This is the 30th episode of, ‘This Week In Organic’, the weekly show that debates the ramifications of the latest SEO and content marketing news.

In this episode we discuss what your SEO strategy should include in 2016, based on the predictions that our 31 guests offered during the TWiO Christmas special. In this week’s show our host, @DavidBain is joined by Andrew Steel from Equator.

Sign up to watch the next show live over at www.thisweekinorganic.com and share your thoughts on what’s discussed using the hashtag #TWIO on Twitter.

 Here are the SEO predictions for 2016 from the previous show:

Google

  • “Google will continue trying to WIPE OUT organic search in 2016 says” Adam Vowles
  • “Google will take a lot of implicit information into account” says Justin Deaville
  • “Google will start to be a shopping-centric engine says Michael Bonfils
  • “Google are going to start to look at user interaction in 2016” says Dave Naylor
  • “Beware of Google’s scare stories says Tom Mcloughlin

Search results

  • “It’s all about rich content” says Mark Traphagen
  • “Voice search & rich answers are going to be prominent” says Alex Tucker
  • “Aggregator sites going to become less relevant” says Alexandra Tachlalova
  • “You should be thinking about Apple’s Spotlight Search in 2016” says Andrew Shotland
  • “Watch out for artificial intelligence” says Michael Fleischner
  • “AISEO will be big” says Lukasz Zelezny

Managing search

  • “PPC and organic teams are going to be working a lot closer together” says Andy Halliday
  • “The role of the SEO analyst is going to change in 2016” says Tyler Barnes

Mobile

  • “It will finally be the year of mobile” says Chris Green
  • “Hyper-local results are the future” says Grant Whiteside
  • “Beacon technology” will be big in 2016 says Greg Gifford
  • “Look out for app streaming and AMP in 2016” says Bridget Randolph

UX

  • “2016 is about addressing shorter attention spans” says Pam Aungst
  • “Personalised UX” will be important says Chris Bland
  • “Personalisation and UX will be the most important things for SEO in 2016” says Andrew Steel
  • “It’s about tailoring experiences” says Matt Hodkinson

Content

  • “It’s about long-haul content” says Emily Hill
  • “Podcasting will be a great lead generator” says Tom Schwab
  • “In-house content marketing will be essential” says Chris Marr
  • “We will see video taking over from infographics in 2016” says Danny Ashton
  • “You will really need to figure out who your personas are” says Steve Linney
  • “Don’t treat content marketing as advertising” says Gareth Morgan

General advice

  • “Be agile” says Kelvin Newman

Full transcript:

DAVID BAIN: What do businesses need to be doing in 2016 to keep up-to-date with the latest in SEO best practice and what should good content marketing strategy involve over the coming year?

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. And as for you in the live audience, get involved too, so click on the tell a little bird button if you can, the Facebook button and if you want you can even participate with us by clicking the call in button and it would be good to hear from you if you fancy adding something in terms of value to what we’re talking about here in SEO. So today we’re actually going to be talking about the predictions of 31 SEO content marketing experts shared with us during our Christmas Special show and we’re going to be delving a bit more deeply into that and actually looking into how those predictions impact businesses in 2016; so really an action-orientated show rather than actually just going on the surface and just looking at individual predictions. So hopefully joining us later on today will be James Bloomstein, but here at the moment is Andrew Steel. Andrew, good to have you on board.

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah, great to be here again David and looking forward to talking about the various topics in a wee bit more detail like you said there, a bit more action-orientated on this one too, so it’ll be good.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s really easy as technical people to get lost in kind of this is how this works as opposed to this is how to apply this to your business. Are you involved in quite a bit of face-to-face client discussions yourself?

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah, absolutely. As Head of SEO at Equator I’m involved directly with a number of our clients and pretty much all of our clients from an SEO standpoint in terms of at least quarterly interaction but often on a monthly face-to-face interaction and a lot of that will be around strategic planning activity and making sure that what we propose and what we’re looking to implement and achieve from an SEO standpoint very much aligns with what our clients and their businesses and their business aims and objectives are as well. So definitely hands-on in that sense.

DAVID BAIN: And do you find it difficult to stop yourself from being too technical in front of some clients?

ANDREW STEEL: It’s definitely a challenge. I’d like to think that I’ve got to a point now where I’m almost good at reining that in, but sometimes it’s a challenge. It depends ultimately on the topics you’re covering and the specifics of those and how, I guess, technically-minded the clients are themselves and how interested they are in the specifics of it. So there is always variation and again it’s something that you can switch on or switch off in terms of the detail you need to go into.

DAVID BAIN: It’s a skill to do that though, because often you see the cartoons of the first SEO exec who’s really passionate about what they’re doing, going to a client meeting for the first time and then just ten minutes of gobbledegook and then a manager going, ‘Okay, that’s the first and last time we’re going to put you in front of a client.’

