Last November, Moz VP Product, Rob Ousbey, gave a talk at Web Con 2020 on the evolution of search engine optimization. We'll share it with you today! Rob uses his years of research in the industry to discuss how SEO has changed and what this means for your strategies.
Editor's note: Rob mentions a promo in the video which has now expired, but you can still get a free month of Moz Pro + free walkthrough here!
Hello everybody. Thank you for this introduction. I really appreciate that and it's wonderful to be here with all of you today. I'm Rob Ousbey from Moz.
Really, I just wanted to share my screen here and say that my gift to you for coming to the session today is this link. Not only does this give you a free month of Moz Pro, but anyone who signs up can get a free tutorial with an SEO expert to get you started. I will re-set this link at the end of the session. However, if you are interested in SEO or use a suite of tools to help you, Moz might be the toolset that can help you.
If you want to learn more about SEO, visit me on Twitter. I'm @RobOusbey and it would be wonderful to chat with you there.
One reason I published my bio here is because I wasn't with Moz that long. I just started a year ago. Previously, I was with Distilled, an international digital marketing agency, where I headed the Seattle office for over a decade. I mention this because today I want to share with you examples of what I've discovered in my client work. I want to share the research my team members did when we were in your shoes.
A troubling story
So I wanted to start with an experience that came to mind. Like I said, I've been doing this professionally for about 12 or 13 years and when I first started SEO was certainly easier, if not easier.
People like my friend Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz, have done correlation studies to find out what factors seem to correlate with rankings, and we have published these types of reports. These were the top factors for 2005. Back then, they were largely split between factors that judged whether a page was relevant to a particular term and those that asked whether a website was relevant. Much of this relevance came from the use of keywords on a page, and authority was judged by the number of links to the website. So we would help businesses by doing good SEO. We put keywords on a page and created a series of links.
And I want to tell you a story about one of our customers. That was only a few years ago, but it definitely stuck on my head. We created a lot of content for this client. We made some really informative sites and some really fun sites that would go viral and take over the internet and all of this got them lots of links. This was the result of our efforts – a steady and steady growth in the number of domains associated with this site. We had an incredible impact on them.
And here is the graph of how many keywords they had when they were placed on the first page. This is fantastic. They ranked for many keywords. And finally, here is the graphical representation of the organic traffic on the website. Amazing.
But if you take a closer look, you notice something that is a little unsettling. We never stopped buying links. In fact, much of the content we produce is so evergreen that even content created two or three years ago is collecting new links every week. But the number of keywords that we have in the top 10 kept going up and down and then stopped growing. Unsurprisingly, the same trend can be seen in organic search traffic. What seems to be happening here is that we got strong enough to get on the front page with these keywords to be an actor in the industry, but after that it didn't help getting more links to the website, to get more keywords and it didn't help get more search traffic.
It seems like all of the SEO basics we've learned about keywords and links, as well as technical SEO, are still true and are still necessary to help you become a gamer in a particular industry. But after that, there are other factors that you need to focus on.
This evolution from SEO to new factors has accelerated. My colleague at Moz, Dr. Pete Meyers, has tracked and collected a lot of data on it. Last year, Google improved its results by nearly 4,000. This is the result of around 45,000 different experiments.
Pete also kept track of how much the search results change every day. Blue is really stable results. Orange is a lot of changes. So, if you feel like your placements for your website are becoming more volatile than ever, you are not wrong. By the time we hit 2017, we were seeing more changes in results every day than ever before.
The way Google's algorithms were updated was made by a group of people in a room making decisions. In fact, it was this group of people in this room. They decided which factors should be taken up or down for the best results.
Google's goal: portal to the Internet
But what does that mean? What does it mean to get the best results? Well, we should think about what Google’s ultimate goal is. You want to be your portal to the Internet. You want your web experience to begin with a Google search, and you will continue to do so if you are happy with the results it shows and the pages you click on. If they send you to the perfect webpage for your query, it is a satisfying experience that is reflected well on Google. If they send you to a page that is having a bad experience, they will be badly reflected.
