Is your SEO strategy specific enough? Are you trying to reach your customers, or solely tricking Google’s algorithm?
My guest today is SEO expert and growth consultant Eli Schwartz. We talked about the importance of specificity in SEO, why over-reliance on paid acquisition can backfire, why SEO is less about marketing and more about the user experience, and more.
listen to this episode
- Why Eli thinks SEO is less about marketing and more about product and user experience
- Why relying on paid acquisition is an issue
- The advantages of acquiring users organically
- The principles SEO strategists should learn for the long-term
- The importance of being specific in Search Marketing
- Interviewing internal team members to get insights into what customers want.
- Preparing for the “future of search”
- Why SEO expert should focus on marketing to humans, not tricking Google algorithms
- Eli’s biggest fuck-up in his career
- What Eli think marketers should learn for the next 5-10 years
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of Everyonehatesmarketers.com: No-fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady aggressive marketing. I’m you your host Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you learn the why behind search engine optimization or SEO, and how to focus on it for the long term, not only in the next six months.
Louis: My guest today has a rather impressive CV, I’m going to try to summarize as best as I can. So he spent the last 14 years in enterprise SEO in-house. He’s also worked as a consultant for clients like G2 Crowd, Shutterstock, Blue Nile, Quora and Zendesk. He led the SEO team at SurveyMonkey, building the organic search from nearly zero to one of the largest growth drivers and growth levers in the company.
Louis: He speaks at many marketing events across the world. He’s a columnist on Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal. He is also guest lecturer at many schools. Really, really impressive CV, that’s why I’m super happy, Eli, to have you on board, so Eli Schwartz, welcome.
Eli: It’s great to be here Louis, thank you for having me. And I love this topic of everyone hates marketers, because couldn’t agree more. It’s all about shooting the messenger.
Louis: Yeah, so why do you agree with the message?
Eli: So marketers are the ones that are out there presenting the message that someone else built, the product, engineers that are creating things, the marketers are the face of that. And it’s all about shooting the messenger. When someone doesn’t like what it does for them, they’re upset at the person that’s presenting to them.
Eli: But from an SEO standpoint, I actually think that as I progress through my career, I think SEO is less marketing and probably more sustainable when you think about it as a product. So the transition from SEO over to marketing meant that SEO was sort of watered down and became something called content marketing, and I’m not so sure that content marketing in today’s form is necessarily SEO. It’s more formulae and it’s more just content production and not necessarily optimizing for search engines. It’s optimizing for what key word research tools tell people that other people might be searching.
Eli: But SEO, the way I like to think about it is, building a website, optimize and experience, understanding what you need to have online so people find you and continue to find you.
Louis: So, you think about it more wholistically in terms of it’s not only the key words you’re writing for, but what is the experience that people have from the moment they think of a problem to the moment they search for it on Google or somewhere else, to the moment they land on your website, et cetera.
Eli: Exactly. And it’s not really the problem they have, it’s a challenge with all marketers, but I think the specific one when it comes to SEO is that marketers forget that a minute before they start marketing their product, they were also a user, they were also a customer. So we’re coming up with these search queries and we’re using tools, and the tools are normalizing and saying this what people search, but that’s not actually what we would search.
Eli: In order to do effective SEO, you have to think about yourself like what are you looking for? Are you going to read some lengthy blog post about a medical condition? Is that how you’re going to treat yourself? Or do you want some sort of symptom diagnosis tool? So, the whole idea of content is good for SEO maybe, but what we should actually be doing is creating content or products for users that search engines will help users find.
Louis: Right. And here were already talking about what expert would call like interns, right. Like what actually are you searching for, why are you searching for this term, and making sure that you give the best answer. I think I’m going to try to find a classic example, buy I think recipes are a good example of that, of this. You search for recipe and then for the first 1500 words, you have a fucking list of the story of the author and why she or he loves this recipe so much, and blah, blah, blah, when you only give a shit about the chocolate cake you want to make in 10 minutes.
Eli: Exactly. And I think another way of thinking about this is voice search. Everyone talks about voice search being the future. Why is voice search the future? Because search, the way it is today, is imperfect. If you ask me a question and I said, “Oh that’s a great question, here’s 10 possible answers,” I haven’t answered your question. That’s what search is today.
Eli: What voice search is, I know exactly what you want, and I’m only giving you the one answer and that’s why I can say it by voice. So I don’t think we’re at the point at all, where Google or any other search engine that will come out, that can know exactly what we want and can answer every possible query and with voice. Because, again, we need 10 possible answers.But when we do know exactly what you want, and my favorite one is, when it comes to local search, people are trying to spam local search by putting queries into the actual content. So near me, I’m looking for pizza near me. What am I looking for? I’m looking for pizza. Happen to want pizza close to me. So there’re website, like Dominos that puts the word find pizza near me. You’re putting keywords to overlay an intent, when really Google is going to skip all that say pizza, I know exactly where you are, I’ll just find you pizza, doesn’t matter whether the website said near me on it.
Eli: And I think a better way of saying is, you don’t actually need to match keywords to content. So for example, if you were to ask Google, do I need an umbrella today? You’re in Dublin maybe, you probably do. So Google will say, “No, you don’t need an umbrella today, it’s expected to be sunny.” So they’re not giving you a website or an answer that use the word umbrella today, or even use the specific date. They’re just giving you an answer based on your intent.
