This is the forty-first episode of ‘This Week In Organic’, the weekly show that debates the ramifications of the latest SEO and content marketing news.
In this special episode of TWiO we discuss “Is Apple Spotlight the biggest competitor to Google’s mobile search engine? Happy tenth birthday to Twitter. And it’s one step for Dixon and one giant leap for mankind. All of that and more onThis Week in Organic, Episode Number 41.”
DAVID BAIN: Is Apple Spotlight the biggest competitor to Google’s mobile search engine? Happy tenth birthday to Twitter. And it’s one step for Dixon and one giant leap for mankind. All of that and more on This Week in Organic, Episode Number 41.
Broadcasting live at www.authoritas.com/twio, you’re watching 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. And as for you in the live audience, get involved. Click on the tweets or the post buttons to your left-hand side and share the show with your own followers and tell us what you think of what’s being discussed in the comment section to the right-hand side and I’ll try and read out as many comments as I can.
But let’s find out more about today’s guests, where they’re from and what’s caught their attention this week. So starting off with Matteo.
MATTEO MONARI: So hi. Hello everybody. My name is Matteo Monari. I run a marketing agency in Rome called BizUp and we work a lot in competitive niches and at an international level, so we look a look at links and profiles and what caught my eye this week for sure was the PR move that Majestic has just pulled off, since it was quite a quiet week last week in terms of updates or big declarations from the search engines. So no big technical news, I would say, but it was probably a good moment for Majestic to release the big idea they had.
DAVID BAIN: You want to make sure that you don’t get dwarfed by other news out there. So they’ve absolutely done that well, yeah. Great, okay, we’ll look forward to talking about that. Also with us today is Peter.
PETER KERSBERGEN: Hi, I’m Peter. I’m the SEO and Content Manager at www.icelolly.com, which is a holiday search comparison website, for those who don’t know. And today I’m particularly interested in the topic about Google now introducing a feature to customise your news sources. It’s interesting.
DAVID BAIN: Great. We’ll look forward to hearing more about that as well. And finally, also with us today is Marcus.
MARCUS TANDLER: Yeah, hi folks. I’m Marcus. I’ve been in SEO since the ‘90s. Actually started out doing SEO for AltaVista and Excite, and when Google started in Germany in 2000, I basically grew up with them and their algorithms. Never been a big consulting guy. More like have been an affiliate for the longest time of my life, but for the past four years we went into a new venture. I’m actually the CEO and co-founder of www.onpage.org with the leading technical SEO software out there. Quite an interesting ride. We have 42 people now here, all very technical, SEO-savvy and just having a lot of fun. Just getting people excited about doing the technical SEO right.
DAVID BAIN: Wonderful, yeah. That’s very, very impressive, doing technical SEO for AltaVista. I remember using AltaVista but not doing SEO for AltaVista.
MARCUS TANDLER: Well that was easy, right? There was just white text. Whoever had the most words on their page just got the highest rank result and if it was a white font and white background, that’s all you needed to do, right?
DAVID BAIN: I went a little bit further than that. I did white font on a black background but with a white, tiled image. So slightly more…
MARCUS TANDLER: Very sophisticated, very sophisticated!
MATTEO MONARI: Very proper SEO techniques!
DAVID BAIN: We’re going onto topic number one and that is Apple’s Spotlight. Could that actually be a competitor to Google’s mobile search engine in the future? Because at the moment we’ve got Google serving about 90% of mobile search in the USA, 94% in the UK and 97% in Australia. However, perhaps Google might not actually have all the things their own way in the future because Search Engine Land reported today that Google are now developing a keyboard, hoping to boost its mobile search volumes perhaps, actually? So why are Google doing this and perhaps is this intended as some kind of competition against Apple’s spotlight search? Matteo, have you got any thoughts on this one in particular?
MATTEO MONARI: Yes. I think that right now we can’t really talk about Spotlight as a competitor to Google, in terms of web search at least. But when it comes to users of mobile, there are of course other people using Spotlight and also the search engine that’s used by Siri, and I think especially the younger generation that are using a lot of Siri when they search, when it comes to using their phone, are using Spotlight. I don’t think people should really be worried about, ‘How do I optimise for Spotlight?’ because that would be overkill, but I think one interesting point is that basically if you look at Spotlight, it does more or less what Google does inside Chrome when you’re using Android, that mixes the results. You know, you have at the same time apps from the app store and web results, and that’s the same thing that you have now in Google, basically, deep linking with the apps in Android. So this basically may be even more important now to also take care of the deep linking activities and optimise the name of your apps, for example, so that when people look for, I don’t know, sports results, if you have an app called ‘sports results’ then it also shows up in the Spotlight, for example, as it would inside Google on Android, with a direct link to download the app. So I think this is the main thing people should really think about, considering Spotlight. I don’t think one should really be worried about the Spotlight algorithm, let’s say.
DAVID BAIN: Okay, okay. Because obviously its primary listings, or its initial listings that it has on the iPhone at the moment is pages within apps that you’ve already installed, certainly.