It is therefore interesting to ask, "How would Google avoid this and what would be a bad user experience?" Well there are some obvious things such as: For example, if you get to a page that has malware or a virus installed on your computer, or if you get to a product page that is out of stock, or when you visit a website that is very slow or full of Show. These are the pages that Google doesn't want to include in the results.
And they have always been good at measuring these things pretty directly. More than 10 years ago, they tested how fast websites were and then used that to inform their rankings. If they discover malware or viruses on a website, they temporarily remove it from search results.
But they also tried more opinion-based measures. For a while, they conducted surveys to ask people: Are you satisfied with these results? That way, they knew if their algorithm was helping people get what they wanted in order to give them a good experience.
The Google method is to try this on a large scale and hopefully in the background where users don't have to answer a survey popup like this one. And doing this in the background has always been more possible, partly because of the amount of data that Google has at its disposal.
So I want to take a look at some things that you might see. Here is an example of something you might want to do. Let's look at the average click-through rate for each ranking in the search results. Imagine if Google knows that 30% of users click on the first result and 22% click number two and 5% click number six and so on. You have a good understanding of these averages. Then, for a given keyword, let's say that number six gets 12% of the clicks. Something is going on. What's happening? Whatever the reason, Google could be more satisfied with its users if that result were higher in the ranking. Sixth is what people want. Maybe they should be ranked higher.
Here is another example. We call this pogo sticking. A user performs a search and then clicks a result. After a few seconds on the page, he realizes that he doesn't like it. So click the "Back" button and choose a different result. But let's say they don't like that either, so click back and choose a third result. Now stay here and use this page. Imagine a lot of people did the same thing. If we were Google and we saw this, it would be a pretty strong indicator that the third result is actually user satisfaction. That is actually a good result for this query, and it probably deserves a much higher ranking.
User satisfaction: refinement
There's even an extension of it where users pogo stick to the SERPs and then decide they can't find anything related to what they wanted. So refine your search. They try to type something else and then find what they want in another query. If too many people are not happy with the results on the first page, it is likely a sign of making a pretty serious change to that SERP or getting users to do this other query instead.
Google's development with machine learning
And doing this kind of extensive analysis on a large scale has been made much easier with the advent of machine learning. For a long time, those responsible for search results at Google hesitated to incorporate machine learning into their work. It was something they didn't want to do. Then Google appointed a new search director and selected someone who had spent their career at Google to advance machine learning and its opportunities. Now they have moved on to it. In fact, Wired magazine described Google as a "machine learning first" company.
What we see now
Here I want to move from my guess what you might be doing to some examples and evidence of all of this for you. And I want to talk about two particular modern ranking factors that we have evidence of that you can consider today when doing SEO or digital marketing, or working on a website.
First, I talked about how users interact with the results, what they click on, and how they interact with the pages they find. Let's get into that.
Much of this research came from my former colleague, Tom Capper. We worked together on Distilled, but he's also a Moz Associate, and much of it was posted on the Moz Blog.
Imagine starting with Google. You enter your query and here are the results. Here is page one of the results. Here is page two of the results. You won't worry too much about what happens after that as no one tends to click through beyond page two.
Now let's think about how much data Google has about the way people interact with these search results. They see a lot going on on the front page. There are many clicks. You can see patterns. You can spot trends. You can see what people are spending time on or what they are holding back from. There is very little user interaction on the second page and beyond. Nobody goes there so there aren't a lot of clicks and not a lot of data for Google to use.
So if we look at what factors seem to correlate with rankings, here's what we see. On page two, there is some correlation between the number of links on a website and rank. We expected that. This is what SEOs have been preaching for the past decade or more. However, when we get to the bottom of the first page, there is a weaker correlation with links. And at the top of page 1, there is almost no correlation between the number of links you have and the position you are ranked in.
Now we see that the people on page one have more links than the pages on page two. You need the SEO basics to rank on the first page in the first place. We talk about it as a consideration. Google will consider you for the first page of results if you have enough SEO and links.
