Jono Alderson presented “Getting ready for the web of the future” at Anicca Digital’s 6th Leicester Digital Live Conference on 16th February.
You can watch the replay here, download the pdf and read the summary below:
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Read and download the pdf here
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Yoast’s Jono Alderson joined Leicester Digital Live to share his advice on preparing for the future of search, from zero-click results to Web Core Vitals.
Imagine a world where brands compete on a level playing field based on their virtues and their products, rather than based on those with the biggest budgets and the biggest teams.
Which brands would survive and which ones would fail?
According to Jono, these are the questions we need to start asking.
The world is changing faster than we can keep up with, from the tools we use to the metrics we measure. Desktop, mobile, apps, TV, toasters – we live in one connected reality.
But the way we do business isn’t changing and has not really changed since the early days of the web, which echoes the way we communicated with audiences in the offline world.
We pick a target audience and we saturate them with messages in order to attract them to our platform. We tell them stories and weave narratives to convince these audiences that we are a good fit for them.
But this approach is not the right model for what comes next and it means that businesses are investing in the wrong areas.
Scarcity of Information
It is hard to believe, but today’s consumers live in an information-scarce world and the old school attract and convert mechanism is no longer effective.
Consumers don’t know everything, but they also have no time to analyse all the products and services that are available to them.
As businesses and marketers, we put a lot of energy into building brands and persuading audiences to believe our value propositions and to choose our brand over our competitors.
In an information scarce world, consumers have to rely on brands and fall back on trust to help them make decisions.
Brands compete to have the most compelling content because it acts as a proxy for consumer trust.
But what if you had full transparency? Google is changing consumer behaviour by becoming omniscient and is using insight to make decisions on what results users need.
As brands, we have to convince users to trust us during their journey, but Google acts as the middle man by identifying the quality of fit by assessing and understanding the content we are offering.
You have to be a good fit otherwise users will not find you, but the stories you tell to overcome that information scarcity only influences humans. It won’t necessarily influence Google.
If you are not a good fit, then you need to pay to get audiences to your site and brands are adapting by spending more on paid ads drive traffic. This approach will not work long-term because it will get more expensive.
Even with the best SEO, you still might not get that traffic to site because Google is becoming the platform where you consume and act, not just search.
Rich experiences are the future of Google. You no longer have to leave Google to read an article, watch a video, listen to a podcast, etc.
This approach is replacing conventional search results, as we increasingly turn to search to get the answers and solutions to the problems we face.
Google’s intent is to show the best result for me, so it is not going to force me to click through to another website. It’s why marketers need to consider the full impact of zero-click search results.
Zero-Click Search Results
Zero-click search results are valuable to users because they break down step-by-step guides and display all of the information in the search results in a digestible format.
It is useful for users and is the future of how they will search, browse and consume when looking for information and trust signals. Users will get the information they need from Google, not from websites.
This is because most searches aren’t made up of transactional terms, users are searching to solve problems. We can see this from the words they are using within their search queries: best, vs, definition, meaning, etc.
Problems are solved in Google and needs are met in the search results to the extent that 50% of searches never get beyond the search results.
Maps, jobs, flights, recipes, news are all available within Google. Users don’t need to visit your site, read your whitepaper or sign up for a newsletter.
Top tip: We need to stop thinking of Google as a search engine and think about how we can provide solutions for its users.
Reconsidering Our Contribution to the User Journey
Google views other environments and other websites as friction in the user journey and it doesn’t want its users to experience friction.
Your site might be slow to load or it might have pop-ups that delay the user journey, which create unnecessary steps for users and slow down their journey.
Also, your site might not be providing information in a way that Google can understand and present to a user.
This recipe demonstrates the issue that users face, as information is not clearly presented.
That’s why structured data is essential to the future of SEO:
- Content needs to be in a format that Google can understand
- Clicks are the wrong KPI
- Keep in mind that Google is no longer a search engine, it is a problem solving portal
- Your platform needs to feed their platform
Broad, successful adoption of structured data requires standardisation. It needs robust schema mark up across the breadth of the web to ensure information is presented to users in a useful way.
This approach should be adopted via CMS systems, making webmasters an important audience to Google to achieve its vision. It is spear-heading the adoption of new plug-ins with WordPress first.
It is also part of the solution to democratising success on the web. Currently it is harder for small businesses to compete online with larger organisations with big budgets.
It means that smaller businesses are more likely to leave the Google eco system and go elsewhere, such as Facebook. That’s bad for the web in general and bad for Google, as potentially they could lose out on revenue.
That’s why they have been working with the WordPress platform to offer an advantage to businesses.
Speed and Structure
WordPress enables content to be comprised of blocks, which ensures it is structured in a consistent manner.
Structured things are easy for Google to understand.
This approach enables businesses to incorporate schema mark-up in their WordPress site, without relying on developers and marketers to add it for them.
And it enables Google to understand the web at scale by consuming block-faced content, extracting the right information to show users directly in the search engine. Effectively solving problems in situ.
The web in general is still inefficient, with crawling, processing and storing being difficult, because the average site is slow and has big images.
Google is obsessed with page load speed because it is a critical component of user experience and users abandon slow sites.
Core Web Vitals are the best tools we have for evaluating an experience for users.
All of this leads to the complete standardisation of the web and will improve user experience across the board.
Businesses that fail to adapt will have to rely on paid search.
Follow Jono Alderson on LinkedIn.
Alternatively, catch up on other talks from Leicester Digital Live, including Tomas Seliokas’ analysis of the Top Digital Trends of 2020 or read the key takeaways on Kenda Macdonald’s talk on Building an Engaged List: Psychology, Hacks and Mistakes.