Episode 41: Roundtable discussion of search predictions for 2020.

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What's in this episode?

In this episode, Mark Williams-Cook and Rob Lewis are joined by PPC expert Sean Clark from Clark St. James and SEO expert Michael Curtis from Further to discuss search predictions for 2020. They will talk about how trends such as voice search and AI are affecting (or not so much!) the industry and how our job roles may continue to change and evolve.


MWC: Welcome to Episode 41 of the Search with Candour podcast! Recorded on Wednesday the 18th of December 2019. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and I'm joined again today by Mr. Rob Lewis.

RL: Hello.

MWC: And I have two very special guests Sean Clark, who's the director at Clark St. James and Michael Curtis, who is a senior SEO consultant at Further, who I’ll let introduce themselves in a moment.

This episode we're going to have a roundtable discussion about our crystal ball gazing, digital marketing, SEO, PPC predictions for 2020. We'll be covering voice search, we'll be covering AI and how our roles might be changing over the next few years.

Okay before we get started I think it would be great Sean, Michael, if you introduce yourselves. Sean, maybe if you go first.

SC: I'm Sean and I'm the director of Clark St. James, we're a PPC agency based in Norwich and for our sins, we also helped run sync Norwich, sync the city, which is a brilliant once a year 54-hour startup event held in Norwich and our own podcast, Click and Convert podcast.

MWC: I’ve listened to it.

SC: You’ve been on it!

MWC: I have.

SC So I've been working in digital now for 20 years and yeah, we've seen some changes and they're getting faster and faster so can't wait to discuss some of this.

MWC: Before we move on to Michael, very quickly, I'm gonna give you 45 seconds to tell people about the amazing thing you're doing to charity and where they can find out more.

SC: Ah thank you for that opportunity. So yeah, silly me, in April 2020 I will be running across the Sahara Desert, for six days, doing five and a half marathons back-to-back, carrying my own gear, in aid of Walking with the Wounded. So if you want to find out more about that and sponsor us or just share it, if you haven't got any pennies and can't sponsor us, head over to - yes, another podcast - and where you can find out more and listen to some of the participants and some of the organisers of the event. Thank you very much.

MWC: Michael.

MC: So I'm Mike Curtis, I'm an SEO consultant at Further - we're a search and CRO agency based in Norwich. I’ve been doing this for 12 years now, stumbled into a web design agency, desperately looking for a job and just kept doing it, people kept giving me money. Mainly technical SEO, predominantly been writing some awful code now for six years as well.

MWC: I saw, I think it's either on your Twitter or LinkedIn, you said if you leave your terminal window open, people leave you alone.

MC: Mmm yes. It's great!

MWC: And they keep paying you!

MC: When I first learned to code I made a point of making the writing on my monitor turn my green and black, just to see how many people would walk past my desk and go “wow, it's like you're in the matrix dude!” In four hours, it was five.

MWC: Out of how many? Five?

Okay, very good. Thank you. Okay, brilliant, thank you both for taking time out of your day because it's super busy just before Christmas, really appreciate it.

Our first topic I would love to talk about because it's been so hyped over the last few years is voice search. so voice search we're talking about all these Internet of Things devices going to people's homes, Alexa's, Google homes, we're talking about some massive predictions. So I think it was 2018 which the headline prediction was ‘by 2020 50% of searches are going to be done by voice’ - I don't think we're quite there yet.

SC: So what is 22 divided 2 million in terms of percentage, because when I did just a little bit of research prior to this, that's how many ‘cover up your home devices ok’ Google's there were in one of our biggest clients search terms. The one thing was they were virtually all 100% click-through rate, as you'd expect because it's a search result that is getting returned but honestly you know, I use voice a hell of a lot. I use it in the car, my home is kitted out as you'd expect from a geek, we can turn lights on and off, we use it for cooking and everything like that but for business-orientated things, I don't think it's been overhyped in terms of ordinary use and we certainly see it in younger people, using voice and its enabler for people with dyslexia or aren’t so good at reading. You know, all those sorts of things, it's an enabler for and it's used. From a business perspective, I think you have to be very careful about jumping on the bandwagon, if you're looking for ROI from voice, that's my view.