However, we can disregard the fact that when all this user data is in place and Google knows where you click and how users interact with websites, Google will use these user metrics as a ranking factor. In situations where there isn't a lot of user data, the rankings may be more determined by link metrics. Because of this, we see in the results that links are a more correlated factor.
Similarly, we can look at the entire range of keywords, from the very popular head terms in green to the long-tail terms in red, which are very rarely searched for. A lot of people search for them in headings, so Google has a lot of user data to judge where people click. For long-tail terms, they might only get a few searches per month, they just don't have that much data.
And again, we see that Google seemingly gives better rankings to websites with better engagement because of the popular, competitive, high-search terms. For long-tail terms for which this data is not available, the rankings are based more on connection strength. And there are many studies to support this.
Larry Kim found a relationship between high click-through rates and better rankings. Brian Dean found a relationship between being more committed to a page and getting better rankings. And Searchmetrics found that time on site correlated better with rankings than any on-page factor.
And while Google has this firmly under control, they don't exactly admit what they're doing, and they don't describe their algorithms in detail. There are occasional insights that we can see.
A few years ago, journalists from CNBC had the opportunity to attend a Google meeting where they discussed changes to the algorithm. An interesting part of this article was when Googlers were talking about the things they were optimizing for when they were designing a new feature on the results page. They looked at this new type of result they had added and tested how many people had clicked on it, but then returned to what they considered a bad sign. So this idea of pogo gluing came up again.
If this was something they were monitoring on the SERPs, we should be able to see examples of it. We should be able to see the websites that pogo stick people are not doing as well in SEO. That's why I'm always interested when I find a site that has a bad experience for whatever reason.
User metrics as a ranking factor
So here is a website that lists film trivia for every movie that you might be interested in. It's so full of ads and popups that you can barely see any content on the page. It's completely overflowing with advertisements. If my hypothesis were correct, this site would lose search visibility, and that's exactly what happened to them. Since its peak in 2014, search visibility for the website has continued to decline.
Here is another example. This is a strange search. It is for a specific chemical that you buy when making face creams and lotions and the like. So let's look at some of the results here. I think this first result is the manufacturer's page with information about the chemical. The second is an industrial chemical research facility. It contains all data sheets and safety sheets. The third is a place where you can buy the chemical yourself.
And then here is another result from a marketplace site. I blurred their names because I don't want to be unfair to them. However, if you click on the result, you will get an instant blocker. You will be asked to either log in or register and there is no way I want to fill out this form. I'll hit the back button right away. Google had listed nine other sites that I'll check out before I even think about giving all of my data and creating an account here.
If my theory is correct, once visitors set up this registration wall they would have started hopping. Google would have noticed and their search visibility would have suffered.
And that's exactly what we see. This was a fast growing startup that received a lot of press coverage and earned a lot of links. But their search traffic reacted very badly and very quickly once this registration wall was set up. The diagram below shows the organic traffic and only drops steeply.
Here's my final example of that, Forbes. It is a 100 year old publishing brand. You have been online for over 20 years. And when you land on a page, you see this for an article. Now I am not indulging in advertising on a page. You have to make some money. And here there is only one advertising banner. That actually surprised me pleasantly.
But I am stunned by your decision to put a video documentary on a completely different subject in the corner. Like I came to read this article and you gave me this unrelated video.
And then this suddenly pops up to make sure I haven't missed the other ad in the sidebar. And then the video, which I didn't want on any other topic, starts playing a pre-roll ad. In the meantime, the browser warning pops up and then the video starts playing – about the unrelated topic that I didn't want at all. So I try to read and scroll away from all the clutter on the page. But then the video – on an unrelated topic that I didn't want at all – sticks here and follows me down the page. What's happening? And then there are even more sidebar ads.
And I want to say that if my theory is correct, people are going to ricochet off Forbes. People will avoid clicking Forbes at first and they will lose search traffic. But I also know they are a powerhouse. So let's look at what the data said.
I grabbed their link profile and people won't stop linking to Forbes. You earn links from 700 new domains every day. There is no stopping it. But here is their organic search visibility. Forbes is down 35% year over year. I think that's pretty affirmative.
