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Ranking in Search in 2018: A Q&A With SEO Pros Rob Bucci and Cyrus Shepard

If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, he’d say there are only three things certain in life: death, taxes, and Google changes.

As search behaviour evolves and machines get smarter, Google naturally adjusts what it serves up. And these changes are often quick enough to feel a bit overwhelming (we’re right there with ya)! But in light of information we have about what Google actually values these days, we have more to work with than ever before. If we know how to execute.

Two people who know a lot about Google’s ranking factors are Rob Bucci, CEO of STAT Search Analytics and Cyrus Shepard, Partner at Zyppy and former Head of SEO and Content Development at Moz. Both speakers at this August’s Call to Action Conference, they’re bona fide search experts who spend their time demystifying the ways of our ranking overlords for marketers like you and me.

So we peppered them with a few questions we couldn’t wait until August to find out—like what’s changed, stayed the same, and how to best achieve SEO success in 2018. Get the goods below and learn more about their upcoming talks at CTAConf right here.

Want to get incredible insights from Rob and Cyrus in person? Use the code “CTAConfSEO” at checkout to get 15% off all ticket rates for the conference until July 31.

Rob Bucci on local search and getting snippeted

SEO-obsessed Rob founded STAT Search Analytics, a rank tracking and SERP analytics platform, in 2011. Since then, he’s worked with clients like eBay, Pinterest, Cars.com, and Thomas Cook Airlines to understand their unique search opportunities and win more business.

He’s also a frequent speaker on search, data mining, and all things analytics. In his Call to Action Conference talk, What Google Serves Up For Local Searches, he’ll dive into the nooks and crannies of (you guessed it) local intent, local search, and how to adeptly navigate Google’s interpretations of both to get in front of the right audience. Read below for a peek at what he’ll share on stage.

Hayley Mullen: Your talk at CTAConf is all about interpreting how Google handles local search. So, how are they doing?

Rob Bucci: Knowing that, with location tracking, etc., you can’t always rely on searchers to explicitly state when their intent is local, you need to look at keywords where that intent can be implied. The question then—before you can optimize accordingly—is whether Google is actually any good at interpreting that implicit local intent. And is it comparable to stated local intent?

For example: [sushi near me] would indicate that close proximity is essential; [sushi in Vancouver] seems to cast a city-wide net; and just [sushi] is largely ambiguous—are you hungry for knowledge about sushi or actual sushi? And what happens with a query like [best sushi], which indicates that quality takes priority over proximity?

It’s Google deciding what those queries mean, so it’s important to understand that decision. There’s no point in optimizing for something that Google can’t or isn’t doing. What we’ve found is that Google is doing a decent job of it, and that there are definitely different ground rules when it comes to different kinds of local intent.

HM: Knowing what you do about Google’s interpretation of local intent, what is the biggest mistake marketers can make when it comes to localized ads?

RB: This isn’t a mistake that’s been made, rather, a heads up based on findings from the research I’ll be presenting. But something to keep in mind is that ads are more likely to appear when a location is specified in the search query, like the city name or neighbourhood. So, if you’re looking for less paid competition, it’s a good idea to target keywords that aren’t geo-modified.

HM: Should local search be a priority for everyone? When does it matter more than less, depending on a business’ needs?

RB: For Google, every SERP is a localized one. We know that it’s one of the more influential factors that Google filters its search results through. So, even if local isn’t important for your business, it’s still worth tracking a sample of your keywords in specific locations so you can see what your searchers are actually seeing.

HM: Let’s talk featured snippets. You’ve said they’re rising in importance, appearing in just 9% of searches two years ago compared to 31% by the end of last year. When creating content, what can we do for the best chance at being “snippeted”?

RB: Focus on creating great content and optimizing that content to appear on the first page. At STAT, we’ve found that 99% of snippets are sourced from ranks two through ten, with a majority coming from ranks three through four (when rank one is the snippet).

You’ll also want to research the types of formats appearing in the featured snippets for keywords you’re targeting, for instance paragraph, list, or table, and match them.

HM: Say I only have one day to try and improve my rankings. What should I focus on first to make the biggest impact?

RB: First thing’s first: spend the time making sure that your Google My Business listings are all accurate, consistent, and complete.

Want even more actionable marketing tips? Read our interview with fellow CTAConf 2018 speaker and product positioning genius April Dunford for advice on successfully launching a new product or offering into a noisy market.

Cyrus Shepard on what matters now for ranking in 2018 (and beyond)

Cyrus Shepard has been in the SEO game for nearly ten years, most recently heading up SEO and Content Development at Moz before founding his own digital agency, Zyppy. He’s written on pretty much every facet of search optimization (check out his Moz profile) and spoken at conferences around the world—with Call to Action Conference up next.

In his talk, SEO Success: One Engagement Metric to Rule Them All, Cyrus will cover what Google’s really watching when it comes to rankings and how to use that information to turn clicks into conversions. So we mined his SEO brain for a preview.

