Episode 9 of our “SEO in 2020” podcast interviews Aleyda Solis from Orainti; getting her views on how she thinks SEO is likely to evolve over the coming few years.

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DAVID BAIN: I’m joined today by someone who’s been recently listed in entrepreneur.com’s 50 online marketing influencers to follow in 2016. Welcome to international SEO consultant, Aleyda Solis.

ALEYDA SOLIS: Hello, how are you David?

DAVID BAIN: I’m very well indeed, how are you?

ALEYDA SOLIS: Very good, very happy to be here sharing with you today. Very exciting.

DAVID BAIN: And just a second ago sharing with your followers on Snapchat as well.

ALEYDA SOLIS: I was, I was. You know, you need to try. Even if I am definitely a search person, I am all about organic search and growth, however I have been lately using more and more Snapchat. I’ve also done a few tests with social ads, so it’s about getting ideas, identifying opportunities, seeing how you can integrate and leverage more of the platforms to get traction for your content and goals. But it’s really nice, really nice. I have been having a lot of fun with it, I must say, for sure.

DAVID BAIN: Do you think that SEOs will still or can still be successful in the future if they ignore social completely?

ALEYDA SOLIS: I think that, actually for me SEO nowadays is about optimising whatever you have to offer – your presence – in any searchable platform. The reality is, for good or for bad, in the Western world that means that you need to be findable in Google. However, in other countries there are other search platforms, like for example in Russia you have Yandex, and not only search engines, but social platforms where you really want to be findable if you identify that your audience is there. Looking for content, looking for information, and where you can provide a meaningful experience to them, and interact with them to make them convert or to provide support, or whatever type of actions you want to leverage through the customer journey.

But for example, Pinterest, Facebook, and I was talking before about the social ads, right? The reality is that the organic visibility that you can get with a few of these platforms, like Facebook, is not necessarily the best unfortunately. However, I think that there’s still a lot of opportunity, and more and more I believe that search and social will be much, much more integrated. People are using more and more social platforms, not only to share their stuff, but they are, because they also offer additional functionalities, people are using them also to look for information. The other day actually, I was seeing that now the location pages that Facebook provides for places, they look like Foursquare pages now really. So I can definitely see how they can become a Foursquare type of competitor, so it can be useful, and there’s so much data, and there’s so much information being shared there that definitely it will be a waste not to leverage it. And maybe not specifically for a transactional type of goal, but just to gain visibility, to have a platform where you can promote your content, and interact with your community in many different ways that can be used, and can be useful for search too for sure. Yeah.

DAVID BAIN: So can you see in the future some local businesses only having Facebook pages, and only having an experience inside Facebook, and not having to have their own websites?

ALEYDA SOLIS: You know what? The fact is, I remember that a year, year and a half ago, Google published in the webmaster blog a little checklist for small businesses. And they were saying the minimum viable presence that you need to have, like that your local business needs to have online, and they were recommending that in case they couldn’t have an actual presence with their own website, they could create only a presence in Google+ for business, places, or whatever it’s called today because every once in a while it’s called in another way.

DAVID BAIN: If you don’t know what it’s called, what hope do the rest of us have?

ALEYDA SOLIS: The platform for business, and I remember a comment by David Mihm on Twitter saying oh my god, this is so bad. Why are you recommending businesses not to own their own property, like their own presence, and have control of their own stuff? But coincidentally, the first case that more and more I have heard of is a smaller type of companies, businesses, local companies who the reality is that the easier way for them to manage their presence online is to start with platforms that already exist – with Yelp, for example, with Google+ for business presence, with a Facebook page. And it’s a far easier way for them to get comments, to get requests, to be searchable, identifiable, and not getting into the trickiness of developing their own website, etc., etc.

There are also more and more companies providing services and packages for these little companies, right? Like the companies who usually were before the Yellow Pages providers, and now they have this type of – I give you the hosting, I give you the website, I’ll give you a little AdWords, the social presence, things like that. So I can definitely see how for some companies that’s even right now a reality, and might likely be also the minimal viable presence they might start with. Of course, I can definitely see how it’s not ideal, and how having your presence not under your own control is not necessarily the best recipe for success in the long term for sure.

DAVID BAIN: So do you not think it’s a little bit of a risk having businesses not having their own presence, their own website in the future? What if Facebook decided to close down their presence, or Google did the same thing to them? Is that not a big risk?