At this point, I'm confident that Google has too much data on how people interact with search results and websites for you to ignore. If your website is a bad experience, why would Google include you in the top results first and why should you stay there?
What can you do?
What can you do about it? Where to start You can go to the Google Search Console and see the click through rates for your pages when they show up in search. And in your analytics package, GA or whatever, you can see the bounce rate for visitors who land on your pages, especially those that came from search. So look for topics, look for trends. Find out if there are pages or sections of your website that people don't like to click when they appear in the results. Find out if there are pages that people who land on them will immediately bounce off. Both of these are bad signs and it could let you down in the results.
You can also take a qualitative look at your website or hire a third party or another person to do it. Think about the experience people have when they arrive. Are there too many ads? Is there a frustrating registration wall? These things can hurt you and may need further study.
Okay, we've talked about these user signals. But the other area I want to look at is what I am talking about as brand signals. The trademark can apply to a company or a person. And when I think of the idea that the idea is a brand, I think of how well known the company is and how popular it is. These are some questions that will signal that you have a strong brand, that people have heard of you, that people are looking for you, that people would recommend you.
And that second one sounds like something SEOs know how to research. When we say people are looking for you it sounds like we're just talking about search volume. How many times a month do people put their brand name on Google?
My colleague Tom Capper did some research on this which was posted on the Moz blog. He looked at this problem and said, "Okay. Well, let's see if the number of people looking for a brand has any relation to its rank." And then there's a lot of math and a long history that led to the conclusion that brand search volume correlates with rankings. It's in blue. In fact, it correlated more strongly with rankings than Domain Authority. So this is the measure that shows you a website's link strength.
So think about it. We've been concerned about links for two decades, but in fact something seems to correlate better with brand strength and brand search volume.
For the data freak, there is a way to use the R-squared calculation to answer the question, "How much does this explain the ranking?" Again, you need to know that brand search volume explains more rankings than anything else.
So we preached about it for a while, and then I literally saw this tweet two days ago. A team in the UK asked for controversial SEO opinions. And the SEO manager for Ticketmaster came out and said this. He believes that when people search for your brand name next to a query, Google will rank them higher for the unbranded terms. And I don't think this is controversial. In fact, one of the answers to that was Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz. He also now believes that the brand signals are stronger than the links and keywords.
What can you do?
What can you do about it? Well, first you need to realize that any branding investment, whether through public relations or traditional advertising, is good business anyway. Because of its search engine optimization impact, it is now double the value as those activities get people looking for you, following you, and sharing your brand. If you work for a billion dollar company, make sure that your SEO and PR teams are well connected, coordinated and talking to one another. If you don't work for a billionaire company, I have two interesting little examples for you.
First I want to go to this page, AdaFruit.com. They sell electronic components. There are many, many websites on the internet that sell similar products. Not only do they have great product pages with high quality pictures and helpful descriptions, but I can also look at a product like this and then click through to get ideas for things to create with it. These are some LED lights that you can chain together. And here is an idea for a glowing crystal paper craft that you can build with them. Here is the schematic I need for this project, as well as code to make it more interactive. It's only an $ 8 product, but I know this website will make it easy for me to get started and get value from this purchase.
They go even further and have a pretty impressive AdaFruit channel on YouTube. You have 350,000 subscribers. For example, here are the videos that are released every week that will walk you through all of the new products they have recently added to the site.
The CEO is running a hands-on demo letting you know about everything that's in stock. And then they have other collections of videos, like their wives in hardware series, that reach audiences that are normally underserved in the field.
AdaFruit has made a significant investment in content for their own channels and has paid off with some brand authority, but also with brand trust and brand engagement.
Example: Investor Junkie
But here I want to show you another example from what is arguably a less exciting industry and someone who couldn't invest that much in content. This is InvestorJunkie.com, a website that conducts reviews of financial services and products. And when I was working at the agency, we worked with this site and specifically with its founder, Larry. Larry was an expert in personal finance, and in particular personal investments. And that was his solo project. He blogged on the website and used his expertise. But as the website grew he hired some contractors as well as our agency and they created a lot of great content for the website which really helped with search engine optimization. But to have a significant impact on brand strength, we had to get the word out in front of a lot of people who didn't know about him.
