Where has Search Gone and What should We Expect as Marketers and Business Owners
Hey Folks! Happy Friday!
I’ve listened to this video and read the transcription several times since we taped this webinar. This isn’t your typical post it’s more of a conversation with a friend (a really smart friend @DavidAmerland) discussing search, where it was, where it’s going and more. I urge you as business owners and marketers to listen and sit down with some tea and a notebook and listen, read through the transcript the instructions and ideas that David is giving us.
Reading David’s book helped our business develop how we write and market for our clients, and solidified our belief in the intelligence of Google. – Yvette Valencia
In this webinar Yvette interviews SEO consultant and Author Gooogle Semantic Search David Amerland.
What you will learn:
- How to create a Content Marketing plan
- How to grow your business with social media
- How to use content for branding
- What to know about Google’s algorithms
- Schema.org and markup
- How to write for the user, and more
Video Transcription: Semantic Search
[The New SEO: Semantic Search]
Speakers: Yvette Valencia, Alex Valencia, and David Amerland
Yvette: —he has authored several bestselling SEO and social medial books. Most recently Google semantic search, if you haven’t gotten that, you should, because it’s an excellent book. David and his teachings have been instrumental in helping us refine our strategy to content marketing, which we are going to share with you today through his slides.
Hopefully, you’ll ask some questions throughout, we have a question feature, which all you have to do is click the questions and type in your questions, and we will hopefully get to all of them. We’ll be asking some questions as well, so maybe we’ll cover one that you already had in mind.
David: Hi, Hello, Yvette, and thank you very much for allowing me to be here. It’s been a busy week, but I am looking forward to a really good hour here.
Yvette: Excellent, we are, too. David, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about your background?
David: Yes, certainly. It’s always interesting talking about myself because it tends to change depending who I’m talking to. [Laughs] But really, I write books on SEO and online marketing on the web, but at the same time, I’m very active in advising companies, some large multinationals, on their global strategy in the social media sphere and search.
I came through journalism, which then became corporate communications, and I was in the corporate sector at a high level for almost ten years. I jumped out of that for very personal reasons, and it became a little bit more free-floating in terms of my life and lifestyle.
In a nutshell, that’s who I am.
Yvette: Your involvement with the web goes back, back, back in the day, right?
David: Yeah. I mean, I officially started in ’95, pretty much almost, it’s a saying the year the web took off. But I was actively involved before that when we had the internet. It was very command-driven, there was no traffic interface, so really started around ’88 with small internets, like the NUD net, so I’m very familiar with the technology.
Yvette: Awesome. Okay, David, I’m going to switch controls over to you so that you can go ahead and run through your slides and enlighten us with the semantic web.
David: Great, thank you.
What’s going to happen is I’m going to take you through an introduction to semantic search. I must say that semantic search, which you probably have begun to hear about recently, is about as different from traditional search as a rocket ship is from a bicycle and it is that different.
It does totally different things; it also requires from the end user a totally different kind of mindset and behavior. We’re going to go through all this and then we’re going to go through a set of questions that help anchor all the points that I will make.
Then what I hope from you guys is to come back with any questions at all. I know it’s always very difficult at this level to come back with questions because it gets a bit technical and puts you on the spot a little bit, but it does help crystallize things. So don’t feel that any question may seem too simple, at this level, nothing is too simple or too complicated.
Hopefully, you can all see my screen, so we’re going to begin from this. What I’m going to do is I’m going to start with a mental exercise that will help you understand how the semantic web works.
In terms of how search used to work in the past, it was always very abstract in terms of how it understood anything that you put there. The reality of it is that it didn’t. Anything that you put in search, in terms of a search query, hoping to find the answer, and it was turned into machine code, which then was tried to be matched up with web documents that contain that same machine code in a very specific order.
There was a little uncertainty in the process because we all know the keywords we used to use when we tried to find something in the use of alternative keywords. It doesn’t work that way anymore; now words are understood.
Here’s a trick, you say, “How can words ever be understood?” Semantic search says, “Well, a word is an entity,” or rather, “A concept is an entity.” I’m going to explain to you now this technical thing of an entity by doing this mental exercise.
Really what I’m going to ask you is imagine a tree. I know it doesn’t take a lot of imagination when you have a picture on your screen of a tree. I want you to shut your eyes now and think of everything you associate with that tree.
Really, for everybody—and I hope your eyes are shut, no cheating—everything when it comes to associating with a tree, for everybody, it’s going to be a little bit different. It’s going to be different based on your experience, it’s going to be different based on your background, it’s going to be different based on perhaps your very specific knowledge of certain things, like the environment and environmental impact.
Some things are going to be the same for everybody.
Now you can open your eyes and if you did what I asked you, by imagining what it was, you know that trees have category, and it can be evergreen and coniferous and wide-leaved and deciduous and have properties. It can be aromatic and hard and organic and anything like that.
You know that they have attributes, they float, they burn, like burn in a fireplace, they float in water. They can be used to build bridges and ships and even planes.
They obviously bring out a wealth of personal memories.
A tree can also be an obstruction. It can be the deodorizer dangling from your car mirror or the little sort of a cut-out of a Christmas tree that everybody has in their minds around this time of the year.
