On November 10, 2015, about 100 Boston-area marketers, SEOs, and other professionals gathered at a Newton MA restaurant to hear Perficient Digital’s Eric Enge present his insights on “The Future of Digital Marketing and SEO.”
The event celebrated the recent release of the third edition of the highly popular book The Art of SEO, published by O’Reilly Media. Eric Enge has been lead co-author for all three editions of this 1000-page comprehensive guide to SEO and digital marketing.
Our thanks to the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association for co-sponsoring this event!
Following his address, Eric moderated an open Q&A forum with a panel of experts from Perficient Digital: Eve Sangenito, Mats Tolander, and Mark Traphagen.
This post will give you a quick summary of what Eric shared that night. BONUS! At the bottom of the post, you’ll find Eric’s slide deck and complete videos of both his talk and the panel Q&A that followed!
Here are the main points of Eric Enge’s The Future of Digital Marketing and SEO talk:
4 Areas of Change in 2015
Mobilegeddon: This was the name our industry gave to Google’s announced intention to make the mobile-friendliness of sites a ranking factor for mobile searches. Eric shared the findings of our Mobilegeddon study, which found that nearly 50% of pages that were not mobile friendly dropped in their rankings.
Twitter Indexing by Google: In May of 2015 Google started leveraging its new agreement with Twitter, in which Google has full access to tweets in real time. In order to see how much effect this would have on Google’s search results, Perficient Digital sampled nearly 140,000 tweets in February to see how many appeared in Google’s index, then ran another sample in June after implementation. Eric found that the percentage of tweets appearing in Google within seven days rose from 0.6% to 3.4%, a 466% increase! You can see the February study here and the June study here.
The Truth About “Content Shock”: Eric shared some stark truths about content and social sharing. First, very few people actually read the articles they share. Furthermore, according to a study by Buzzsumo and Moz, the vast majority of content gets few social shares and even fewer links. Of the content that does get shares or links, most of them tend to get one or the other but not both. But there is a “sweet spot” of exceptional content that earns both a lot of shares and valuable links.
Eric related that among the most common characteristics of that “sweet spot” content is that it is either opinion-forming journalism or data-driven research. It is also true that longer form content attracts more links.
Here were Eric’s key takeaways for content marketing:
- Stop producing “good” content.
- Start producing elite content.
- Concentrate on data-driven, journalistic, and/or longer form content.
- Promote content using all relevant channels.
- Measure results and constantly adapt.
Rich Answers in Search: Rich Answers are any attempt by Google to directly answer a question in the search results using enhanced content (which often is extracted from third-party sites). Here’s an example:
Most observers have sensed that Google is constantly increasing the amount of these rich answers in search results. To find out for sure, Eric and the Perficient Digital team asked Google over 850,000 questions in December 2014 and again in July 2015. He found a 38% increase in rich answers over that six month period.
Eric’s key takeaways for Rich Answers in search:
- Google will continue to expand this rapidly.
- Don’t build your business on public domain data.
- Don’t build your business on easily-licensed data.
- Develop content that provides direct answers to questions.
(For how to create content that is more likely to get featured as a Rich Answer, see Eric’s Definitive Guide to Google’s Rich Answers.)
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What’s Coming in the Future
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Eric shared five trends he believes will shape the future of digital marketing.
1. Rise of the Millennials: Eric told us that a Millennial is basically anyone who came of age around the year 2000, but in reality, it’s more of an attitude than an age group. Millennials expect high quality and lots of choices, in part because more choices are available than ever before. They also look for entertainment and engagement, because they can easily switch channels if you’re boring them. Millennials also have high expectations of authenticity, because they see a lot more inauthentic behavior being exposed these days. They also tend to be impatient. If your site load or customer response time is slow, they know they can easily go elsewhere.
So how do you succeed in marketing to Millennials?
- Only if they want you to. You need their permission first.
- Must be prepared to engage and entertain.
- Need to deliver experiences and build relationships.
- Have to be the best or the cheapest.
- Direct, open messaging is required.
2. Author Authority: Google Authorship was a hugely visible experiment in search to reward authors who were willing
to be identified with their content. Yet, in mid-2014, Eric and I broke the news that Google was shutting down the project. You might think that was the end of author authority in search, but then to everyone’s surprise, at SMX East in October 2015, Google’s Gary Illyes said that publishers should keep authorship markup on their sites, “just in case Google ever decides to use it again.” Was this a subtle announcement that Google was bringing back Authorship? Probably not. But it’s safe to bet that Google still cares deeply about authoritative authors.
Whether it makes a difference in search rankings or not, Eric stressed that building your reputation as an expert in your topic area is still vitally important. How do you do it?
- Be an expert. Know your topic thoroughly and in depth.
- Create great content.
- Interact with other reputable experts online.
- Help people with your expertise.
- Publish regularly on high authority sites.
3. Mobile and Voice Search: On May 5, 2015, Google announced that more searches were taking place on mobile than on computers in ten countries, including the US and Japan. In addition, Eric noted that increasingly we will be searching on devices that have no keyboards, making voice search more and more the norm.
Eric Enge urged his audience to be thinking about the following:
- By 2020, 3/4 of devices will be the new types (internet connected)
- Voice will be the primary interface with those devices.
- Natural language interfaces will become the norm.
- PC screens will not entirely disappear, however.
- Nor will the demand for long-form information.
4. Content Effectiveness Optimization: Content Effectiveness Optimization is Eric’s term for the practice of tuning your web pages to satisfy a larger percentage of visitors. You need to look at each of your pages and ask whether the majority of users who arrive there from relevant queries will be satisfied with what they see. For eCommerce sites in particular, you need to think in terms of task completion. What has the visitor come to the page to do, and how easily can they accomplish that? Always remember that your users have other options, and they can get to those options easily.
How to implement Content Effectiveness Optimization:
- Think about helping users complete their task.
- Ask what are their related needs.
- Ask what are their ancillary needs.
- Search engines are probably beginning to measure some form of SEO.
- Design your web experiences to meet those needs.
5. Deep Learning: Humans and machines think differently. Google’s DeepMind project is teaching machines to read, view and comprehend what humans read, view and comprehend. Computers are no longer limited to linear programs, but can be taught to build networks of information with many layers.
For example, Google has been very successful in teaching their algorithms to recognize human faces and to be able to recognize that many different views and angles of a particular person is still that same person. In a similar fashion, Google taught its computers to be able to tell a cat from a dog. That task sounds rudimentary to us humans, but just try explaining in words exactly what the difference is!
Another fascinating area of machine learning by Google is their recently-announced RankBrain algorithm. RankBrain helps Google interpret human queries that are not immediately clear, or that contain no keywords that correspond directly with the sought-for content.
For example, a query that might be referred to RankBrain for pre-processing is “What’s the title of the consumer at the highest level of the food chain?” Not a terribly difficult question for an educated human, but there are levels of understanding implied in the question that would not be immediately obvious to a search algorithm. RankBrain enables Google to figure out the meaning and intent of the question to deliver the right answer.
Traditional search ranking signals group around three areas: discoverability, importance, and relevance. What’s missing? The ability to understand the query and find resources that answer it, even when the intent of the query isn’t blatantly obvious. That’s the task of RankBrain. Look for Eric to be writing a lot more about this search feature in the future!
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Below you will find the slide deck Eric used for this talk, as well as videos of the actual presentation and the expert panel Q&A. All event photos by Douglas Haslam of Perficient Digital; used by permission.