So we took Larry's expertise and put him on as a guest on podcasts, lots of podcasts, and they loved having him as a guest. All of a sudden, Larry was able to bring his expertise to a huge new audience, and he was able to spread the Investor Junkie brand and its message to a lot of people who had never heard of the site before.
But even better, this had a compositional effect as people interested in these topics usually don't subscribe to just one of these podcasts. You subscribe to a number of them. So if you hear from Larry and Investor Junkie, you may never think about it again. But if he shows up on their feed two, three, or four times over the course of a few months, they'll forge a new connection with the brand, maybe trust him more, and maybe find the website.
That being said, there's one other thing I love about podcasts: when you're blogging, it can take hours and hours of work. If you are creating a conference presentation, it could take days or weeks. If you're a guest on a 30 minute podcast, it literally takes you 30 minutes. You sign up, you speak to a host and then your part of the job is done.
This is how you can introduce yourself to a new audience. It gets people to search for you, which is what Google will notice. But it's also got more SEO value, as every podcast usually has a show note page like this one. It's a page that Google can index, a page that Google can understand. And Google can see the signals of trust. It can see your brand is mentioned. It can also show the links to your site. Obviously, I can't speak highly enough of podcasts for PR, brand awareness, and even SEO.
Did this help Larry and the Investor Junkie team? Yes. Obviously, this wasn't the extent of their SEO strategy. But everything they've done has helped them get great placements across a wide variety of playing conditions, and it has helped them hold their own against much larger sites with much larger teams and much larger budgets. And that story actually only came to an end two years ago because the site was eventually acquired for $ 6 million, which isn't bad for a solo founder who was just building his own brand.
Well. I will conclude with some of these thoughts. Google has evolved. They've now been able to collect so much more data about the way people interact with search results and other pages, and they're now using machine learning to process all of this so they can better assess: Are we giving humans a good user experience? Are the websites we review the ones that answer people's questions? The SEO game has changed.
If you start now, all of the basics still apply. Kommen Sie zu Moz, lesen Sie den Anfängerleitfaden, führen Sie großartige technische Suchmaschinenoptimierung durch, führen Sie großartige Keyword-Recherchen durch und erstellen Sie großartige Links. Diese müssen immer noch als ein Akteur in Ihrer Branche angesehen werden, um Sie auf die erste Seite für alle Begriffe zu bringen, auf die Sie abzielen möchten.
Aber wenn Sie versuchen, auf der Titelseite nach oben zu kommen, wenn Sie versuchen, sich viel weiter zu etablieren und eine viel größere Marke zu werden, sehen wir keine große Korrelation zwischen Dingen wie Links und dem Erreichen der Top-Platzierungen für einen bestimmten Begriff. Denken Sie stattdessen an das gute Spiel, das Google spielt. Sie möchten sicherstellen, dass jemand, der auf ein Ergebnis klickt, dort bleibt. Sie wollen nicht, dass dieser Pogo klebt. Sie wollen nicht den Link und den Titel sehen, auf den die Leute klicken wollen, wenn sie sich auf Nummer sechs setzen. Richten Sie sich also an ihre KPIs. Überlegen Sie, wie Sie Google helfen können, indem Sie sicherstellen, dass Ihre Ergebnisse diejenigen sind, auf die die Nutzer klicken möchten. Stellen Sie sicher, dass Personen, die auf Ihre Ergebnisse klicken, auf dieser Seite bleiben.
Aber letztendlich werden Sie nie verlieren, wenn Sie Ihre Markenautorität und Ihr Engagement für Ihre Inhalte verbessern. Dies sind nur gute Dinge für das Geschäft. Eine stärkere Marke, Inhalte und eine Website, auf der die Leute Zeit verbringen möchten, sind enorm wichtig und zahlen sich aus. Aber jetzt ist alles doppelt wichtig, weil es auch diesen massiven Einfluss auf Ihre SEO hat.
Video-Transkription von Speechpad.