The Crisis of Search as we know it. My #MozCon recap
This was my third consecutive time I attended MozCon, the conference organized by Moz and that take place every year in July.
I admit that my judgment is biased from being a Moz Global Associate and an active part of its community since many years, but I can’t not say that MozCon is quite possibly one of the best Internet Marketing conferences I have ever attended.
Please, note that I am writing Internet Marketing (and I have could used Inbound Marketing) and not SEO, because – in accordance with its re-branding – even MozCon was no longer exclusively dedicated, or mostly dedicated, to SEO.
A change, though, that was evident in the 2012 edition already, but which has been formalized this year with an agenda that was covering practically every facet of the so called Inbound Marketing ecosystem:
- Social Media
- Content Strategy and Marketing
- Data Science
A special mention should be also given to a quite new topic for MozCon: entrepreneurship, meant as that topic, which cover all the organizational and cultural skills a in-agency or in-house digital marketers must own in order to better do their job.
Adding that topic was very intelligent, because between the more the 1,300 MozCon attendees there were marketers of every kind: SEOs (still the majority), Social Media Specialists, Content Marketers, Analysts, and all of every level (from newbie to “experts”, from specialists to managers and directors).
Without devaluing at all the other sessions, there were four that especially attracted me, because very close to my vision of Search Marketing and my interests:
- Beyond 10 Blue Links: The Future of Ranking, by Dr. Pete
- String to Things: The Move to Semantic SEO by Matthew Brown
- Living in the Future of User Behavior by Will Critchlow
- The Secret Ingredient of Better Marketing by Rand Fishkin
The order is not casual, but follow a logical path:
- SERPs now and how to strategically/tactically react
- What can be our real competitive advantage
- What we must understand once for all about how people use Search and how Search Engines are adapting accordingly to that behavior
- What we can do now and answers we can give to our clients (and ourselves) to all the excuses that affect that change of mindset required if we want to succeed online
Beyond 10 Blue Links – The Future of Ranking
The original title of this deck by Dr Pete was “You’re Basically F$%&@d: Why You Should Become a Barista”.
An apocalyptic title, but it is justified by the vision of the slides from 9 to 94, which list – almost like the mythical Chinese water drop torture – all the 85 SERP features Google shapes the result pages with now.
After viewing the 10-pack domain sitelinks, image blocks and mega-blocks, video snippets, authorship, recipe, knowledge graph blocks and carousels, the paid shopping boxes, traffic map, map inlay, local 7-pack or 1-pack or “near”… you can’t but having a feeling of vertigo.
Even worst is that feeling when you discover that only the 15% of the entire MozCast database is made of the old classic 10 blue links.
The change is so evident and strong and it is not limited only to desktop search SERPs. Local is moving beyond Search to Maps (evident just checking the new Google Maps from yesterday available for all), Digital Agents – like SIRI or Google Voice – are already shaping the searches to our needs, and Cards answer to our questions even before we ask them (Google Now).
Dr Pete, then, clearly tells us how wrong we are in focusing always and only on the last news on our search for the secret formula, which will make us win in the SERPs, but that do not actually exist, as, for example, everything related to Authors, authorships and AuthorRank.
Search now is more and more ruled by Entities, which the common nature of Brands and Author. Google is Brand (or Author) centric because of that common reason, not because a brand is a brand or an author is an author.
That means that being and acting like an Entity is what is needed now.
This assumption leads us to a Copernican revolution: not focusing our efforts on ranking for selling, but on selling only, because doing that then good rankings will follow.
If we finally understand this Copernican revolution, we will easily understand how much buying/trading links, keyword stuffing, buying followers, spinning articles, exact match domain only strategies and faking a unreal local presence are useless (and repeatedly punished).
Instead, if we want to sell, we should attract links, target concepts, build a community, show expertise, make a known name of our Brand and think locally even when we are a nationwide or global business.
And do you know what? That doing that is also the best way of freeing ourselves of the Google tyranny; because we would be known as the thought leader in our niche, and people will come to us, cite us and link to us just because of that.
String to Things: The Move to Semantic SEO
If SERPs are more and more influenced by Entity recognition, what we can do as SEOs is – apart following what Dr Pete told in his deck – to start thinking to Semantic SEO, meaning with that Search Engine Optimization based on Entity recognition so to increase the relevancy of our sites.
We must understand, though, that Semantic SEO is not another tactic we can add to our SEO portfolio, but our industry expression of where Search Engines are going.
If we want to find a reason, maybe it should be found in the continuously decreasing ARPU of desktop versus mobile, and not just in the mobile rise.
Another reason why we should jump on the Semantic SEO train is also because if we do it now, then we are going to have a strong competitive advantage.