It can have personal significance, of course, and it can be associated with actions, which are practical.
It also can be an abstract symbol, perhaps persistence or endurance. Trees are very popular in the days of old, knights had them on their shields as an emblem.
Now all those things that we associate with a tree essentially give it its identity in our heads. When we say the word tree, a tree means absolutely nothing if we don’t have those things associated with it floating about and being linked to it.
So when you hear the words “knowledge graph” about Google, and entity, well, here you go. All the things that you know about a tree are your personal knowledge graph and everything that you know about a tree when knowledge graph gets linked to it, it becomes an entity.
At this point it is very, very easy to think, okay, a tree is nothing else but that word. When you put it in search, this is what you get. You get a tree, your knowledge graph, it’s an entity.
But that’s not true. Although we used the word tree, the entity behind is a concept. To prove that, if we change languages, if we go, for instance, from English into French, where the French word for tree is “arbre,” or we go to the word “dendro,” which is a Greek word for tree, then everything we know about a tree would get remapped under that word, so the new entity will take place in our minds. Even though the things that we know about it, we won’t be able to express in our language because we’re not as fluent or efficient in it.
The point of all this is that there are concepts, which are independent of language, and they are defined by facts and ideas and other concepts, which give them their identity. Those things are transferable from one language to another.
We thought in the past that we knew how the web worked. Let’s see how all this now works with the new semantic web.
The web of the past worked with what? It worked with keywords—which you’re familiar with—backlinks, you needed to have backlinks in order to make sites rise in search; exact match URLs, which you had for the same reason; page rank, word count when it came to content; content, which had to be created frequently; volume, in terms of how often or how quickly you actually created content; link dumping, which is a technique which is still used today, to our great shame, and it still doesn’t work, where basically you put links all over the place; and the use of H1, H2 headers.
All these things, all this litany of activities was the web of the past. Today it has changed into something else. Let’s see what it has changed into.
If you go into the web of today compared to the web of the past, this is what you get: Search used to return statistical, probable answers to keyword-laden search queries. You needed to load the dice to succeed in search, so you basically, if you had a website, what did you used to have to do? You used to have to do all those things that we just looked at. If that didn’t work quite the way it should, or you thought it should, then you just needed to up it and increase pretty much the frequency and the volume of everything you did in order to make it come up again.
Let’s go and see our search today. The traditional ten links are going to go away; this is where things are going. They’re changing, they’re becoming personalized, because you get personalized search.
We get a search that’s populated by people with familiar faces. So for instance, you do a search, you can see that little thumbnails come up, which give very personalized results, which essentially, what happens here is we get the entire presence and power of Google to become a viral, very personable, marketing aid for us, if we use it correctly.
The results become more accurate and everything else begins to change in ways we fragment search, because it fragments into mobile, into voice search, into local search, into personal search, into conversational search. With Google now, we can do a predictive search and, of course, it becomes functional, like Google Maps or informational, like YouTube, which essentially is the world’s second largest search information.
Information itself, which is what we’re trying to find through search, is growing at an exponential rate. That kind of growth presents very specific problems because as the information grows, then the complexity of finding the correct piece of information to a search query, becomes a very complicated affair.
Semantic search is designed to address that. As we started at the beginning with the example of a tree, if I asked you a question about a tree, provided you have all the knowledge around it, you can do one of two things. A) You can infer something and give me the answer, or B) You know the answer because it’s mounted to the entity, and this is the only answer that will answer my question.
But for that to happen, you need to have all that knowledge mapped onto the words tree, and my question has to be relevant about it.
If you don’t have that kind of knowledge, then you’re only guessing. This is the search of the past with the search of today.
The search is a big data problem, essentially, because it’s growing, the data that we dump on the web is all the facts and figures and answers that we seek in our search queries.
Semantic search is an expression of big data. Big data is predicated on four different vectors, which all play a key role. The vectors are volume, velocity, variety, and the key to it all—voracity. At this point, I’m going to explain these four because they’re critical in your understanding of what needs to be done and how it should be done.
Volume—the volume we have on a particular piece of data. Let’s look at one piece of data, sort of a theoretical piece of data floating about on the web. If it’s subjected to all these four vectors, this is what happens to it: Volume is how big it is. Is it just a tiny little piece of data just a few bytes long, for instance, it’s just a short article? Or is it a study, which had quite a lot of depth, which has, perhaps, multimedia elements attached to it.
Then there’s velocity. Velocity talks about how quickly that spreads across the web. If you put a piece of data on the web, and that gets picked up on social networks and it gets passed around, it gets shared, it gets into other websites, it’s presented from there, that velocity itself becomes a signal. It means something. So if a piece of data is passed around the web like this, it signifies something about its importance and what it does and if it works.
Then we get variety. If you get something spreading across the web like that, in the process of the conversation, of the online conversation that takes place, what happens is that it changes. People re-blog it, they write about it differently, they try to explain it, they try to understand it.
All these things are the variety that arises out of a single piece of data. Essentially, very important in themselves, because helpers assess how important the original piece of data was, what impact it has, and how it works.
Finally, the last on the list is voracity, which comes down to a single word, which is truthfulness. This is not about telling lies or truth—I suppose it is in a way—but it’s about how trustworthy that data is.