MATTEO MONARI: Yes. But you also have suggestions to download.
DAVID BAIN: Uh-huh. Okay, okay. Peter, have you actually got an app that you’re using for Icelolly at the moment?
PETER KERSBERGEN: We do, yes. We actually recently rebuilt that a little bit ‘cause it was a ‘bit back’ before but it’s primarily updated for iOS at the moment, so we will certainly need to look at that.
DAVID BAIN: From an SEO perspective, do you have any involvement with the naming of different sections within that?
PETER KERSBERGEN: Very little, to be honest. Our app is quite in its infancy at the moment, I would say. It needs a lot of looking at and I think it needs rebuilding to actually provide users more functionality than just basic search. Right now our app doesn’t do anything that our website already does, basically, so as far as I’m concerned there’s very little reason for people to actually use that, when you could just as well visit the website. But that’s something we’re looking at for the near future. It’s just not the highest priority that we have at the moment.
DAVID BAIN: So as someone who’s obviously involved with SEO, do you think you’re going to have a more active involvement in the app development in the future?
PETER KERSBERGEN: Possibly, but more from a marketing angle. I think there are other colleagues that are much better suited to work on the app, especially for iOS, ‘cause I’m a complete numb Apple user! I’m as far an expert as humanly possible, really.
DAVID BAIN: Marcus, you don’t think Google should have any concerns about searching on a device directly to find apps at the moment?
MARCUS TANDLER: I didn’t hear the question, but should they be concerned? I mean, of course iPhone users are a very valuable target group. They are likely to have a little bit more money. We see this especially with running ads on Android to iPhone users and you have a more juicy target audience. But on the bright side for Google, they have Android. This is like 80% of the market share is all Android and it’s only 20% or even less that Apple owns in this space. So it’s not like a big competitor. Of course they will love this traffic and I think they paid a billion for being the search engine on iPhones. So of course it’s very important for them. But again, they have Android, so they couldn’t care less, actually.
In regards to SEO it’s very lame because most of the Spotlight search is the Knowledge Graph kind of information you’re looking to find, and of course local businesses and stuff like this is just external, third party data pulled from Yelp or whatever. So this is not really an SEO topic. It’s pretty much comparable with a local search thing on Google, as well as of course with the Knowledge Graph integration, like Wikipedia and stuff like that. So it’s not really an SEO thing, so this is why I don’t really pay that much interest to what Apple’s doing with Spotlight. Google is still my Number One!
DAVID BAIN: It’s certainly Number One in most markets around the world, apart from Baidu and Yandex and other countries like that. But it’s intriguing because I was reading another article recently that showed that desktop searches peaked in 2013 and since then it’s been going down and more recently Google have announced that mobile searches overall have surpassed desktop searches. And Google with Android have obviously had an eye on this for some time and are certainly thankful that they control 80% of mobile devices. But have they got the quality or is the quality over iPhone? I guess we’ll see. Over the next couple of years it’ll be fairly intriguing. Do any of you have clients that still focus on desktop and have the majority focus on desktop at the moment?
MATTEO MONARI: Well all of our clients also focus heavily on desktop because it’s not like mobile searches are cannibalising on desktop searches. What happens is that people just search more. So of course you will have some moments in which a lot of people will search from the mobile, like when they’re at home on the sofa in the evening, watching TV, for example, during the ads. And then during the day when they’re at work you will most likely have searches from the desktop. So even the sites that have a lot of mobile traffic, at least as far as our clients are concerned, they don’t have the traffic as an alternative to the desktop traffic. That traffic has been growing as an additional channel of traffic over the years.
Also in general, the first thing we do when we have a client where we’re discussing optimising a site, is discussing the one main site. So normally we have sites with responsive designs that are optimised for that. So we don’t really look at mobile versus desktop. We look at bounce rates and different ways that people use the website and see if there is any issue in design and in the customer journey within the site, for example. But otherwise we look at just one single property, which is optimised all around the device.
DAVID BAIN: Okay, okay. One other story that caught my eye this week actually was the fact that if you’re using Google Now as a user, you can tell them which sources for stories you don’t actually want to receive information for. And it struck me that this could be quite telling for Google in terms of the quality and relevance of news sources and blog sources in the future and perhaps Google may make some kind of ranking decisions in the future based upon feedback like this from users. Matteo, do you think that signals like this, decisions like this by users, may impact rankings in the future?
MATTEO MONARI: I think that this kind of decision will not impact rankings because Google Now is heavily customised based on the single user. So just because you don’t want to see something in Google Now, it doesn’t mean that this is not good in general, and it’s more telling Google, ‘Hey Google, you thought that you knew me, and based on how much you knew me, you went and picked this news source. But guess what? You are wrong. I do not like this news source personally.’ But this, I think, is as far as possible from being a heavy signal, I would say.
