Lily Ray encourages SEOs in 2023 to expand your remit into new formats and take advantage of what Google and other search engines have to offer in order to stay ahead of the curve.
Lily says: “This year, it’s going to be especially important to think beyond the 10 blue links. Google continues to innovate with different rich results, new types of accordions, thumbnails, carousels, and all kinds of SERP features that are changing the landscape of organic search.
If you’re not expanding into new formats to take advantage of what Google (and other search engines like TikTok) are doing with images and video, then you might be left behind.”
What does that mean in terms of tracking your SEO success? Are software tools getting better at incorporating other search engines, and things like images and video?
“I can’t think of a tool that comes to mind in terms of capturing a brand’s entire organic presence in the search results across a bunch of different search engines, social media platforms, and everything else. That’s a big opportunity for the analytics tools to think about.
There are different ways that you can piece things together in terms of how your site is ranking across different sites that you own, or different social media properties. You can then cross reference that with the analytics tools that you use. Within Google Search Console, you have a lot of different reporting features that you can look at as well.”
How do you measure the benefits of appearing high in the rankings on other search engines, where converting traffic is perhaps less directly measurable?
“It’s getting more and more challenging over time. A lot of us have relied on tools like Google Analytics, which is going through a big change in 2023. It’s changing to GA4, and it’s going to take a lot of the SEO industry, and the analytics industry, a long time to adjust to that.
Attribution is getting harder across the board, not just for SEO, but for paid channels as well. It’s challenging. A lot of the time, we just have to try to get a good understanding of how valuable it is for a brand to appear in these different places, and do the best we can in terms of tracking attribution across different platforms.”
Is there a particular attribution model that you favour?
“It’s case by case. We like to take credit in the SEO space because people often encounter our content first - months before they make a transaction. In that sense, first touch is great. It’s really hard, however, to keep track of the role that organic plays in a customer’s search journey. There could be so many different touchpoints where they encounter us organically, or they may just search for the brand at the very end - even though they’ve read a lot of our content before that point. It’s getting trickier and trickier.”
What should brands be doing on these different platforms to be more successful?
“Platforms like TikTok and Instagram serve as places for your brand to rank in Google’s organic results for your brand name. To that extent, everybody should be there. I waited a really long time to join TikTok, for the same reasons many people don’t want to join, but I realised that brands and individuals are starting to have their TikTok pages rank on the top page of Google when you search for their name. There was a big algorithm update early in 2022, and a lot of the TikTok pages for brands like Starbucks started to rank on page one of Google for their names.
Controlling all of those different assets is a reputation management strategy. You don’t necessarily need to try to become famous on TikTok, because it’s hard to do, but you should maintain a brand presence there. If you can start to figure out your niche - there may be some cute videos that you can make about your company, for example - then you should definitely take advantage of that.”
If you’re on these platforms, do you need to stay active, and keep checking them and publishing content on a regular basis?
“It’s hard to say. With TikTok, it’s hard for a lot of brands to fit the vibe. TikTok has quite a particular audience, and there is a certain type of content that resonates with its audience. For some brands, it can be really hard to create that type of content and make short videos that explain what the brand is all about while finding a way to entertain customers. If you’re a B2B company, for example, it might be hard to do that.
Just having a presence there is enough to get started, but you should definitely be keeping a pulse on how people are interacting with you and whether they’re sending you messages, etc. Of course, that should be part of a brand’s social strategy anyway.”
As long as you’re publishing content regularly and you’re not targeting highly short-tail keyword phrases, is it easier to gain visibility for your brand’s activities on other platforms, and other search engines, than on Google?
“Definitely. Starting to think beyond Google, and starting to think about all these different places where your brand can convey expertise and provide expert content, is definitely something that companies should be focusing on in 2023.
Google is getting better at understanding audio content and video content. One thing that I always recommend is to use the experts at your brand. First of all, whatever content they are creating (if they’re doing podcast interviews, for example) you should be leveraging that content as much as possible for your own site. Maybe you can embed a Spotify podcast or YouTube video on your site and add a transcription.
There are also a lot of great ways to use the search engines of stores like Spotify or Apple Music as a place to show up for different types of queries as well. Taking inventory of all the different search engines that are available is a really great approach.”
Is it important to have other platforms in mind when you’re creating content?
“Absolutely. If you’re recording a podcast or a video show, you could think about sound bites or questions that are likely to be appealing on social media. Then, you’ve got something that you can share on multiple platforms.
Also, consider the transcription capabilities that a lot of these tools have, including Google and YouTube. Google is now serving up both audio and video content as an actual search result for queries, if they found the answer to a question within something like a podcast or an interview.
You might ask how to pronounce something, and Google can actually jump to the middle of a YouTube video where it says, ‘This is how you pronounce this word.’ They’re getting better at understanding the text that’s within a video and audio file. The more that you can do to think about the actual content quality within something like an interview is going to be really helpful.
You might do some keyword research on People Also Ask content and incorporate those questions as part of your content, which can then be transcribed or published as well. Structuring questions and answers in a way that people search is always best practice, both in text and audio.”
Where does something like a TikTok video, a podcast episode, or a social media post sit into the overall content marketing strategy?
“I tend to recommend this type of approach for any business that’s focusing on leveraging in-house experts as part of their content strategy. If your expert knows something about a given topic and they’re able to go and share that knowledge with the world (through podcast interviews, video interviews, etc.) then that’s a great way to show Google that you have in-house experts that can use their voice across different platforms. A lot of the time, Google will show a YouTube video result for a given search query, so having your experts in all those places is really important.
As far as TikTok goes, then it’s almost a different team, or a different area of expertise, than traditional search marketing. At my agency, we have TikTok social media people that are making TikTok videos, and we also have a video production team that’s making TikTok videos. That’s not SEO to me. Of course, it is a search engine and there are ways to tag it properly for SEO, but it’s more about creative capabilities and finding a hook and a type of video format that really resonates with people.”
Do you think SEOs in the future will have to be completely aware of other search engines, rather than completely focussed on more traditional, highly technical SEO?
“SEO is becoming more fractured, in a way - particularly in terms of the skill set that’s required to do SEO. My team contains more than 30 people, and we have people doing local, people doing technical, people doing content, etc.
You should probably know a lot about all of those things as an SEO specialist, but there is a depth of expertise that people have in different areas. It’s really important to hone in on what you’re good at. There’s so much knowledge out there, and it’s hard to be an expert at everything.”
How would you decide on what you’re good at?
“What you’re good at and what you enjoy doing becomes clear the longer you do SEO. We have certain people on my team that love local SEO, and they’re obsessed with Google Business Profile, so they should spend their time getting to know local as much as possible. That way, when we have local clients, they can specialise on that. We also have technical people who have an IT and coding background, and that’s their thing. They don’t love content optimisation as much.
That’s not to say that every SEO has to find their area of expertise, but if you do have something that you really love, then go down that track. You’ll probably see better results that way.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“2022 showed that Google is becoming a lot stricter in terms of fighting spam, but also some content strategies that SEOs might not consider to be spam – like a lot of the grey hat automated SEO strategies that used to work really well. Google’s cracking down on these, with the core updates and the helpful content update.
Google’s very focused on EAT now; they’re very focused on reducing thin, duplicate, low-quality content. A lot of sites over the years have tried to take shortcuts with their content strategies, and have perhaps relied too much on AI to the point where the content doesn’t make sense. Those types of strategies are going to work less well over time, for sure.”
Lily Ray is Senior Director of SEO and Head of Organic Research at Amsive Digital and you can find her over at lilyray.nyc.
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