If we’re talking about something that explodes across the web, it becomes really big, it goes viral, and we come across it, we should be able to, in an instant pretty much, understand, is it right or is it wrong? Just because a million people say something, it doesn’t automatically make it so.
These are the four vectors of semantic search, essentially, which is a big data expression. Just by looking at them, you understand that in order to work through all of these, technically speaking, semantic search in itself is a huge task, it’s absolute—for the first time perhaps we can say it is rocket science, because it’s so complex.
Though it is so complex technically, its effects are very, very simple to understand because it’s intended to give us high trustworthy, or high-value results we can trust to our search queries.
Now all of this, of course, are the entities that we saw in the beginning, which essentially are how concepts like knowledge get mapped onto specific things, which are then understood like things. Semantic search, Google has said, is a transition onto the web from strings to things and websites to people.
This is exactly how this achieved. Essentially strings were mathematical expressions in the past, which were an abstract representation of words and terms put in a search, and now they become real things. They are understood by search in the way we understand them.
Obviously the transition from websites to people is the fact that the world has become a lot more personable in the mapping and relationship to the form.
Now, if you ask me how entities are producing the web, how does it work, this kind of trust in results? Well, there’s some ways that this can happen, and we’re going to look at some of them here.
Some of them are already made, they can be imported from trusted sources, like Wikipedia or Freebase or Metaweb. Both Freebase and Metaweb have been acquired by Google. Wikipedia obviously hasn’t, but it’s human-moderated and, therefore, it is deemed to be less likely to be gained.
Also, entities or facts can be extracted from web pages. There’s a technique to data mine the social web and there’s also something called sentiment mining, which comes from all the interaction that happens on websites.
I have a technical diagram here which we can really skip because I’ve only got it here because it shows how Google does this automatically. If you have a website or a piece of information on the web, which is perhaps not a website but still a web document, Google has a way of reading it, extracting all the salient points from it and basically creating an entity which begins to give Google’s search high confidence in its ability to understand what the page is about.
Let’s look at why all this happens and how it affects SEO. If we take the classic question, which is one of my favorites, we just searched now, “Who is the president of the United States?” The first thing that you notice here is that the search query itself has begun to become more conversational. This is quite important, because not only does this affect the way people search, it affects the psychology of the person carrying out the search, but also it’s beginning to affect the way we’re going to start putting together content in order to have that kind of content surface on the web.
Now, the answer here, of course to the question, “Who is the president of the United States?” it is calculated by a search, so although it has given me some links actually to go and click on, it gives me the answer straight on search. It says that Barack Obama and he’s the United States of America President, so there’s no doubt about that.
We can see on the right-hand side there’s a knowledge graph, which is again, all the things associated with this answer, which help us.
From an SEO point of view, this can be a disaster sometimes. People think, okay, if it’s going to be that easy for search to give answers, then nobody’s going to come to our websites, nobody is going to see our content, we’re going to be lost forever. This is not really true.
Let’s look at this again. Just going to go through the little arrows which show how all this happened.
Okay, a piece at a time. I’m asking again, the query here, of who is the president of the United States? This is what I see, first of all; it gives us the answer straightaway. If that’s all I’m looking for, and I’m satisfied with that, then nothing else on your website is going to be of interest to me. Basically, one of the advantages of semantic search is that this is an automatic filtering of traffic which you would get to your website. So those who get there are targeted customers or more highly motivated customers who are more likely—visitors, I should say—who are more likely to convert into customers.
There is a drop usually experienced by websites with semantic search, but although there’s a drop in traffic, there’s no drop in conversions. If anything, we tend to see from data coming in now over the last year, that websites in semantic search experience an increase in conversion because they’re getting more targeted people visiting them.
My query produced an answer, if that’s all I’m looking for, I’m happy, I go away. But it also provided a knowledge graph associated with that answer. It also gave me some recent posts about it, and it told me what people are searching for.
The last piece of data, which is what people also search for, is really important because it begins to go into what Google calls serendipitous-discovering search. It’s there essentially to help broaden the search window on the search horizon and help users discover content that perhaps is of value to them, but they may not be aware they should be looking for it. This is exactly what it’s designed to do.
My one query produced first an answer, second a biography with associated links, so it enriched that answer immeasurably. Then it gave me recent posts with links, so it took me deeper. Then it gave me associated entities, also complete with links.
Basically, one answer generated a much wider, much greater related field of data than might have been possible before. It became a lot more complete; it became a lot more enriching, but also, it created the possibilities for more content actually to surface.
Semantic searches are a challenge because of the way it works, obviously, it is an opportunity as well. The challenges are as deep as the questions that come after them. For instance, if we change the search interface and we’re going toward our future, where we have screen-less computers and key-less devices, how do we interface with search?
There’s greater reliance on natural speech and less reliance on keywords.
There is a heavy depreciation of existing, one-page SEO techniques. What I mean by that is essentially all the tricks of the trade which we had in the past, which allowed us to gain search by creating content that was of thin value to a visitor, but of great value to a search engine because it ticks all the right boxes, that is now beginning to drop off the radar and producing quite a challenge.
