This is the sixth episode of our brand new weekly show, ‘This Week In Organic’, the weekly show that debates the ramifications of the latest SEO and content marketing news.
In this episode, among other things we talk about whether Bing can really be a serious Google competitor, whether or not open standard encryption is a good idea and why Google stopped displaying Google+ posts from its Google Graph Panels. Our host, David Bain is joined Justin Deaville from Receptional Digital Marketing, Matt Treviss from Atelier Studios and Drew Broomhall from Haymarket Media Group.
DAVID BAIN: Can Bing really be a serious Google competitor? Is an open standard encryption a good idea? And why did Google stop displaying Google+ posts in its Google Graph Panels? All that and more in This Week in Organic, Episode Number Six.
Broadcasting live from London, welcome to This Week in Organic, the weekly show that debates the ramifications of the latest SEO and content marketing news. Sign up to watch the next show live at www.thisweekinorganic.com.
Hello and welcome. I’m David Bain and each week I’ll be joined by some knowledgeable, opinionated folks to discuss the latest happenings in anything that impacts organic traffic. As for you, dear viewer, get involved – we’d love to hear your opinion too. So just use the hashtag #TWIO on Twitter, and if you’re watching live your thoughts will magically appear in the chat box to my left-hand side.
So let’s find out today’s guests and where they’re from and what’s caught their attention this week. So starting off with Justin.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Oh, hi there. I’m Justin, Justin Deaville. I’m managing director at Receptional Digital Marketing Agency based just outside London. One of the things that’s interested me this week is looking at Google and whether Google is…we know that Google is basically close to being a monopoly. Is Google fixing its own search results to keep out other competitors?
DAVID BAIN: Mm, intriguing. And Matt?
MATT TREVISS: Oh, thanks for having us, David. My name’s Matt. I’m here at Atelier Studios here in sunny Southampton. I’m a big fan of paid search as well as organics. Something that has really sort of caught my attention this week is the Let’s Encrypt, which is the new security statistical authority that’s backed by the likes of Cisco and Mozilla.
DAVID BAIN: Well that was a great suggestion of a topic from yourself there, so we look forward to discussing that a little bit more there. So that’s working in a busy office there we can here in the background. But you mentioned sunny and talking about sunny, we’ve got Drew with us as well.
DREW BROOMHALL: Yeah, hi. I’m Drew Broomhall. I’m a director for Haymarket Media Group, an international media publisher across the UK and US. And what’s interested me this week is probably the constant jockeying that we’re seeing between Google, Bing and Yahoo! in terms of trying to grab market share and the implication in terms of Yahoo! perhaps shifting its search away…
DAVID BAIN: Okay, lots happening, lots to talk about. So let’s talk about the fact that Microsoft have announced a ten-year deal to power AOL’s search results. Now with Yahoo! included, Bing now has 20% of search results in the United States but 8% worldwide. So is there any chance that Bing will be able to rival Google’s dominance over the next few years? So Justin, did Google even want AOL’s business?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: In terms of the first question, I would say no. I don’t see Microsoft challenging Google in a big way anytime soon, certainly not from a search engine point of view. If you’re looking at the UK, then Google’s market share is 90%+. Internationally, in the States, it’s slightly lower than that but it’s still the dominant player within the market. And I think if we look at the history of technology companies over time, once a company gets to the sort of size of Microsoft, it’s much more difficult to be innovative in the way that it would need to be with search engine technology to take over Google, and Google’s brand I think is just too strong.
I mean, Google is still looking to increase market share so it would have wanted AOL’s business but I think inevitably over time Google can only go from strength to strength.
DAVID BAIN: Yeah. In about 2002, 2003 or so, when the first Google/AOL deal was announced, AOL was a lot bigger in terms of share or search then. Now it’s only about, I think, 0.6, 0.7% or so, so you could argue that Google are actually pulling back from that a little bit to perhaps remove themselves slightly from being accused of trying to control absolutely everything to do with search and maybe to try and not take that business. Matt, what’s your opinion in terms of Google’s share of search? Can you see Bing making any further movement into Google’s share?
MATT TREVISS: I think one area actually would be their paid search platform and it’s not something that historically we’ve really explored for our clients but the last couple of months we’ve been having a little look at their paid search platform and I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the functionality in there but it’s quite advanced and especially with the keyword insights that they’re now offering, I think that’s potentially a really interesting space, especially when you’re dealing with clients that have got their customers where they’re kind of using Internet Explorer as their default browser and they aren’t necessarily using Google as their default browser. I think that’s quite an interesting space. I’m really impressed actually. You just sort of reeled off those statistics straight off the tongue.
But yeah, in terms of Microsoft competing, the other thing as well, personally, I think Microsoft has always been slightly behind in terms of their cloud-based offering. You look at the power of Google Docs, Google Calendar, and that’s competing with Office 365. And think of all the information that Google are getting from their cloud-based services and in terms of usability, all of the research they can gather from that, obviously that’s fuelling knowledge into people’s search behaviour and the way they’re actually using the internet. So I think Microsoft have always been slightly behind in that sense, personally.
DAVID BAIN: So what about yourself, Drew? Are you or your clients that concerned about Bing traffic or do you think you’ll be more concerned about that in the future?
DREW BROOMHALL: I think you can measure the interest which I have by the fact that I do a lot of rank tracking across my sites and my only rank tracks are Google US, so I don’t bother with this. The traffic volumes are so infinitesimal, I can’t be bothered using it.