MWC: So the statistic there, I think a lot of people - I don't know whether it's fair to say backtracked - but said ‘oh that includes things like voice commands’, which is things like turning lights on and off, but to me, that's not a search, to me like you say when we're talking search, that's people looking for information, that's not ‘can you turn my radio on and off?’

So, is there anything that if we talk about SEO for a moment Michael, is there anything you think realistically businesses should be thinking about doing when we're optimising for voice? Is that a thing?

MC: The problem I've got, the way a lot of marketers are talking about voices man as a branding opportunity, and they say right okay - that in the acknowledgment that kind of people are only using it to ask questions or get information is there. I think what a lot of marketers are doing is saying ‘okay so you can get an answer in there and have it read as they are calling to - this is the answer to your question’ and it's saying right well that's a branding opportunity and that's the value of the voice search brings.

But like as an activation, it's not exactly an inspiring one, it's not the coca-cola lorry in terms of like building brand affinity and there's this big question on like how much reach there actually is on answering any of these questions. So we don't know how engaging that is as a branding proposition, you don't know what the reach is. that doesn't plug very nicely into a media plan and then if you look at ‘is there an acquisition opportunity there?’ No not really, nobody's really using it outside of maybe Amazon I think. I think if somebody’s sitting there going ‘god, I’m out of loo roll! Hey Amazon, send me more loo roll.”

MWC: What shouting from the toilet? Hey Alexa!

SC: Don’t you just push a button?

MWC: Yes I think they have those dash buttons don’t they? So if you don't know what dash button is, if you're listening, it's Amazon released these branded little buttons where basically you can just press them in your house, it's connected to Amazon account then it reorders whatever that button is and I've seen them for all sorts of things from yeah washing up liquid to Haribo which would be dangerous, I’d have no teeth after week. Even and I think it's maybe a bit of a stunt, even condoms. Sort of leaning over, pressing the button because you know you just forget.

SC: Is that on predicted delivery as well?


MC: Once every six months - your next delivery is 3,500.

MWC: So talking about voice, Rob have you noticed anything in the campaigns you're running over the last few years change with the voice search?

RL: The same really, every now and then I'll see a search term that begins with ‘okay Google’ and I'm when I say every now and then, I mean once in a blue moon I will see it on an account.

I'm very much of the opinion that, well I'm not a fan of intrusive advertising…

MWC: What's your job again?


RL: Intrusive advertising... and in my opinion the only real way that Google can monetize voice search from these devices such as Google Harbor or Alexa, are when you ask it a question - it's a question and answer thing, you know a request, you want some information and it's going to suggest something that's related to it and to me, that's just too intrusive to be practical.

So I personally can't see voice search/ advertising from a pay-per-click perspective becoming particularly huge. on the other hand, I think there are hidden benefits of it, so for example, if people were asking lots of questions about a certain product, then those people will be put into an audience list of people who are potentially interested in a service or a product, so you could maybe create an audience list for the display advertising to target those people. But I don't think it's a here and now, call to action, do this right now because you've used your voice to search for something. I can't see that happening anytime soon from a pay-per-click perspective.

MWC: Okay. So a lot of the guides I've seen when it comes to voice have actually been poo-pooed by Google, saying that there isn't a specific way you're going to optimise for voice searches. One thing that interests me, which runs across SEO and PPC, is obviously Google is in the main, it's Google really encouraging everyone to use schema and label their data because we know they've got this longer-term plan to become this answer engine and just know everything about everything and not have to rely on the really basic medium of a webpage and making you read it when it can just tell you the answer.

So do we think - so I think it’s obvious SEO is going that way in then Google wants to understand things and it's in your advantage if you provide that structured data because you get featured snippets all that. Do you think PPC could go the same way? Because PPC, where you’re already giving some structured data, in terms of like feeds and stuff for products, which I guess, makes it easy to answer those questions. Do you see that expanding in line with this, Google just being able to tell you about products and things rather than relying on brands.

SC: I think the problem is with voice, a lot of the situations where you use voice, there are so many other things that come into making that search result useful - location, your history and one of the things when you look at them, you know if you've got access to the search data and you look at the search terms and for people aren't aware if you go in your Google Ads account, look at keywords and then there's a tab there for search terms and then just filter by the word ‘Google’ and you will see if you've got any or the word ‘Siri’.