DAVID BAIN: Mm. I mean, there was talk a few years ago obviously of social signals being incorporated as part of Google’s algorithm but it never seemed to really materialise. Marcus, do you think that we’ll get to a stage over the next few years where user signals and user voting becomes a significant part of Google’s algorithm or do you think that’s unlikely?
MARCUS TANDLER: No. This is all what it’s about and not in the distant future. This is where we are right now. I mean, with a little bit of authority and good on-page SEO, you get a change, you get a glimpse of the first page, but then you’ve got to perform. People are casting a vote with every single search they do, with every single interaction, clicking on the sites, interacting with the sites, staying on-site, the whole user journey along there, their searches. So this is all what Google is doing and the whole stuff with the machine learning. And I think it’s especially on the signal, we had a sort of philosophical bias against the use of machine learning and the search quality, and now you have John Andrea coming in who oversees Google’s work in artificial intelligence. I think you see a momentous shift in how Google and the industry as a whole approaches these things, that learning those things, rather than writing code, you can scale this so much easier, right? And this is where Google is at right now, and so it’s all about the user, it’s all about the user signals, every single signal.
And it’s not about individual ranking factors anymore. It’s about what makes users happy. And this can be different in each vertical, in each keyword, in each niche. In every single search it can be completely different. Also personalised and whatever, right? So this is where we are right now. It’s all about the user and not about individual ranking factors. And I think it’s exhausting. We talk about social signals – are they a part of the ranking factor? Who cares, right? It’s traffic. It’s traffic to my site and if people like my site, Google is getting those signals and my site may eventually rank better if I really supply a sufficient answer for what people are searching for.
So again, it’s exhausting to talk about individual ranking factors. It’s about the big thing and this is what makes users happy because this is what Google tries to find out every single search.
DAVID BAIN: It’s a great point that user signals aren’t just active things that users vote for. They’re watching what users do and obviously making decisions on rankings based on that. So yeah, absolutely. Great point there. It was funny, I saw a tweet by Gary Iles this week and he said he was meeting, I think, some Google engineers. One of the first questions they asked was about RandBrain, rather than RankBrain, they called it.
MARCUS TANDLER: Because it went back and forth with Gary. I think this also happened at SMXMunich and it was quite funny to watch from the outside SEOs on the roof, it was quite…
DAVID BAIN: It didn’t realise it was at SMXMunich. Okay. So it’s the continuation of a joke.
MARCUS TANDLER: Yeah, a little bit.
DAVID BAIN: So what about RankBrain itself, Marcus? It that something that can be treated as something by itself or do you think because it’s machine learning and probably encompassing loads of different factors it’s not going to be what traditional SEO is about, really? It’s going to be something completely different.
MARCUS TANDLER: Well with RankBrain specifically, it’s more about machine-powered assistance for the Hummingbird, right? Because you said before with Google wanting to release a keyword, most of the searches right now are happening with people talking to their phones and it’s a completely different type of search how people used to search in Google on a desktop and how they talk into their phone. It’s much more conversational search, it’s much more real sentences with stop words in there and stuff like this, and Google needs to find out what people are actually searching for to supply the best possible answer. Because don’t forget, search engines have goals too, right? So they want to have happy users, so they need to understand what people are searching for. And RankBrain is machine learning-powered assistance for that Hummingbird to basically try to dissect that sentence that the person’s just said and try to reformulate the query, so it’s really just about query reformation, query modification on the fly, to reformulate that query into a query where they can actually supply a sufficient result. And of course learning in the process, right? Because they get the user feedback again and so they can see if somebody refines a search off of this, you know? ‘Did I really answer this question or did I not?’ And basically this feedback is coming back and basically is refining that algorithm more and more, really trying different entities and what it’s looking for, right?
So this is what RankBrain is specifically, but I think it goes into a much larger picture in the future, that basically any user interaction, everything where people are interacting with the search engine, interacting with different sites, like really finding out what makes users happy, what’s the best possible result. And this is why it’s not about individual ranking factors anymore because Google doesn’t want to rank the site that does the best SEO. Google wants to rank the site that is the best result for the user, and this is exactly what machine learning’s trying to find out.
DAVID BAIN: That’s a great summary. Thanks.
MATTEO MONARI: I just want to jump in quickly on this. I just wanted to say that we all in the industry tend to be very big geeks and nerds about how Google really works and how does RankBrain really work and how does it affect the ranking and is it really an algorithm per se or is it part of the algorithm? But I just think in general when it comes to doing our job, which is helping websites to rank higher, get more traffic and make more money, running after the algorithm…these are not the AltaVista days anymore. It’s a bit pointless because it’s more running after what the algorithm should understand and accomplish. So instead of thinking, ‘Is Google an algorithm per se or is it integrated in the algorithm or is it now rolling continuously or is it released once a month?’ who really cares about this? I mean, ‘Can Google detect this thing in this way or in that other way?’ who cares about how Google detects this thing? I could almost say. Because if it doesn’t detect it today, I know you’re doing something wrong. It’s most likely going to detect it tomorrow. And if you’re building a real company, you don’t need to really care about what Google can detect today or what influences Google today but what Google should influence in two or three years from now.