Do I see things changing? No, certainly not in the UK. I think for AOL it’s potentially quite a good move. AOL have just hooked up with Verizon, so perhaps beginning to see an attempt to return the web to its portalysed origins. I think certainly with Facebook effectively creating one walled garden, you can see other content creators wanting to create other walled gardens and typically in those days you always had a decent search engine to find it.
So for Bing it works out. That’s probably going to drive more quality US traffic. I’m sure it’ll do a reasonable amount for their market share but I don’t see it doing a huge amount in the UK, certainly not for the sites that I work on.
DAVID BAIN: Yeah. It’s funny you talking about walled gardens. I remember AOL back in the early 2000s having a walled garden in their approach to actually access the internet and Facebook now moving in that direction again, and moved away from that and back to that, and perhaps it’s just a trend. Not too sure.
But in relation to what we were talking about there, Aaron Wall found that Yahoo! were testing search results and ads powered by Google, so if that happens on a permanent basis, then this would actually shave a serious chunk off Bing’s search world in the US. So do you think there’s any chance of Yahoo! getting into bed with Google and just delivering Google results moving forward? Justin, have you got any thoughts on that one?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Well I’d almost ping the question back to you and say, ‘What would you do if you were Yahoo!? Would you choose Bing or Google?’ I mean, what’s the most popular search on Bing? It’s Google!
DAVID BAIN: Yeah.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: If you want to deliver what customers are looking for, then you need to deliver Google and it makes complete sense from Yahoo!’s point of view, not to say the two connections between the two companies in terms of former employees as well.
DAVID BAIN: Yes. I would be tempted to test something like DuckDuckGo, but that’s obviously not looking at things from a financial perspective, probably.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: I suspect Yahoo! will be thinking of the financial perspective!
DAVID BAIN: Would you be thinking of the money, Matt?
MATT TREVISS: Yeah, I think this was kind of the question in my mind – are Yahoo! doing this to leverage a better deal from Bing maybe? ‘Cause is it something like you have to search 51% of Bing’s search listings? Is that the case?
DAVID BAIN: Well it used to be the case that they were completely tied to using Bing to power their search results and obviously that agreement lapsed a little bit. I’m not sure of the exact details of the agreement that’s currently in place but obviously they can test different things now.
MATT TREVISS: Yeah, I think Google having more market share, you could argue that that’s bad news, but do you remember the days of AltaVista…
DAVID BAIN: I do!
MATT TREVISS: …using a search engine and getting absolutely…
DAVID BAIN: What are you insinuating?!
MATT TREVISS: Yeah! Well I just think better search results are a good thing and if people prefer to use Yahoo!…I’m not entirely sure why someone would prefer to use Yahoo!, but should they want to do that and they get a better user experience then I suppose that’s a tick in the box.
DAVID BAIN: So Drew, you obviously don’t care for Bing that much. What about Yahoo!? Can you remember the last time you actually conducted a search on Yahoo! was?
DREW BROOMHALL: Probably when I worked for them!
DAVID BAIN: Okay!
DREW BROOMHALL: I worked for them for about two years so yeah, it was probably around about that time, I would think.
DAVID BAIN: Sorry, what was that period?
DREW BROOMHALL: 2004-2006.
DAVID BAIN: Okay, wow, so we’re talking about nine years ago.
DREW BROOMHALL: Yeah, probably.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: That sounds about right!
DREW BROOMHALL: I’ve probably done a little bit of checking of results now and again, but again I don’t see significant volumes coming through and when time is precious you end up focusing on the things that are bringing the most traffic.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. I guess if you’re in the States you might focus on a little bit more because the percentage are slightly less skewed towards Google. I think it’s about 65% of search results are carried out on Google now and you’ve got Bing and Yahoo! and smaller search engines as well. But here in the UK you’ve got about 90% and in Australia you’ve got about 94% on Google and it hardly makes any sense to focus on other areas.
DREW BROOMHALL: Yeah, that’s true. It’s only the US. We’ve got a lot of sites in the US and we see much higher volumes there than we do in the UK.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. So Matt, in relation to search results, you’ve been following www.letsencrypt.org, the new certificates authority due to launch in September and backed by the likes of Cisco and Mozilla. So how is this likely to impact the existing https process? What’s your thoughts on that one?
MATT TREVISS: Yeah, I mean, I’m not an expert on their… I’ve just been reading up on it myself. But I guess the fact that it’s a free SSL certificate that anybody can essentially use. So in terms of that barrier for sites that might not be able to afford getting an SSL, then it opens the doors there. Obviously from an SEO point of view it’s a ranking signal, so there could potentially be advantages there as well. I think it’s going to be released in September, so it’ll be really interesting to see.
I’d like to know as well how hosts actually react to that, ‘cause obviously they make a lot of money through offering SSLs at a price. So in terms of access to that kind of technology and that level of encryption, I think from a usability point of view as well that’s really interesting because people are getting used to seeing browsers in a safe mode. So that’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.
DAVID BAIN: Yeah. It might break a few business models and as you alluded to, it depends on how it’s displayed within browsers as well. If it looks really obvious to the general day-to-day user that a site’s secure, then the average user might get used to seeing that and expect to see that. Because I think even now the majority of general users that aren’t really technically focused probably don’t generally look at that stuff. But if that makes a big inroad into the general population, then that’d be quite significant.