One of the major fall downs, I see at the moment is what's the most popular device out there? It's the iPhone. What's the most voice-enabled device in terms of mobile? It is an iPhone and in terms of in-home, it's Amazon and Alexa. The problem is, which is the one that features most in those search terms ‘okay Google’ - um you know Siri hardly gets a saying and I haven't seen an Alexa search come back in any small amount of research we’ve done and I haven't seen much come back there at all.

MWC: To interrupt you there and at the risk of massively exposing my ignorance with this, is the ‘hey Siri’ ‘hey Google’ not the activation term for the search? Would this always appear in the search term though?

SC: Well, ask her yourself.


RL: It's possible. I agree I think there is a percentage of people that say ‘okay Google’ after they've pressed the button, to activate it. For example, I know my other half will always use voice search and will press the button and say ‘okay Google’ and I'm like, you don't need to do that, just say ‘okay Google’.

MWC: You’ve just embarrassed her now.

RL: Yeah, well she never listens so it’s fine. But I think having said that we should still see so many more people doing that. I think there may be, who knows perhaps there'd be an update at some point in the future where Google will highlight with a tag whether or not it's a voice-activated search or not.

MWC: That’s been a request from SEOs for search console I know - to see if we can filter by which searches were done by voice.

MC: I’m going to go the other way, I think that the data is going to go away completely. So I think there's a risk, that there's a privacy risk. So obviously there was that story this year that contractors listen to erroneous triggers and we're hearing personal conversations, stuff that you wouldn't want a stranger to be listening in to. Now if that stuff's going triggered and is then showing up in analytics or is then showing up in Adwords, that's a big privacy scandal brewing. If somebody accidentally activates it, accidentally sends a command to a website, somebody's sitting there and sees a half a private transcript of a private conversation show up, I don't know whether Google would cut that off for the pass but I think one way or the other that data is going to go away completely and privacy’s going to be cited as the reason.

Again, going back to the commercial opportunity, why would anyone invest in this big black hole that we know nothing about?

SC: It’s like what WAP was to mobile really. It’s just not there yet, I remember actually in the late 90s, trying to sell - which is where I started my career selling websites - trying to sell WAP mobile sites, you know for people that were using Nokia phones.

MWC: That's Wireless Application Protocol for those under the age of 100.


SC: Ah yes, I do apologise! It was the Teletext - oh wait, no one will get the reference either.

MWC: No I think Teletext is a nice comparison.

SC: And of course, look where mobile is now. It is the de facto device and thing for PPC, for SEO. You know, it's what we're all working on. So I think voice is probably gonna be the same, get another 20 years under our belts and maybe we won't be using a keyboard again.

MWC: I think that's a really good place to end that topic of voice because we're already creeping on now with time. I think a really good summary there is everyone's kind of in agreement that we're not quite there with voice.

I've had some interesting conversations with Rob on previous episodes as well about Google Ads moving away from keyword-based stuff and more into intense stuff which fits I think really nicely with what you said, Michael, into keywords probably will disappear because Google's just gonna have its black box and say, hey the intense more important you know, different cultures, different languages, different ways of saying things, you don't need to know that, we need to know that.

Cool. So our second topic, I always cringe as I say it, is AI, artificial intelligence.

SC: Now do you mean AI or do you mean machine learning?

MWC: So let's define these terms too because you know, I'm definitely in the camp of having studied machine learning that I think the word AI/ machine learning is overused, it's definitely used for people to get investment where they're maybe shouldn't be as much. So we're going to define AI, well we will say machine learning at least in the definition I'm talking about, it is a subset of AI, it’s one specific branch of it.

I want to talk specifically about two things, two lots of things. It's kind of two separate conversations; PPC around Google automation strategies, this is what really interests me. So we did an episode, Rob and I, two/three episodes ago just about Google optimisation score. It was a little bit of I think therapy for Rob and talking about the Google automated strategies because they are pushing very very hard on this and as Michael says, it's a black-box approach of, you just tell us what you want to happen at the end and press the button and we'll do it and as I know Sean you've mentioned before, Google has the team of account managers who are very assertive in that they want you to use these features.