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah, always watching out for the eyes glazing over and attention wandering for sure. So, yeah, you know I think like you said it really depends on the clients and the people themselves as well, but sometimes people do genuinely want to know the very specific nature of things like technical SEO kind of thing that can either, someone can be really interested and really keyed into or they can just switch off entirely, in which case they don’t need to know the detail, they just need to know that you’re on it and you’re an expert in it and you’re looking at these things. It’s a skill.

DAVID BAIN: Have you got some prepared answers in front of you? If you’re in front of a client that maybe is good at digital marketing in general, but hasn’t much of a clue about SEO and starts to ask you questions like, ‘Why should I really be bothered about SEO? It’s not that important, is it?’ And you have to explain the basics of why it’s important – what would you emphasise in that scenario?

ANDREW STEEL: I think in that scenario again I guess it really depends on the industry that the client is in, but for all businesses really there is a value to being present within organic search online, because there is such a huge user base, people will turn to search as first port of call to find pretty much anything and that’s pretty evident by the volume and variety of content that is available online and it would be remiss, I guess, of any business looking to maximise what they can drive from marketing channels to neglect that in terms of a specific and like I said it depends very much on the client and the type of industry that they’re in. But I think it is always important to be emphasising that organic search offers, in our experience, the best return in volume and value of customers often across pretty much every sector that we deal with as well. So I don’t think it’s something that is particularly challenging to kind of relate to any clients and I think, to be fair, most them do tend to come with a mindset that they can see the value of it, but the challenge sometimes is they’ve maybe become a bit jaded with it or they’ve done it before with someone and, like we were talking about it at the start, they’ve had a bad experience because of the negative perception that’s maybe been built of SEO because of things like spam link building practices and people who’ve either promised too much and under-delivered or they’ve attempted to have a client that’s uninformed and doesn’t understand what it is they’re doing and just spending their money with no tangible, visible return for it. So those tend to be more of the kind of challenges that we’d face with a client than someone that just doesn’t really understand or doesn’t see the value in doing SEO or organic search.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, so it’s more a case of in 2016 people know how important SEO is. However, they’ve only got limited budgets so perhaps they’ve got to be persuaded whether to invest their few thousand pounds a month in SEO or in some kind of paid activity instead?

ANDREW STEEL: Yes exactly, and I think because as SEO continues to develop and, like we were saying before we started recording, we were talking about how it’s crossing into a number of other disciplines in terms of a lot more into the kind of development or design side of things in terms of user experience and interaction and all these kinds of areas that people, it’s quite blurred and it’s not as simple a picture for them anymore to say, ‘I’m spending my money on SEO and I get this and it will generate this return’ because it crosses over into generate more value from things like content which, in its own right, is often quite a hard sell to people because most businesses have a marketing budget and they’re looking to spend that for and have an idea of the return that that will drive with some elements of content and some elements of SEO increasingly it’s harder to be accurate in a prediction of what that might be, but you can estimate a rough size or value from that work and many times it can be you can drive a lot more business, but there are occasions when things don’t pan out and you have to remain quite agile in your approach to ensure that you’re not just continuing with a dead duck situation – you’re able to respond and react and develop your efforts into something else that is likely to generate a business return, because pretty much all clients will spend money on SEO with a view to driving more business into whatever type of business it is, whether it’s driving more enquiries or sales or bookings or sign-ups or things like that.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, I mean going back to our Christmas predictions show, Adam Vowels he actually said Google will continue trying to wipe out organic search in 2016 and that kind of relates to what you’re saying there in that you’re got such a mix of different potential sources of traffic that you can focus on and now you’ve got probably organic and paid mixing together and being quite confused to the general person actually viewing the results as in what is what? It’s not quite so clear now what is an organic result and what is a paid result. Do you find yourself working more closely with paid search nowadays?

ANDREW STEEL: Absolutely. At Equator we work in a very integrated fashion across all of our marketing channels. We all sit together as a team and we catch up regularly as a team, but also just by proximity we’re always sharing ideas and insights as well, so there is a definite cross-over in terms of paid advertising, but also in terms of affiliate activities. From a simple link-building perspective, there’s a lot of cross-over and I guess in the past potentially you could even see it as cannibalisation of link-building by affiliate type work, but I guess there is always a way of viewing that as a door to opening relationships with sites and creating opportunities as well from an SEO perspective and even in to display, if you look at things like Google’s Excel, its mobile pages and things like that, they always seem to be streamlining and speeding up page load on sites and a big part of that is making sure that all the surrounding elements that wrap around the content that someone is actually trying to view on a page so if you think of publisher sites, a lot of that will be advertising. It’s about making sure that we’re keeping abreast of that and we’re able to be suggesting things that could be done to improve the load times of things like display advertising to ensure that the content loads quicker and ultimately know that the speed and page load time has been a ranking metric for some time but there is always cross-over in that integrated fashion and at Equator that is very much something that’s at the heart of how we try to approach all marketing campaigns. And over and above that because with clients we are working in an integrated fashion across a number of channels we want to be viewing it more as what activities are likely to drive the best return for that client and that might not necessarily always be primarily just SEO because there is always a cross-over and it’s important to be viewing it as part of the whole mix really.