At the moment, of course, about 22% of search results, thanks to Wikipedia and Reddit going https quite recently, on average are now https. Justin, do you think moving the vast majority of the web to https is something that is a positive thing in general?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Yes, I think the amount of time that I’ve spent during my career either trying to stop sites from getting hacked or having to deal with a site when they’ve come to us and said they’ve been hacked and can we help to tidy it up, from my point of view, that security it something that will make my job a lot more interesting. I certainly don’t enjoy that work where you’re not doing something creative but you’re having to go behind and clear up a mess where someone has been trying to hack a site. And I think it’s still incredibly common and so anything we can do to make sites more secure and concentrate on creative work, then I’m all in favour of that.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. I mean, the challenge of the https is initially that was the excuse that Google used to not deliver Keywords within Google Analytics for organic search results, of course.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Yes, but I have a theory that maybe Google Webmaster Tools, which has just been renamed to Google Search Console, may be a place where they’ll provide better data in the future. And following up on that conversation we were having before about that competition between Microsoft and Google, Microsoft, I think, has been doing a better job at providing some of that webmaster information through its tools, and so maybe there’s a competitive edge for Microsoft that comes through providing that additional information to the likes of us people who are interested in the digital sphere so that we start working with them and maybe get people more interested, even though, as you said, the levels of traffic are very low.
DAVID BAIN: Mm. So Drew, are you a fan of https? Do you want the whole web to move to that?
DREW BROOMHALL: I am, yeah. I’m still amazed at the number of sites that I find that have pretty obvious security vulnerabilities and are parsing private user data through unsecured ways. So I think it’s a really good thing. I think if providers get behind it, especially behind a free protocol that they can offer cheaply, that would increase adoption. What I’ve done at the moment is I’ve got a migrate on my site to https, but I’d be very interested in any case studies where somebody has done that, so let’s just see in terms of this group to see how it’s worked, because I think it’s the direction of travel for everyone, I think. I think we’ve got to try and get there sooner rather than later.
DAVID BAIN: Okay, well we’ve got lots of people tweeting using the hashtag #TWIO at the moment as well, and someone called Anonymous saying that the UK government are ‘planning to ban strong encryption. What a fundamentally stupid idea. Completely impractical. Medical records, banks?’ Does anyone have any knowledge about that at all?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Not enough to kind of pass comment. I can make stuff up if you want!
DAVID BAIN: I thought that’s what you did, isn’t it?! No, only joking! So it’s an interesting point, certainly. There are challenges with strong encryption and the lack of information getting parsed there, but I guess that’s the changing face of the web. It’s really a modern communications tool and it’s changing very quickly, and it will continue to change very quickly. We’ve got some interesting tweets from Syeda Ferdush, so thanks for that. I think a colleague of Justin’s, Matt Treviss, so keep on tweeting using the hashtag #TWIO.
But our next topic is Facebook and Facebook have launched a new logo this week. But did you notice the difference? Justin, can you believe the difference they made to the letter a? I’m just so upset about that!
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: As soon as you mentioned that I thought, ‘I’ve been on Facebook every day this week. I haven’t noticed a think.’ But maybe I’m unobservant. I’m afraid I’m an old-fashioned direct marketer a lot of the time and a brand is about your experience and my experience of Facebook is that it’s much improved, particularly on mobile. The shape of the letter a I care much less about.
DAVID BAIN: Drew, have you got any passionate opinion about the letter a in Facebook now?
DREW BROOMHALL: I’m often amazed at the amount of time that people put into minor tweaks of logos. I seem to remember Marissa Mayr doing a similar exercise shortly after she joined Yahoo! and apparently she’d spent weeks huddled in a room with various graphic designers, only to come out with a fairly underwhelming sans-serif Yahoo! logo, and I did wonder, ‘Couldn’t you be doing something much better with your time?’
DAVID BAIN: So yeah, apparently what’s happened is the a’s gone into single-storey, rather than double-storey, which is slightly more modern. What happened apparently was that initially when they launched they wanted to be taken more seriously as a company, but now they’re a bigger company they want to be cool and with it and not known as old-fashioned. What’s your opinion on this, Matt?
MATT TREVISS: How can you not take Facebook seriously, new logo or not? They’re such a massive organisation. I think personally for me, I don’t like it. It looks less like a logo and more like a word. So yeah, I don’t really think the juice is worth the squeeze on that one!
DAVID BAIN: ‘I don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze!’ That’s a good one! Okay, so let’s see that quoted on Twitter! But next topic… Android now own nearly 65% of the smartphone marketplace in the US. But is this figure important? We know that iOS customers are less than half that at just over 30%. So are Android customers more important than iPhone because there are more of them? Drew, what’s your opinion of that one?
DREW BROOMHALL: Well, if the market share is moving towards Android, then I would say probably yes. Certainly we look at it from a product perspective and the products that we’re shipping as a media business and we have to decide where we’re going to put our development effort and historically we’ve always favoured iPhone first. And I think actually there is a little bit of favouritism towards that. Certainly when you’re sat in a room with a bunch of designers and they’ve all got Macs, that Apple Kool-Aid has been drunk long and hard, so you’re kind of inclined to say, ‘We’re going to support Apple devices first,’ but I think it’s changing. I think we’re going to have to change with it.