So my question, maybe if we start with you Sean is, where do you think we're gonna go with these automation strategies? Should people be using them? And are they going to get better? Because you know I think we've concluded already that they don't just work what it says on the tin.

SC: No. So it's a bit of crossover from what you just ended the last section on, which is that intense stuff and as Google is getting better at understanding intent and it's getting more data around that intent and we're going yeah that's good, like ticking the boxes within the machine if you like and giving that feedback as account managers. Yeah whether it be in house or agency wise, as you are almost rewarding the dog for sitting, that is basically what you're doing.

Google is learning and learning and learning and learning and it is getting there and it is getting spookily good at certain things. Smart shopping, I don't know whether you noticed but smart shopping has come on leaps and bounds in the last 12 months, whereby we've got a client with enough data, we switch into some smart shopping and we see performance improvements within weeks, if not days and that's all to do with the bigger picture that Google's got available. So I think there's a big ‘depends’ - Google needs an awful lot of data to make the right decisions and if you set up all your conversion tracking properly and now you can assign it a campaign level, so if you assign your conversions at campaign level properly as well, then it can learn.

What I detest are the things like Google AdWords Express, where you are given that false sense of security, where you put in a few words, tell you what you do, point to your website and give it ten pounds a day and Google go off and do your bidding for you. I think that is a really useful tool but I think you need a whole lot of skills to again make sure you give the right commands to Google and the right focus of intent. So it can go off and do the right thing that it is capable of, but it needs a lot of data to do it properly.

MWC: You've mentioned, I think three times there, about it needing a lot of data and Rob what are your views and I'll come back to you Sean on this as well. There's a lot of third-party tools on the market for Google Ads that are claiming they use quote, unquote AI to improve performance and how do you think, what's the future in those tools, when obviously Google has, I guess data that they can't ever access?

RL: Well whenever I'm running a report or a review for a client, there's always one particular page I like to present and it's always a list of the top converting search terms and one of the things I like about doing that is that it's not like how it was ten years ago where there'll always be a consistent set of search terms that drove the most value or conversion. now I often find that around seventy percent of all search terms that converted have never been typed in or clicked on before in the account, so they're unique search terms that that create sales.

So to answer your question and going back to what you were saying earlier, Google has a lot of information about the intent of the user and no other company or software program - they can claim that they have information about this intent but ultimately it's still going to come back from Google. They're going to be using Google ads or the double-click network to define what that intent is with someone and it's ultimately Google that holds that coveted information of that person's previous browsing history, their demographic makeup and what they've been searching for and what their interests are. So to answer your question, it is going more towards intense and only Google has the sheer volume of searches, every second of the day, to be able to collate that intent and use effective machine learning or AI to act on them.

MWC: So Sean the, yes or no, do you think Google will get there with the automated approach?

SC: Yes, in some areas and the reason I say that, is that in the pure data-driven areas they can get there, they can make a difference but a lot the time they can only tell you the what and the why is the big thing that you know as ad managers, again I'll say whether agency or in-house or otherwise, we're out there finding out the why and I think that would be a really hard one for Google to pull off.

MWC: Okay, interesting. Michael, let's talk SEO and AI, how do you see AI/ machine learning, however, we want to call it, impacting the work we're doing as SEOs?

MC: Um so…

MWC: You can go any way you like with that, I’ve chucked you a wide blanket topic.

MC: I mean the question of the why, that's the black box problem effectively, you've got system input, system outputs, no one knows what that black box in the middle is doing. That's a bit of a challenge especially as an SEO because you find stuff going into pictures and you say this is what's working through competitors, oh why is that working? ‘I don’t know’ which is a tricky thing to turn into an invoice.

MWC: I think Michael has really got this business thing standing from end to end here.

MC: I think the big challenge we've got is, AI kind of creates a situation where contradictional opinions can be true. So I just started at Further, started there four months ago, new to the business so start discussing with my colleagues, about experiences and what they're doing on their accounts and what’s happening on the things I'm taking over and they often turn around and say something like, we did this and it worked and it's the exact opposite of an experience that I've had on my previous clients and it's because there's this black box and it's weighing up different signals and it's kind of creating almost a bespoke algorithm for that user intent, that can be completely different from one client or one business to the next.