We have loss of real estate in SERPs, which is the search engine results pages, and that first page of Google is usually the only place that people look at these days. It used to be they used to be able to go as far as the third page, some of them, certainly a lot used to go to the second page. Now if it’s not on the first page, usually within the first five results, they tend to go away.
It gives us reduced reliance on statistical association results, and it asks the question of how do we synthesize all this actually to take advantage and create something that will work for us?
Let’s reverse engineer now an entity to see if it appears like that in semantic search. What is it that makes it appear like that?
The first thing is an authority. Google needs to feel that the site that comes up is authoritative.
The second thing is trust. So basically we have to have high confidence in the results and feel it can trust our website.
Then it needs to have perhaps reputation and influence in terms of the website so that it can begin to understand that it’s an important site in terms of the subject matter that it covers.
How can we create manageable steps for this and what actions can be taken in terms of the content creators who are active in this? Well, let’s think about it.
We come again to the four vectors, which are volume, velocity, variety and veracity. To that, we add connection and social discovery. Any kind of content which is talked about in depth and volume, which is widely spread across the web, which is re-blogged about, and which is easily verifiable, immediately gets the checkpoint of, hey, this is content that can surface in search because Google can see it, and any semantic engine can see it and bring it up in terms of an answer.
If you are the connection between different data points, which help the verification process, and if you also socialize the kind of content, so you have social discovery that is independently searched, so if people find your content outside of search because it is shared across social networks, it’s talked about perhaps in offline magazines, so you get this online/offline divide, beginning to become a lot more porous and it will be transparent.
Well, if you do all this, then basically you are in a very good position to get your content surfacing in today’s search in a modern kind of context that semantic search creates.
Obviously you need the kind of social buzz which all these things create, which help give us the kind of trust rank which comes with author rank for people who create their own content and authorship, which is linked to the little thumbnail which comes up in search on the results when those are actually relevant.
This pretty much brings us to the end of this. Shall we start with questions?
Yvette: David, I’m always amazed at how you can simplify the semantic web and as I mentioned at the beginning of this presentations, you have instrumental for us and I’m sure you’re going to, as we go through these questions, offer a lot more value to our attendees.
David: Oh, I hope so.
Yvette: Oh, definitely, I know it. Yes, let’s go ahead and run through some questions.
You went through the very essence of what semantic search is, but technical in a way.
David: Yes, it is, yeah.
Yvette: So what is it, for all of us lay people and is it just Google that’s incorporating these elements into the SERPs, can you tell us a little bit about that?
David: Yeah. Okay. First of all, the easy answer to this. You’re quite right, semantic search becomes very difficult to explain sometimes when we go through the technicalities of it, but it’s impact is easy to understand.
If we were to summarize it in a sentence or two, the essentially semantic search takes the uncertainty out of looking for anything using search. So if in the past we had this statistical sort of—they had the anomaly of trying to use statistics to match things up, and we had this statistical sort of bias in terms of how things connected on the web, now this goes away. In its ultimate phase, semantic search will give you the exact answer that will perfectly fulfill the search query.
Yvette: So all the buzz that’s going around is that SEO is dead. Do you agree with that? If no, what can you say about that?
David: You’re right, a lot of people are saying SEO is dead. I must say that the traditional SEO techniques for the past haven’t gone away, they’re still active, but less so. The reason they have dropped and depreciated is because we essentially abused them in the past, and we got results, we have all seen primary results in search or have had search give us results which did not really satisfy what we were looking for and you had to repeat a search and get more frustrated.
That was because of using that kind of SEO techniques or rather, abusing that kind of SEO techniques.
Now that they get depreciated, they work less and less, they’re going to continue working less and less as we go forward, which is why traditional SEO has begun to die, which means that essentially it has to evolve. That’s why we’re coming to this kind of webinar, because the greatest transition is in the kind of thinking that’s now associated with any SEO, which has to be very holistic, it has to take into account business and the business objectives. It has to go deep into the nature of what business does and try to project that on the web.
If we think that in the past SEO was a disposable quantity or quality we could buy and anybody could say, “Hey, what I need this month, my traffic has dropped, I need somebody to do some SEO for me.” You just go outside and get somebody to do it. You don’t have to ask what it is because it’s technical. You didn’t have to be tied into it because you could get anybody to do it, pretty much.
That, thankfully, is gone. We’re getting accountability now and we’re also getting a deeper, symbiotic relationship between the SEO professional who is aware of what needs to happen on the web in order for content to show up, and the business professional who is hiring them, because they can’t work apart anymore. Nobody can say to you, “Here’s $1-2,000 a month, go and do some SEO.” That will not work.
Really, what has to happen is the SEO professional coming in now is becoming an integral part of the company, adding a skill that does not exist in-house and is designed to take everything which happens in house, understand its true value, and project it on the web.
Yvette: That is an excellent point you’re making, David. It’s a redemption for all of us content publishers out there where we’re either brought in at the very end of the game or mid game and now it does have to form a symbiotic relationship right from the start with the business, where everyone understands the business goals and also understands that we have to satisfy the searcher intent. We have to give them more; we have to offer value, that it can no longer just be about keywords.