DAVID BAIN: So you do you think in 2016 it’s actually going to be less likely that businesses can do very well by just focusing on organic, on SEO and content marketing or is it going to be absolutely necessary moving forward into the future to invest in paid advertising at the same time?

ANDREW STEEL: I think it’s always important to invest in paid advertising and again it will vary as to why or how depending on the landscape that the business is operating in, but it’s always important to be, there is the classic one of protecting your brand space and occupying it and the presence with competition and things like that. We find that PPC advertising can be a great way as well to be more reactive in promoting things like offers and more incentive driven elements that are likely to drive conversion. I don’t know that it’s a total prerequisite for success, certainly in terms of organic, but I think for any business I don’t think you ever want to become so reliant or dependent on one channel as you driver, because there is always a risk in that and businesses, I’m sure there’s plenty that have been solely reliant on organic in the past who maybe have come across some sort of penalties or drops or whatever and it’s had a serious impact on their business that they’ve had to then start to looking at other channels to fill it up. And equally we’ve worked with some new clients in the last year who when they’ve approached us their businesses have been reliant to the tune of 80% to 90% on things like aggregators to drive their business, which again that’s hugely costly because if you think that often they’ll be paying twice effectively for a customer by doing that. So I think it’s important for businesses to be considering the full spectrum of marketing channels and coming up with a strategy and approach that has all those working in concert and aims to focus on the best distribution or mix of those channels for whatever industry it is that they operate in.

DAVID BAIN: Some people think that Google are moving into being an aggregator site themselves and in fact even being a shopping engine themselves. They certainly, for certain industries, offer comparison results which are, in effect, paid advertising results at the top of their search results. Does this mean that the comparison site industry need to be very scared in 2016? Is this something that you think Google will keep on doing and move into every industry possible?

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah, I mean there is a very real possibility for it and I think even if you look at last year a big area that we do a lot of work in is the travel and hotel sector and if you look at last year they had implemented the hotel price ads set up and they had revised the way that local search looked and was presented and worked down from the old seven pack local results in their like a three pack one that, particularly within hotel search query space the hotel price ad stuff has become a prominent part of that as well. And that is very much Google acting as a aggregator but also in many ways an aggregator of aggregators because a lot of the people that are paying to play in that space are people like Booking.com or Expedia and the traditional OTEs that operate within the hotel space and online travel agent type sites. So there is clearly a threat to those kind of sites from that activity and Google also have things like the mortgage calculator and then that feeding into almost an aggregator-type ending as well and they’ve had the credit card types one too, so they are playing in that space as an aggregator themselves and by controlling so much data in the way that they do and by having so many of these aggregator type sites heavily reliant on Google as a search engine to drive much of their business as well, I guess there is always that threat to those kind of sites that Google could quite easily eat into them. I don’t know that in 2016 they will totally replace them because it’s not really what Google pitch themselves directly as and still in many senses they are still trying to feed users through to sites in the classic Google fashion, but it is something that aggregator businesses must definitely have a wary and watchful eye on for sure.

DAVID BAIN: We’ve got a few SEOs watching in, listening in, you’re offering a lot of great information there. People like Dan Bagby I know you’re watching in there, so if anyone would like to join in as well, feel free to actually click on the call in button and if you’ve got any opinion with regard to what businesses need to be doing in 2016 to actually keep up with everything SEO and keep ahead of their competitors it would be great to actually hear your opinion as well. Once thing that Dave Naylor said on a past show is that businesses need to actually be aware of Google’s user interaction. He was actually saying Google were going to be getting a lot of their signals or more of their signals from user interaction over the coming year or so. So I guess SEOs would be thinking, ‘Well where are Google going to be looking for those sorts of signals?’ Because not every website has got Google Analytics installed and Google probably won’t be using Analytics for those signals, because that should be a piece of standalone software, so would you put peoples’ minds at rest, Andrew, and actually say, ‘Don’t worry about having Google Analytics because Google aren’t going to be using that as part of their algorithm at all?’

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah, I don’t think Analytics itself will be part of the algorithm, I think and I share much of the opinion that they’ve shared and come to a similar perspective myself that I think the kind of user interaction metrics that Google are likely to be looking at aren’t necessarily informed or delivered through Analytics. It’s more the kind of thing that they will be able to see anyway, so it will be things like bounce back to search time and dwell time based on a particular result, so I guess if you take a hypothetical situation if someone does a search and they click on the first result in the search results and then they think this doesn’t really answer the question I’ve asked and they bounce back after five seconds or something like that, Google will be able to see that because they know which result that person has clicked from, from what query and how quickly before they came back to that result as well and then the person might go to the second result and find that that actually answers their question and they spend maybe five minutes there and then they return to Google but they do a new search. Then Google can see that and almost at that point when they see someone do a near search then they know that they’ve probably had their question answered, or that they are refining their query because Google’s results didn’t provide them with a site that provided the best answer there. So I think it’s those…

DAVID BAIN: Here is a question in relation to that – if a site is ranking really well for lots of different keyword phrases and some keyword phrases not perhaps directly related to their business and for that traffic, obviously they are not delivering great user experience, someone is actually going back to the search results after a few seconds and deciding it’s not relevant for them, is it a good idea in 2016 if you’re that type of business who is bringing in a lot of traffic that’s not necessarily that relevant to be de-optimising for keyword phrases as opposed to optimising? So that the traffic that you’re getting stays longer hence you are getting less traffic, but you are sending better signals back to Google?