So I think the real challenge we've got as SEOs is almost, whereas in the past we knew we had to put the keywords on the page, we knew we had to get links and that was true no matter what vertical you're in. Suddenly you start needing almost sector-specific knowledge - so I used to do a lot of working travel, I know that if you're searching for a hotel, if you'd search something like hotels in London, every listing will have the word top in it and it'll be top 10 hotels in London, top 8 hotels in London, some of those will be travel agents, some of those will be publishers but that'll be the common theme that emerges. I think that’s what a ranking factor becomes and that's an industry-specific thing, I can't take that knowledge and transplant that into b2b, it's irrelevant, but that's what a ranking factor becomes.

So I think - this is one of my predictions for what's going to happen to SEO in the context of AI is, sort of like traditional marketing always has, you know start seeing kind of more sector specialism emerge and just as people get that instinctual feeling for, what does the audience want and also how is Google reacting to all those audiences want, that becomes kind of the expertise that then gets sold onto clients.

MWC: So I think then it's fair to conclude from that, someone just asking what ranking factors does Google use, is almost an impossible question to ask now without the context of which site are you looking at?

MC: Yeah.

MWC: I think common ones we hear are things like, oh you need fresh content on your website, it's still something I hear people say and then when I talk to people I say, you know it's not necessarily true if you have a news website obviously by definition news isn't only a thing that's new so it's super chronological, but if you're archiving research documents, it's probably not important that they're new because the research is the research and it was done when it was done.

MC: I think the other interesting side is, ‘does AI actually analyse intent?’ is actually a big question mark. So to use my hotel example, is it that users searching for hotels are looking for a range of hotels, is that the thing that AI is picking up on? Or is it just they ran an LP on the pages that people are engaged with and figure at the word top features prominently like they don't actually see the distribution of hotels as matching user intent, just top equals clicks or top equals engagement, therefore promoter sites were tops.

MWC: So is it dog wagging tail or tail-wagging dog kind of thing.

SC: What you’ve got going on is the same as what people like myself and rob are using to build marketing audiences. Google is building some of the most sophisticated, biggest remarketing audiences in the world, whether it be for SEO or PPC purposes and that is all they're doing and they're using the data to build those, not necessarily understanding the psychology as much and

I'm sure they've got as many psychologists, as they have analysts, maybe, maybe not but you know, they are…

MWC: That's wild speculation.

SC: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb, not as many as it does an analyst to do, but yeah I think that's what it is really, is that they're taking the things like top and all of those people that click on those results with the word top in go in an audience. I mean it's really simple and then they see what happens to that audience and then they add something else to it and something else to it.

So even in people that specialise in AI and here I'm talking about actual people that specialise in AI, not marketers like myself who dip into the topic.

MC: Not that I did the AWS tutorial like a pro.

MWC: Yes, not that I did attend the TensorFlow tutorial. So, the people that study it, it's interesting because when you see predictions for things like general intelligence, it ranges from some experts saying 20 years and some saying 200 years, which is obviously in technology a huge difference. I mean I think that and we'll move on to the next topic but I think we will get there in terms of even stuff like the psychology because I think when we look at what we do in terms of, okay we're targeting this audience and this audience like this message, that's still like a logical process you know, that's not a random thing. Unfortunately, it's a little bit depressing, but I'm not sure how sacred human creativity is.

SC: Yes, may I just add as well, the real areas where you've seen AI really work is in two games one called Go and one called Chess. an engine called alpha zero has managed to, without being told anything about the game, basically, play Grandmaster level and above chess and the chess grandmasters now use alpha zero-based engines to help them get better. think about those though, they are what we would call in the business, sector-specific and those AI engines know about a certain thing, you couldn't take alpha zero and get it to do search, yet.

MWC: Alpha zero, wasn't that without going too far off-topic, that was like a general model to learn that game there right? You could take the model that learned Go and just let it watch chess and it would then play chess right?