Eli: Or the same goes do I need a jacket, or will this weekend be good concert whether? They can interpret all that based on intent, they just want to know the weather.
Louis: So it’s all about context as well, and I don’t want to go over too many buzzwords, but it’s really all about, at the end of the day, it’s about other people, it’s about us having issues or questions every day and what we want is to get to the answer the fastest way possible. So Google has done a tremendous job doing this, compared to 20 years ago where you actually had to go to the library, or ask am expert. You had so many more hurdles before finding the right question. Google is getting faster.
Louis: But as you said, in the future, you might have even faster ways to find the best answer and it might just be talking to your Alexa tool or whatever else in your living room and just asking the question, getting the answer, moving on.
Eli: Exactly. And that’s search intent. Search intent sounds like a buzzword, but really as users, if we ask Google questions and it gave us irrelevant answers, then we wouldn’t use Google anymore. So Google, is a business that wants to make us search more. They just want to understand what we want and give us the right answer, and not give us 10 possible answers. And we do this all the time when we’re searching.
Eli: You search for something, no, that’s not what I wanted, let’s search again, not what I wanted, search again. Google is trying to skip all those steps. They’d rather you find exactly what you wanted and then five minutes later you search for a whole different topic because you were happy with your first search. So, as marketers or product people or just doing SEO, that’s the experience we need to satisfy. We need to make sure we’re helping Google to satisfy their customers.
Louis: So, before we started to do this, having this conversation, you talked about a problem that some companies seem to have, which is they rely a lot on paid acquisition channel. So they will rely a lot on LinkedIn, AdWords, like LinkedIn ads, AdWords, Facebook ads and all of that to acquire users. So obviously you’re an SEO consultant, so you will sell SEO. That’s your job, right. But trying to be as objective as possible, why do you think it’s an issue for companies to rely too much on paid ads and not enough on the organic side of things?
Eli: So, and this is a very simplistic way of looking at paid versus organic, but if you’re paying for traffic or paying for users, it’s like you’re renting a house. And if you’re going after organic users, you’re building that house. Yes, it costs you money, yes, you probably have a mortgage, but every month or every day, you’re building equity in that house. So the best way of understanding this is, if you’re renting and one day you decide to stop paying your landlord, your landlord in this case is probably Facebook or Google, you won’t get shown anymore. Your user flow is turned off. You won’t get any more traffic, you won’t get … Nothing you’re gone.
Eli: However, if you’re investing in organic, it doesn’t matter if you go on vacation, your user acquisition funnel will continue. So, that’s why it’s important to at least build that and not just rent, and not just continue to pay Facebook, and not just continue to pay Google. You have to have put those efforts. And what’s permanent? What happens when budgets are cut? What happens when a new advertiser comes on Facebook and wants to buy every single impression and I just can’t afford to compete? So that’s why you want to have some sort of organic channel coming in.
Eli: Then you can have word of mouth, but word of mouth is not as controlled as an organic strategy that you’re acquiring continuous more and more traffic is coming in month after month.
Louis: So the devil advocate straight away would say, playing the devil’s advocate, I would say yes, I agree with this statement. But, even with organic search and SEO in particular, you still are at the mercy of Google. They control things. And yes, it doesn’t necessarily require money that you put in the ads, like per click, but it still requires money more and more to invest into the resources to write content or to actually satisfy such intent. So, what’s the difference between the two of them?
Eli: The difference between the two and shifting over to a different marketing term, you’re building brand. So, with SEO, there’re people searching for you, they’re looking for your specific brand. That’s a whole different channel they’re going to find you. Yes, you’re reliant on Google, but in my many, many years doing SEO, I’ve never seen a website disappear off of Google that didn’t deserve it.
Eli: So Google again, wants to satisfy users. If you teach Google that, I’m offering users what they want, your traffic will continue to grow. If you teach Google, I’m trying to trick Google into Google giving me traffic that I don’t deserve, eventually you will get caught and you’ll fall off of Google. So you’re reliant on Google, but you’re reliant on Google the same way anybody that builds a building, even if they own that building on a very popular street, that street could one day become unpopular.
Eli: So, there are risks in business, but I’d say the risk there is mitigated by doing a good job. Google is not going away suddenly if you’re behaving and you’re not tricking Google, your traffic won’t go away suddenly either.
Louis: And it levels the playing field. It’s like even websites and companies that don’t have necessarily a lot of money can compete against giants if they manage to serve the internet better in some ways.
Eli: Absolutely. And I think a myth is that you can’t compete against Amazon, and I think there are many, many categories where you can compete against Amazon. I was writing a blog post about categories where you can compete against Amazon, I happened to stumble upon the costumes category. There are so many costumes websites that are ranked well ahead of Amazon because they’ve been around forever, they have great offerings, they get a lot of links. People click through and they stay at the top of the results and nothing Amazon will do will be able to unseat them. And there are categories that Amazon is just not in yet.