Hayley Mullen: It can feel like Google’s constantly updating its ranking factors. What should always be a priority when we’re trying to rank?

Cyrus Shepard: Google updates its algorithms hundreds of times a year, although only a few of those could be considered major core algorithm updates. That said, the critical SEO success factors stay incredibly consistent. These include:

  • Content that answers the user query
  • Content that’s crawlable and accessible to search engines
  • The quality and quantity of links

HM: What’s been the most significant change in Google’s ranking factors, in your opinion? What do you anticipate for the near and distant future?

CS: The most significant change in the past couple of years, in my opinion, has been the rise of featured snippets. For the first time, we’re actually seeing fewer clicks per impressions as Google is more frequently delivering answers directly in search results.

For websites that win featured snippets, they can often expect more traffic and less visibility. For everyone else, they can expect traffic and visibility to slightly decrease.

HM: Oof—what does that mean for marketers overall?

CS: It’s definitely a dilemma that I don’t have an answer for right now. On one hand, the “no click” search is a growing risk. On the other hand, Google continues to send billions of visits to publishers.

The challenge is that Google maintains monopoly power over search results, so we’re forced to play by Google’s rules and, say, optimize for featured snippets. We continue to give away more data to Google with the understanding that they will reward us with more web traffic, but the amount of data we give keeps rising while Google keeps more of the traffic for themselves.

HM: How much of a difference does speed really make, specifically in regards to AMP (accelerated mobile pages)? What are the top three things we can do to satisfy Google’s need for speed?

CS: Speed is hugely important and not only for AMP. Speed is a huge ranking factor because it impacts so many other elements that impact your search visibility. For example, bounce rate is highly correlated with speed—a site that loads a second slower is abandoned at a much higher rate. This will affect multiple aspects of SEO down the line.

In regards to AMP, they actually have advantages beyond speed that some folks aren’t aware of:

  • These pages can qualify for Google News carousels
  • Google marks them with an AMP symbol, which can increase clicks
  • Chrome pre-renders AMP results, making them load instantly

HM: Your talk at CTAConf is all about what Google’s watching in terms of how people interact with your site. Without giving away the most important point, what’s the one thing Google’s always taking into consideration (and one thing that doesn’t matter as much as we may think)?

CS: Google is likely always evaluating user satisfaction. User satisfaction goes by different names, including task completion, pogo-sticking, dwell time, and more. The basic idea is “does this page answer the user query?” or “does this user need to search other webpages for the right answer?” Exactly how Google does this is up for debate.

A metric that likely doesn’t matter as much as people think is bounce rate. That doesn’t mean it’s not a useful metric—but bounce rate alone doesn’t tell us much.

And with that, our search for answers on search just got a little easier. There’s a lot more knowledge to be shared at Call to Action Conference from both Rob and Cyrus—just two of the many reasons you should totally come! “Use the code “CTAConfSEO” at checkout until July 31, 2018 for 15% off all single, group, and customer ticket rates. You’ll not only learn how to tame the search beast, but hone your chops in every facet of digital marketing too.

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Check Also

10 Crucial Steps for Launching Your B2B Podcast Into the Wild

Hey, friend, have you heard the good news about podcasts? 

Given the most recent stats, it’s highly likely you have. Over half of all Americans over 12 years of age have listened to at least one. Podcasts have well and truly hit the mainstream. In other words, the gold rush is on for brands looking to connect with a highly-engaged, long-attention-span audience.

However, getting a podcast up and running isn’t as simple as publishing a blog. We recently published an entire B2B podcasting webinar to walk you through the entire process, from conception to publication. This post will zero in on the choices you need to make and the steps you need to take to release your podcast into the wild.

B2B Podcasting Launch Checklist: 10 Steps

Sure, you could just upload your audio to your web server, add an RSS feed, and call it good. But if you want people to actually find and listen to your podcast, there are a few extra steps you should take. This checklist will help your podcast find an audience and start building a subscriber base.

via GIPHY

#1: Choose Your Hosting Platform

A podcast syndication platform makes it easy to publish your podcast and get listed in directories. Think of it like WordPress is for your blog — it hosts the files, makes them look pretty, and makes it so people can find them.

Most platforms will also give you embed codes for embedding episodes in blog posts or on a landing page. You’ll also get stats on how many people are downloading episodes, and on what program they’re listening.

We prefer Libsyn as our hosting platform. Podbean, buzzsprout, and Blubrry are also solid options. They all have a free tier of hosting, but you’ll want to pay a few bucks a month for bandwidth and analytics.

#2: Upload Your First Three Episodes

Podcasting is all about establishing a regular cadence (more on that later). But for launch, you’ll want to have at least three episodes ready to go. There are a few reasons for publishing multiple episodes for your debut:

  1. One episode may not be enough to convince people to subscribe. 
  2. Multiple episodes show you’re committed to keeping the content coming.
  3. Most importantly, Apple podcasts requires at least three episodes to qualify for their “New and Noteworthy” section. 

