there are going to be some that have certain content management systems that aren’t that friendly, and like Rhea said, you’ve got to figure out ways to work around that, and helping them work with their developer. Do whatever you’ve got to do to help them get that on a platform where it is more friendly, so you’re not having hundreds of pages of the exact same title tags and descriptions. Gone are the days of old with the default . . . you know how there used to be default options for your title tags?
Matt: I guess there are through some systems. But helping them, educating them, and helping them get them past that, where each page has to be unique. Like, I think . . . I can’t remember if it was Topher that talked about it, but getting that buy-in, where every single page of the website needs to have some sort of content strategy behind it.
And something interesting I was thinking about while we were chatting about all this. The last three hires that we’ve had have all been content people. I haven’t hired an SEO person in a long time. So it kind of shows you where the shift is.
But again, I don’t know if that answers the question or not. But we’re doing all that we can to help them understand on-page, like Topher said, with technical, and Rhea, both the technical side of it, making everything on that page as perfect as possible, providing the kind of content that’s going to answer the question, that’s going to be a solution, and adding to that content. Did you figure out . . .
You know, we’ll have really good content pages, and they’re doing really good. Well, is there any way to keep people on that page longer? Can we add a video? Can we add a testimonial? Is there some sort of mini-graphic or infographic that we can put on there that goes along that helps convert and get the lead in? So that’s a strategy that we’ve kind of taken.
Arnie: Got it. All right. So I want to ask or have you guys answer one question, and I’ll start with Topher and go back through the three of you, and then we’ll wrap it up. And the question is, if you can just think of the single biggest issue that your clients are concerned about with respect to Google, let’s say in 2014, if just one issue comes to mind, what would that be? And we’ll start with Topher and go from there.
Topher: I think that if I have to say one thing . . . wow, that’s a really tough question.
Arnie: Oh, we lost your sound.
Topher: Because I leaned on my mute button. I think the one thing is Google, right? No. I think the one thing is the lack of data we’re getting from Google now. I think that too many clients for too long were relying on information they were getting either from SEOs or from themselves via Google Analytics or Omniture or something. And that data is becoming less and less. And so I think that’s scaring them a lot.
Arnie: Yes. That’s a great answer. Rhea?
Rhea: So that’s interesting. I think that’s a good one. I think that definitely lack of data is frustrating. You know, lack of transparency, always. But what we’re seeing, and not across the board, but more competition from Google itself, whether it’s . . .
So I know Rob Bucci over at Stat Search Analytics posted something on Facebook the other day. Google now has a wedding planner that they are offering. And I just have to laugh at that. Which means some Google engineer probably was getting married and decided they needed to go ahead and create that. And suddenly Google’s going to get into the wedding space. And even though it’s a small feature, they’ll probably rank really well for anything involving the word “wedding.”
And there’s competition that they have in search for their products, but then there’s also competition just in terms of what the searches look like themselves, and what Google’s delivering with Knowledge Graph, and other things coming into it. Personalization. And I just think that Google’s taking a lot of real estate when it comes to those search results.
And now, with Search Analytics and tools like that, whether it’s search metrics, or authority labs, or stat, you’re seeing that we can track not just rankings of a search, but also whether there’s images present, or video. And that’s going to become really important, is we need to identify not just keywords, but areas where those searches appear with different elements, and what kind of competition exists there.
So there’s different layers of competition when it comes to Google, and I think that it’s just interesting to track and see.
Arnie: Yeah. Super. And Matt?
Matt: You know, I think those two hit the nail on the head, so I’m going to take this now towards a little bit different of an approach. I’m going to talk about the strategy of helping the clients go beyond Google.
We’ve really been this focused with, how can we survive, if we were to eliminate Google, or if Google were to de-index us or take over our industry, how can we survive if they weren’t there? And really helping our clients with strategies on Pinterest, really helping them understand Facebook, building their communities, building up a presence and following on sites like Twitter.
Again, it just goes to the social side of it. And again, we’re not saying that we’re doing away with Google, because that’s not what I’m saying at all. It’s just, these guys already gave some great answers for that. But let’s take the approach of, what kind of strategies can we put together for our clients with the social networks, with building communities. Even with the videos on YouTube, I know that’s a Google property. But how can we start building up our presence and our traffic, and really doing well.
Even on Instagram, there’s a . . . I’ll just share this case study real quick. We worked with this company that basically launched their first business in July. They did $5,000 just with Instagram posts, where they take pictures of the product, and actually take pictures of how it looks on the person. So here’s the necklace, but here’s how it’s actually worn and with what type of stuff. And then they put little coupon codes overlays on it, and said, how you pay us is let us know your PayPal address in the comments and we’ll bill you.
And so there are ways that people are getting business and going beyond Google. And I think that’s going to have to be a strategy for marketers as well in 2014.
Arnie: Yeah. Super. Some great insights, and it’s time for me to wrap this up. I want to thank Matt and Rhea and Topher for joining us this morning, and happy holidays to all of you. And we’ll be signing off. Say goodbye to everybody. And we’ll see you all next month. Thank you very much. I appreciate it, you guys.
Rhea: Thanks, Arnie.
Topher: Bye, guys.
Matt Siltala is a search industry leader and President of Avalaunch Media. Matt regularly speaks at search conferences like Pubcon, SMX, and SES. Before forming Avalaunch Media, Matt co-founded Dream Systems Media in 2005, and has started several highly successful e-commerce businesses beginning in 1998.
Rhea Drysdale is Chief Executive Officer of Outspoken Media, Inc. Rhea speaks on online reputation management, search engine optimization and link development at conferences like Search Marketing Expo, PubCon, Web 2.0 Expo, SEMNE, and Social Media Breakfast as well as private, corporate presentations.
Topher Kohan recently joined the Rockfish Atlanta office as Associate Director of Search. He previously worked at CNN, where he was the in-house SEO coordinator for the company’s digital news properties, including CNN International, HLNtv.com, CNN Mexico and iReport.