Numbers never lie:
- Only the 36.9% of the URLs has implemented Open Graph;
- Only the 9.9% of the URLs has implemented Schema.org;
- Only the 7.1% of the URLs has implemented the Publisher mark up
- Only the 2.2% of the URLs has implemented the Author mark up
That search engines (all, not just Google) are boldly moving toward Semantic and Entity Recognition is well documented by Matthew (check slides from 21 to 31), with many references to official documents and videos.
Then he dug into the specific tools, Search Engine proprietary (as Freebase) and not, which allow us exploring, discovering and understand the relation existing between online Entities (slides 32-41).
The most interesting part of the Matthew deck from a tactical point of view is what he describes in “Step 3: Target the Entity Long Tail” (from slide 42).
In this third step, he suggests us to not concentrate our efforts in targeting heavily Entity-based SERPs, where Knowledge Graph, especially, is strongly present with its box or carousel or both.
Instead, we should target what he defines as the long tail entity-based queries (as: “guide to Seattle beer”), using Freebase, Bottlenose and social tools to map entities and start implementing the “semantic phrases” search into our prospecting process, as we do now when using – for instance – Ubersuggest for finding long tail queries.
Once we have collected all the data, we can start creating content or optimizing our existing pages in order to respond well also to entity relations, hence having the opportunity to stand out in SERPs heavily conditioned by Entity Recognition.
Living In the Future Of User Behavior
If Search Engines are moving toward a fully Entity Recognition form, that is also a consequence of how the users behavior has change in relation to the act of searching.
We are shifting from a situation where users where still influenced by an analogical way of thinking to one where they control what they want to search, discover and return to online and from where performing those actions. The fact the 77% of mobile searches are done from a location where it is present a PC is quite indicative of this shift.
And Search Engines have understood this quite well. As they understood well that people prefers being always signed in (the Chrome multi-devices sync is a good example of this) or that the hardware is not what matters, but the “sofware”, the content shown by the hardware.
Personalization, this is the future… but the future is already here, and entity recognition and knowledge base helps shaping the personalized SERPs, because both are referring to the contextualization of search.
If once a query was just explicit (i.e.: London Tube Stations), now they own an implicit facet (i.e.: London Tube Stations, query done by an iPhone user walking on the street in London).
This is happening now, it is not something that will come in the future, hence we must start thinking to Personalization has a major asset in our Search Marketing Strategy, and the best way – apart being loved by our audience and being recognized as a real online entity and just a site (see again the Dr Pete deck) – is making the bots happy, making our sites machine-readable (being Schema just the start) and making our trust factors machine-readable too, understanding how Link Graph, Social Graph, Mentions and Entity Recognition interact with each other (as I also tried to explain in my last post on Moz)
The Secret Marketing of Better Marketing
[Sorry, no embeddable deck available at the moment]
Crisis is the best word for describing the panorama of the Search Industry the sessions of Dr Pete, Matthew Brown and Will Critchlow presented at MozCon.
The original meaning of the word “crisis” is passage, and every passage is painful because it means abandoning something we know (Search as it was just two years ago) to something new and still mostly unknown, especially by businesses.
But crisis are the ideal moment for committing radical changes. There are no excuses, as well said Rand Fishkin in his closing session, while describing the six “secret” factors of a great online marketing that works.
If you say to yourself “Our data isn’t that interesting”, the reality is that you aren’t that creative. And if you use as an excuse against transparency that you could never share “that information”, then that means that your fear is avoiding you from doing great marketing.
People make Brands, and Brands’ users are people. Emotionally connecting Brands and Users is key for creating a common vision of the world that both can share.
Therefore, saying something as “We maintain a strictly professional work environment” and reflect that attitude also online, actually means that you are hurting your customers, your employees and (probably) your own emotional well-being.
Generosity is not the same of “offering money”. Generosity means openness and helpfulness. Do it because it is good by itself, and because it is also a great marketing strategy, which prioritizes long term serendipity over short term ROI.
Follow the example of Betabrand in your naming convention and not just think following a keyword logic.
Use fun also for giving a life to even the most boring topic.
And don’t stop yourself saying that fun doesn’t fit with your brand; what if it works?
Empathy is at the base of UX that really works. Without it, our users are lost.
Empathy means also knowing what our audience really likes, dislikes and talks about. Ubersuggest can be helpful not only for discovering new trending queries, but also for understanding our audience.
If you use as an excuse that this is to complex or difficult, than you are myopic, because it is there where you can gain your real competitive advantage.
Once Ella Wheeler Wilcox said that “A poor original is better than a good imitation“. That means being “exceptional”.
Be the exception, because mimicking the competition ensures that you will always trail them.
And even if we love data, being overly depending on a data-driven marketing strategy can make us loose the opportunity of risking and being the innovators in our niche.