SC: Yeah, so but that's what I'm saying. They're building these things for sector-specific, so you know and search is a much much bigger game with much more psychology and many more variables in than even chess and so and I think that's what Mike means, it's gonna be a long long time before it really gets it.

MWC: So I think the chess originally was considered as a thing computers would never be able to beat humans at because chess was a strategic game and you had to plan ahead and yeah I don't think it was many years ago.

Anyway, let's move on to our next topic which is related, which is I want to talk about how the role of SEOs, PPC managers, digital marketers is going to change in line with all these things; AI, voice search, over the next few years and I guess to give you a punchy question, Sean, I'm going pick on you because we talked about saying we think Google will get most of the way there with say, you know Google Ads and my cynical viewpoint is, I think Google probably want some of the money that's being paid to agencies just directly into media spend, do you see the role of agencies being diminished or changed as the AI kind of starts becoming better at all these tasks?

SC: It will change, it's already changed. You know some of the things that you had to do ten years ago, you don't even have to think about, you tick a box now, you know you don't have to try and make Google ads go in a certain direction, you tick the box in it and it will go there.

The areas where I think agencies and in-house people are still going to be very important is psychology, it's going to be analysis of what the user does after they've clicked on a word on the page, so a lot of conversion rate optimisation is a big opportunity and to be fair, there aren't many agencies out there that do conversion rate optimisation really well and it's a big thing so there's that and there's the creative side.

I mean Google, I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek, but Google does suggest ads. But you have to be really careful with what you allow it to do because it doesn’t say the purpose of the campaign and why the MD asked you to create that campaign because they wanted to feature number one for this phrase over and above everything else and that our brand values mean you can't use that word. They're the things that aren't known, so I think we'll - and the one job will probably be the analyst will now, rather than do so much analysing because Google will be doing it, they will be the interpreter for what Google's doing and you see they're trying to understand why it's making the decision that it is and then adjusting the machine so that it makes a slightly better decision and so you’ll probably have interpreters basically.

RL: I think some of the closest client relationships I’ve formed over the last few years have been from when I've worked on accounts that are quite big and I've tried to humanise all of the data that Google has supplied and helping the client to make actionable decisions about them to improve their business, not just in terms of improving the product but improving the customer journey, the flow, that the communication, how they communicate their brand to visitors, so I think moving forward there'll be a lot less hands-on hard grafting with the accounts because as you said, they'll you know, press a button and Google will go off and do what you tell it to do.

I think a lot of its going to be consultancy based and helping as you say to translate what Google's doing and to tell Google where it should go in order to to make the best to generate the best results.

MWC: And how do we see SEO, the role of SEO is changing over the next few years?

MC: So I think it depends on what sort of SEO you are, I think there are two levels. I think firstly most places it's going to be industry specialisms gonna rise and people just more intimately knowing the audience and how the models are reflecting that audience. I also think there's probably a bit of a golden age for spammers coming in a few years.

MWC: Excellent.

MC: So the problem is these aren’t doing particularly complicated understandings at the stage of audiences, I think they really are just saying this word correlates with clicks, so pages with this word get a boost and yes, I'm doing anything much more sophisticated than that. Somebody else can - like machine learning models are not hard to build - somebody else can come along start working that stuff out and then we're right back to the old days of I'm gonna stick the keyword in ten times into the footer and now I rank, only just a more sophisticated method of that. Until Google starts hitting that threshold where they can do a more sophisticated understanding of intelligence, they're not going to be able to counter that, they’ve got a fairly surface-level algorithm, so I think it's just going to be a case of everything that's old is new again and even like on the legitimate end, there will still be that sort of, yeah I think so you should have the word top in your title tag so you have to put the word top in your title tag, regardless of my audience intent or whether you kind of match out how good of a job you're doing, I think that sort of optimisation is still there, it's just gonna revolve on a little bit.