ALEYDA SOLIS: Yeah, for sure. For sure. That is why I mentioned before it’s not really the ideal situation. You want to be in control of your own presence for sure. What happens if tomorrow Facebook says for some reason – political reason, or whatever type of decision, business decision – I don’t want to allow you to do this X or Y that is vital for you, for your business. So you’re screwed; you don’t want to be in that position. You want to be in control of your own presence. And at the end of the day control what you are really going to offer, the way that you want to interact with your user, and end up converting them, or connecting with them in different ways.

But yeah, unfortunately I can see how it’s already a reality for many businesses. And I have also again seen a few SEOs saying oh, this minimum viable presence and service that is provided as packages to these little businesses, again, it’s not ideal because these are work place websites with not a really optimised necessarily presence, and there’s so much to be done there. However, I must say that of course that is better than not having your own website, and being on another company’s platform, and depending on a third party platform. And of course, there’s always the ideal presence, and then what is achievable, and reasonable, and cost effective for businesses, independent of their capacity, and what is really feasible for them to invest.

DAVID BAIN: So in terms of bigger companies, you’re also an international SEO expert, how has international SEO changed over the last few years?

ALEYDA SOLIS: Nowadays there are many more functionalities, and for you to correctly inform search engines – Google in this case mostly – to indicate to which market, to which language and country market you are targeting, because unfortunately a lot of the challenges of the internalisation process is that first, there was not a clear vision of which is the market that you really should target to, or that you should really focus on. A lot of businesses, they didn’t really know if they were targeting the language or the country. I am targeting the Spanish speakers, all Spanish speakers worldwide, or only Spanish speakers in Spain, or Spanish speaking people in Mexico – which audience, right? So that was the most basic, and it didn’t help that also Google didn’t provide specific guidelines, and ways to indicate those. Since a couple of years there are more and more tools, like for example if you have hreflang annotations, you can validate hreflang annotations also in the Google Search Console, which is very, very handy. More and more crawlers, like for example OnPage, and DeepCrawl, and Screaming Frog, they make it much more easy also to validate this validation of the configuration of these annotations. And also Google has developed the capacity to understand that not because you have a certain IP means that necessarily you are targeted to that country specifically because of CDNs, for example, and many other types of characteristics.

Also, more and more Google is starting to crawl from different IPs – not only IPs based in the US, that are coming from the US, because a lot of times in the past that happened, and then if you were always redirecting, the user agent’s coming from a certain country to a specific presence, then you ended up only taking the search crawlers to a specific version of your site, for example. So all this more and more is improving. There are much more functionalities and ways to do it. Although I have to say that there is still a long way, I would say, for companies to really leverage the power of global marketing, international audiences, which is in many situations still a low hanging fruit for expansion and growth that a lot of people are still afraid of, and sometimes they don’t target it as they should.

DAVID BAIN: It’s tricky for some companies because as you said, these facilities for SEOs have really just become available over the last couple of years, to be able to really help define to search engine crawlers exactly what a website should be targeting in terms of country, and language, and lots of other areas. What are a few of the things that you think a website developer or an SEO can be doing now that is likely to still be relevant and the right thing to be doing in four years’ time, in 2020?

ALEYDA SOLIS: Yes, for me it is based—oh my god, now you have said four years 2020. I was like 2020 is like in five, six years. Four years – I feel old already.

DAVID BAIN: Three years and eight months or so.

ALEYDA SOLIS: Crazy, crazy. We live in the future now. So I think that all these validations that have more to do with the type of targeting that you can use whatever kind of configuration. I mean the tools that the search engines are going to give us to implement this targeting might be different, can be another type, but the goal that is achievable with it is the same. And this is the right targeting – to validate well if you are targeting first, to languages or then to countries to make sure that you target the audiences that are really profitable for you, and where you will have a reasonable potential from the existing search volume or the expected search volume there. And then that you are also able to compete with the main players there. So that is basic, and sometimes I think that it’s basic now, and it should be basic in the future. Unfortunately still now I see how a lot of businesses lack this type of validation, and they say, for example, oh yes, and next year we want to target Europe, and we will have an English speaking version for Europe. Yes, because in Europe we all speak English, right? So it’s like this for a lot of American companies. Or then we are going to target Latin America as a whole, right? And it’s like yeah, because everybody in Latin America speaks in the exact same way, with the exact same terms, and it’s not at all like that. So it’s very, very important to validate well which are really the countries, the specific markets where you have the traction, where you have the potential, where it’s feasible for you from a business perspective, operational perspective, resources that you have to operate there, and then also where it is viable for you to compete with a certain amount of strategies that you can set for that market. So that is going to be still relevant today and tomorrow.