David: Definitely. This is the biggest difference really, because when a company who hires an SEO professional gets these days is somebody who actually spends a considerable amount of time understanding how the web is changing and how that change impacts upon the business that needs it, that needs its services.
Arguably, if the business could do it, they could do it themselves, but usually 99.9% of the time, they’re focused on running their business so they can’t actually do that, even though they have to. The easiest solution here is to get the right person, the right agency, who will become integrated into your business and they will work for you as if you had them in house, and they were part of your business.
This forms a better, more satisfying relationship. It does two things: It creates deeper satisfaction in terms of the work having value and buying valuing. At the same time, it gets rid of the traditional, deep-pockets, thin content of the past, where somebody who had a large monthly budget could hire cheap, really a lot of writers, to produce volumes and volumes of drivel, which would drive out all the smaller or the medium-size operations out of search and sort of create the kind of bad experience we have become familiar with in the past. Now that’s changing now, so even if you’re a relatively small outfit, the chances of your content coming up in search that answers the search query, are as high as somebody who has a lot more money and a lot more manpower.
Alex: I want to jump in there real quick, again, it’s Alex, and to your last point, it’s been so true with some of our more recent clients that have come to us with brand new websites who have actually been new to the web. You and I talked about this, Dave, a couple weeks ago, new to the web that have no links, they are coming brand new, so a brand new website with good content, some good social media syndication and publishing and reaction and just content that’s been out there that’s helpful, have really done a great job to position themselves as experts and are generating—I wouldn’t say tons of traffic, but the right traffic.
Alex: Which is what’s important to our clients. So that’s working, and that’s what we’re seeing for some of our clients that are newer to the web. It’s a good opportunity, because again, in your book, you also say that it’s a level playing field, and that’s great.
David: Yes. For the first time, we have got to that stage now, where the value speaks for itself. You could be an absolutely tiny outfit working in a very specific sector doing everything right and provided you are doing it right and you project yourself in the right way, you will get the traffic that you deserve in the full sense of the word, coming to you through search, which is refreshing to see.
Yvette: David, this is not an overnight approach. It never has been. For those business owners who want immediate results, who are so fixed on checking rankings every day and who use that as their sole metric for how well they’re performing on the web, what can you say to those business owners who obsess over keywords or rankings? What is that world post-Hummingbird?
David: Okay. That’s an excellent point, and unfortunately, I tend to see it at a lot at corporate meetings where these spreadsheets come out and keyword positioning is checked against previous keyword positioning. This is checkbox marketing, and it’s dead. It’s already producing diminishing returns and it’s going to continue producing diminishing returns.
We need to understand that semantic search is very personalized these days, and it’s becoming more so, which means that the traditional first page of Google doesn’t exist anymore. There is a first page, which is unique, pretty much, for every individual. So chasing rankings based on keywords is a losing proposition. It strokes the ego, but it doesn’t help the bottom line. If you need to make your business work, you need to drill deep down into its soul—if we can call it that—and understand, what is it that makes it unique? Why is it like no other business on the planet? What is it that you do differently? What is it that you do which creates value?
Essentially, we’re looking for the answer to the question of why should anyone do business with you? If we can answer the question **** [0:36:39.3] then we have a rough, ready-made plan for projecting that kind of identity and quality on the web through the content which is produced, which will then drive that targeted audience, which we need in order to have higher conversions.
That is, again, one of the things about semantic search, that brings together the correct answer to a particular question.
Yvette: So some of the metrics would you say we should be focusing on these days are more about bounce—well, bounce rate has always been something of value, but how much time people are actually spending on our pages and where, what the behavior is like after they’ve landed on a page? Do Things like that?
David: Yes. There’s a little metrics that you can look at. One is conversions; that’s the easiest thing, whatever the business is doing. Is it looking to find leads, is it looking to make sales, is that going up or is it going down? If it’s going down, we would argue that perhaps something is not being done right on the web. If it’s going up, obviously things are being done in a more orthodox way.
But certainly you should be looking at the user behavior on a website because obviously not every person landing on a website is ready to make a purchase. There is usually a sequence of events that might need to take place, and it all starts with search, so they could be doing the research before they get to the purchasing point and make a decision.
There, you do need to look at how pages are visited once they land on the page which they have landed. Where do they go to next? How long do they stay there? Where is the drop off point and why and how frequently does that happen? Is the bounce rate really high because if it’s really high, it means that basically you’re getting traffic to your website because it’s surfacing in terms of answering the questions of the search queries people put in search, but it is then not giving them anything else to do. So they find out what they want, they go away.
Which then brings us into the overall approach to doing business in the user experience. We’ve been spoiled a little bit with the pre-semantic search web where we used to get the idea that if we get a million people to our site, and we convert 0.02% of that, that’s not too bad, we can actually make a living. That was a very lofty proposition. It only ended up creating problems.
You want to get to your website those who are ready to do business with you, which means that your website has to be set up in a way that makes that easy to happen. Here the user experience comes into play and the way the website comes up into play, how things are presented in terms of the number of clicks a person has to do before they get to an actual point comes into play, and these need to be looked at. Now they have become part of SEO and the online visitor psychology, which the SEO person usually understands, comes into play as well.