DAVID BAIN: Mm. I guess there’s a couple of challenges with Android design. One is obviously the quantity of screen sizes. With iPhones you’ve got fixed-size screens, even though in app design you can now design more fluid apps that work vertically and horizontally. But with Android there are still a vast array of design sizes that you can target. And also, of course, Android phones tend to be on average cheaper than iPhones, so that’s leading towards the argument that people with iPhones generally spend more money and are perhaps a better target market to businesses that want people to spend money. Matt, do you think it’s better to focus on iPhones still initially, if you’re a business?
MATT TREVISS: To be honest, I think it comes down to the analytics, and that might sound a bit cliché kind of focusing on SEO, but looking at the majority of our clients in terms of their actual visitor base, I’d still say nine times out of ten, the biggest user group for web traffic are people on iPhones, and that overshadows all of the Android phones and browsers mashed together. So from our point of view, when we’re talking to clients, we’re looking at that and thinking, ‘Well okay, perhaps you should be designing the sites around iPhone screens, for instance, rather than addressing the wider market.’ But yeah, I think it’s really important that you look at your target market and look at the technology your customers are using, rather than looking at general trends.
DAVID BAIN: Yeah, that’s a great point. Look at your analytics and obviously look right through your analytics to see what people are actually buying and not just the quantity of visitors on a particular device, because certain visitors could be browsing and certain visitors could be buying.
Justin, are you an iPhone user or an Android user?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: I’m firmly an Android user.
DAVID BAIN: Ooh!
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Maybe that tells you I don’t earn enough! But all I like, I suppose, is the openness. Once I have an iPhone then I’m stuck with Apple for everything, so I prefer that flexibility. But I think to answer your initial question about the way the market is changing, I think what interests me is just the speed at which the market has changed over the last couple of years. If you think about how long it took desktop PCs to get online and the number of them that there are, and now you look at the number of mobile devices and how quickly that change has happened, I think regardless of whether we’re talking about Android or we’re talking about Apple, I think just the number of devices. And when I’m looking at clients’ sites now – and I don’t know if you guys see this as well – the vast majority of traffic for some sites is mobile, so well over 50%. And that change has really happened over the last couple of years. And still when I’m talking to clients, they’re still talking about desktop, ‘Whenever you’re in meetings you look at the desktop version of the site.’ They’re very rarely looking at mobile-first still and I would be encouraging clients to be thinking in that direction. I think there’s one or two clients where mobile traffic is still at around 10 or 15%, but for the vast majority of sites now, the majority of traffic is mobile, and I think regardless of device type, encouraging marketers to think about mobile-first is still a difficulty for me.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. And going back to Matt’s point about analytics as well because certainly industries are desktop-led, but other industries are completely and utterly mobile- and tablet-led now. So very, very important to know where your visitors are viewing your site from.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Yes. We have, for example, a client who sells mobile phones. All of their traffic is desktop because by definition you haven’t got one!
DAVID BAIN: Yeah, I mean here at Analytics SEO, about 90% of our traffic is desktop and that’s the nature of what we do, so it’s not necessarily the case that everyone’s moving to mobile.
What about yourself, Drew? Are your clients struggling with the mobile conundrum or by and large are they building quite effective responsive websites now?
DREW BROOMHALL: Well we build everything in responsive, so I think we’ve had responsive sites for pretty much every single one of our brands for a couple of years now. What we are seeing across the board, across different business models, is a decrease in conversion, and that would be an ad click or an affiliate click or an enquiry about a product. And the business owners have been coming to us. I also run the analytics team at Haymarket, so the business owners have been coming to us and saying, ‘Can you explain this?’ and every time when we start dividing the traffic down between desktop and mobile, we see that it’s the difference in behaviour that we see in mobile that’s causing the difference in conversion.
That means that we’ve actually changed our approach to conversion optimisation and we’re often doing a lot of mobile-first stuff now, rather than thinking about desktop. And in fact, on several products we’ve got pretty much optimisation roadmaps just on mobile with very little desktop on there because we just see the number growing, and yet the conversions and the behaviour that powers the conversions is still fundamentally different.
DAVID BAIN: Mm, and this obviously makes it a lot tougher to track user journeys as well because if people don’t convert to mobile devices and they come back on a desktop, it’s about tying that visit together as well. Do you find it challenging to do that?
DREW BROOMHALL: Yeah, it’s still difficult to do that. There are various solutions out there. Obviously Google has introduced user ID stitching, but that only works if a user is logged in. Most of the DMPs that are in market are trying to offer some kind of cross-device identification, but they’re all working on probabilistic models and you don’t really know how effective that probabilistic model is. So it’s still a bit of a grey area. I think it’s going to get a lot better over the next couple of years but people are still feeling it out to try to find a solution for what is an extremely complex problem.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. Well coming up we’re going to be talking about whether Google is self-promoting its own content in its search results, whether SEO and content marketing are actually inseparable, and why did Google stop displaying Google+ posts from it’s Knowledge Graph panels.
But first of all, when you sign up to watch This Week in Organic live, you’re encouraged to socially share the show and in return we give you a shout-out. So a shout-out this week to Dr Mary Goudie from www.your-lisbon-guide.com and Stephanie Rodriguez tuning in from Australia. You can find Stephanie at www.mightmediagroup.com.au. So if you want a shout-out next week, you know what to do.
Moving onto Yelp. Yelp is one of the companies listed as a complainant in the EU anti-trust case against Google and Yelp have sponsored some research into suggesting that Google is skewing local search results in its favour. So is this fair? Can local results be higher quality and more impartial? So Matt, what’s your opinion on that one? Are you concerned with the quality of local results and staying within that Google ecosystem?