So as Marcus was saying, if Google wants to show what is good for the user, there is no point you building very high-trust links because you heard it’s good towards a page that does not really have the right answer for what the Google user is searching for. So instead of running after the algorithm but running after what Google should do for the users, that is probably the bright way of thinking. And also to avoid too much speculation about specific elements that don’t really have size sometime.
PETER KERSBERGEN: I would agree with that as well, to be honest, Matteo. I think rather than trying to anticipate what Google wants, you should anticipate what the user wants. If you make a really good user experience, all the signals that Google gets from those users will be positive and you will do much better in the long-run. That would be my opinion.
DAVID BAIN: So is that something that you focus on quite a bit for Icelolly, Peter? Are there specific metrics that you track on a weekly basis to try and measure that?
PETER KERSBERGEN: Yes. At the moment we’re very heavily focused on user interaction and, ‘What does the user really want on our websites and how can we provide that to them?’ I would say historically the company has probably not been the best at that, but that’s absolutely our primary focus right now.
In addition to that we obviously, for those that have read our case studies in the past, have a really big issue with Penguin, where the site has been in Penguin since 2013, which was one of the main reasons that I was employed in the first place. So we still have that, so obviously we do have a certain focus on links, but that’s more cleaning up after systematic bad SEO in the past, rather than, as you say, chasing the algorithm.
DAVID BAIN: I bet you wish you could almost start again with a fresh website rather than…
PETER KERSBERGEN: You know what, sometimes it would almost be easier. But when your brand name is the same as your domain name, that’s a very hard thing to do, I think.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. And what about in relation to this, the future of SEO? ‘Cause we’re all talking about user signals here and doing the right thing by your users and Google being clever enough in the future to actually understand that that’s probably delivering a good user experience and understanding what you do from that. Does that mean that the value of SEO is going to diminish or are we simply talking about a different type of SEO in the future?
PETER KERSBERGEN: I don’t think the value of SEO will diminish. I think we as SEOs will change, our responsibilities will change. We’ll be way for involved with website conversion, website experience, user experience, navigation on the website, and the focus on external links and such, that will hugely diminish, I think. That’s historically been the main focus but that’s not what your focus should be. If you make a great website, people will link to that website. If it’s a website that nobody needs, then nobody’s going to link to it, creating a natural link system, long-term at least.
DAVID BAIN: I guess the challenge is whether or not that skill-set is something that very technical SEOs will embrace or maybe very link-oriented SEOs will embrace. Because it’s a different kind of skill-set to be able to appeal to users and deliver a great user experience compared with certain technical skills. Marcus, obviously you’ve been around in the SEO world for a very long time. Do you feel that the skills that you have had to use to be a successful SEO through the years has changed significantly?
MARCUS TANDLER: No, I don’t think a lot has changed. It’s always been about three things and it’s still these three things. You have to have a crawlable site and you can view the content on all devices – you’ve got to be device-friendly. It’s got to be fast-loading. You have to have good, engaging content. And this leads to people recommending your content, whether it’s the links from a blog or if it’s on social media or whatever. A link is a link, you know? Every link that is sending traffic is gold and that’s what it’s always been about.
I think what’s happening right now is that you have the SEO community splitting in two ways right now. So you have the one group that understand the technical side of the game and that really focus on what Peter just said, user experience stuff and incorporating that into your code, having a 100% perfect code and responsive content, responsive design and all that stuff. Also just make it very fast-loading and stuff like this.
And on the other hand, you have the guys who formerly used to sell link-building and now they sell ‘content marketing’, which is basically the same thing. They still do the same thing, they just call it differently. But I think the interesting thing is that they are now tapping into an industry where there are a lot of very successful businesses, especially large advertising agencies, PR agencies, who have been doing content marketing all along. They just haven’t maybe had the same word for it, but this is what they’ve been doing.
So it’s really hard, especially for those link-building kind of agencies to evolve into this kind of marketing game because it’s a totally different game. Like, formerly just buy some links, put them into your basket and just check out, thank you very much. And now all of a sudden you have to be creative and actually think of what people like, ‘What are people interested in? How can I make my stuff appealing to my target audience?’ And this is what it’s all about.
But this is, I think, what’s happening and I have heard SEOs every year for the past over ten years, even in 2000 when Google was coming in, it was, ‘SEO is that,’ and now it’s all like, ‘They do with the links and it’s impossible to get in,’ blah, blah, blah. It’s always been around and it’s like, not a lot of topics in the industry right now so it’s always this topic that gets pulled out of the hat.
But I think right now there are a lot of people really, ‘Holy shit! I can’t continue to do what I used to do. I’ve got to evolve. How can I do this?’ And all of a sudden you have to have a different skill-set but it’s only those people who haven’t done it the right way along and basically a lot of the link-building people, there’s a lot of scam going on, right? So this is what happens and it’s just evolution and I think it’s great because with the game getting harder, a lot of people get seeded out, so the good people survive and prevail, and so I love it!
