It’s a strange time for SEO–Google is scraping sites and displaying results to reduce clickthrough, new SEO ranking factors are coming into play regularly, and new devices (hello, Alexa) are causing search queries to widen in variety by the day. With all of these changes and challenges, the SEO struggle is real. And that’s why today’s conversation is one that you can’t miss. Rand Fishkin. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve likely heard him as a keynote speaker at a conference you’ve attended, or perhaps you’re one of his nearly 420,000 Twitter followers, or maybe you’ve read his book “Lost & Founder” or read Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO (which is the company he co-founded). Ok, so it’s clear that Rand is an SEO expert, and he’s got a wealth of knowledge to share. Here’s a snippet of our conversation, and I really encourage you to check out the rest of our conversation in this week’s episode of Mobile Matters podcast. Enjoy!
Lumavate’s VP of Marketing, Stephanie Cox: There has been so much change, in the last five years especially. What have you seen as the biggest factors that have impacted the SEO landscape?
Moz and SparkToro Co-founder, Rand Fishkin: Certainly one of the biggest is Google’s shift away from being a search engine that refers traffic, to a search engine that tries to answer queries with their own results. In fields like flights, hotels, weather, traffic…Google is essentially trying to present results that prevent you from clicking on anyone else’s website. I think that’s been a very effective strategy for them and for their shareholders, but it’s been immensely frustrating for everyone else on the web. So I think a lot of marketers have had to compensate with changes in their strategy in terms of diversifying their traffic–targeting keywords and phrases that are likely to still have decent organic click through, investing in paid advertising, or potentially changing their business model to serve different audiences, different keywords, and different subjects.
SC: Do you think businesses understand the impact that this concept of “no click” searching is having on their results?
RF: I think there’s probably only a small percent who really understand how severe the problem is.
SC: One of the things that we’ve seen a lot in terms of just search traffic is obviously going more towards mobile than desktop. Have you seen big impacts on search when people are using more of their mobile devices?
RF: The desktop has certainly plateaued–it’s no longer growing. I think it’s down maybe 2 to 5 percent in terms of usage from its maximum in 2011. But actually from a search engine optimization standpoint, desktop probably still drives more traffic than mobile. And that is because the click through rate on desktop is much higher. When people are doing searches on desktop, they often click on more than one result, whereas on mobile they often don’t click a result–those “no click” searches that we talked about are twice as high on mobile as they are in desktop–over 60 percent on mobile and 35 percent on desktop. And so you get this weird world where optimizing for mobile is hugely important, but desktop has not lessened its importance.
SC: What would you recommend is the balance between the two when you think about optimization?
RF: I think that it pays to invest in the things that make for a great mobile experience, which is speed and ease of use, without ignoring what makes for a great desktop experience, which is rich results and the opportunity to navigate and explore more deeply. So I think that I think you can play both of those very reasonably in a modern web browser with a good website.
SC: You mentioned speed–I know that last summer, Google released their speed update. Have you seen that have any impact on rankings for anyone?
RF: Nope! But you shouldn’t optimize for speed just because Google makes it a small ranking factor or not–you should be optimizing for speed because users care about it a ton. And I think I think that’s the much more important piece. It’s something that will really help my users and will add value to my website. This is something that will get me a higher conversions.
SC: I think that’s such a great point, because I think marketers do that a lot. They go where the change is, and they don’t take a step back and say, “what is going to do to my user experience?” If they come to my site and they don’t do the action then I want them to do, does that really matter?
RF: Yeah, I think one of the best examples of this is in the social world right where so many marketers for many years optimized and over-indexed on how to get more Facebook page likes and Twitter followers. And it was only later that we realized that Facebook is going to show my posts to less than 1 percent of the people who clicked “follow”. I should have gotten one email address instead of a Facebook fan. Honestly, I’d probably take one e-mail address over a thousand Facebook followers!
SC: Once again, proving that email is not dead.
RF: There’s so much you can do with an email address. You can take an email address over to Facebook and advertise against it. Using a custom audience, you can take it over to Google and use RSLA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads), you can even email those people directly! You can use it and display advertising. It’s a super power! An email address and a website visit–those are the things I would optimize for.
SC: Switching gears back to SEO: Can you explain On-SERP SEO and why it’s so important?
RF: The concept behind On-SERP SEO is that much of the interaction around many queries and for many brands is happening on the search engine result page itself. So if you do a search for Nike in Google, the results that come up are engaged with 2-3x more than the actual page on Nike.com that people click through to. And so On-SERP SEO is the practice of doing SEO-type things to control which results show up and what those results say about you, what the snippets of the results say about you, what Google’s knowledge panel about you, and what the videos and images and news items that might come up in that page say about you. You can do SEO to influence almost all of those things, and for many brands and products and websites, influencing what appears in a search is an important part of their marketing mix.
SC: If I’m a marketer and I am not doing anything with On-SERP SEO, how do I get started, or what do I do to optimize content for that?
RF: Do your keyword research. Look at all the terms and phrases and determine: which of these is, A) important enough to my brand, B) gets enough search volume to be worthwhile for me to invest in, and C) doesn’t get a high click through rate back to a website, such that doing SEO on the SERP itself probably is very important. And if you get that list of those three things, you can then prioritize the words and phrases where you should be making investments in what appears on those pages. And then from there, you go look at the SERPs themselves and see what’s showing up and not showing up, and determine how you can make changes if there were unflattering results.
SC: Do you find that most marketers do keyword research? Or is that something that we’re sort of all behind on?
RF: I find that most savvy SEOs do keyword research, but not nearly as many as should. Don’t just use Google Ads for your keyword research–Moz has a tool called Explorer (which–full disclosure–I worked on before I left, but I think it’s quite a good piece of software), but there are also other tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush that you could explore as well.