Then what is still going to be relevant, I think, is an opportunity that I believe will continue to still be there, and exist in four years, which is the fact that the US market, and maybe the British market, and then maybe a few European markets, are far more competitive than any other markets that speak also all the languages. So for example, if you do a search for even a competitive sector – in the financial world, or property market, or travel market - even relatively competitive market, if you do that search in the UK or in the US, you will see the type of websites that are ranking there, the link profile, how optimised they are from a content, technical perspective, every SEO metric. And then you do that in Mexico, or you do that in Argentina, even if they are one of the top Spanish speaking markets in Latin America, and you will see the difference because definitely the type of websites, the web ecosystem that exists in those countries is not as developed, and also at the same time the type of filters and algorithm that Google is using in this market, well it cannot require that much as in the US, and as in Europe. Otherwise no website would be ranking.

DAVID BAIN: So do you think it’s actually a different algorithm that they’re using in those countries?

ALEYDA SOLIS: Maybe the same algorithm that we had a few years ago here.

DAVID BAIN: And is that because of the fact that there’s not enough websites for the algorithm to be able to evolve?

ALEYDA SOLIS: I think it’s pretty logical. That’s the reason. Otherwise they will end up with five websites in all of their SERPs, and it’s something that is also not useful for users, so it needs to evolve. What is first – the websites or the filters to show the website? So it needs to go hand in hand. It’s evolving for sure. A few of my top clients are in Latin America, and I can see how they are investing so much, and doing so much, and a lot of things that will be still competitive in the European market, but it’s definitely behind still, and there’s so much to do. And that is the strategy that companies like Rocket Internet have followed until now. They go to emerging markets where they identify that they can easily replicate models that have already worked in the ecommerce world in Europe and the US, and they are super successful because they go with that very specific model that they replicate. And so I think there’s a huge opportunity, so that’s my point. There’s a huge opportunity, I think, that of course is going to evolve much more in the next four years, but it’s going to still be behind Europe and the US, so that can be something to think about, and to plan to leverage at some point if you want something easier, and a low hanging fruit to expand to.

DAVID BAIN: So what if a business wants to participate in the UK and the US markets at the moment? Is it absolutely essential to have different websites and have regionally targeted content, or will one English language site be sufficient, do you think?

ALEYDA SOLIS: The ideal way to target independent audiences, country based ones, in the most granular way, and in this case it is with CCTLDs.. With a .co.uk website for a business targeting Britain, and then .com website targeting the US. Both in English, however to really identify the type of queries, specific terms that the audience in each country are using, because they are likely different, also the zonealities are different. The preference of the users, even if the products are the same, might be different. What is your number one product in the US might not necessarily be the number one product and the one that people would like to buy the most from you in the UK, right?

So it’s about as granular as you can, and the best way, from an SEO perspective, is to establish independent entities using CCTLDs for the countries. And the problem there usually, even if this is the ideal situation, is when you are starting from scratch in a very competitive industry, and if when you analyse, and you are doing the analysis for that country, who are you competing against, and who will you end up competing against? I do see that these are websites with a million in common links, and a lot of linking domains, and a lot of authority, and a great profile, and a million page indexed. So you cannot start from scratch with a CCTLD that has no history, and has little content index, and no links. So then it comes to how you establish the strategy to be able to compete with that, and you’re able to grow at the beginning. And sometimes it happens that the best way is if you have an original, generic domain that you can use, and then geotarget that specific directory to initially target that market it might be better because you will be able to leverage the authority that you had with that previous domain, with your older domain, and wait until you grow a specific presence in that market where you are able to compete only there versus your competitors to enable that additional CCTLD. So it’s to identify opportunities there, and what is ideal, and what is viable for you too.

DAVID BAIN: Exactly, and also some businesses want to use the same language on their blog, and actually have just the one blog for say the US and the UK, but perhaps different pages on their websites for the different countries. So that’s a challenge, and it’s difficult to get an ideal solution for that.