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah, I’m not sure I would say de-optimising. I guess it depends very much if you were getting traffic for particular queries then I’d like to think for the most part that there would probably be a reason that you’d have some kind of content that is already optimised on there, in which case it maybe a case of looking at how you optimise that content further and then create a journey or user experience for someone that is still valuable in a way – if you can’t specifically offer an answer to the query then you could class the optimisation as being the process of creating something that’s a primer almost to whatever it is that that they are looking for and then passing them on to the places where they are most likely to find more information on their answer, in which case those pages, rather than sacrificing that traffic coming to your site at all you are creating a resource or a guide type content for them to then go on and find what it is that they are actually looking for. So your pages and content are still useful, at least, to that audience but they might not completely answer the question that they are looking for. But sure there probably will be some cases as well where Google ranks a site for something where they get traffic but it’s completely irrelevant to what they are, in which case it’s more just about a classic SEO activity of continuing to review your traffic, where it comes from and the limited keyword level data that you still get and making sure that your content is optimised and aligned with what you’re actually wanting to drive people for rather than unnecessary or irrelevant traffic to the site.

DAVID BAIN: So if a business has pages that they’ve published that contain information about products which they used to actually sell but maybe they don’t sell anymore, what would be a better way of actually dealing with that? Would you look to actually keep the URLs and hopefully keep the existing backlinks to that page and actually write new content for that page? Or is 301ing the page to somewhere else just as effective?

ANDREW STEEL: I think in those cases it would very much depend on the specific site, but what I would probably typically recommend would be maintaining the pages but updating the content, so if it was a product for example that no longer existed but you had a new range or alternate range of product then you would probably want to maintain the page that you had, say clearly on it that you no longer stock the product, but then provide a journey clearly for users that directs them to that alternative product or offering or that has some kind of call to action either to potentially get them to sign up to alerts or a newsletter in case there is a product that you are looking to actually restock or stock an alternate version of so that that you are still getting that traffic rather than just sacrificing it off. Because 301 redirecting the page into another page on the site that is going to be less relevant is probably becoming less valuable from an SEO perspective because Google are starting to get better at understanding that, ‘Oh right, that goes to this location now but that location is no longer as relevant to this query’ so they would probably see that your rankings for whatever query that was originally driving traffic to that product would start to decline, if that makes sense. It was a bit of a longwinded explanation.

DAVID BAIN: No, it’s interesting that you also said that 301s perhaps aren’t the quick bullet that they used to be, that you need to be a little bit more thoughtful in terms of what type of traffic is that? And what will they be expecting when they’re visiting this kind of page? A lot of websites of course used to maybe if they’ve changed domains just 301 everything to their home page, or if they’ve bought a new domain just 301 everything to the home page and they can be a lot more strategic and more effective than that if they just think about it a little bit more.

ANDREW STEEL: Yes, definitely and I think it is really about as you say the intent and understanding what users arriving on your site from organic search for whatever queries are arriving from are expecting and likely to see in the content on your site and I think that is quite evident that that’s Google’s aim for search as well. You look at things like good quality rater guidelines, there’s an update to those that was released in November last year and you read through there the kind of guidelines and advice that they’re giving to their manual quality raters very much reads along those lines and it is about how well does the content on a page or a site align with the query and the intent of that query as well?

DAVID BAIN: Absolutely and one other thing of course Google are doing with their search results now is they’re trying to deliver answers straight away in there as opposed to actually getting traffic driven towards web pages. So do you think that the average business needs to think about trying to appear in an answer boxes now or is that something that is not so relevant for most businesses out there?

ANDREW STEEL: I think it’s no bad thing to do because in answer boxes you still do, for many of them, get the source link through. Again some answer boxes could be seen as a bit frustrating for businesses because it’s Google taking advantage of your content and then denying you the traffic or the potential to have any other cross sell or any other interaction with a user that’s looking for that information if you can provide that information but I think beyond the answer box is that in general with content businesses should be looking to make their content as useful and detailed and showing their expertise as possible because again relating back to what’s in the quality raters guidelines it is about things like EAT, the acronym that they use, so Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness of the content and be creating your content to those tenets and keeping those in mind, I think it’s important for businesses and whether Google chooses to pull out some of your content feature in the answer boxes are not is, I guess, a bit of a secondary benefit, but also a secondary concern to simply making sure that your content is complete and answering the questions. A specific example of that would be if you took a hotel page for a particular hotel what are the kind of queries that someone might have around over and above that hotel’s location? It may be things like what’s the parking like for this hotel or where is the parking for this hotel? Thinking around these – how can I make my content more useful for your audience and your customers? This is ultimately is the kind of thing that we recommend and then whether that gets pulled out of an answer box or not should be a bit less of a secondary concern.