DAVID BAIN: You love it as well, Peter?
PETER KERSBERGEN: Yeah, absolutely. I would agree with everything Marcus said. There are a lot of people out there that are still either doing traditional link-building or they’re pretending to be content outreaching and actually they’re still just link-building because they’re paying some block owner for a ‘guest post’, as they call it, which is nothing more than a placed link. Ultimately, the people that have always been doing it right, as Marcus said, will stay around and all the others will start falling, ‘cause that’s not how success is built anymore. Luckily.
MATTEO MONARI: I think it’s important also for companies to understand this big change. As I said before, we work in competitive markets, like insurance, travel, banks, mortgages, loans and we work with big, corporate clients, for example. We of course try to convey their authority and we do very expensive content marketing initiatives and very broad. As an example, we did one last year for a big hot booking site as part of the biggest international group in online bookings. And we did it for the pure goal of building authority to the site. We made – I cannot go into too much detail – but a very helpful guide for a very specific kind of user, which we’ve now released, and then essentially what happened internally during a board meeting, the press department showed this initiative as their most successful press initiative and communication initiative for the brand for that year, and that’s when the marketing officer stood up and said, ‘Wait a moment. I was the one that was doing this with a very limited budget and this was not part of your media money.’
So this is the problem we face very often when we try to do these kind of initiatives, is that nowadays there should not be a war between, ‘This is the marketing department so let’s throw them a few peanuts,’ and then on the other hand you have the big media department and press department. Because right now there is not really marketing versus marketing. Sometimes we do initiatives that are lead-based that end up on the printed press, for example. So those are not purely marketing initiatives. It’s very hard to explain to the client about this, I think, because most big brands, they still think, ‘Okay, these are the SEO people. They do this kind of link stuff.’ That’s how it used to work years ago and it’s very hard to go and explain to them that there is no such thing as manual link-exchange stuff and everything is now more into the communication side of things. They should dig out the big money to finance those kind of initiatives.
DAVID BAIN: Yeah. Unfortunately at the moment there are a lot of big companies that perhaps do things like get a new website designed and have it visually looking good and when everything’s complete afterwards say, ‘Okay, give this to the SEO person to SEO.’ And they don’t involve an SEO person at the very beginning with strategy.
MATTEO MONARI: I think right now today, it’s like AJAX is the new Flash, I would say. Now Google says, ‘Yeah, we can crawl AJAX. Don’t worry about this and that.’ And there was a moment a year ago, all of a sudden on the sites when it came to us, there were no more stupid flash websites, but now there are a lot of one-page, very good-looking Ajax-based websites, and that single one page is a new website with 50,000 pieces of content all with the same url basically, ‘cause everything is made on Ajax. And then Google says, ‘Don’t worry. We can now go and execute it. Everything is fine. You don’t need to worry.’ The client says, ‘Oh, Google said they don’t have to worry anymore,’ and then it’s very hard to explain to them that, ‘Yeah, Google can say that they can do everything very nicely, but maybe you should not really rely no making the job hard ‘cause Google is good anyway. You should make the job easier,’ as Marcus said before.
In general, on the one hand, there are a lot of sites that come out of the box that are technically fine, let’s say. Not extremely good but technically fine. But right now there is this new one-page website, Ajax wave, with all these fireworks on the page, which is sometimes very hard for Google to digest, I think.
MARCUS TANDLER: And the part, they have the whole framework in Angular JS, so it’s like, ‘This is coming from Google so it must be SEO-friendly.’ It’s like, ‘No it’s not.’ You’ve still got to do it right, you know? If you do it wrong, it’s completely wrong, as you said. Good point, yeah.
DAVID BAIN: Also in the news this week is that Majestic have announced that they’re going to 3D print the internet on the International Space Station. Last year they shared their Majestic Landscapes. Now it’s one step for Dixon, one giant leap for mankind. So these models seem physically interesting but do they have any real relevance for SEOs. I mean, can SEOs maybe take our domain that’s obviously performing quite well in industry and have a look at this 3D model of a good domain in their industry and say, ‘That’s how a good domain should be structured in terms of citation flow and trust flow and number of links’? I see you nodding slightly there, Peter. Have you got any thoughts on this one here?
PETER KERSBERGEN: This is a tricky one. I think the 3D model itself is a bit of a gimmick. I think Dixon-Jones has been really smart, as Matteo alluded to it earlier at the beginning of the show, I think it’s great link bait and I think that’s all it really is. The 3D model itself is not of any use to any business really, but as far as analysing the backlink profile of your competitors goes, there’s a degree of use in that, but I wouldn’t say there’s as much use in that as there would have been in the past. Personally, I think it’s better to focus on yourself than looking at your competitors and seeing where they’ve got links from ‘cause you shouldn’t really go and chase those links anyway. You should be producing good content or stuff that people really want to link to or that just naturally attracts those links, rather than trying to do that in an unnatural way, which ultimately is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. Unfortunately in industry, people still do exactly the wrong thing, and that’s, ‘Let’s look at my biggest competitor. They’ve got links from these 10,000 websites. Let’s now go out and build links from all these 10,000 websites.’ No, that’s a bit 1995 SEO or indie SEO, as we call it, really.