Yvette: Right. So it’s a machine with many parts, and they all have to be moving together to work.
David: Yes, exactly.
Yvette: Perhaps just like you said, hire an SEO firm, pay them a few thousand dollars and have them do X-task and not worry about the others or just the shape of your website, it all has to work together in order to propel yourself.
David: Certainly. I mean, this is the biggest difference because, in the past, SEO was very technically driven. You could get any reasonably competent firm to do it for you because it was all technical, it was all cut and dried. They all pretty much knew what they had to do, and it would just come down to how much they cost and how good were they in their response time, where you asked them to do something.
Today it’s not the case. It has to be a person or a company who is willing actually to invest the time to understand what makes your business tick. This is also a revelation for many businesses, I find. I see a lot of medium-sized businesses who have forgotten what it was that made them tick. The every-day pressures they face and have faced for a long time have made them lose a little bit of their identity, and they’re sort of wedded to processes that they carry out without really understanding why.
This is a refresher course for both. You should get the right SEO outfit, and they help you identify what it is that you do well, which becomes really good for the business, and then that helps everything else move smoothly.
Yvette: Absolutely. When you have your unique selling proposition like you said, what makes you unique in the industry, that is conveyed through the words on your website.
David: Yes. Yes, exactly.
Yvette: That forms that personal experience that you lose on the web, where you don’t see someone, but you can understand it through the words.
David: Yes. I’m very glad you said about personal experience because essentially, because the web has traditionally been a decentralized and depersonalized kind of presence where you don’t have a visual element, and you can’t see body language and you can’t hear words being spoken, all this creates a little bit of vacuum in terms of how we assess trust.
Now in the past, we used to go by how fancy your website was, how we assessed whether it was expensive or difficult to create, and that tended to create a sense of trust in us that allowed us to do business with it. We’ve gone past that, and certainly semantic search has personalized things a lot more.
Now the personal element cahracter and identity, if it doesn’t come through the words, and they have to, because now we are sensitized to this, and we actually look for it. If that doesn’t happen, people may come to content that perfectly answers a question, but if it does this in a cut and dried manner, almost machine-like mode, they take that information and they go away. It hasn’t even given them a sense of who the company is, why should they interact or engage with it. Why should they do business with it at the end of the day?
Yeah, the tone of how we communicate now is really important.
Yvette: That’s why social interaction, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, whatever works for your business is so important.
Yvette: It doesn’t stop at just your content, you have this wonderful content on your website, but what are you doing to promote that also plays a big role in semantic search, correct?
David: Exactly. The social signal is a huge component of semantic search and Google certainly is using it as a shortcut to verify a little bit of the authenticity of the signal, a little bit of the veracity of it, and certainly the value of it, through both sentiment mining and by analyzing how content is engaged with.
Engagement is your clearest signal or value on the web. You may create content that is brilliant. If you just leave it sitting there, Google has a hard time understanding why it should surface that content.
This is transition as a magic search. We say it goes from websites to people—well, what does that mean because the information is still in websites. It means essentially that people help Google and help semantic search engines like Bing, because they also have semantic search programming, to better understand the value of the content in a website. They do that using that human interaction, using social networks, using social engagement, using the sentiment mining which comes from analyzing the comments and understanding what those comments mean.
Yvette: It’s not just about putting your stuff out there, right, David? It’s not just, “Okay, I’ve got this great blog. Hey, everyone, here’s this great blog, read it.” It’s more than that. It’s interacting; it’s moderating the comments.
David: Exactly. Well, this is where the personality comes in, the tone and everything else because essentially you’re quite right. If we just put content, let’s say you have a website, and you have a Twitter account, you have a Facebook account, and you have perhaps LinkedIn and G+. What do you do? You take the link, and you dump it into each of these social networks. In the past, that used to be enough. That was link dumping, we used to do it, it generated a social signal that search engines saw and took on board, and it counted.
Now it doesn’t because if you dump your content on a social network and just go away, and you haven’t introduced it, you haven’t allowed anybody on social network to understand why that content is important, what it means, so you get zero engagement. Usually what happens, if that happens, is that you’re sending out a signal to Google and search engines that, hey, your content is not so valuable because nobody is engaging with it, so it’s probably not so good, and probably your competitors are.
You need to start thinking, okay, I’m going to engage in a social media platform. Who is my audience? How am I going to get their attention? Because this is what it’s all about now. It’s the same as if you walked into a party. You can walk into a party, and you can have a sandwich board on you—you know those big advertising things—it would say, “This is what I do.” Then the number on the back, “Here’s my number and my website.” Nobody is going to talk to you because this is not the way you operate in a party.
You go in there and you allow people to get a sense of who you are and they understand by your tone of voice, the way you dress, the way you behave, the way you engage and interact in the conversation, who you are. Then they say, “Hey, what do you do?” You say, “Well, I sell used cars,” for instance. They say, “Great, is that in my neighborhood, can we come around?” But because they buy into you as a person first. You haven’t told them to come to my showroom and see a used car, but that’s how it operates in the human world and now that’s how it operates online as well.
If you go into social media environment, you should be very sensitized to your audience. You should know how they communicate. Do they use long, big paragraphs? The specific tone and mode of an operation, do they engage with content that is primarily visual or do they need a lot of text and links? Do they need a mixture of both? Does it reach media first or does it reach media, come afterward in a conversation?