Eli: So say the entire CBD category. Amazon doesn’t sell those products yet. Whoever is first to build that great Amazon esque experience, they can out rank Amazon. So Amazon will not own all of eCommerce. You can always compete against Amazon. They’re all always going to have deeper pockets than any small, eCommerce website for sure. They have deeper pockets than most big eCommerce websites. But nobody owns anything. If you do a good job and you satisfy users and you follow the right best practices, the playing field is level.
Louis: Right. So I think we’ve talked about the problem that people face quite well. What I want to do with you today, based on your knowledge of SEO and your experience with it, is really trying to teach people listening to this right now to be prepared for the future, and to take steps that will still be relevant in one, five, 10 years even or even more, using SEO as one of the mechanism to do so.
Louis: So, I want to ask you, what are the long term principles that folks can focus on right now that are very likely to still be true in five, 10 years?
Eli: The biggest thing really is like I said, voice is going to be huge and when voice happens, we’re going to get more specific search. So, be as specific as possible for your users. Don’t be as general like … Right now in SEO there’s this issue where we go after keywords. This keyword has 50,000 people a month searching for it. This one has 1,000, I should focus all my efforts on the 50,000. Everyone’s competing for the same 50,000.
Eli: If we’re satisfying a specific customer, build for that specific customer, because eventually search will be as personal as possible based on queries, Google can say, based on what you’ve just asked me for, I know you want exactly this. So just like any other marketing channel, build for those users. Google may not be able to figure out yet who exactly, who those users are. Those users might not know even know who those users are, but eventually that match will happen.
Eli: Where, if you think about it, I travel a lot, whenever I travel to interesting places, there’s always that tourist street where you walk by the restaurants and people are standing in front of the restaurants trying to hustle you in for food. It’s like, “Will you come in, I have Mexican food, here’s French food, here’s Italian food.” Not everyone’s hungry, not everyone wants that particular food. And I always think that’s not a great way of selling. You’re selling something to somebody that doesn’t want it. If they want it, they’ll come in.
Louis: Right. Okay. So let’s dive into this first principle, to be specific. How do you go from using, like knowing that yes, you need to be specific to actually picking specific topics, specific blog posts, knowing that this is specific enough for your niche.
Eli: Yeah, so it comes back to, again, general marketing. Don’t be lazy. So, you’re doing persona research. There was just a client I was working with that was a legal client, they’re building a legal content experience. They’re only targeting smaller companies. Know who those users are. Don’t write general legal content. You know who the users are, you sell. So it’s basic persona research, it’s basic customer research.
Eli: Who are the people most likely to buy from me and what do I need to tell them? So when I do this with any of my clients, it’s really talking to the frontline people. It’s talking to the salespeople, it’s talking to the customer success people. What are the things that people tell you just before they buy? What are the things that people tell you that makes them want to go to your competitors?
Eli: And that’s what we’re writing content on. And those are the people that when they find you on search, now or five years from now, those are the people that are going to convert. It’s not just about clicks and traffic and page views, especially if you’re selling products. It’s about selling to users. So it doesn’t matter how much traffic you have, if you can’t sell anybody. You want to have a conversion rate of 99% and it doesn’t really matter, all that other 1% and how big that bucket of traffic is, that doesn’t convert.
Louis: So, when you start with new clients, this is usually the step one. You try to understand who are the there clients in the first place. So you mentioned talking to sales, talking to success, what specific questions you’d like to ask them? You mentioned a few pointers, but how do you usually like to organize these conversations? What type of question do you like to ask them?
Eli: Yeah, I find that everyone likes to simplify their own jobs. So, if you just understand people’s jobs, they tell you all their secrets. So, I was just, again, working with another client, they told me that their salespeople, well actually, there’s a customer success people have a hard time with clients where they keep asking the same thing.
Eli: So their customer success people tried to make their own jobs easier and they made an FAQ. So they’re just … It’s not on the website, it’s nowhere. It just standard responses. I get an email, “Hey, how do I do this with your product?” FAQ. They just send them the answer. That’s the kind of content you want to put online. So now no one has to go and email customer success, they Google it and they find it.
Eli: So sitting with the customer success people, sitting with the salespeople saying, explain to me your job. I don’t want to ask you questions. I have plenty of questions, I’ll ask questions later, but show me what you do. So salespeople will have, here’s my list of objections and I’m telling you why the competition is worse. Let me see that. Explain it to me, sell it to me, and then I can say, that’s great.
Eli: This is a very useful tip for anybody that has not done this before, but make a versus page, A versus B, whatever your competitors are. Because people are searching that. Before they buy, they want to know why you are better than your competition or why your competition might be better than you and they’ll go to your competition.
Eli: So, if you’re a marketer, you’re doing a bunch of research and you’re talking to the product people and you’re lining features. If you’re a sales person, they know when they’re on the phone and they say to like, “Oh, our websites is SSL,” or “Our website has this level of encryption for credit cards.” If the customer doesn’t care, they won’t tell them. They only have a little bit of time to sell the customer.
Eli: Find out from the sales people what are the things that they include in the pitch. That’s what you want to put on the verses page, the people and talking on the phone, the people meeting with the sales people in person, those the same people that are searching and trying to sell themselves.
Eli: So that’s where I like to let them guide the conversation and they ask the following questions, why you include that in your pitch? What have you heard from customers that make you want to include that in the pitch? Why do you not include this feature that took product 18 months to build? So, they have so many great insights and I just allow them to come out.