DAVID BAIN: 1995. Marcus, can you tell us about 1995?
MARCUS TANDLER: I didn’t start in 1995. This is very developed country in Germany at that time. Actually, I used to build links before Google evaluated links but 1995 was way before I started doing this business!
DAVID BAIN: Matteo, I saw you nodding away a bit there. Do you agree with what Peter was saying there about really the best thing to do is focus on your website now and your user experience now, rather than focus on what the competition is doing in terms of link structure?
MATTEO MONARI: I think that you should definitely first of all focus on your site because if you don’t have a well-made site that correctly answers the question that the users have, as far as their user intents, then you’re starting with a car which has a broken engine. But I still think it’s important to put a lot of gas in this car, which means building authority for your site.
Looking at what other sites have in terms of links can give you an idea of how much gasoline the other competitors have bought in the past or got for free somehow. I still thinks that’s a money problem and it will tell you how high the competition is.
The first and most important thing to do is to understand who your competitors are. And your competitors are not the top ten sites that are ranking for your top keywords because maybe 50% of them could be just spam sites that are gone next week and maybe the same guy that is running them will just throw up another site that will run again for one more week. So if you want to really go and look under the hood of the competitors, you should first be sure that you’re looking at the same kind of competitors – companies that have more or less the same business model, that want to be in the game for more or less the same purposes, and that they have more or less the same kind of budget. And then you have your real competitors.
And then what you want to do probably, if you look at their links, is to get a few ideas of how they acquired them, and eventually you can also have an idea of, if you’ve been in the game for quite some time and you always see the same sites that are there and you think they’re really your competitors, if you look at them and you see that they’ve been specifically aggressive in some ways – I don’t know, they’ve built a lot of links and have built authority to specific internal pages, you would assume that it is normal that the site doesn’t test to it’s internal pages. And you would see that this is a common tendency in your industry and more than a single competitor, looking at these stats, can give you an idea of what is the average competition level in the industry.
For example, I was working for five years on the online poker and on a gambling site, and of course the stuff you see there also from big brands is much more aggressive than what you’ll see in the big brands in the insurance niche, for example. They’re both competitive niches but you can be sure that in the online gambling world, even if they’re a big player, Ladbrokes or Poker Star and what not, you can get away with more aggressive techniques because the average, the cleanest site is still quite dirty there. In insurance, for example, which is also quite competitive, sites are on average much cleaner. So this will give you an idea of where you can draw the line and how far you can push it before being afraid of Google shutting you down or thinking bad of you compared to the other people.
DAVID BAIN: Those are great points. Marcus, do you have a certain way of actually going about researching competitors and do you try and identify a certain number of competitors and benchmark performance against competitors? How do you approach that?
MARCUS TANDLER: Again, I don’t have client, so I can’t give you a best practice. I’m don’t have client. What do you mean?
DAVID BAIN: Just in terms of advising other people.
MARCUS TANDLER: How to go about doing the research?
DAVID BAIN: Yeah, just in terms of identifying competitors and how many competitors a website should look to actually benchmark their performance against, if that’s important to do, over a monthly basis or maybe just ever few months, go in to revisit…
MARCUS TANDLER: Okay, so the first thing I would do is SimilarWeb, of course. I mean, that’s probably the best source of traffic. You actually get a good sense of where they’re getting their traffic from, how much traffic they actually have, which pages the traffic is actually going to, which links are actually sending traffic.
The next thing is looking at stuff like Search Metrics, see where they’re ranking, maybe do a visibility graph. I basically have different competitors in my niche set and basically see how I compare against those competitors.
And the third one would be visibility graph analysis. I think that is probably the best type of analysis right now to really see how I’m faring against my competitors in regards to the whole semantics search thing, if I really do have the most holistic content under a certain topic.
And so it’s probably always these three things I would look at. Always similar web, search metrics, visibility graph or whatever. Stuff like this. And lastly, of course, TFIDF analysis shows immense value in really trying to find out, ‘How can I get there? How can I be better?’ And so this is how I would go about this.
DAVID BAIN: Okay, thank you. Well just to close up today, happy tenth birthday to Twitter! What can we expect from Twitter in the next ten years? There was an article in The Scotsman newspaper published, saying just that, ‘What can we expect from Twitter in the future?’ and certainly they’ve gone through quite a few changes in the last year or so. Marcus was saying earlier on that Twitter’s not so popular in Germany, so certainly it’s not going to be as important in certain countries. Matteo, I saw a slight nod there. Do you think that Twitter has a lot to do in terms of catching up with other social networks or generally is this something that isn’t that relevant to what you’re actively doing at the moment yourself?
