We love starting off our year with some good old SEO predictions, we did it last year and it was incredibly well received, therefore we decided to do it again, at the Yext offices in London. With a panel of Ross Tavendale, Nick Wilson, Hannah Thorpe, Juliette Van Rooyen, Judith Lewis and Ric Rodriguez as well as Gerry White moderating the panel, we were excited to hear their predictions and thoughts on the year ahead in search.
Much of what was said comes under ‘Chatham House Rules – but what we can reveal some of what was said –
How Accurate Were The 2019 SEO Predictions?
“Google is selling the SERP Page” Juliette Van Rooyen
“Unfortunately, I really wish I was not nearly as accurate as I was. Google has sold the hell out of the SERP pages in 2019. We saw more paid elements than we’ve ever seen before, PLA’s became a whole new thing, you now have them on all sorts of pages and they are everywhere. Unfortunately, a little bit of user research we have conducted has proven that it fundamentally changes how people use search the moment they see a PLA.”
“Google is starting to show zero result SERP’s” Gerry White
“He was right, for one week. From the 13th to the 20th March, at least you got it right. Danny Sullivan announced the community had rebelled and suddenly they went back to full page results, I wonder how that happened.”
“Voice search will be over 50% of search by 2020” Nick Wilson
“This was completely misquoted in a conversation about how Bing’s voice search would grow. No, it wasn’t completely accurate, because we’re in 2020 now and we’re not on 50%. So, we did see smart speaker usage go up, people get much happier about smart speakers and voice assistants. But, there were a lot of people who disagree and are very unhappy about the stat and that it is factually inaccurate”.
“Increased entity understanding will benefit voice search and position 0” Judith Lewis
“Absolutely right. They were both updates, plus the entity recognition has substantially grown, if you want to talk to anyone about BERT other than Judith, Dawn Anderson is absolutely your person. We also saw a significant change in position 0.”
“Increase in the number of searches starting on Amazon rather than on Google” Gerry White
“Shockingly, Gerry got it right. 86% of people will start on Amazon when searching for a product. Google is obviously not becoming more dated, but people who are looking for an item, for something specific they can purchase, they are starting on Amazon, particularly in the UK. It is much more prevalent in the UK than it is outside.”
“The state of the high street is dire and a recession is imminent” Nick Wilson
“Nope, although the high street is still dying. We, by the skin of our teeth, managed to avoid a recession last year, but only by 0.3% so you have to give Nick some credit for that one.”
The SEO Experts Answer Questions From The Audience
“What do you think we’re going to be doing this time next year, from an agency perspective rather than from a consultant’s perspective, given the fact that it’s mostly expertise based now rather than delivering product based?”
“So I think we’ll see a bit of a change, I think that’s clear, I think we’ll see more brands moving to smaller agencies and looking for more specialist skills, I think we’re already seeing that. If you look at the state of the large networks at the moment, there are a lot of challenges they are facing where they are finding it hard to scale the services down to provide that specific service that they want.
It’s all been made out of processes, the things they need to do to make this stuff work in scale, but what we’re actually finding is the businesses don’t want scale, they want it smaller. And actually the ones that do want scale are finding smaller teams and better teams to do that as well. So for an agency I think, if you’re a really big agency, having a specialist and giving your specialist the time to be a specialist is important.” Ric
“I think about 10 years ago, all the big companies were asking for integrated agencies that did everything, they had one point of contact. Over the last ten years we’ve seen a hard swing the other way, now people want specialists in every single aspect, they don’t want a broad generalist that deals with all top level activities, they want someone who really knows the nitty gritty details of what they’re getting from the account. And they don’t just want a junior who is going to do things in large quantity, they want someone who really knows what they’re doing, so they can say ‘this is what I’m doing and more importantly, this is why I’m doing it and this is how I’m doing it’.” Juliette
“For me their isn’t a difference between agency and in-house, what do you think an agency is and what is a consultant? Because I work at a marketing agency but independently if you took every individual, they are consultants in that they are talented and know what they’re doing, they just happen to have some frameworks and a team behind them, so surely it’s very similar?” Hannah
“To be honest they’ve got rid of a lot of the old people, we all moved out and became consultants and we go in at a much higher rate as we work on a much higher level. And yet you see people who are most talented people in agencies meeting clients, and then their pushing the work down to the juniors, that’s the difference. And I think when it comes to the construction of data, dealing with all these things that can happen, these aren’t peripheral tasks. So if I had to advice an agency, it would be to celebrate your specialists, celebrate the people who really know what they’re doing, with a modern agency structure, you should give them the space to learn, to develop and recognise that these are the people who should be doing the work, it’s not like a machine. If you were to look at law, the top lawyers are taking the top cases, they pass the work down to the juniors, the juniors want to be top lawyers. Agencies have it completely on its head, the top people aren’t doing the work, the juniors are doing it, so how can you structure agencies in a slightly better way so you have that expertise and that A class work being produced.” Nick
“I slightly disagree with you there. If you’re a client and you have a day rate with an agency, you actually want the juniors to be doing the delivery. So if you think about how most agencies work as a structure, it will be a high billable, then juniors will be a low billable. You don’t you want a high billable person changing meta data on a high price per day.” Ross
“So another side to this, I’m brought in when an agency has messed up, I’m a person they bring in because they have really messed up. They have a junior working on it, they give them strategic insight but not actionable insight, they mess things up, they’ve done something like translate from English to Spanish, those keywords are useless because they didn’t bother doing the research and they’ve lost the client. The number of clients I’ve saved because this is a bad model, to have juniors unsupervised, working on a senior strategic piece. So the juniors don’t have the oversight from the experts.” Judith
As Google is now personalising everything, the strategies that we used to get visibility, ten links, things like that, I feel like agencies aren’t quite keeping up?