Louis: And then, so while you had those conversations, do you record the conversation? Do you take notes? How do you record all of this?
Eli: I’m fairly disorganized, so I love when they recap the conversation so I can remember everything. But I don’t take notes or record it, because I like the conversation to just flow.
Louis: So let’s say you had, okay, you’ve talked to sales, you’ve talked to success. You said one of the biggest question that people ask before starting to buy is, are they secure, something like that. Whatever the tool you’re selling or whatever, all right, just to take a random example. But you took a bit of a dig at keyword research tool, I feel, which is interesting. I’ve never heard this point of view before.
Louis: But like, do you then take this question type of keyword and then input it in the keyword research tool, like Ahref or Moz, to look at whether people search for it, or do you actually just straight away put that in a spreadsheet in the list of this is … We need to write about this, we need to write about that. How do you go from doubts, those conversations to publishing something?
Eli: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say when it comes to key word research and working with my clients, I don’t use, I don’t like some Ahrefs is my favorite tool when it comes to data and numbers. If you have a large enough ads account, Google Ads account, you can get some decent numbers from Google. But if you don’t, they normalize it and they say, Oh, between 100 to 1,000,000 search us, that’s not very helpful.
Eli: So, if it’s a keyword or if it’s intent that you have to have on your website. So say, my client, just throw a company on there, say my client is Intel and everyone wants to know why Intel is better than AMD. So, it doesn’t matter if only 10 people a month search Intel versus AMD or why is Intel better than AMD? That’s content that I need to have.
Eli: I’m prioritizing that for sales because all 10 people that are searching, is Intel better than IMD, are likely far enough in the sales funnel than I need to answer that question, and I don’t want them to answer themselves and I don’t want AMD to answer that question. So I put that at the top of the pot. I understand from sales, what are the things we need to have in order to sell. So keyword research aside, that’s what I do.
Eli: Once I’m done with all those topics, and again, a great way of knowing all this topics is talking to sales. What are the questions they need to answer and content I don’t have, then I move to keyword research. What are the things that let me lean back in my chair and as a marketer try to figure out what would users want to know? And here’s the topics they want. What might users be looking for in this general category? Create that content. But way before that I’m doing what are the things I need to have.
Louis: And, I don’t want to use too many buzzwords, but it sounds like it’s direct response marketing. In a sense that you write about something that is really, really close to people who are actually looking for your product already and you just require a response from them. They contact sales or whatever. And that’s probably a good lesson for anyone listening right now, is about the not going too far into the branding and then writing content for everyone, or like … And all of that.
Louis: You have a bucket of people, a percentage of people who are actually actively looking for your tool or your service right now. And you might be missing out because you don’t actually don’t write about what they are searching for or you don’t answer their query. So you would start with the low hanging fruit in a sense, with this kind of direct response type of topic and that you know are being searched or at least is in the head of people because they are actually actively asking those questions to sales and to success, right?
Eli: Exactly. Exactly. And if you think about it, there are questions that people ask and you go on Google and there’s all … It says people also ask or related questions and Ahrefs will tell you some of those things. So answer those questions, find out the questions that your users are asking and answer those questions, and you will get direct response from that.
Louis: So, that’s really about your first principle about specificity. So am I right in assuming that you can be very specific when the topics are already close to the sale, and to the bottom of the funnel, or can also be very, very specific for topics that are not necessarily directly related to people actively looking to buy your stuff?
Eli: It depends on the product. I started, early on my SEO career, I worked in media, and in media you just want people to read and you want them to spend more time on your website so you can get more pages. So, everything really depends. In that case, I was creating content that I just wanted to rank as high as possible and get random users and try to capture those users so they spawn more pages.
Eli: So, there’s no one size fits all way of creating content for SEO. You are correct, this direct response works better for selling products. Even works better for selling products that have a long sales funnel. Where people come in, you want them to watch a webinar or that’s a direct response and later on salespeople are going to get on the phone and try to close that deal.
Louis: And it sounds like this is your go to tactic when starting with new clients, right?
Eli: Mostly yes. So, I don’t think you can do SEO ever in a back end. When you’re doing SEO, you really need to understand not just the search space but the user space. What do the users want? I show this all the time. There’s so many different queries where you think they’re high value and you think they’re competitive and they’re not. So for example, when I was just researching for a presentation I’m doing, looking for San Francisco massage, seems like a reasonably high value query. Anybody looking for San Francisco massage is looking to get a massage in San Francisco.
Eli: Of the top 10 ranking results, none of the websites followed SEO best practices. The website that was ranking number six had less than a one domain authority on Ahrefs. So, if we think that if for anybody who doesn’t know domain authority, it’s basically a scale of zero to 100, one, less that one is not at all close to 100. So, but they’re ranking on the top 10 results for San Francisco massage and this is a local massage place.
Eli: So, it really depends on the space. If I were creating a new massage website, knowing that, knowing that I don’t necessarily need links, knowing that the content can be pretty terrible because most of the content on these websites is terrible. It’s a lot easier to compete. If I had a client coming through that wanted help with that, I could say let’s just build a great website, a great experience and do some general marketing, and I think we’ll make the top 10. Now if I were competing against Amazon selling a new product, it would be a lot harder. I still think it’s possible, but you really have to understand the space.