All these things usually the SEO person should be able to tell the business, owner. This is where the symbiotic relationship comes into full effect.
Yvette: There’s a lot of thought going into all of this.
David: Absolutely. This is why it has stopped being sort of the kind of blind men’s bath kind of thing, where you could shut your eyes and just do it by pressing buttons. You need a lot of thinking and a lot of analysis, and that’s why a small operator now has as good a chance of surfacing in search as a big outfit. If anything, the bigger the outfit, the harder they find it to behave like this.
Yvette: Because they’re so distanced.
David: Yeah. Usually their internal set up makes them harder to respond and communicate internally in order to generate the value. A smaller outfit does it a lot faster and in a lot more personable way. So size here actually can work against you.
Yvette: So by now, one of the things that we’ve heard a lot for the past year now, at least, is authorship. This is all part of establishing our personality, establishing who we are, becoming more personal with our target audience.
Yvette: Can you tell us why creating authorship is so critical in terms of a content publisher’s success in the semantic web?
David: Absolutely. One of the elements of the semantic web is basically creating accountability, so you can follow the content that a person has created or a company has created through its people to particular sources. Google has a very well-established authorship procedure that allows content creators to claim ownership of their content on the web. This is the element that allows the thumbnail to surface in search, which can become a huge marketing aid.
Implementing authorship is not a ranking signal, but the appearance of an authorship thumbnail on search, apart from the obvious value it has in terms of branding and marketing, also leads to greater click-through rates, so people tend to click on it more. That is a ranking signal because you get more people clicking on it.
Google has said that automatic implementation of authorship is not a guarantee that your thumbnail will show up if the quality of a website is low. We come back to the realness of the web now. You’re creating content that resonates; you’re creating content that has real value. You’re creating as high quality as possible, and that’s when you begin to reap the benefits of all these technicalities, like authorship.
Yvette: Excellent. David, if you don’t mind, I want to move into probably take just a few questions, maybe a couple of questions.
Yvette: I know we just have about ten minutes left, and we’ve got some pretty good questions in our queue. We’ve mentioned a lot of things that can help us to become successful and to operate now in the semantic web. One of the questions is, how can we further understand Google algorithms? Is there a simple answer for that? Will we ever know?
David: Yes. The answer is absolutely. The answer is we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t even try. Semantic search is incredibly complex; I must say that. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try and understand it because it’s not understandable, it is, it can be understood, provided you put in the time and effort and look at all the research.
We used to look at search engines, trying to understand how they worked so we could chase them. In the past, that used to work. We knew that, for instance, a search engine could look at the page of content, it needed to see keywords implemented in specific points in the content. It had to be at the beginning of the paragraph, it had to be in the URL, it had to be in the H1, H2 headers, and it had to occur throughout the body at specific frequency. If we did that with the keywords, then it could say, “Blah, blah, blah, keyword, blah, blah, blah, keyword, blah, blah, blah, keyword.” The page would surface. It didn’t matter what we said.
Then there was a point at trying to understand all this. Now there isn’t because essentially search engines tell us or Google says, “All that works is quality. Create the best possible quality, don’t worry about keywords, make them occur naturally if they may, if they don’t, don’t force them.” Because Google, through semantic search, understands the intent behind the query.
If, for instance, I put down and searched how to make a sandwich, for instance, Google also understands that beyond my intention to learn how to make a sandwich, I’m also hungry, so it will give me sort of related data to that.
That’s the beauty of quality content. It will surface for things that perhaps you haven’t optimized it for. Really, the optimization drive here is getting back to those basics where you define your unique identity, you define what those people who you target as a customer, as your audience, are actually looking for in terms of questions and queries. Give them as complete an answer as possible.
And, the moment yo do that, then whatever else semantic search does or however else the algorithms become refined, they will only do more of this quality. They will only surface higher and higher, so you don’t really have to worry about them anymore.
Yvette: So David, this means that where we may have been tied in the past to certain word counts on a page and we know now that at least 300 words should satisfy Google, but we’re not trying to satisfy Google, we’re satisfying the searcher, so we might go back to the basics and write these longer, more detailed posts where we do answer or satisfy the searcher intent and even give them more.
In writing these really long pieces, we may, like you said, not have to update our sites so frequently, but the quality of the content is much higher, much deeper, so we may get away with maybe one or three posts a week.
David: Yes. Because, in the past, that’s right, it used to have to be every day you had to do something. You were stuck to this; people used to be chained to their blogs and their websites because if they moved away, they wouldn’t get any traffic. You used to have a list of keywords and going from Monday through Friday you created a post a day, 3-400 words with those keywords we carry.
You got to ask yourself, you’re working like this, what kind of quality are you producing and Google pretty much said the same thing.
Now it comes down to creating real value and real quality. You can perhaps get away with as little as a couple of posts a week, which have real value in terms of what the person carrying out the search query is looking for and those will serve you a lot better than creating perhaps five posts in a week and spreading the portions of the value in each one.
Yvette: Then you can focus more time on the other signals that count just as much, like promoting the content, engaging through social media and all of that stuff.