MATT TREVISS: Mm, yeah, this is a really interesting topic. I think at the moment the fact that the study was sponsored by Yelp, I sort of think, ‘Hang on a minute.’ It sort of shunts the credibility of it in the first place. But the problem itself, and this kind of dovetails really nicely with how-to content and Google’s now displaying this directly in the search, rather than people having to click through, especially with things like restaurant listings. There’s been some big changes there where they’re starting to introduce the carousels so that if people are looking for a local restaurant, they don’t technically need to click through to the restaurant’s website. They can get the majority of information in the search. Which I think is potentially a bad thing for local businesses. If they’re getting footfall it doesn’t really matter how they go about getting that footfall. You don’t necessarily need traffic to your website to achieve that goal.
But yeah, I think it’s a really interesting point. Can local results be higher quality? Potentially. I guess the thing is we just don’t know yet.
DAVID BAIN: So Justin, are you satisfied with your local search experience or do you think it could be a little bit more impartial?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: I suppose I’m not so much concerned about its impartiality. I’m not a lawyer, so there’s no point on me trying to comment on the anti-trust case. I don’t understand enough about Google’s algorithm to be able to say whether they’re trying to tweak the algorithm in their favour. I would strongly suspect not. I think what they’re trying to do is give you better mobile experience and therefore they’re experimenting with the results that they show on mobiles and often favouring presenting information themselves, rather than directing people to websites because Google wants to become that computer off Star Trek, doesn’t it, which can answer any question from any person at any time and give them the correct answer. And rather than saying to a website, ‘If you can the question more quickly,’ then they’ll want to do that on a mobile phone.
And I’ve seen an example with a client that we worked with recently and they have got a number of different locations across the country. We’d optimised all their Google+ profiles, all their local search pages, and we’d invested huge amounts of time in doing that. All their rankings were fantastic and yet traffic dropped. And the reason that traffic dropped off was that a lot of people were searching for contact details, telephone numbers, that kind of thing, and Google was then taking them from the site, presenting them in the local search results, and people weren’t bothering ever to visit the site, they were calling direct from their phone. Which you can say is great usability from Google’s point of view and from the user’s point of view but it does dis-incentivise then the client from investing more in local search because they’re not seeing any traffic coming through to the site.
DAVID BAIN: So as an agency, is it possible to justify that kind of optimisation or is that really challenging and difficult to do?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Then I think it makes that argument more difficult to carry forward. I think in the end what you’re able to do is say, ‘The number of enquiries coming through the business as a whole has come up and we reckon that a certain percentage of those have come through the Google+ page,’ or whatever it is that the user has seen.
DAVID BAIN: Drew, have you got issues with Google Local at all or are you quite satisfied with that generally?
DREW BROOMHALL: I’ve never really optimised for Google Local, so I can only speak as a consumer. Generally I’m pleased with what I’m seeing. I’m impressed with the leaps they’ve actually made in the last few months in terms of beginning to geotarget quite complex results. Not just about local – it’s actually about localised delivery of results in your area. So I’ve been looking at job sites recently, looking for jobs in Surrey, just getting a list quite precisely targeted to landing pages has been quite dramatic. So I think generally it’s a good thing.
I feel for Yelp and I feel for any company who’s struggling with what Google is doing, which is attempting to reduce friction, attempting to reduce the number of clicks it takes to get information on a lot of businesses, not just Yelp, and it’s very difficult to know what to do. In a survey, what feels like an onslaught, from Google’s perspective just seems like good business sense.
DAVID BAIN: Yeah, and I guess it all also relates back to them changing from being a search engine to a direct answers-type engine. And it’s not just about local search, it’s about getting that answer engrained into everything that they’re doing.
Matt, I saw you nodding your head at a few things that Justin was saying there. Is that the way that you see things are going, that Google is moving towards direct answers and it’s going to be very difficult for Yelp to take issue with what Google are doing?
MATT TREVISS: Yeah, I think in terms of actually justifying local search to clients, if Google were able to give us, as an agency, some sort of reporting mechanism, so let’s say somebody does interact with a local listing, whoever it might be, then that would give us a bit of meat on the bones that we could then go back to clients with. But you’ve probably seen when you search for car insurance, they’ve now got their own kind of, you enter your registration number or whatever it is and then it will start to give you quotes directly in the search. It seems like for the minute they’re only targeting big industries, things like car insurance, for instance. I think as soon as they start to go down those niche industries, then potentially it might start to upset some more people. But that’s what I think.
DAVID BAIN: So Justin, can you see Google moving towards being able to deliver a better reporting mechanism to, perhaps, agencies to assist them with actually helping clients or do you think Google will continue fairly closed shop and not that helpful when it comes to doing things like that?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: I suppose if as an agency you’re taking as big a perspective as possible then you should be looking at all different areas of the business anyway and so whether you’re able to generate traffic from PPC or SEO or through social media, it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference as long as you’re satisfied that traffic is converting in whatever way the client wants. So hopefully it’s possible to take a big picture view and not get too worried if the SEO strategy isn’t delivering as much traffic but instead it’s via social media. I’m not too concerned from that point of view.
As to what Google does, Google will do whatever they want to do. But I think Matt’s right. Industry after industry, whenever Google sees something it likes, it just builds another version of it and replicates it and then offers it for free in some instances until the market is taken over, and then starts charging for it.