DAVID BAIN: I sense that Google are almost actually trying to test the boundaries and see how far they can get away with actually providing direct results and selling things directly within the search results. Because obviously they’ve had issues in the past with the European Union and perhaps even government in the States about the fact that they’ve essentially got a monopoly on search in many countries and that’s what the service provides, a search functionality not an answer functionality and perhaps it does assist people by not having to actually click on so many different things to get the answer that they’re looking for. However, of course, if it does drive visitors towards more of a commercially orientated result then the EU, I would imagine, would certainly want to look into it in greater depth. So it would be interesting to see how far Google think that they should push it in terms of that. Do you think that that may happen at some point over the coming year?

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah. I think you’re absolutely bang on with that David and I guess it’s a funny one, because I guess one way of looking at it would be who owns the information really that Google pull through anyway, because you couldn’t really say that a business owns a piece of information like a recipe or how to change a battery in a car or something like that. It might feature on a business website, but that information is not necessarily owned by that business, so Google could always argue that they pull through that kind of information because as you say it’s about making Google as genuinely useful for users as possible and a big part of their focus is speeding up the process in which someone gets from asking their query to getting their answer through Google. I guess the grey area with that is that the longer people spend on a Google search results page the more exposure they get to Google’s advertising as well! So there is always that trade-off in that they’ll argue things one way in that we’re doing this for the users and then at the same advertising continues to increase… You know, I was reading in Moz at the beginning of the week about how advertising is continuing to increase in Google search result pages, but there is not a whole lot of study or evidence out there to really prove that, but it’s just you can feel it in the organic result that the number of listings on organic result pages is quite often reducing so there are many cases where you’ll get as few as seven organic results on a page, but then you’ll get more other elements into it like I was talking about before in terms of the hotel price ads being a feature of local packs and then surrounded by the PPC advertising and things like that. It’s understandable that Google will try and push the boundaries of this because ultimately from a cynical Google’s business point of view is they want to drive more money out of advertising revenues and there are looking at aggregator type channels that we were talking about before that we were looking at but on the flipside they could always argue that if it’s good for the user and it’s what people want then it’s tough lines really for businesses at the end of the day and no one specifically owns that information. I think it will be something that has a real potential to become more of an issue.

DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. I was going to say to the general public Google is search and search is Google really and there is nothing much else out there. I did read an interesting article saying that DuckDuckGo ended 2015 with twelve million searches per day so they’re steadily increasing. Obviously nothing compared with searches in other minor search engines even compared with Google, but they do seem like an interesting alternative to some probably more techy type people. Their growth seems to be fairly exponential at the moment, but again nothing much compared with Google. Do you think something that may happen in 2016 is another search engine may become more prominent and if so does that mean that from an SEO perspective you need to be more aware of optimising for other search engines as opposed to Google?

ANDREW STEEL: I don’t know, it’s a tough one to call I guess, but I don’t see another search engine coming in and really challenging Google, certainly not in 2016 because I think if there was a real risk of that that someone had developed a better search offering I guess that would be in terms of algorithms. I can’t see that happening given how large scale Google have become and really dominant in that space that the classic analogy has always been if you’re optimising for best practice for Google then you’re probably a couple of years ahead of best practice for most of the other search engines as well. But things like DuckDuckGo I guess exactly as you said, David, that they have an appeal particularly to the more technical user because they do stream out a lot of the things that can frustrate people who spend a lot of time online in terms of advertising. I guess it really depends on how we as online marketing and advertising professionals continue to develop our implementation of online advertising and making it actually genuinely well targeted and well aligned to users as well and Google have obviously released things in the past year or past couple of months to try and allow people to more personalise and better personalise or target particular users with their advertising on Google certainly, but I struggle to see a situation where another search engine is going to kind of really challenge Google in 2016, although I think it would be very good probably for the space and us as SEOs as well but I would have thought that the kind of optimisation work you would be doing for it would probably be pretty similar to what we’re talking about already or if not more focused on user interaction metrics because I think that is probably where search ranking algorithms are starting to go a lot more because the classic links and keyword optimisation of pages and metadata and things that are starting to be things that have been so heavily gained in the past and can still be manipulated and gained in many ways that I would have thought that’s where a new search engine would probably try and target its algorithm around.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, yeah. It’s difficult to see any time soon another search engine coming up and adding any significant volume to what they’re doing, but I guess we’ll try and revisit that in a year’s time and see if it’s any different.

ANDREW STEEL: Who knows as well? I mean Google in the early days fairly came out of nowhere and if you think how saturated the internet was with search engines in terms of people like Lycos and Ask Jeeves and all these search engines.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah.

ANDREW STEEL: Exactly. Where are they now in the grand scheme of things? So who knows? But again I think just because probably how it developed that internet and search has become and how large and how large scale I guess a monopoly on it Google have, I do struggle to see it just happening overnight and out of the blue, but who knows?