MATTEO MONARI: Well we’re based in Italy and I can tell you that in Italy Twitter is not that popular. It is quite popular when it comes to second screen. So I will say for Italian users it would definitely be a second screen app, let’s say, that big media channels have started now to encourage users to use because they can take away user-generated content and put it to their TV shows for free. But otherwise it’s used for news sources, journalists, probably on average higher-educated people, I would say. But I would not say it is like a mass communication tool today. And also for a different kind of web product, this is not so powerful here in Italy. But in general, when it comes to the birthday, I think that it’s growing older. I think it’s growing in popularity right now, more or less. So it’s understood that things have to change but it’s not really sure what to change and how to use the things that are changing, being able to write longer tweets, for example. I don’t know. Maybe that would take away the unique feature of Twitter.
MARCUS TANDLER: Or on Medium.
MATTEO MONARI: Or on Medium, exactly. But looking a bit worse, because Medium is a bit more sleek. But yeah, that it a problem with Twitter, that it doesn’t really know where to go, I think. And as I said, it’s a big success second screen, big success when some specific topic all of a sudden has to be discussed altogether in a big mass conversation. But otherwise I do not see it really making it through for the next ten years, at least in Europe if something doesn’t happen. I don’t know. But ten years is a long, long time, so it’s very far to see when it’s twenty years old.
DAVID BAIN: So ten years is such an incredibly long time in the digital world. The majority of people weren’t using Facebook then, SEOs were probably still swapping reciprocal links to try to rank (maybe some are still trying to do that!), but it’s very, very difficult to imagine what’s going to happen in the next ten years or so. Peter, do you have any thoughts on Twitter’s use as a marketing tool? ‘Cause by the sound of it, you’re involved in marketing in general, as well as SEO?
PETER KERSBERGEN: That’s correct. Like Matteo earlier said, with a lot of his clients or businesses in general, that they separate their media teams and online marketing teams, traditional marketing teams. We don’t do that in our company. We have one marketing team. It’s a team that focuses on traditional marketing. Everything. It’s all the same people. We don’t see that as a separate channel.
But to go back to Twitter, to agree with Matteo as well, I think they’re going through a bit of an identity crisis. They’ve seen really explosive growth in the first x number of years and they’re now obviously in decline but I think they’re struggling to monetize Twitter, as opposed to, like, Facebook, where it’s much easier to monetize, due to the user data they keep from their users, the length of the contents, how visual the content is there, et cetera. I’m not really sure where Twitter would go with that because in a way they have almost limited themselves and if they remove that limitation and become more like other platforms, they might potentially lose even more users, because again, like Matteo said, they would use that uniqueness and just become another generic social media platform.
In terms of who uses it, for me Twitter is mainly used for marketers, news source, and then there are a few users who use it to communicate on a personal level, but it’s not really a great platform for that, to be honest. It’s nice for networking, as an SEO or a PR person especially, journalists. But other than that, I think it’s a tricky one. It’s a fairly limiting platform but it’s a limitation they themselves have made by their own design, almost. So they’re a victim of their own success.
DAVID BAIN: Okay. Marcus, you’ve obviously got 21,000 followers on Twitter, so it would appear that that network’s fairly important for you. But would you say that that’s not the case and that there are other social platforms that are more important for you?
MARCUS TANDLER: I’m actually not very social on social media. I don’t tend to have conversations in 140 pixel lengths because it’s just very hard, right? I’m a one-to-one guy. I’m a guy who likes to have a face-to-face conversation and I’m not a phone-talking guy. I really like to have a face-to-face conversation. Especially talking about SEO, such a complex topic. It just doesn’t serve well doing this in just 140 pixels. There’s so much you can’t transfer and so much stuff that can be misunderstood. But I still love Twitter. Big Twitter fan. We were actually part of the German accelerated programme and we had a US office in San Francisco and it was right in the Twitter building, so for three months we had an office right in the Twitter building, so I totally love these guys.
And of course I’m totally amazed by what Twitter has enabled in the world. It finally gave people a voice. It gave people a chance to actually express their feelings and it has united stuff like the whole African revolution thing. I’m missing the English word here but I think you know what I’m talking about, right? This was Twitter enabling this kind of stuff and so it’s just amazing to see how people are actually using this social network.
And they’re totally in an identity crisis right now. It’s how to monetize that, although I’ve got to say that Twitter advertising looks great. I’ve worked a little bit with Twitter advertising and I think it works quite well. It’s a good bang for the buck. But it’s still hard to monetize that on a larger scale, and especially having very potent adversaries with Facebook and the like.
So it is very, very hard for them. I don’t think it’s the way to extend tweets over 140-pixel lengths because this is their thing, right? I wouldn’t want them to become a Medium or a Tumblr or whatever because that’s just not them anymore and they’re losing their heart and core. But it’s definitely a tough challenge for them and I still have a profile on MySpace. Right? It’s dead! So we’ve seen this time and time again, platforms coming in, people storming a platform, using it heavily and them all of a sudden it’s gone, right?