ALEYDA SOLIS: Yeah, well for example, I can understand how there are business where, for example, the business model is not relatively sensible to the location. For example, a blog talking about technology, talking about iPhones, or computers, it’s the same model worldwide likely, it’s the same type of computer that is being released by Apple that you want to cover, things like that, right? So I understand how in this case maybe there are some terms, like for example in the US they still call the mobile cell phones a little bit more than mobile, although it’s changing little by little. So there are still things that yes, it would be ideal that you can really target the US market with these terms, and even from an informational perspective, not only a transactional one. However, it might be less critical, I would say, that in all the markets, for example if you an ecommerce, and from the delivery to the currency to sizes, everything should really be targeted to the market that you are targeting to.

DAVID BAIN: I’d love to get a few thoughts of yours also on things like SERP and website design as well, and you’re offering a lot of great information here; I don’t want to stop you, but I know you’ve obviously only got so much time as well. With regards to the SERP, how do you think that might change? We’ve seen adverts disappear from the right hand side. Will we see the introduction of social or video results in the SERP quite soon do you think?

ALEYDA SOLIS: I think that Google is mobilising, and it’s funny because I’m showing my phone that is bigger than my head here. But yeah, Google is mobilising their results. So you see the fact that Google is only showing now ads at the top of the SERPs, and not in the right side. It’s the same type of experience that they already provide on mobile, so it’s like we are going mobile first now. And the reality is that there are going to be many other ways to interact with content, and to do searches. Like for example with web and app integration with search. At some point, and this has already started to happen with app indexing, so at some point it’s going to be as usual to obtain apps in search results than websites. I can’t imagine that there should be an easier way to open the app directly there without [unclear as sound breaks up – 0:23:40.2]. For example, what is happening right now with AMP type of results, that it’s right there, you open them, and it’s not really much effort for the user. So I can see how there are certain ways that Google is moving their SERPs, first to keep it as useful as possible, second to be able to discover any type of content – whatever this content is. It’s not only web based, but also app based. Then for them it’s performance, and they are doing this with the amp initiative, etc. Then we have also another characteristic of mobilisation of the search, which is voice search, and predictive type of results, which we have also with Google Now, and the cards that I get whenever I have a flight, and I have like oh, Aleyda, you are already late for your flight.

So it’s more and more about those, and also for example, the type of searches and queries that you can do, for example with Alexa of Amazon that for me is like even an evolution of what we can have with Siri or Google Now.

DAVID BAIN: And you mentioned app results in the search results. Do you think that Google may be forced to also display app results for iOS as well as Android?

ALEYDA SOLIS: Well, they have already started to integrate and to take into consideration app indexing for iOS too. However, they are still only showing the result for certain partners that they are working with, but yes, at some point they will incentivise. I can definitely think of ways that they may want to incentivise apps that are living in the iOS app store, to implement that indexing to get even more visibility. And that will be a huge play for them for sure. Also to gain more on the app market, and get that information for sure. They have already said that they want to not only be able to support app indexing for apps that have a related website, but even independent apps that have no website related to them. So that says a lot definitely for me.

DAVID BAIN: And what about artificial intelligence? How’s that affecting SEO at the moment, and how’s it going to change, and is it going to impact thing more in the future?

ALEYDA SOLIS: Yeah, a lot has been said about RankBrain right? And every week we hear about a new post, even there are jokes about it. Oh, a new post about RankBrain. Do they say something additional? For me, this is very, very interesting because at the end of the day everything has been done until now. First we saw a lot of manual actions, like in a much more primitive era of search regarding the quality, and how to identify the most relevant presence for a specific query. Then we see all these algorithmic improvements that we have been seeing with Penguin, with Panda, Phantom now, at a much more recurring basis that sometimes we don’t even know, and the answer of Googlers is there are ongoing changes, like every day. We cannot confirm or deny because it might be, it might be not. So it’s there, right?

And now with RankBrain the fact that, I mean, nobody will need to pull a trigger, or to include something extra, so the algorithm can start taking that into consideration, but is that the algorithm we’ll learn from what it finds? For me it’s like yeah, definitely it’s the next stage. It’s even, I will say, might be the next stage that a lot of people talk about regarding what can be the next level of Google to identify websites from an authority, a popularity perspective. And not only using links, or using links in a way that they are much more difficult to manipulate and spam. And even start taking note of the type of data into consideration to identify better results that are authoritative, and are likely better to answer the query of the user.