Eli: And then, understanding again the user. So I might rank number six on San Francisco massage and their websites a Groupon was great example, the ranking on that website, but all their content was about hair salons. Are they going to convert users to massages from hair salon content? Probably not. So it’s a marriage of the two, marriage of understanding the user and understanding the full search space.
Louis: All right, okay. So, we talked about the specificity as one first principle. Again, something that of you’re listening to right now you know that you can go ahead and write and produce some specific content that will work specifically for this specific particular problem, this particular persona and whatnot. And we are fairly certain that in five years or 10 years this is going to be even more relevant than today.
Eli: Absolutely. Again, thinking about how right now you search and you get 10 possible answers, that’s imperfect. And it used to be that when you searched, you got 10 possible answers and those answers are usually bad and then you got better answers. So eventually we’re going to get to a point, and there are search results, for example, local, where you see local, you see a map first because Google is determined that you’re looking for a specific place and they put the actual results lower.
Eli: So we are most definitely going to get to a point where search will be very tailored. They talk about searching cars. Why is Google doing autonomous cars? Why do they have Waymo in autonomous car division? Because they believe that when you don’t have to drive, you’ll search and use Google products more. How can you possibly search and get 10 possible answers and actually go to websites? Are you going to browse websites from your car?
Eli: Or, right now, people are … You can have Google assistant in your car or I think, you could possibly have Alexa in your car. That’s not very safe if you’re getting 10 possible results. So, we are going to get to a point where we can get one possible result, or one result with a clarification, where a Google could say, I thought you meant this, I’m telling you this, but let me know if that’s not the case. And you can already do that in a Google assistant where you can have follow on questions. You can say what’s the weather today? And then Google will tell you and then say, well how about tomorrow? You don’t actually have to say what is the weather tomorrow.
Louis: Right. Okay. So thanks for going through this first one. So if you had to pick a second one, another principle, another topic or aspect that we are fairly certain that in five, 10 years are still going to be very relevant or even more relevant than today, what would it be really related to SEO and search in general?
Eli: I’d say that, what really hasn’t taken off is image search, using actual live images. And you can do this already today. And for those of you that have an Android phone, you may have noticed there’s an app on your phone that it’s called the Google lens. If you don’t have Google lens on your phone already download it. It’s a really cool feature. So in the latest phones, I think it’s included in the cameras.
Eli: So I use this feature when I see a strange bug on my house and I get scared that it’s a termite. So I take a picture with Google lens and then Google will search Google and find me and tell me what that bug is. So there are two ways you can go about finding that thing. You can describe the bug, this is a bug with fat wings and a long neck, and then Google will have to find a webpage that someone used that content.
Eli: And you actually don’t need to have this specifics. You could say, here’s a bug with a stretched out neck and they know that stretched out, long are the same thing. Or, again as long as someone has written about it. But if no one has written about it, they won’t find it. But the really cool feature is, when you have this picture and Google can recognize that picture and compare it to other pictures in other websites.
Eli: So, that’s where I think search will go in the future. And that’s also the creepy part of search, where companies and governments are already doing this, where they’re doing facial recognition and they’re doing license plate recognition and they’re doing OCR recognition where they see a piece of content and they don’t need to scan it, but they just need to recognize it and see where it matches. So that’s where I think search goes in the future.
Eli: And, we’re all walking around … I think that probably many people thought that in 2019 and 2020, we’d all have GoPro like devices on our heads and we’d just be recording our lives. We’re not there yet, but I think someday we will like. Think about how many cars have dashboard cameras. All those dashboard cameras may be feeding into a database where now it’s doing license plate recognition. It’s recognizing people jaywalking. It’s recognizing people going through red lights. So search will be the same thing where you’re just, instead of describing something, you’re using a camera to find what you’re looking for.
Louis: And again, it goes back to the principle of making it easier to search. It’s actually take way more time to go to Google and describe the bug you just saw on the wall than just take a picture and searching for it. It goes back to what you discussed before, making it easier. There surely are like thousands of way, millions of ways to make it easier if you use images instead of text.
Louis: So, tell me more about if, like folks listening to this right now, what can they do to prepare for that? Because that sounds almost like a dystopian future, but how can you prepare for it using images better? What can you do?
Eli: So, it sounds like a dystopian feature, but I think if you think back 10 years ago there was an app that many people used on their pones called Shazam. You remember Shazam?
Louis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eli: So, Shazam for those that are too young to remember, is an app that it would listen to songs and it would tell you what the song is. So we’ve gone further in the future, so the way a app like Shazam worked, is you loaded all the songs into a database and you categorize them and then it recognized when people said something or when a song came out. Fast forward a little bit, then we have voice search.
Eli: So voice search is you load a bunch of things into a database and now you try a bunch of synonyms and then use artificial learning on top of it and people say stuff and then you try to distill what they’ve said into words and into query, into textual query.
Eli: Image search is going to be the same thing. So we’re going to recognize something and it’s going to be this massive database and matching images again to intent. Me taking pictures of a bug, Google’s just going to say here’s another bug. But Google might, we have to translate that into a point of like I’m trying to identify that. I want to know I take a picture of pizza and I just want to know where to buy pizza.