So, for example, in this case I love Facebook’s initiative. They always say, ‘We’ve got to be the ones that build the Facebook killer.’ You, Facebook, want to be the guys that build the Facebook killer because then nobody else will, right? And this is how you should approach these things. And I think that Twitter hasn’t done this for a very long time and now they’re really struggling to try and crawl back and it’s just very hard because you do this on a very high level, on a very large scale. So it’s a crazy, crazy thing to do, but I wish them all the best because I hate it, to have a new platform coming up and you have to collect new followers all over again, right? So I skipped Instagram, I haven’t used SnapChat at all and I don’t want to be a SnapChat user, right? I want to stay with Twitter and I don’t want to go and do the daily grind again and building up a followership again and stuff like this. So I love Twitter. Hang in there. You can do it!
DAVID BAIN: Well hopefully if there are challenges, it gets through them in the next few years because it certainly is a platform that I’ve love as well. I remember back in about 2009 or so, I think before Google Caffeine, people were turning to Twitter for real-time search and I think Twitter probably even initiated Google Caffeine because Google
d as well. I remember back in about 2009 or so, I think before Google Caffeine, people were turning to Twitter for real-time search and I think Twitter probably even initiated Google Caffeine because Google were obviously delivering authoritative old results based upon their own link formula at the time, rather than delivering fresh information. So you could maybe even say that Twitter were responsible for Google evolving faster and becoming more progressive with their algorithm.
But anyway, we’ve covered so many points today, it’s over time already and I really appreciate you all being here and sharing so much wonderful information. Just in terms of finishing off, can you perhaps think of one take-away from what we’ve discussed today that our listeners can actually maybe think about further and perhaps implement in their business? So maybe starting off with Matteo, if that’s okay.
MATTEO MONARI: Yes. I just think that one of the main take-aways is that people should not obsess over Google’s algorithm. They should obsess over their website and their users. I think this is the Number One point.
DAVID BAIN: Brilliant. And where can viewers find you?
MATTEO MONARI: Oh, your viewers can find me on www.bizupmedia.com, on which we have a blog which I normally write. Or they find me on Twitter, @Matteo_Monari and they can see me at BrightonSEO very soon.
DAVID BAIN: Wonderful. And I look forward to seeing you there as well, Matteo. Also with us today is Peter. So Peter, what’s your one closing thought for today?
PETER KERSBERGEN: I think if you’re a site that relies heavily on traffic from Google News, then you need to make sure that you’re delivering content that’s useful to people. The sites that are currently just producing link bait for the sake of traffic without really providing anything useful to users at all – and there are a lot of sites like that these days – they’re just slowly going to fade away due to people just disabling them. In either Google Now or Google News on your desktop, you can actually do that as well now. Don’t make rubbish content, basically!
DAVID BAIN: Make content that’s actually relevant to people for a change, yeah! And Peter, where can people get hold of you as well?
DAVID BAIN: Great stuff. I’m sure you wouldn’t have it any other way! And also with us today is Marcus. Marcus, thanks so much for joining us. How would you leave things for our viewers?
MARCUS TANDLER: Yeah, of course. I mean, the religiously repeated advice, always focus on the user. I think this can’t be said enough. But I would say never stop learning. This is, I think, the most important part. This thing is evolving so fast and it’s such a great industry to be in. So yeah, never stop learning.
DAVID BAIN: Never stop learning. Great advice there. And where can our viewers get hold of you?
MARCUS TANDLER: Of course on OnPage.org. To join, we also have a free version of onpage.org, onpage.free and I’m more than happy to take a look around. You can reach me at [email protected]. That’s really my email address! It’s been around for quite a while! [email protected] or my personal blog www.mediadonis.net, although I don’t really blog a lot as well. It’s just turned ten years old so I think I’ve got to keep it around, but yeah – www.onpage.org.
DAVID BAIN: I think that’s the most impressive domain name that’s been on TWIO so far, so you win that award.
MARCUS TANDLER: Oh, I don’t have the domain. I just have the email address, but that’s a long story!
DAVID BAIN: Right, okay. I was assuming, based upon the letter, okay!
MARCUS TANDLER: Long story!
DAVID BAIN: I don’t think we’ve got time for the story, have we? Maybe next time! Or maybe look it up elsewhere. But yeah, thanks so much for joining us.
I’m David Bain, Head of Growth at Authoritas, actionable big data for enterprise and content marketing. Sign up for a demo of our platform at www.authoritas.com. And you can also find my interviewing online marketing gurus over at www.digitalmarketingradio.com.
Now if you’re watching this show as a recording, remember to watch the next show live. So head over the www.thisweekinorganic.com 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 www.thisweekinorganic.com and you will receive the podcast links from there too.
But until we see you again, have a fantabulous Easter weekend and thank you all for joining us. Thanks everyone. Great to have you.
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.