Interview with Rand Fishkin @ Mozcon 2016

A foot-spinning interview with Rand Fishkin on how to convince clients about the importance of SEO, what CRO means for SEO, and what 2017 may have in store for this ever-evolving discipline.

Some of the questions we threw at Rand certainly made his foot spin:

How to convince clients of the importance of SEO?
“As consultants reaching out to companies, we often get the feeling that they believe SEO is a one-off technical fix that in itself can give you higher rankings, and that it has nothing to do with user experience and conversions. How would you go about explaining the value and meaning of SEO to people in these companies?”

Rand: It gets challenging when people have preconceived notions, and are convinced that they are right. The best ways is to show examples and point to data, for example quantities of searches alongside the pages that rank for them, and the lack of or degree to which keywords made a difference in ranking, and that has gone dramatically down. It’s not that keywords don’t matter anymore, but they’re table stakes. Keywords will not make you be competitive, they will not help you rank higher, they will only help you rank at all.

I will also suggest showing examples of this, and showing them how their competitors are able to outrank them because they did things that you are unable or unwilling to do. For some competitors and some teams, competitive data is the way to go because that’s the only thing that makes them angry and jealous enough to make a change.

Search terms make you index, content makes you rank. Pointing at what the top ranking pages are doing is a great way to demonstrate how modern SEO works.

CRO + SEO means doing a phenomenal job delivering the searcher to the task they want to accomplish.
“What role do you see CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) has for SEO?”

They play very well together! If you are attracting search traffic that is high conversion likelihood intent with the caveat that what you view as a conversion and what the searcher views as a conversion may be two different things. So the searcher has a task they want to accomplish and that could be uncovering information, finding the solution to a problem, signing up to get more information, or actually buying something right then and there.

If however the only thing you do on your website is sell people things you would have a tough time, but if you could align those where you say “hey, this is an informational query, I’m gonna do a great job providing information, and that’s gonna be my conversion, and the optimization I’m providing is to get more engagement, more trust, more people coming back to the site, more people knowing and liking my brand”.

Now you have a meeting of the minds, now you have a real match, now you are optimizing for the conversion that the searcher is seeking. That will also give you great rankings because Google is absolutely seeking to show results that will answer the searcher’s query, that let them accomplish their task, and not just point them to sites that has good keyword optimization, lots of links, good anchor text. That was SEO ten years ago! SEO today is “I have these great ranking signals, but I also do a phenomenal job delivering the searcher to the task they want to accomplish”

Rand’s predictions for 2017: Machine learning and an increased focus on desktop
“What are your 2017-predictions for SEO?”

What we are seeing is a huge rise in machine learning and deep learning from Google. I think that this is going to influence and impact the results more strongly in 2017 than it has in the past years.

I suspect we are also going to see more and more tests from Google in terms of types of results and change in the structure of results, the visuals and the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) features that appear. We already see those tests popping into the results now with all sorts of weird SERP-testing features with things being pulled in and out, and I think in 2017 a lot of that will shake out, and then Google will decide what the “new normal” is for how the results will look and feel.

We have also seen this convergence of desktop and mobile: I sort of think that Google may go this divergent route again. I’ve started to see Google testing the separate column on the right hand side again, and tested a lot of different layouts for mobile vs. desktop, and I think they are realizing that mobile first is okay, but mobile only may not result in the best searcher experience on desktop. Desktop is still almost half the search results, so why should we give them a crappier experience just because they have a fast machine and a big screen? It’s sort of the inverse of that it used to be.

“SEO” will never die
“Do you think 2017 is the year when we’ll abandon the term “SEO”, and do you think it will ever be abandoned? “

“That question again?”

I’ve heard that in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.. I don’t see it happening! It’s kind of an inaccurate description, but hey, that’s what it is.

SEO has become the brand, everybody knows what it is. At this point trying to change it is trying to change the name of a tree because “oh no, that’s a bad name for a tree, it should be called wood stature!” It’s also like getting people to believe tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable. It’s been a vegetable my whole life, and that’s just the way it is, so I believe the term SEO is here to stay. SEO doesn’t really need to refer to the acronym Search Engine Optimization, it has almost become separated from that, it just means getting more traffic from search engines without paying.

How to get a new website to rank quickly?
“For new business and websites in very competitive markets, such as finance and loans, what would be your recommended course of action to start ranking quickly?”

Generally speaking I would go in order of the value I perceive, like the amount it will help me and the ease of getting it. So I would do my broad research where I’d

1. Look at all the link my competitors have. I’d also look at links who are not my competitors but still write about my content space have, here’s link opportunities based on all sorts of orthogonal alignments like my geography, my causes, my design, my accessibility and all these things.

2. Create this giant list of “here’s my opportunities”.

3. I would try to sort them by columns that says how easy or difficult I think this is, what I would have to do to get it, do I have a link from this domain already? How powerful is this domain?

4. BOOM, that’s where I’d go. Then I’d go from the easy ones to the slightly more difficult, and then to the more difficult stuff. This will give you a sense of how much each of those propels your rankings and how much each of those helps you so that over time you know what you have to go through in order to target a new set of keywords and make new content that gets some rankings.