Eli: So, I just think preparing for this future, and again, it’s not really that far off into the future, is doing the same good things for search. When people take a picture of pizza, what are they looking for? Why would I have pizza on my website and how would I marry that together? And again, I don’t know how Google is going to use that kind of local search of, take a picture of a banana to know that I want breakfast. But again, creating great experiences and putting ourselves in the shoes of a user instead of putting ourselves in the shoes of the marketer.
Louis: Yeah, so again, if you’re not searching for recipes, like producing your own images of your own recipe, like good quality images, good quality, visual, good quality video of said recipe, making sure that you answer what people are actually looking for is really what you want to get to. And so again, if you go back to the first principle of really understanding your user and stop thinking you’re a market marketer, interviewing them, interviewing sales, success, you will understand that that’s what people are looking for.
Louis: So if you naturally do that, it sounds like you’ll be okay and there will be new tools in the future to prepare for that better and to say your visuals are not really good for visual search. Maybe you need to make them brighter, whatever the fuck. But at least if you see focus on users and what they’re actually looking for, answering them via text, video, images, it sounds like you’re okay.
Eli: Yeah. Again, this is the same thing you’re doing in any marketing. You want to market to the user, and I think that the biggest problem there is in SEO is that too much of the guides, and too much of the conversation is around how do you market to Google? How do you trick Google? And then there’s a lot of disappointment when a Google algorithm update comes out and people are caught. They’ve lost traffic to the algorithm.
Eli: What’s Google trying to do? Google is trying to create a great experience for their users so their users continue to search and hopefully click ads and make them a lot of money and use other Google tools. But ultimately Google is trying to get to a place where they understand exactly what a user wants. That’s what their AI is. They want to mimic a user and understand what a user wants. So that’s what we need to create.
Eli: Instead of tricking Google, we need to create exactly what the user wants because that’s where Google is going. They’re not perfect now. It’s a lot easier to trick Google than it will be in the future. We can, let’s say links, links are important part of the algorithm because links or some sort of vote of whether a piece of content is valuable. So rather than go through all the effort of getting someone to link to you naturally, you pay someone. So you’ve tried Google and now you get a great link in media.
Eli: For now you can trick Google. In the future, Google will be able to read a piece of content and say, well, that author is talking about a product they haven’t necessarily linked to it, I get that they’re voting for that product and they’re saying that’s relevant. Or they ca say this author always talks about agriculture and they’re suddenly talking about cryptocurrency. There’s a mismatch here, I’m going to disregard this entire piece of content.
Eli: So, if a human could do it, if right now I could say, I love reading again, I love reading this author and suddenly you’re talking about cryptocurrency, I’m going to disregard. I feel like this is sponsored and that no one’s told me. Google eventually will have that AI or they may already have that AI to know just that.
Louis: You know what, I’m super happy you mentioned that Eli, because that’s probably my biggest pet peeve, that’s what annoys me the most in SEO in particular, is this over reliance on data numbers and focusing so much on Google that you forget the people actually searching for things. In fact, really easy I think when you do SEO and start start into this field of understanding what people search, you can spend your day looking at spreadsheets.
Louis: You can spend your day looking at spreadsheets and then overly focusing on the latest Google algorithm updates and all this shit. And you will lose the plot, you will get anxious, you will burn out because it’s just a never ending stream of new shit and new features, and new algorithm update and new that and new numbers, like you can get lost. And this is what we are trying to say in this podcast quite a lot, is you need to focus on things that will not change. And people are not going to change even though you might think so, and people are trying to tell you that, they are not. Our DNA evolution has made us the way we are today. It’s going to take thousands, tens of thousands of years to have even the slightest change in our psyche. Technology changes but not people. So, what I’m trying to say with this ranch is pretty much concurring what you said, and focusing back on the user, what they’re actually looking for and you will be fine. Don’t worry so much on this the latest updates and all that, because it’s always going to change.
Eli: Yeah. And I just want to go back to something that I did early, early in my SEO career and that got me excited about SEO is, I built a website and this is way back in the day when you got everything from Google, and I had access to my logs. So I didn’t even know about Google Analytics. I don’t think Google had bought Google Analytics yet, and I had access to my logs and I was able to see my search query. So I made this website. It was actually on the topic of mesothelioma, which is like as best as lung cancer because I figured out put AdSense on it, I’ll get rich.
Eli: Not the case., everyone has the same idea. But I looked at the search queries coming in from Google and I had two responses to that. One is Holy crap, people are so stupid because the way they misspelled things, the way they looked for things. And the second is like I can read their minds. People would write whole sentences. So, fast forward to, I don’t know, is it like 2009/8 something like that, Google took away all the search queries, you couldn’t get that data anymore, and you couldn’t see it in Google Analytics. And I built so much content based on exactly what users wanted. Then you had to move over to search tools, and then you had use things like Google Trends. Now, my favorite tool is Google Search Console because again, you’re getting that data back. I don’t really care if a specific user like what the specific user searched or whether they convert or not. I just love that data that comes from Google Search Console. Like here’s what users are actually searching. I know for my own website, which doesn’t get a lot of traffic, I still, it’s interesting to see, Hey, I ranked number 70 on this term. There’re so many people and I get so many impressions, even in ranking number 70, this must be a high value term I should invest more money in. So, I love getting into the minds of the users and when using a search keyword tool that’s trying to pull out data, even a Google Ads tool that trying to pull out data, you’re not getting to the minds of your user, you’re not understanding what people are actually typing. And those mistypes and misspells and all those things are just so amazing for understanding how bad your brand might be. And if you have enough traffic, you’ll see why are people misspell your brand so much. Are you doing a bad job of that? If you have two words in your brand, do they know where they put a space in or not? So love getting to the minds of the users from that.
