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Winter is coming in SEO: this is how you survive the cold front


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Some of you don’t see it yet, others feel the cold but close their eyes. So I come to tell you: winter is coming in the SEO world! A difficult time is coming, full of threats. Doing nothing, or continuing with traditional SEO, means your downfall. That is why in this article I point out to you the impending threat and I describe how you will stand your ground in the harsh time that is to come.

Google breaks the symbiosis

“I’m going to shock you with terrible news.” This was the first sentence that SEO guru Rand Fishkin uttered when he entered the stage at YoastCon 2019 , where I was allowed to be present.

What is going on? Since the founding of Google in 1998, marketers and content writers have been living in a symbiosis with Google. We live together and need each other to survive.

Google needs us

If you think about it, we do an important part of Google’s work without getting paid for it. Google wants to organize all information in the world and make it universally accessible and usable . They need our in-depth content.

We need Google

But we can’t live without Google either. Without a good search engine, the web is an unkindly large and unstructured place where you can compare finding the right information with looking for a pin in a haystack.

Pretty nice such a symbiosis, until …

A symbiosis is actually a wonderful thing. Two “life forms” work together in a special way to survive. How beautiful life is! Yes, until the host decides to eat the symbiont …

A condition for symbiosis is balance. As soon as the balance is affected, viability is at risk . And that is exactly what is happening now! Recent developments reveal this painfully.

For the first time in history, Google is sending less traffic to our websites

SEO & SEA: certified expert in 5 days

Pay attention to marketers and communication specialists! Do you want to make your website easier to find? Follow a courseKnowing more?Since the establishment of Google, we have received more traffic from the search engine every year. Until suddenly the turning point came last year. Google answers more and more search questions in the search engine itself. The user literally no longer has to click through to a third-party website to find answers to questions. And the worst of all? Google does this more often through the Knowledge Graph where the original source does not even get the credits or a referral (read: a link).

Don’t confuse the Knowledge Graph with featured snippets . With a featured snippet there is also an answer box, but the source does get the credits and a link. Since 2017, however, we have seen a trend in which the Knowledge Graph is rapidly replacing the featured snippets .

How bad is it?

You may wonder how bad it is. On desktop, 30% of users no longer click to a website. One in three people no longer leaves the search engine to retrieve more information on a third-party website. On the mobile however is where it gets really scary! 54.4% of all mobile users no longer click through to a website from the search engine. In 2016 this was “only” 45% (figures are from the Rand Fishkin presentation, ed.).

Rand Fishkin at YoastCon 2019: “The Scary Part”

Good for the user right?

Now many people say that this development is good for the user. After all, he / she gets answers to his / her questions as efficiently as possible, right? Wrong! Here, Google is slowly but surely removing the motivation for creative people to invest time and energy in creating excellent content. From my own experience I can tell you that producing good, unique and valuable content is a big challenge.

If this trend continues then this will not improve the quality of information and that is of course a shame. And then there is the question whether the answer that Google gives is correct. More about this later.

The transformation from search engine to answer machine

What we see happening is that the search engine is shifting to an answering machine for the first time in history. The biggest difference? A search engine offers the user choices. Someone searches for something and gets 10 answers in return, with Google actually saying: “We think these options meet your question. Take a look at these websites and you will hopefully find what you are looking for. ”

The answer machine does not do this. There is no choice, or the choice is not obvious. Only one dominant answer is given and it is presented as the source of truth.

The search engine is shifting to an answering machine for the first time in history.

The search engine is shifting to an answering machine for the first time in history.

Rand Fishkin emphasizes this with examples of the mobile search results pages, where the user has to scroll immensely long to arrive at choices (read: websites). The Knowledge Graph dominates the screen. No wonder 54.4% don’t click anymore. It is made extremely difficult. Google on your smartphone but once on Luke Cage .

And then there is voice search . On mobile devices, but also increasingly in the living room via smart speakers, or built into modern cars. With voice search it is even more unlikely that the user will end up on a website or that the original source will get the credits it deserves.

On the verge of ethics

Another speaker that got me thinking was Wolfgang Blau , president of one of the world’s largest media companies: Condé Nast. He is first of all concerned about the fact that there are no institutions in search that guarantee quality. He openly wonders: should we actually allow Google to control such an important part of our common memory?

It is almost unthinkable that our society can be lost, just like, for example, that of the ancient Egyptians. But imagine the online world without search engines. What knowledge do you still find? Should guaranteeing this knowledge be in the hands of commercial companies such as Google?