DAVID BAIN: Something else that Michael Fleischner and Lukasz Zelezny said was that in 2016 watch out for AI, Artificial Intelligence is going to be big and there were reports a few months ago that it’s now the third or fourth most important aspect within Google’s algorithm, but because it’s AI, because it’s self-learning it’s not really any one particular element within optimisation that you can focus on here, so although it’s important, is there anything much that SEOs are going to be able to do in order to actually try and optimise themselves for this Artificial Intelligence at all?

ANDREW STEEL: I think you could argue there is and there isn’t, I suppose, because there is in the sense that the AI will really just be, I think, mainly focused around analysis of large scale data that Google has, so it will be things like user interaction data and user interaction search data and looking at trends as well in terms of what are the norm signals of good quality sites in Google’s eyes within spaces as well. So I think in terms of what you can do to optimise for things like rank rain it probably is a bit of a continuation of the trend that we’ve been going towards very much anyway in terms of quality of link profile but also going above that a quality of content and user experience of a site because those are the things that really we, if you think of how we use the internet as users rather than marketers, those are the things that people are looking for is something that answers the questions you have, does it well, does it to a very in-depth and complete sense and does it with a strong quality of experience and a very clear user journey through it as well. All those things are ultimately UX aims and goals and feed into the various user experience metrics that as we were talking about before are likely to be the kind of things that something that rank rain will be looking at and amending and adjusting searches. I would have thought again until Google really confirm or tell us otherwise that’s just a personal assumption, but as you say AI is just a learning mechanism and it will be fed by data so I can only imagine it’s that kind of data that it’s feeding.

DAVID BAIN: Yes. I mean I was thinking just now perhaps AI might be more involved with predictive search and get better at producing a result that it thinks that users are likely to be wanting. So perhaps it evolves around seasonality. Maybe around someone’s previous search history at a certain time of day of night so maybe they’re going to get better at delivering search results before someone actually searches for that item. That could be quite an interesting trend and if that does happen it would be interesting again to see whether or not users actually embrace that or whether or not they actually were turned off by the fact that this technology was actually suggesting things to them that perhaps they did want but they considered it to be prying too much into their inner minds, so there is that line between being comfortable with using technology and feeling that technology is trying to take over and maybe users having a backlash against that kind of predictive search.

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah and I think it is something, I can even remember reading articles about this kind of utopian age of search where search would know, Google, for example, would know what you were looking for before you knew yourself as you said there David and I think there is a definite element to that probably of things like rank rain in terms of being able to make associations between particular objects and entities in a similar way to what Google had said that Hummingbird was really focused around and then also, as you say, being able to make connections based on a personalised element to people’s search but also trying to trend together what other people are searching for that was of a similar topic to what you’re looking for and kind of answered their queries well and almost in a thesaurus-like fashion and being able to connect that. Because there will be things that people search for like the example before, I think it was released with Hummingbird, was a review with a tiger in a boat or something like that and it was producing a result that was about the Life of Pi, things like that where people will be asking questions of people in a very different way, in almost a lazier way, but things like rank rain maybe help it still provide the answers that people were meaning or looking for.

DAVID BAIN: We’ve got Stephanie Ketcher come back on the call there, Stephanie is a TWIO regular, so good to have you back Stephanie there, so you can get a spare seat here if you fancy joining in and giving us your opinion in terms of what you think businesses need to be doing in 2016 to stay ahead of what is happening in SEO at the moment. But one thing that really is happening in terms of search is we’re seeing an increased difference in the different types of search results. If someone is on a mobile device, if someone is in a certain location, their search results are going to be completely different and that’s not something that was there at all maybe four or five years ago or so. So have you any thoughts on what businesses can be doing to better optimise their content for specific locations to appear in a manner that’s as optimised as possible for that?

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah. I think for businesses that are very location focused in terms of they have multiple locations there are elements to that that will be a simple as using schema type mark-up and all the additional layers of data that they can use for that to clarify the actual physical locations and geographies that your business in specific to. I think there will be classic elements to it in terms of the classic elements of local search box maybe in terms of things like citation building and all those kind of things, but increasingly as well there are a lot of technical elements to location and if it’s within one country then that will be focused around that additional layer of data that things like schema offer but then when you start looking more internationally Google have got a lot better in terms of their offering over the last couple of years within things like search console or webmaster tools as it used to be in terms of hreflang-type setup and being able to set up for specific geographies and how they handle things like ccTLDs or top level domains between .coms and .co.uks and .de and things like that, and all the myriad ways that people used to do those in terms of a sub-domain or having a top level domain or a folder structure that worked. Google have got a lot better at being able to understand and interpret those many different ways and still be able to relate results tagged back to them. But I think in terms of a user-specific set of results you are right, personalisation within different geographies is huge and it makes it a challenge for businesses to be able ever be able to really know what a user’s results set looks like and where their position within that is, but it is a case of you have to do the things that you know that you can do that will help that and I think a big one for geographic locations within one country or region is very much the obvious place to start with the schema mark-up and again a search console has a lot of improved tools to help people set that up fairly simply and Google are looking at things to do with tag manager where you can start implementing a lot of tags and schema type mark-up and JSON and things like that to get a bit more technical within that as well. It makes it even easier for people to be able to add these kind of mark-ups to their site too. So I think that is probably the place I would recommend starting for local optimisation for businesses.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, so mark-up. Mark-up started about four years ago or so and it seems to have not been talked about that much that recently, but it also seems to be more important than ever to mark-up your content and if you’re not doing that then of course Google aren’t going to be that confident with regard to who specifically you are trying to target in terms of the type of content the actual thing that you are talking about but also location is you’re talking about there as well. So very important moving forward. One other thing that Greg Gifford actually mentioned in the Christmas special was that he was saying that beacon technology will be big in 2016. So that is about an advertiser or at least your device identifying almost where you are and an advertiser being able to deliver content very, very relevant to precisely what you’re doing at that moment in time. Is that just advertising or is there any way that organic marketers will actually be able to take advantage of that do you think?