DAVID BAIN: Are you saying they’re a loss leader in some cases?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Yes. I mean, look at Google Analytics. If you produced analytics software ten years’ ago it was quite a lucrative market, and then Google Analytics comes along and now everyone uses that and it’s free in most cases. You know, that’s taken over the market.
DAVID BAIN: And then they taketh away.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Indeed. And then Google Analytics Premium and you start charging for advanced features. But Google’s got a near monopoly in search – they need to expand in other areas. ‘Cause they do carry on growing.
DAVID BAIN: Well it’ll be interesting to see what happens at this EU hearing to see if they try and stamp down on Google from any great height at all and whether they actually have the power to make a significant difference as well.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Yes, and it seems to me that the EU is making bigger steps than, say, in the US. And as we saw with Microsoft twenty years ago. They were in a similar position. Everyone was concerned that Microsoft was a monopoly and in the end it takes governments to break up those monopolies and carve out a new market that other people can come into.
DAVID BAIN: Drew, do you have any opinion on that? Can you see the EU making any significant change in the way that Google have to conduct themselves in the future?
DREW BROOMHALL: They can try. I mean, there’s clearly more legislation done in the EU than there has in the US. A lot of it is also founded by a largely sort of anti-Google media over here. I used to work for a news corporation and everyone knows Rupert Murdoch’s views on Google but you’ve got some big players. Axel Springer, for example, are the biggest publisher in Germany. They’ve got numerous court cases that they’ve raised against Google for things like Google News inclusion. So there’s a very vociferous body of people that are led by the media, accompanied by a whole bunch of invested interests, who aren’t really going to let this go quietly.
But I think given the international nature of Google and the way that they operate, their operating services in the UK from out of the US, I think it’s always going to be quite difficult to pin them down if the EU do try and push some legislation through.
DAVID BAIN: Yeah, well watch this space.
So this week I read a post on www.writingtheweb.com called SEO and Content Marketing: A Love Story, saying that SEO and content marketing are distinct, yet inseparable. So is that your experience? Justin, you work for Receptional.com, so would you say it focuses on, has focus on SEO and I guess moved towards content marketing a bit as well. Would you see these areas as solo activities or are they completely ingrained?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: No, I would want them to be working in harmony and I think there’s very different skills required in each area but what I encourage amongst the team here is that everyone is able to do a mixture of different things and so if you are able to understand Google Analytics and how a site is working, you might also be writing blog posts and then promoting those blog posts, but you also need to understand the technical aspects of how the site works. And obviously we have specialists in each area. And I think there are always going to be different disciplines. It takes a very different personality to be looking at the very technical aspects of a website and make sure it’s working in the way that we want it to so that Google can access the content in the way we’d like, from someone who is creating really well written blog posts which aren’t technical but appeal to a wide audience. Those are very different skills and I would see people in the same team, working on the same client, but bringing different skills and expertise into the SEO party, for want of a better word.
DAVID BAIN: So Matt, SEO and content marketers. Are they two different people working together or is it possible for one person to be completely comfortable with both SEO and content marketing?
MATT TREVISS: Do you know what? I’m going to throw a third person into the mix. I think there’s a bit of a love triangle going on between SEO, content marketing and online PR. I think we’ve all seen the lines between online PR and SEO have kind of been blurring over the last 12 to 24 months and as Justin quite rightly said, SEO teaches us to look at the technical aspects of getting content out there, making sure that it can be crawlable by search engines, and I think that’s absolutely spot-on. PR is more about getting a story out there, whereas traditionally with us as SEOs, we’re obsessed with backlinks, anchor text, let’s get the right links there. Whereas like you say, online PR is about having something newsworthy to say and trying to resonate with the target market. I don’t think they can work in silos anymore.
With content marketing, that’s really interesting because the best content marketing either solves a problem or tells someone something they didn’t already know. And for us here, that kind of gets us to think about the whole buying process. So if anything, they’re complementary. So to have them operating in silos is potentially really dangerous. And actually, throwing paid search into the mix, you’ve kind of got these four things all working together. You’re getting lots of keyword insights, you’re putting content out there that actually the target market wants to know about, and you’ve got the PR element too so you’re not just focusing on backlinks. You’re actually looking at industry-related websites, ‘cause I don’t know about you guys, but I think putting all of your eggs into Google’s basket is an inherently risky strategy.
DAVID BAIN: Well Matt, you’ve taken it from pairing to a love triangle to a love square.
MATT TREVISS: Yeah, a love square, yeah!
DAVID BAIN: So Drew, are we going to move into a pentagon here with you?
DREW BROOMHALL: Well we’re not going to move into a pentagon. I’m always slightly baffled by the concept of…well the shift towards content marketing. I started in this game as a journalist three or four years before I really got into SEO, so when I started doing it I was always looking at it from a content perspective. So for me, we’ve always been marketing content, certainly in the media. We’ve always been in the content marketing game. What’s changed obviously is the nature of the tactics and the reliance on the tactics, I suppose. You can’t get away with the cheap tricks that you used to be able to, so you’ve now got to work a lot harder.
So I’m seeing the same thing in terms of PR, the fact that we’re needing to perhaps push content, but we’re very familiar, we’re very comfortable with the idea of content marketing. It’s kind of what we do. We’re finding we do have to shout a lot louder and that means we are deploying much more PR-style tactics and beginning to skill up internally in that area in order to deliver, and I think that’s a big change.