A shocking fact is that last year Google in Europe had to pay a higher amount in fines (for, among other things, abuse of their monopoly position) than it paid taxes!

Imagine the online world without search engines. What knowledge do you still find? Should guaranteeing this knowledge be in the hands of commercial companies such as Google?

On the verge of being able

According to Joost de Valk (founder of Yoast), search engines are still pretty stupid. They need help to understand what texts are really about. For example, help with specially formatted data according to the guidelines of schema.org . 

If you apply this structured data to your website, Google will know exactly where the text passes. However, only a small part of the websites uses this because it is a pain in the * ss to apply (Yoast is working on a solution for this, incidentally. At least for WordPress).

That brings me to the next question: if search engines transform into answering machines, do they always know the right answers to questions in this time of fake news ?

In presenting ten websites with possible answers, it is clear to the user that the search engine does not hold the wisdom. But I fear that by giving one answer, the user blindly assumes that the truth will be presented to him / her.

For example, gossip websites produce a lot of fresh content with a high commitment. People simply enjoy it. The result? A high domain authority in the eyes of Google and therefore also a lot of power in the field of SEO. The EAT principle of Google will hopefully settle this, but I hold my heart!

What do we do now?

Ok, so far the doom scenario: Google ignores the only golden unwritten rule with us content writers. We no longer receive the credits we earn and users no longer have a choice. And all while the search engine is actually relatively stupid.

Ouch , now that I read this back, it makes me almost depressed as an SEO enthusiast. Now the question remains of course: what do we do with this fact? Fortunately there were plenty of prominent speakers with inspiring stories at YoastCon. Below you will find the advice that I remembered most in two full days of YoastCon.

Holistic SEO

Yoast advocates holistic SEO. That may sound a bit floating, but it really isn’t. It means that everything is interrelated in SEO. All the ingredients of good SEO, such as excellent content and website authority, are interrelated and cannot exist in a vacuum.

SEO should also not be an isolated fact. It is an indispensable part of a larger whole. So good SEO is never possible without good content marketing (or copywriting). And in turn, good content marketing is never possible without a clear positioning or marketing strategy.

The tips and advice from the other speakers at YoastCon confirm this. In fact, in many ways this SEO event was not even an SEO event! So don’t be surprised if the following advice does not fit in with traditional SEO.

Take the check yourself

The expectation is that the trend will continue and that Google will send less and less traffic to our websites in the coming years. One way to deal with this is not to bet on a horse. Social media, you might think? When it comes to attracting traffic to your website, this unfortunately does not appear to be a winning horse.

Just like Google, social media platforms benefit greatly from keeping you on their platform for as long as possible. Then the chance that you interact with their advertisements increases ( cha-ching !). 

That’s why you see exactly the same thing happening on social as with Google: the platforms send less and less traffic to our websites. For example, Instagram has never made linking to external content possible. And Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn penalize posts with external links by showing them much less often in the feeds.

Email & a strong brand

Rand Fishkin’s advice is therefore to take control yourself. Build followers of your own brand and website. Ten new e-mail addresses with conscious opt-in are worth more than 10,000 followers on social media. 

Because people who follow you directly are people who really care about your company. If you get this advice from someone who has grown up with SEO and has defended Google for a long time, then you know what time it is.

Jono Alderson supplements Rand during the panel discussion: your brand is everything! Everything on which Google determines quality, such as content quality and authority, has a direct relationship with having a strong brand.

Focus on click volume

Fortunately, Rand also had advice in the field of SEO: in search engine optimization, focus primarily on click volume instead of search volume. So bet on keywords with a lower search volume, but with a higher CTR. Not entirely coincidentally, the Moz Keyword Explorer has a special statistic for this, namely organic CTR . 

This statistic shows an estimate of how many percent of the total clicks will go to organic search results. The software naturally includes how the SERP is structured. How many ads Google shows, for example, and you guessed it: how many other SERP features such as the Knowledge Graph.

Love your users

Anyone who cares about the customer and her needs lays a very solid foundation for growth. Els Aerts (co-founder of AGConsult) makes a plea for user research. Bottom line : without research you can guess. Best practices are anything but a guarantee of success. Take the trouble to investigate what works for your website, products and target group. What works on one website does not always work on the other.

There are two forms of research: quantitative research and qualitative research. In quantitative research, the strength lies in the numbers. The risk behind this form of research is that you forget the person behind the research. 