“We just had the announcement today that position 0 means you get eliminated from the ten blue links, so there are 11 search results, ten of them are organic, 1 is also organic but it’s more visible than the others but it’s not part of the ten. We’ve got shopping results, we’ve got maps, We’ve got so much that is going on in the search results, we’re not ten blue links. We as SEO’s have had to play with PPC.” Judith
“So what we’re trying to work on is how to measure the real estate. So we’re looking at how much those positions take up spaces and then look at the size of the answer box, because sometimes there is an encouragement to click through due to a ‘read more’ option, whereas sometimes there isn’t. So we’re trying to measure that and if we can, then we’re going to measure a smarter version of rankings. But that’s also nearly impossible to measure on Google, so it would be interesting to hear how you guys are measuring the value of search experience as well as your actual traffic.” Hannah
“I think there is a really good thing here which is that, however you do it, there is this whole unknown part of search so whenever you do your keyword research, your keyword research says there is a minimum of 10 searches, but you know there is a scale between 0-10. If you can find those users that are between 0-10, there going to tend to convert. So even if you were measuring search real estate, you’re still missing an angle which is this whole area of 15% of new searches that could be highly converting customers that you’re not identifying. So, the only way you can do this is by thinking about the information you have available and rather than measuring what percentage of search capture, it’s more like ‘what information do you put in there’, ‘how sure are we that we’re appearing’, ‘what kind of things can we be found for’ and working back from there.” Ric
If you were looking at CV’s today, what skillset would you be looking at in someone you wanted to employ in the next 3-5 years?
“It’s the willingness to learn, their enthusiasm for learning digital. Because anyone can learn anything, if they’ve got the right mindset. So when I’m hiring I’m looking for the ability to change. You have to love doing it, it’s more than a job.” Nick
“We hire for IQ in skills for anyone who is a junior, not for knowledge and the opposite for strategists. So if you’re hiring a junior, you want them to be smart and lots of skills. Like be able to use Excel. You don’t necessarily care if they don’t know the nuances of services, as they are a junior. However, if they are much more senior, like a head strategist, I don’t really care if they can run a tech audit on a few million page website, but I do care if they know the nuances of why it matters for the clients business.” Ross
Give Us 1 SEO Top Tip For 2020
“Build more links” Ross
“Measure. I said this last year and it doesn’t ever get into slides as a tip, but you should measure what you’re doing. Do the things that you can measure, prove the value and then you will have SEO contracts for life.” Hannah
“I think it’s important for all of us to be aware of what’s technologically coming through the pipeline from Google, like schema. Make sure you’re on top of the new schema that is launching. Make sure you understand topicality and what entities are, because if you don’t understand this, this is the way Google is going.” Judith
“I’m from the school of getting stuff done and schema is amazingly useful at the moment. Not for what it’s doing, which is very little, but where it is really incredibly useful is highlighting the content gaps across a website which we should be filling. So when you start implementing schema on that kind of level, it soon becomes a justification for creating the kind of content that should have been on the site years ago.” Nick
“Stop believing industry bull****. “So and so said it so it must be true”, never mind the fact you haven’t tested it and tried it, with no evidence of your own.” Juliette
“There are so many acronyms that are going to come out of the industry, stop trying to learn every single one. Some of them are so complex, so when you do learn it, it doesn’t help you do what you do better. It just means you know one more thing better than the other person.
Focus on what your users want and what your website needs.” Ric