ANDREW STEEL: It’s an interesting one because beacon technology is something that we’ve actually been looking at quite a lot at Equator as well, certainly within our innovations team and I think that there are a couple of pieces of content we’ve produced from that as well. I think it’s definitely got opportunities for advertising certainly because it is something that allows a greater personalisation and usefulness to people dependent on their specific location so some of the examples that we’ve looked at in the past have been for things like banking or hotels so if someone walks into their bank and the tellers or the staff immediately know that they’ve entered and they know what state their account is in or anything where they might want to advise them on or things like that. It allows people to have conversations in a more slicker advertising almost type fashion rather than just sending out a mailer or an email or whatever to someone to say, ‘How about you get a credit card because we’re seeing that your accounts, you ran into your overdraft a lot?’ Or things like that. It allows a more human element to come into those things, but also in terms of usefulness for hotels we’ve looked at things like people being able to check into hotels and get into their room and things like that without ever having to speak to someone and then if you’re walking by the restaurant or whatever it can send you an alert to say, ‘Have you booked a table? Have you got something sorted for dinner tonight?’ Or it can allow people to order drinks at a bar without ever leaving their table, the waiter just brings it over to you and all these kind of things. So it is powerful technology and it has some great uses as well. In terms of how it ties into organic, I don’t know that there is a lot of development yet to really work with that, but there is certainly potential for it to be able to tie in more to search, but I think the barrier at the moment is that people like Google and search engines aren’t really tying into that kind of specific local level of technology in terms of beacons. It’s more probably advertising type focus that the opportunities are there. But that’s not to say that there are not opportunities on the cards really that can help develop that, but as a secondary spin-off by being able to offer a better experience for your customers through the use of beacons and things it will always be of benefit to organic in terms of it helps with brand and conversion and the metrics that come off the back of that.

DAVID BAIN: I haven’t really looked into it as much as you have by the sound of it. Do you think it is necessary for instance to actually have an app installed from a business in order for that business to actually use that technology?

ANDREW STEEL: At the moment my understanding of it is that it is, and again whether that changes in the future or not, I couldn’t really tell you. It’s not my personal area of specialisation but certainly people like our Innovations Director, Martin Jordan, he has covered a lot of that and been looking a lot into this area and we’ve been working with some clients to begin testing opportunities for beacons as well, because there are opportunities for businesses both internal to their business in being able to utilise beacons, but also in their interactions with customers as well. But I think very much at the moment as I understand it, it is quite heavily required to have an app that integrates with that. I think that the ideal and what I’m pretty sure is being worked towards is that it’s not going to be a requirement to have an app to be able to work with beacons and that beacons will be something that will be more universally tied in to technology and more mobile-focused technology experience.

DAVID BAIN: It will be intriguing certainly to see how the technology moves forward. So I reckon we’ve got about five minutes or so left of this discussion, so it’s probably our last opportunity if anyone wants to jump in and say hello. We’ve got Clint from Olympia SEO on as well, so Clint you could jump in if you have any opinion with regard to how businesses are going to be amending their focus with regard to SEO in 2016. But I think the other topic that I wanted to cover briefly or focus a bit more on was UX, because you mentioned that as part of the Christmas predictions show yourself and part of UX is delivering great personalised relevant content to users as well, but the challenge of course from an organic search perspective is are you actually going to be able to deliver different pieces of content to different people and still be as effective in the eyes of Google? I mean do you let Google see all of the content? Is there only a core version of the content that you let Google see and then adapt the content after that and hide the rest of it? Have you got any thoughts on that from an SEO perspective?

ANDREW STEEL: I guess you mean in terms of a personalisation of content versus Google’s historic view on content and the potential for duplication there – is that what you’re thinking?
DAVID BAIN: Yes. I mean maybe if you’ve established that the person that is reading your content is more likely to be a certain age bracket, female and maybe you’ve got an idea of their interests, there may be an opportunity to personalise that content based on who you think that person is to make it more relevant for them. So if that is the case and perhaps you’ve got four or five different versions for your web page tailored at different audiences, what would you do? Would you maybe just have that core version of the webpage of the URL that Google can actually see but dynamically deliver a different version of the page and not let Google crawl it based upon who you think that person is?