So a lot of people have talked about social scenarios that might be taken into consideration in the future, etc., however I can see how at some point if the algorithm is able to self-learn, and to identify in much, much more meaningful ways, and not only from a mathematic perspective, but with other types of connections that the algorithm can find in websites to identify relevance and authority, then it might not necessarily even need any additional type of social signals, or specific signals that we need to create or make just to provide that additional input to the search engine. But it might come in that way.

So really right now I am just opening my eyes, seeing what can be done because really nobody is like everything in AI, right? I am really beyond search. I am one of these people who think it’s scary, and maybe I have watched too many times Terminator, or something, but yes, it’s there, and I am completely open to expect really whatever that can come from that self-learning, and that capacity because we might be impressed at how it can evolve. And it’s not necessarily only by logical iterations of what there is already, but completely evolutions of what we don’t even preview to happen.

DAVID BAIN: So much can happen so quickly. It’s amazing to think that the iPhone launch, the first version of the iPhone launched less than ten years ago. So to think of what might happen in the next ten years or so is quite incredible as well.

ALEYDA SOLIS: It depends also on the device, you see. We are all talking about one specific evolution that can happen, and then you think about any sort of device.

DAVID BAIN: Exactly, and we’re talking about what’s possible based upon today’s devices. If devices evolve then so much else is possible in the future as well.

ALEYDA SOLIS: Yeah, I completely agree. For me, for example, yeah, the first edition – and today, coincidentally, I have seen that there are a couple of articles, not necessarily talking in nice ways about what the iWatch has been able to do, and the functionalities, and really what it has meant as a device. For me it has only been just a little extension of what can already be done with a mobile, but a tiny bit – just to interact in an easier, non-intrusive way with certain alerts, and certain information, to consume certain information very specific. However, again, there is so, so, so much that can be done if this little device evolves with full functionality and capacity, and then it’s not necessary to be with the little additional thingy with you on your hand every time, which is not natural.

DAVID BAIN: Aleyda, you’ve offered so many interesting thoughts, and I’m sure you could keep on going for hours. So hopefully we’ll have to have you back on a future show because I’m sure you could keep on going for a long time, and people would be interested in that. But to conclude just now, what do you think is one thing that businesses need to be doing just now that is still going to be a very valid strategy in the year 2020?

ALEYDA SOLIS: For me, it will be, even if in the future, for example, what self-learning capacity Google can end up identifying, the meaning of content without much more information, I think that a good thing to be done right now for which we haven’t seen the full power is semantic search, and with semantic search I mean that we can give input to the search engine to establish and define the meaning of our content with structural mark up. And there are much, much, much easier ways to implement it nowadays, and there are much more types of content that we can mark up, that we can tag. And in these ways, to be able to get other types of results, and more visibility, that doesn’t necessarily mean more rankings, but visibility with the SERP functionalities that are evolving.

DAVID BAIN: What’s one easy way to mark up content at the moment?

ALEYDA SOLIS: Well, right now the easiest way there is, if you have a CMS, like for example WordPress, there are a lot of plugins that provide support to include the right structural mark up, the right microdata in place in your HTML to be there without even going to the code. And also with JSON, you really need to only include certain lines of code there to be able to mark up that. So yes, I think that has been the main challenge that you really need to go to the code. At some point Google also had the little tool to be able to specify mark up without going to the code too, but I never thought that that really took as much traction as they were looking to. However, I can see how it’s important. It’s definitely important; it’s meaningful. And hopefully it’s going to provide much more in the future than just rich snippets in the results.

DAVID BAIN: Wow, okay. Well thank you so much for joining us again. Where can people get a hold of you online? What kind of websites, what kind of social profiles do you want to give people?

ALEYDA SOLIS: Yes, well you can search for me for sure on my website, aleydasolis.com. I have also my consulting website, www.orainti.com and I’m also usually in Twitter too – @aleyda. I am always interacting and sharing there, and I’m really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on what I have shared here because really these are rough ideas, and I really like these types of questions because it makes me think, and assess and evaluate everything that is happening, and might happen in the future. It’s very exciting for me, yeah.

DAVID BAIN: Tweet Aleyda, and tell her your thoughts everyone, yes. Thanks again for joining us.

ALEYDA SOLIS: Thanks again for the opportunity. Have a good day.