Louis: It’s exactly what I say most of the time, a series about ready reading people’s mind. That’s the best window you can have in people’s mind, what they’re actually searching for. And to go back to what you said about long search queries, my wife for example, does that. And I’m always amazed, I look at what she searches when I can. Obviously I’m not spying on her, I’m just saying when she searches something, sometimes it’s so specific. She would like, wedding services near Dublin that are not too expensive. This kind of super long queries and she expect to find the answer, obviously why wouldn’t Google answer this query this way. But because she doesn’t have the understanding of how Google works and how you can gain it still and all of that, she expects the best answer based on our own situation. I think that’s what, outside of the bubble of SEO and marketing, that’s what people think. And if again, if you access this information and take the time to read it using, for example, Google Search Console is probably the best way to find what people are actually searching for, you just get mindblowingly, and overwhelmingly amount of information that you can really use for a lot of things.
Eli: Absolutely. And again, I love seeing people that aren’t marketers running … Do Google queries because these are real people. This is what you’re targeting, no one’s actually writing in the exact spelling that the search keyword tool will tell you. They’re writing those really long queries. And by the way, the queries will just keep getting longer as people do them into voice, because they feel like they’re talking to our friend. They’re saying, Hey Siri, Hey Alexa, Google, can you help me do this? And the thing is, this is another thing you’ll notice in search with your doing keyword research, is queries are beginning with how, what, where as if you need that. And sometimes Google cuts that off when you say, what do I need to wear today? Google’s just like, you just want to know the weather. But where those, sometimes people actually do search for those questions and create content with those questions. And then I just think it’s really cool that that is helping tell the story around intent.
Louis: Right. So we talked about specificity, we talked about visual, we talked about focusing on what people are actually searching for, and thinking that SEO is about reading people’s mind, not just gaming an algorithm and focusing on numbers. What third principle would you focus on, you think, in the next two, five, 10 years, what people can rely on that will se the relevance?
Eli: I think it’s architecture. I think that, this … And we talked, again, a lot about the users, and I think where SEO comes in is you’re marrying marketing with product. So you want to build that website. SEO is not about having one page in one piece of content. It’s what’s the website experience we need and how do we build that from the ground up. And any times I work with clients where they suddenly want SEO traffic and the entire website has not been built for SEO. They need to build something different. So I think that will always be the case. Google is always going to use a crawler. They’re always going to want to understand websites in the taxonomy of websites. So, using the proper technology, using hosting that’s reasonably fast, understanding where your users are located. So if your users are located in another continent that you can have your content actually load faster for them, whether it’s just using AWS or another kind of tool. Really building out a website where everything interlinked to each other and there’s no islands of content. Very basic principles, but in reality, once a website is, or once a company is large, very hard to dial that back. So as you build out that product, follow SEO best practices. Like I said earlier, probably not using too much scripting and then basic, basic taxonomy to link everything together.
Louis: So, one thing I’m thinking about straightaway when you talk about this is, if SEO is really about the user, at the end of the day, that’s what it is, answering their intent. And if you need to build website twice a year, then therefore you need to be website for users. What I would translate, what I would think about what you just said is really that at the end of the day, if you really build a website that is built for the user, like when you really think of them and what they search for, the type of things they’re looking for, how they navigate and whatever, there is a good chance that Google will be like that.
Eli: Yeah, so there’s reality and ideal. The ideal is Google wants to be just like user. The reality is Google’s a robot. So, there’s certain things the robot can do, and many times this robot is limited by cost. So Google, every time they crawl a website, they’re investing their resources into a website. So, if you have complicated scripts that take a long time to load, they might say your website is not worth that time. Your website’s not worth our computing resources to crawl you every day. So, the reality is that as much as they say they can process scripts and they do process scripts, they may not do it in a way that helps them understand the website. The reality is, is that as much as they say, though you want to create great experiences for users, if your websites to photo heavy and it doesn’t match, again, we talked about visual search in the future, visual search is complicated because the photos have to match. So if you somehow mess with the images and the shapes are not exactly the same, it suddenly doesn’t match. So you don’t want to have a website that’s full of photos. Maybe in the future you can. So it’s really following the best practices Google outlines on how their robot can understand your website.
Louis: Right, so it’s the intersection of what actual users are searching for and also what Google is still doing and how they read your website. So, thanks for going through that. I think those three principles are quite helpful to focus on in the future. I’m curious about one thing, because you have, as I said in the beginning, extensive experience, extensive experience in SEO in particular, in house as a consultant. What’s the biggest fuck up in your SEO career so far? What is the one thing that you’ve done that you just regret or you failed miserably at and learned from?