David: Yes, certainly. The moment you have content, there’s no point in actually leaving it inert in your website, because that doesn’t do anything, it won’t gain you anything. You need to think, how am I going to find my audience? How am I going to draw attention to what I’ve written? How then am I going to get them engaged?
Engagement is the key factor here. It’s as difficult to achieve online as it is offline. If you had the experience of walking into a bar where you knew absolutely nobody, the first question that comes to your mind is how can I start a conversation without getting into a fight? [Laughs] You don’t know where you are, you don’t know the culture of the bar, you don’t know its troops you don’t know when you might say the wrong thing or if you’re there on a fight night, perhaps.
So really, knowing that culture takes experience—an experienced bar goer, perhaps, we could argue would know instantly as opposed to an inexperienced one. It takes awareness, it takes a lot of sort of the, taking a lot of the cultural cues, and it’s as difficult to do online. If you want to start engagement and conversation on Facebook, for instance, you’re going to do it a little more differently than if you did it on Twitter or LinkedIn or Google+.
Yvette: Right. Well, I think that’s about all the time we have. It’s 1:00 and unfortunately, I know we could talk about this all day, David. We’re always listening intently like little kids around you.
David: Time flies and I had a little bit more content to grace you, but obviously this subject has quite a lot of depth, so it’s always difficult to know just where to stop.
Yvette: Right. If people are okay with staying on just a couple more minutes, there was something that I did want to ask you, David, which we’ve been reading about, and that’s the markup. Can you talk on that a little bit, please?
David: Yes. This is a really good question because we’re talking now, we’re talking about structured data markup or semantic markup on the web. There’s a lot of confusion about it, and there’s a lot of misinformation about it. Let’s explain what it is, first of all.
The web, as it is, as we look at it right now, is made up of unstructured data and for the definition of what unstructured data is, it’s what we have now, websites that have content that Google has to work really hard to get a sense of in terms of what it means.
The moment it does that, it destructs that information and it puts it in its index in a structured format, which helps Google surface it, not just for what you put on your web page, but also for a large variety of search queries that are answered by the content, but the content has not been consciously optimized for, which is the beauty really of semantic web, which is why quality is so important.
There is a format that can be applied to a web page which helps Google make better sense of it, which helps in the indexing. This is where structured data format comes in, which comes either in the approved version of Schema.org or My Performance Data, which Google has aligned with and put some weight behind.
I must say here that there is no automated way of actually implementing that, so you do need to have some programming knowledge. If you apply it, yes, you help your web page gets indexed better by Google because it can understand it a lot more easily, but it will not rank any higher just because it has this kind of format implemented. Google has been very specific about that.
It is also the kind, because it is so difficult to implement, because you do need to know programming, it has to apply the same sort of thing, those different things, to a page after page manually, there’s no automated way of doing it. Not many websites have implemented it, which also means from a Google point of view, it’s a losing proposition.
What they’re doing is they’re putting more weight into identifying key points in web pages and extracting the data themselves. If you know how to use it, great. If you don’t, you shouldn’t worry about it, as long as you’re aware of what it does.
Yvette: Excellent. David, why don’t you tell everyone where they can get your book.
David: Thank you. You can get it on Amazon, it’s been on Amazon since before it came out in May. You can get it in any book shop, I think, Barnes & Noble do it, Barnes & Noble website, Google Play has a downloadable version, so you can get it pretty much anywhere in the world.
Yvette: It’s an amazing book.
David: Thank you.
Yvette: I have all these little tabs on them that I refer back to almost on a daily basis. It’s not only rich in information, but it’s also written in an easy to understand, easy to follow, it’s got great checklists that you can follow to produce great content and other activities. It’s one that you will keep forever; that’s for sure.
David: I’m very glad it’s helping. I trialed large chunks of it in the beginning because it’s the first book of its kind, there’s no real guide on how to approach semantic search, and the subject is so huge, I could’ve gone in any number of directions. Basically, I focused on the practical side and trialing huge chunks of while writing helped me through the reactions of the audience and the feedback I received, to actually drill down to a very accessible kind of presentation.
Yvette: Absolutely. Thank you, David, so very much for spending this hour with us and to everyone who called in and attended, if you have any questions that you think of after the presentation, please feel free to call us or you can email us as well at Info@WeDoWebContent.com.
Please be sure to follow us on the social web, through Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or even through our blog, where we share insider tips and knowledge and everything that we’re learning through leaders in the industry, like David.
David: Thank you for the pleasure today, for the opportunity to be here. It’s been a real pleasure.
Alex: Thanks again, David. For the folks that asked some questions that we didn’t get a chance to answer, I apologize for that. We jotted them down and we’ll send the questions over to David and we’ll answer them in our blog and send them to you in a follow-up email with a link, and you can see your answers there. Any questions that come by email, we’ll do the same with that, so we’ll prepare that.
Some folks also asked if they’ll have access to the webinar. We’re recording it, so once we get it into editing and make sure it looks good, we’ll post it on the website for download.
Alex: Great! Everyone have happy holidays and keep in touch, let us know if you need anything and talk soon.
David: Okay, take care, bye-bye.
Yvette: Thank you, bye.
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