I think one of the implications I’ll be interested, certainly in the agency perspective here, is I think these tactics, when deployed for SEO, they’re harder to do than the tactics before. The constant complaint I’ve heard from agencies is, ‘Link building isn’t as easy as it used to be. It requires much more creative input and it takes a lot longer.’ And I’m wondering whether that’s filtering down to the way that clients understand content marketing now. Are they willing to wait longer for results and perhaps looking for different KPIs than they were before?
DAVID BAIN: So link building has obviously become a lot more difficult, but because it’s become more difficult and obviously you want to do it right as well, does that mean that too many people aren’t even doing it at all and they’re losing opportunities there? Do you think that’s the case, Justin?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Most of our clients are promoting their sites in one way or another so it’s difficult for me to answer that question. I would say, ‘Well yes, everyone’s doing it.’ But I think you’re right. It’s about setting expectations and if I was starting to work with someone, I would want to work out a plan and say, ‘Okay, here’s where we’re expecting to be in twelve months’ time. Here’s the steps we’re going to take. Let’s agree an editorial plan.’ As Drew did, I used to work in journalism and when I was publishing magazines we used to have an editorial calendar for the year ahead and that’s the sort of old-fashioned way I would want to work if I was producing content for a website. And so then everyone knows what content is going to be produced and you can start to think about which audiences you want to target and when deadlines are due and when you’ve missed deadlines you can chase people up and then everyone knows that they’ve got to share the content and promote it at particular times. And that’s just, for me, how a journalist or anyone who’s created content would work.
DAVID BAIN: So Matt, you mentioned PR into the mix, you talked about that. So are journalists the new content writers within agencies?
MATT TREVISS: I don’t think you have to necessarily be a journalist to write good content. I think you need to understand what it is the customers are looking for. I think having excellent copywriting skills is something that doesn’t come around every day. What we get from online PR is focusing on industry news sites, not just gearing things up just for Google. Trying to control the controllables. You’ve got more control over placing a piece of content on an industry site than you do trying to manipulate the rankings. So in terms of actually writing content, for us it’s just about trying to create something that resonates with the customer.
DAVID BAIN: Okay, so try and control the controllables and if you do it well the rankings will happen because of that.
MATT TREVISS: Yeah. Well obviously nothing’s guaranteed but I think you’ve got a higher chance of success. And we’re starting to see that industry news sites are gaining in authority. If you can get a piece of editorial on a news site, you could argue that that’s a more credible source of traffic. Potentially more targeted as well.
DAVID BAIN: Yeah, absolutely. Unless you’re buying links in a newspaper website! But let’s not get into that discussion at the moment!
Just one final topic and Google have dropped the displaying of Google+ posts from its Knowledge Graph panels. So is this because they don’t want to display self-promotional content too prominently or is it the fact that Google+ as a social network is on its last legs? Justin, are you an avid Google+ user?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: I used to be on Google+ the whole time. I was promoting it heavily with clients. I was promoting it as the next big thing. I remember a couple of years ago Google were really pushing the PPC team here to be promoting Google+. Everyone’s bonuses at Google was going to be based upon the success of Google+. It was this huge thing and I haven’t seen a take-off in the way that I want if I was going to focus on it in the future. So I use it much less now personally and also for clients I recommend it less. Unless I happen to see that they’re working in the tech industry or somewhere where it’s much more popular.
DAVID BAIN: So do you think that they’re not displaying Google+ postings within these cards simply because they’re recognising the fact that people aren’t really using the service that much?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: I think there must be an element of that. There’s always lots of rumours about Google+ dying and I’m not sure how much credibility I give to those, but it seems to me that the idea of Google+ was that it pulled everything together so that you could have all your services under one username. It was forcing you to access YouTube via Google+, for instance, plus any other services you wanted to, and it seems to me that that’s not necessarily what users want.
DAVID BAIN: Mm.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: They’re looking at individual apps to do individual things and so Google is now having to break everything back down again.
DAVID BAIN: There are some wonderful services integrated as part of Google+.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Absolutely.
DAVID BAIN: We’re on Google Hangouts at the moment obviously, and that’s absolutely superb and hopefully they wouldn’t even dream of taking that away, but I guess we’ll see. Drew, are you a Google+ user or what’s your opinion of Google+ as a social network?
DREW BROOMHALL: I’m not an avid user. There are some interesting and very busy communities within Google+, often in the tech space. For example, there’s a very good Google tag manager community for anyone who’s into GTM and Google Analytics. So it’s found an audience but it’s not found a big enough audience.
Personally I think it’s served at least part of the purpose I think Google intended, which is really all about identity management. It’s about being able to identify anonymised users and convert them to known users, and when you look at Google+ and its place in produce suite, which includes Chrome and Hangouts and Gmail, it worked pretty well as a mechanism for conversion. It hasn’t taken off as a social network. I think they announced a few weeks ago that they were going to rip it apart and take some of the bits that they like and turn them into standalone products, like the Google Photos. So they’re probably salvaging what they can from it and have decided, for fairly pragmatic reasons, that it just doesn’t have a place in the search.
DAVID BAIN: So Matt, has Google+ served its purpose? Are Google quite happy with that, for it to go away to the place that old Google products go to?