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah. I think that’s probably historically and classically the best approach to it, but I think there is technology starting to catch up a lot more now to enable businesses to be able to offer that more sort of tailored offering in a better way. So things like what platforms I like AngularJS and all these kinds of platforms are starting to become a bit more prominent in terms of the development of platforms for websites and in the past they were a completely no go if you wanted to be found on organic search because JavaScript wasn’t something that Google could crawl before or index and all the challenges that came up with that. Last year- but probably about this time last year actually Google made some pretty significant strides in terms of how they were able to interact with that and there are some good Google support pages on the usage of JavaScript and platforms like AngularJS for these kind of dynamic changing content and there has been some testing as well I’ve seen the results of in the past nine months that Google are able to crawl and index these dynamic elements to the variety. In terms of how strongly those dynamic versions of content would perform within Google’s organic search results I think it’s harder to say for that in terms of ranking potential. They are moving towards a way of being able to interact with sites that offer that dynamic and personalised content is still around that core element to the content or a core topic covering if that makes sense, but in terms of the classic way of being able to deal with that, I would say it’s probably about having a core page that’s your comprehensive view of the content and then tailor pages off of that that you may want to canonicalise to the core relevant version of the page so that in Google’s eyes you are clearly saying that this is my master version of the page, if you like, but these others sit off of it as a more flavoured view.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. So as long as its content that just edited a little bit for different bio personas, then say it’s 5% or 10% altered, then it’s fine to canonicalise that to the core version. How different can a piece of content be before canonicalization isn’t the most appropriate approach for doing that?

ANDREW STEEL: I think it is always a tough one to measure because there is no hard and fast percentage difference rather if the content, I think it’s more of a judgment call when the specific topic or tone or information in the content starts changing substantially from its original version then you probably want to start looking at a different way of being able to address that. But certainly if you’re talking about more flavour to a bio persona then canonicalization in probably the best way of being able to address that in certain hypothetical example that we are using there in terms of how different again I think it really has to be a judgment call rather than trying to work off of the classic percentage difference in words or the content length or anything like that.

DAVID BAIN: Judgment call used to be what you would do in terms of actually what percentage of links would contain a certain type of anchor text. That’s SEO from a while ago.

ANDREW STEEL: Yeah, definitely.

DAVID BAIN: One piece of general advice that our previous show finished with was actually by Kelvin Newman and he said be agile in 2016. I guess there is so much that could happen, there are so many things that will evolve. I guess that’s a piece of advice that you would reflect as well and actually say, ‘Look, just keep your ear to the ground and be aware of what’s changing and be adaptable in the future’.

ANDREW STEEL: Absolutely. I think if you look back at even the topics that we’ve covered today I think there is no real certainties within SEO and I think it’s important and it always has been really to continue to learn and continue to be agile, be able to move and develop with the way with that search goes and also the way that businesses are able to interact in terms of the technologies and platforms and how they can be utilised. So the example I’ve seen before there in terms of types like AngularJS and being able to provide a much more dynamic user experience as a result of these things. The fact that Google are starting to catch up and be able to index report those types of things makes it, it’s always important to be looking at both the platforms as well as the specific SEO approaches in terms of is it schema mark-up that you are needing to be adding or should you be looking creating better user journeys and user experiences and all these kind of things. It’s really absolutely the best piece of advice is remaining flexible and fluid and agile in your approach for sure.

DAVID BAIN: Well I’m sorry we couldn’t get any friends to share the platform with you today, Andrew, but I had no doubt that you could quite capably participate in an ordered discussion by yourself, so thank you so much for joining me. Would you like to remind the listeners, the watchers a little bit more about you and where they can find you?

ANDREW STEEL: Sure. I’m Andrew Steel, Head of SEO at Equator and you can find me through the Equator website, which is eqtr.com on or Twitter @AndrewJSteel or through LinkedIn again Andrew Steel and hopefully people will find this useful and interesting and as always it has been great to be on and have a very interesting and varied discussion with you, David, as always.

DAVID BAIN: It was great for you to join us. Thanks for that and of course we’ll leave links to where people can find you in the replay page, that’ll be published on the Analytics SEO blog at some point over the next week. And I’m David Bain, head of growth at Analytics SEO, the agency and enterprise SEO platform with big insights. Sign up for a free demo of our platform at authoritas.com and you can also find me interviewing online marketing gurus over at digitalmarketingradio.com. Now, if you’re watching the show as a recording, remember to watch the next show live, so head over to thisweekinorganic.com, sign up for the updates there and be part of the live audience for the next show. But for those of you watching live we also have an audio podcast of previous shows, so again sign up to email updates at thisweekinorganic.com and you will receive the podcast links from there as well. But until we see you again, have a fantabulous weekend and thank you all so much for joining us. Adios and thank you again Andrew.