Eli: So, the most interesting one I did was, when I was at SurveyMonkey, we believed that we should build international domains. We should create a .co.uk, we should create, a .com.au, a .ca, because that’s what Google advised at the time. And then we invested in it, and many companies do the same thing, and TripAdvisor has a domain for every country. So we did it, and then by the time we actually had it live, we discovered that it probably didn’t matter, and the websites were outranking each other in the locations we wanted to. .co.uk was ranking in the US and .com was ranking in the UK. And the reason is, is, and this time taught me an important principle about what Google is trying to do, is that Google doesn’t really care about TLDs because users don’t care about TLDs. You’re in Ireland, do you really care whether it contents coming from .co.uk, if it’s good? Do you care if it’s coming .com, do you care if it’s coming from .ie? So Google is trying to mimic what the users are doing. So if they determined that the .co.uk, even though it’s duplicate of a .com provides better content or it’s more links than that’s what they’re going to show. So, to me that was interesting that when I discovered that, it didn’t align with the advice Google was giving and they don’t necessarily give that advice anymore, to use TLDs. They’ve normalized the whole role. The other thing is that at the time we did it, mobile wasn’t as big, and now we live in a mobile first world. So, you don’t even see the TLD on search. You search and you don’t see the actual website, you just see content on search. So those things don’t matter, and that was an expensive, expensive mistake.
Louis: And surely that contradicts a bit what you just said about still looking at Google best practices. Because it seems like that’s what the user didn’t give a shit about yet Google cares about and you kind of went for-
Louis: What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Eli: I think marketers need to understand sales. So salespeople, really, they … Successful salespeople know how to understand users. They know how to speak to users. Marketers, we want to create something that we think is beautiful. We want to create something that we know will sell. Salespeople don’t use something that’s not effective more than two times. They try a pitch, people hang up on them, they try a pitch, doesn’t close, they know they have to make changes.
Eli: Marketers, we spend six months building the most perfect visual graphic. We create the most beautiful website and just fails and then we blame it on, I don’t know, we have product market fit and the users just don’t understand it. So I think marketers need to try doing sales and they’ll understand, how does marketing help sell, because that’s what marketing should do. Marketing isn’t a means to an end. Marketing is the pathway to close the deal.
Louis: I think it’s the first time I’m hearing this answer to this question. So thanks for saying it. It’s a nice perspective and I completely agree with you. I guess a good way as a marketer, if you can’t sell directly to really get empathy is to just interview customers and just get a sense on who they are. And I do that regularly, and what happens then is I have memories and flashbacks or certain customers, their faces and how they reacted to certain things and the way they talked, and I know then when I write something, when I write copy or when I try to like come up with the new idea, whatever, I can picture this person and say, you know what, this guy or this girl, she’s going to fucking hate this. Let’s just scrap it and go back to basics.
Louis: So, even if you can’t directly sell, at least having this empathy towards customer and visualizing who they are instead of just, you know those personas in PowerPoint, we’d like that means nothing, you’re already one step there. But I would say what you said about sales is one step further, which is really about testing the message, seeing straightaway the feedback, improving it as you go. It’s also a fantastic way to learn, so thanks for that.
Louis: What are the top three resources you’d recommend listeners today? So it could be anything from books, podcasts, conferences, whatever.
Eli: So the number one thing I think that users need to do, it’s a path and it’s a process, not just a resource, is build your own website and set up the Google Search Console. That it may take a long time, but it gives you a window into the world of SEO. You understand where you’re ranking. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ranking number one. You start getting that data and you start learning and you makes you curious, Oh, this is what people are searching. What if I did something else? This is what my click through rate is. What if I did this and improve the click through rate, I get more traffic. So that’s number one. Build a website, Google Search Console, start getting that data.
Eli: Number two is one of the best business books I’ve ever read is by Robert Cialdini called Influence. So, I think he was a psychology professor, not a marketing professor, and he’s teaching how not to get sold by people, and it’s an amazing book on how people work. So if you want to create marketing content, understand how people work from a academic perspective.
Eli: And the third isn’t any specific conference, but it’s that idea of going to conferences. I meet too many people that, and I interview too many people for jobs even that didn’t go to conferences. So they’re in their own thought bubble. And I try to go to as many conferences and networking events as possible to get out of my own thought bubble and to build that network, and to have people I can reach out to and say, “Hey, do you see this working?” Or even to be friends with them on Facebook and they share their own things, and then I can get ideas from them.
Eli: So, if you’re not going to conferences, you’re not meeting people outside your own bubble of your workplace or where you live.
Louis: Eli, you’ve been a pleasure to talk, I really enjoy your process and your strategic overview, what SEO is, and what it’s going to in the future and also the tactical side of things. So I think listeners learned a lot from you today. Where can they connect with you, learn more from you, perhaps email you, if they have questions, contact you?
Eli: So I have a website, elischwartz.co, not ranking number one on Google because LinkedIn outranks me, so you can find me there. Or you can find me on LinkedIn and happy to add any connections or answer any questions people have.
Louis: Brilliant. Thanks so much.
Eli: Thank you, Louis.