MWC: One of the things I've noticed is, so we had a lot of discussions recently around BERT, which was the new google methods of analysing things, like the order of the words in a sentence and applying different importance discern was - and they found it was much better at understanding the meaning and then, of course, we have the wave of articles of ‘how to optimize your site for Google BERT’

The thing I took away from this actually is that there are probably things you can do to make your site rank better, but those things now you are basically optimising for people, ie you're just making better content, rather than I'm doing a thing so a robot understands this - so if say you're adding additional, you know going really old-school like late nineties, you were adding additional keywords onto the page and sometimes making it harder for a human to read because the robot was so basic that this is just what pressed its buttons and I think a lot of the content stuff now I find at least that I'm helping internal teams and guiding them on, isn't so much optimising for robots ease and I’ll try to not even mention SEO, I'm just like, well actually we think this would be helpful for the user if we did this and then kind of under my breath being like, it’ll make you rank better.

As a technical SEO, this is really interesting me, so my thought would be you know at the rate at which Google is advancing in terms of its crawling indexing parsing technology, I thought a few years ago was going to outpace the different technologies on the web and then the technical SEO might become less important and I guess I'm throwing this out there to see if you agree because I felt recently the technical SEO is more important than ever.

MC: Yeah so I think I had the same opinion income four, five years ago, but then along came JavaScript. I think where we're at now if in the next two-three years it's kind of peak technical SEO I think the reason that technical SEO is so important is because the web dev industry is just a garbage fire at the moment, but there does seem to be a little bit of acknowledgment of that building out there like if you look on dev forums, we look on dev Twitter that push back against hey why are we sending a ten megabytes worth of Java scripts for somebody wants to read a blog post that's crazy, that acknowledgment does slowly start to be building and I think once that gets out there, I think usage of these frameworks either diminishes or like the holes in them are patched, I think technical SEO will be right back to where it was always going to be which is something for really massive sites that have problems, that 99% of the web doesn't.

MWC: I mean at the moment the-- I mean the solution that's kind of surprised me for a lot of these frameworks is that there isn't like a graceful fallback for a lot of them. Google is just saying, can you just please make a whole other version of the website that's pre-rendered just for us and Facebook and stuff please, because to me that doesn't seem to be solving the problem that's like you know that's creating a whole load of work you know if you get involved with the development of a site late on and it's built-in Angular or something and then you're like, oh yeah you're gonna need to just make a whole other rendered version of this site, you don't tend to get a warm reception from developers right?

MC: They genuinely don't like that, no.

SC: And I find they don’t understand it. So going back to the basics of structured markup, conversion tracking, those sort of things were always been seen more as marketing lead initiatives rather than a requirement for a website. so you say yeah I mean it's like the web development community were going down one track and what we need to do for SEO and PPC is going down another track and slowly they're converging, yeah I don't know about you Michael, Rob but I find half my time spent working with clients is actually working with a web development agency, educating them what a good page layout looks like and from an end-user perspective and how to install Google tag manager.

MC: I think it's it's Conway's law in action. So Conway's law, I think he was a computer scientist in the 70s so just going into business, installing these big mainframes and he made the observation that the way systems work reflects the communication structures of those organizations.

MWC: I just Googled that and that's almost word-for-word.

MC: I've noticed a guy cram it into every PowerPoint just to like feel smart. I think it's a perfect example of that so I think in a lot of organizations that developer resource is this, is the corner where the computer people go and they do computer stuff and we’re all intimidated because they use words that we don't understand and then that ends up being reflected in the way that they go off and go, oh this is a shiny toy, this looks fancy I want to play with the shiny toy, they don't know or care about the commercial impacts of that, they're just off in their own bubble. nobody's got the skills or language or the ability to challenge them on it because they’re like, get back in your bubble, so yeah these messes just keep cropping up again and again.

It’s a weird one for a technical SEO because I'm sitting there like I can sit there and diagnose problems all day, every day but like that's just sellotaping over the cracks. The real problem is an organisational structural problem and you’re hired as an SEO like is this hiring you to talk to him about that? Probably not, so you can run into a bit of a roadblock there.

RL: Yeah, so we see similar things with pay-per-click actually when you're running an account and you can drive all the targeted traffic in the world to the website but ultimately the reason some accounts just don't fail to convert, no matter how much of a wizard you are at pay-per-click you can't make people buy something if there's organisation or issues of the website and it reflects the product, it reflects the website itself and it reflects the business practices that they're employing. So sometimes the real change to make a business grow and has to come from within first rather than the activities that are driving traffic to the site.