With qualitative research you talk directly with your target group. This can be confronting, but this is good. If you feel their pain, then you are more motivated to take it away!

Additional benefit? Qualitative research is a goldmine for copywriters, because you are able to grasp and solve the problems of your potential customers in their own precise words.

Els recommends three types of research:

  • Targeted surveys : be prepared to listen, so ask open questions. For example: “What do you come to do on our website today? Be as specific as possible. “
  • Interviews : by engaging in depth with your target group, you are able to truly empathize and understand their needs.
  • Personal, moderated user tests : difficult to do well (especially the task of the moderator), but it provides very valuable insights.

No link building but brilliant PR

For many marketers, link building is perhaps the biggest SEO challenge. Does your content not bring any links yet? Then you can probably – just like me – learn a lot from James Brockbank . He brings link building to a whole new level with the help of surprising and special PR campaigns.

😉

One of his most successful campaigns? The ‘ You vs the Kardashians ‘ campaign, where you can discover how long it takes for the Kardashians to collect your annual salary. This campaign produced the Missy Empire webshop with no less than 1,830 links (with this: 1,831 links ).

Sounds promising? I agree. Here are the best tips for a PR campaign with as much link potential as possible:

Tip 1: check whether you are truly original

Journalists like to link to truly unique content. Something that has been done before has no news value. Therefore, check if your idea is really new in Google News and Buzzsumo . Do you find it hard to come up with something totally new? Almost everything has already been done, right? For example, consider updating existing statistics or data. Or take a controversial position on a recent development (do this only if this fits with the vision of your organization of course).

Tip 2: think big enough

The scale of your idea determines the potential link result. For example, if you write an article about ‘The best vegan restaurants in Eindhoven’, the link potential will not be much greater than Eindhoven and the surrounding area. If you write an article about ‘The best vegan restaurants in the Netherlands’, the link potential is already national. If you replace ‘the Netherlands’ with ‘Europe’ or even ‘the world’, you suddenly have a global potential range.

Tip 3: validate whether there is a demand for it

Your idea may still be so good, it must be in the right direction of the journalists. Do journalists write about the subject that you are going to pitch? Do people search for it?  Keyword research helps you to identify the question of your target group.

Tip 4: timing is everything

Never rush your campaign online. Think carefully about the timing. Is this the best moment to launch the campaign? Never launch your campaign if a major newsworthy event has just taken place, or if your target group is difficult to reach. Some campaigns, on the other hand, benefit from being launched at a specific time of the year.

Tip 5: make sure the journalists do have to link

In the idea phase, constantly ask yourself whether a journalist is capable of bringing your story without linking to your website (or giving you the credits). For example, use data that you have collected yourself in a study. A journalist will always be inclined to state the source. Or combine data from different sources in a way that brings new insights. An online tool can also do very well, provided there is enough added value to use the tool of course. A journalist will never write about the tool without linking to it.

Tip 6: care for people who know PR

Every PR man or woman will tell you: the success of a PR campaign is highly dependent on the quality of your press list. In addition, the pitch to the press is also very important. For your e-mail, for example, pay attention to the subject line of the e-mail and the way in which you promote the campaign. In addition, it is also important not to fear the telephone, because e-mails are simply snowed down in the inbox, especially with journalists.

Tip 7: don’t give up too quickly

If you hardly get any results in the first attempt, that does not mean that the potential is not there. So don’t give up too quickly. Come up with a different perspective, or use a newsworthy event to breathe new life into your campaign. Also investigate whether there are mentions without linking. Here is the chance of placing a link, because your story is already posted! Last but not least : always ask journalists why they don’t post your story. Their feedback is particularly valuable for future campaigns.

Difficult times for SEO?

I realize that after reading this article you can think that the future of SEO is not too bright. Do you still have to invest in it, you might ask yourself? I firmly believe so!

Yes, you can worry about the above developments. I think it’s even right if you do this. But don’t forget: organic traffic from search engines still has a lot of potential and this will not change in the future. The balance may now be disturbed, but in the long term the scales will return to balance. I can’t put it better than Rand Fishkin: “Be pessimistic in the short term, but optimistic in the long term”.

Accept that SEO will become more difficult in the coming years, but acknowledge that there is still a competitive advantage to be gained if you do better than your competitors.

Do not see SEO as a separate discipline, but integrate it into your marketing strategy. Just like many speakers at YoastCon, dare to go beyond the beaten track and always put the needs of your (potential) customers first!

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