MATT TREVISS: You know what? I think maybe Google should just decide one way or the other. I don’t know why but it just seems like Google+ has always been a bit clunky as a social media network and it almost seems like the ugly duckling of the overall Google services. It doesn’t seem, just from an outsider looking in, it doesn’t seem like it’s got the same level of investment as some of their other services which are much slicker, work a lot better. Things like Twitter, other social media networks are absolutely flying. I completely agree with the guys. From an identity management point of view it’s really , really good. But as a social media platform, no, I think there’s a lot left to be desired really.
I wonder what the ramifications would be if they were to shut it down, what effect that would have on the other services that it’s connected to. I know that My Places for Businesses, a couple of months ago you could integrate the two, so you’d have to link your Google+ account to it, and that again was a bit of a nightmare for us. Really, really clunky, usability again was really tricky. So it’s not something that I devote too much time to. Probably ‘cause there’s so many social networks out there, posting on all of them seems to take all your time!
DAVID BAIN: I guess it’s a little bit scared that a new social network is just going to completely take away and have everyone’s focus in the future. You’ve got networks like Periscope, like Meerkat, you’ve got personal broadcasting services that people are using in their homes, and Twitter obviously own Periscope, and you’ve got image networks that are very popular as well. You just wonder, if Google+ isn’t working that well, then are Google really going to actually find out that they have a fairly old business model that relies on search and people are moving away from search to something else. So it’ll be intriguing to see what happens. Have you got any concerns for Google, Justin?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Oh, that’s right! How much do Google make each quarter? Is it about $10million a quarter? I’m very worried for them, David! I think there is a problem, which is that they’re so enormous, and so it is very difficult to be able to move quickly in the way that they used to. And to me it appears to be a developer-led company in the sense that they do release things, products like Google+, and they release it in a fairly raw state and then develop it afterwards if the market likes it. And it may be one of those instances where Google+ didn’t take off in the beginning because it wasn’t refined enough from the outset.
DAVID BAIN: So Drew, if you had control and you could actually say keep it on or switch it off, which direction would you move in?
DREW BROOMHALL: I think I would gracefully retire it.
DAVID BAIN: Gracefully retired, yeah. Matt, can it be gracefully retired or has it got to be killed fairly quickly?
MATT TREVISS: Yeah, I’d bin it off, mate. Straight into Room 101.
DAVID BAIN: Justin? Room 101?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Well I think there has to be something there, doesn’t there? I have to be able to log into my Google services. I have to be able to get into a Google Hangout today. I need to use Gmail. I still want to use YouTube. All of those services are now built around Google+ but that something still needs to exist.
DAVID BAIN: Great. Well I reckon that takes us to the end of our discussion, just about. Just time for a single takeaway and some sharing of ‘find out more’ details from our guests. So starting off with Justin.
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: Well, there’s so many different things. There’s a point that Matt made at the beginning about Google and we were all being horribly dismissive of Bing, weren’t we? But I think there’s a distinction there between organic search and paid search and I think that the point that you made was it may only be 5% or 10% of the market that’s searching on Bing in the UK, but that’s still, if you’re a paid search advertiser, a 5% or 10% increase in traffic or conversions just by wrangling a successful Google campaign on Bing. I think that was an interesting takeaway.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. And where can people find out more about you if they’d like to go and do that?
JUSTIN DEAVILLE: At www.receptional.com.
DAVID BAIN: Great stuff. And Matt, what would your single takeaway and contact details be?
MATT TREVISS: Well I think Justin took my words out of my mouth with regards to the Bing stuff but just linking AdWords and Google My Places together, you can now incorporate your My Business reviews into your Google ads and I think that’s a really interesting development. With AdWords it increases your real estate on page. So those that didn’t know about that, go and check out that piece of functionality ‘cause it’s really cool. If you want to know more then just visit www.atelierstudios.com.
DAVID BAIN: And Drew, someone’s taken all your beautiful trees away.
DREW BROOMHALL: I was running out of battery power, so I’ve had to beat a retreat inside.
DAVID BAIN: Lovely, okay. Well what would your takeaway and contact details be?
DREW BROOMHALL: We were talking about the desktop and mobile conversion thing and that’s something that we as a business are obsessing about. So my takeaway would be start thinking about the difference in user intent that underlines what you’re seeing in terms of conversion, and then start thinking about how you can start moving people from one experience to the other and try to synchronise the sort of experience you’re providing across mobile and desktop. At other times you don’t really have the capability to do what you want to do on a mobile device, so you’ve got to work with that rather than against it, which is what most people are doing at the moment.
If people want to get in touch with me, it’s @drewbroomhall on Twitter.
DAVID BAIN: Great stuff. I’m David Bain, Head of Growth at www.authoritas.com and you catch me interviewing online marketing gurus over at www.digitalmarketingradio.com. And if you like what you’re listening to, we need your help. July is voting month for the UK Podcasters Awards, so if you want us to win one of those awards, go to www.thisweekinorganic.com/vote and cast your vote. So you can vote no matter where you are in the world and your support would be really appreciated. So that’s www.thisweekinorganic.com/vote. Also, if you’re watching this show as a recording, remember to watch the next show live. Head over to www.thisweekinorganic.com and sign up to watch the next show in real-time.
So until next time, have a fantabulous weekend and thank you all for joining us. Adios. Cheers everyone. Thanks for being part of it.
Working as Content Marketing Director for Authoritas since March 2015, David also hosts our own weekly show – “This Week In Organic”, commonly referred to as #TWiO.