MWC: I was in say, I can understand this from a developer point of view, in that a lot of developers you actually think about the user but there's a lot of stuff say for SEO that will fall through the cracks like you know canonical tags, href language, server-side rendered versions, the user is never going to see any of these things; Google Analytics, tag manager. So it doesn't enter the driver’s mind when they're building the site and then they're thinking about the end-user. But the user experience starts normally at search, so if you actually talk to someone something, what's the first thing they do, the product you build needs to enable them to get from that initial, I want this to your website and yes, if it's PPC you're driving it through they need to actually convert as well.

So maybe that goes in line with as Google is understanding these sites better and as PPC is getting more competitive, one of the things companies should be focusing on is this organisational thing of realizing that the customer touchpoints are going across sales, marketing, developers and you know we need to get everyone in a room and I want to say fight to the death.

SC: I want to add to that as well. It's not a far cry to understand that Google is generating or collating all this data to build a business and to build a smoother and more efficient machine. so when you're building a website, think of it the same way, you know to connect everything up, make sure everything can be tracked all the way through, every click you know every movement, even if you’re not going to use the data for the next five years, you're building that website for a business goal, just make sure everything can be seen. I think then it makes our jobs easier when we come

In, we're not spending you know two weeks of the initial set up trying to get tag manager in place properly or try to get structured markup done because actually if you've got job listings, there is a way to list a job in structured markup that means it instantly appears in Google. Why wouldn't you do that? So it's just taking that bit of thought, what’s the end goal and make sure that you've got all those bits joined up, ready for the business as much as the user.

MWC: And then the visitor rejected cookies.


MWC: Okay we're fast approaching our time here, so if we can summarize, I just I would love you all to give one prediction and bit of advice for 2020, what you think businesses should think about, what they should focus on, what should they be doing. We will start with you, Michael.

MC: Um just breaking down silos. I think that's the most important thing for any business and everybody involved in one. I think regardless gonna have intelligent Google is or any aggregator and how they work, like people will find you through an aggregator, you've got to understand what they want before they arrived on your website, regardless of how you execute on that, that will evolve over time but as long as you've got people on one side sitting there going, I'm gonna make a website depending on what I think is good and somebody else then trying to retrofit stuff on top of it, that's just never gonna work.

MWC: Take the lock off the IT room door. I like it. Rob.

RL: My major prediction for next year, by the end of next year, is that Google will revoke the ability to manually bid on Google Ads and everything's gonna be automated and they're already pushing a lot of vanity metrics at the moment such as search impression share and I think my recommendation would be to advertisers to remember the return on investment targets and remember that ultimately it's about making a profit, it's not about optimisation score or reach - if that reach isn't generating a profit.

SC: I mean a little bit off the back of Rob because if Rob is right, I really believe that businesses have just got to better understand their end-user. If they do that one simple thing is know their target market understand the user or the users, you know it doesn't have to be a single target market you could be multiple, they really really understand that they can apply it to anything and it doesn't matter what automation Google puts in place, you can benefit if you really understand what drives your user and what turns them on and what makes them convert.

MWC: I really like that advice, it's like what Michael said about you know maybe developers just playing a new thing it's very easy to get distracted by new technologies, new tactics, new techniques and actually forget the core of what you're trying to do and actually what Google is probably trying to measure, which is are you giving the user what they want as quickly as possible so we can make as much money as possible from ads.

SC: Just to add to that, developers don't forget your end client is the business, so where the website you’re attracting the user, the web developers is the business so think about your end client.

MWC: They won't. Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to join us on Episode 41of Search with Candour and this is it now for Christmas. So this will be going out on Monday the 23rd, so everyone that's listening I hope you have a lovely break, I hope you've got some time off over Christmas. I know there are some people they'll be working over Christmas, I hope you have a lovely time as well. we are not going to be back until Monday the 6th of January 2020, that'll be when our next episode goes live. You can get the transcription of this episode and we'll put some links to all the things people have mentioned at My name is Mark Williams-Cook and I hope you enjoy the holidays.

SC: Merry Christmas.

MC: Merry Christmas.

RL: Merry Christmas.

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