So before you publish, have at least three episodes completed, and be ready to follow up with more at your promised publishing cadence.

#3:  Register with Podcast Directories

Podcasts are peculiar in terms of content delivery. Your hosting platform makes the files available, but most people will listen to your podcast on their chosen podcast app. Each app maintains its own directory — think of it as a search engine for podcasts. 

Your podcast needs to be listed in their directory, or people won’t be able to find you. I recommend registering with at least these six:

  1. Apple Podcasts
  2. Google Podcasts
  3. Stitcher
  4. Podbean
  5. Spotify
  6. TuneIn

Each of these sites will ask for the RSS feed of your podcast, which your hosting platform will generate for you.

I created a podcast tracker to keep track of all these directories — sign up for the webinar and you can download it for free.

B2B Podcast Tracker

#4: Promote Internally

Gaining visibility on a podcast directory is tricky business. Apple and Google are where the majority of your listeners will be, and each employs an algorithm to promote podcasts in search results and feature pages.

How do you get an algorithm’s attention? Engagement! Start by promoting your podcast to all of your employees. Encourage them to subscribe on Apple or Google, give a rating, and write a brief (and honest) review. What’s more, draft some social messages and encourage everyone to promote the podcast to their networks, too.

That base level of initial engagement will help your podcast start finding its audience.

#5: Activate Your Influencers

Most podcasts are Q&A-style interviews with influential guests. If your podcast includes influencers in your industry, make sure they know as soon as their episode goes live. Give them the tools to promote the podcast easily:

  • Sample social messages
  • Social media images in the correct sizes
  • Embed codes

If your podcast doesn’t feature influencers, it’s worth re-evaluating your strategy for your next season. Influencer content not only is more valuable to your audience, it’s an indispensable channel for promotion.

#6: Publish Blog Posts

The one downside of audio content: It’s not super crawlable for SEO purposes. Granted, Google has started to auto-transcribe episodes and add them to search results, but the technology is still in the early stages.

To truly get some SEO juice from your podcast, we recommend embedding each podcast in a blog post. This example from the Tech Unknown Podcast by SAP* shows how simple it can be. All you need is an introduction, a few pull quotes, some key takeaways, and a transcript.

#7: Add Paid Promotion

As with any content, you want to use every tactic available to make sure it gets seen by your target audience. That’s especially true with podcasts, since podcast search engines are incredibly competitive.

Targeted, paid social promotion can help establish your subscriber base and get your new podcast some much-needed visibility.

It’s also worth considering cross-promotion on other podcasts. Consider both paid advertising and trading guest spots with a podcast that shares your target audience. 

#8: Solicit Listener Feedback

Ratings and reviews are essential to your podcast’s success. They’ll help provide social proof for new listeners and boost your search visibility in podcast directories. 

The best way to get ratings and reviews? Ask for them. Make it part of each episode’s sign-off. You can even encourage thoughtful reviews by reading the best ones on future episodes. You will engage your listeners and solicit more reviews at the same time.

#9: Keep Up Your Cadence

As with blog content, there’s no single “right” frequency to publish a podcast. Some of my favorite podcasts publish weekly, biweekly, or even monthly. The best cadence for your podcast is “However frequently you can reliably, regularly publish quality content.”

Choose your cadence with an eye to long-term sustainability, and tell your listeners explicitly how frequently you’ll publish. Whether it’s “See you next week,” or “PodcastTitle is a monthly podcast that…” listeners will find it easier to make your podcast a habit if you stick to a schedule.

#10: Repurpose, Repurpose, Repurpose

In my last post on the content marketing benefits of B2B podcasting, I mentioned that podcasts are a content machine, and I’ll say it again. It’s easy to finish an episode, publish it, then forget it and move on to the next thing. But don’t do that! 

Pull snippets of audio content for social media. Turn them into short videos, too: Add a still image or a simple looping GIF for visual interest.

Use your transcriptions as fodder for future blog posts, quotes for influencer marketing, or even a stand-alone asset. 

Any way you can reuse that content can help bring more listeners to your podcast. What’s more, putting the content in a different medium can reach an audience who might not be into podcasts (yet). 

Check, Check, One Two

Launching a podcast is a little trickier than launching a new blog, especially if you’re new to the format. But if you follow this checklist, you can make sure your podcast is available on all the right channels and is ready to start attracting an audience.

Need more podcasting help? Check out our B2B Podcasting Webinar. In addition to learning the Four P’s of podcasting success, you’ll see me make this face:

B2B Podcasting Face

*Disclosure: SAP is a TopRank Marketing client.

The post 10 Crucial Steps for Launching Your B2B Podcast Into the Wild appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

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