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2020 Prediction Month: Google Increases Efforts to Integrate More UI Features – Eric Enge // Perficient Digital

Episode Overview: Google’s initiatives to update and expand its search ecosystem in 2019 led to major gains for the company, changing the way SEOs utilize and interact with their platform. Their efforts are already bearing fruit, as they’ve begun to draw more users to its platform and ecommerce experience with intuitive UI features. Join host Ben as he speaks with Eric Enge, chief manager at Perficient Digital to analyze Google’s new UI features, how they impact SEOs and what tactics to use to get the most benefit from them.

Summary

  • Google integrating more UI features demonstrates they’re aiming to obtain more revenue by keeping visitors on the platform longer and incentivizing users to use their platform more.
  • Google’s efforts to consolidate content into “Pure walled gardens,” could potentially backfire, angering the SEO community and users as it diminishes their opportunities to upsell, build relationships and retarget consumers.
  • Enge advises SEOs to carefully determine which UI features serve their business best and to take advantage of them to maximize their brand’s reach and overall performance.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                 Welcome to 2020 Predictions Month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this month we’re looking into the crystal ball to tell you SEOs and content marketers what you can expect in 2020. Joining us for SEO Predictions Month is Eric Enge, who’s the Principal of Digital Marketing at Perficient Digital, which is a leading digital transformation consulting firm serving enterprise customers with unparalleled information technology, management consulting and creative capabilities. Today Eric is going to share his predictions for why Google will be integrating more features into its UI in 2020. Okay, so here’s my conversation with Eric Enge, Principal for Digital Marketing at Perficient Digital. Eric, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Eric:                 Thanks, Benjamin. Thanks for having me back.

Ben:                 I think it’s your third time on the show. I officially think we can call you a friend of the pod. Great to catch up again.

Eric:                 Oh, what an interesting title, friend of the pod. I think I have to change like a tagline on my Twitter handle to that or something.

Ben:                 I’ll be honest, we stole it from Pod Save America. We’re going to print t-shirts, but we need something more SEO focused.

Eric:                 Ah, there you go.

Ben:                 We’re going to optimize your LinkedIn profile one podcast appearance at a time. Let’s start off with your SEO predictions. It’s a new year. We’ve got a clean slate. Tell us a little bit about what you think is going to be happening with Google. You mentioned offline that you think they are going to be integrating more features into the UI. You did some research. Tell us about your predictions for 2020 and how is it going to affect Google’s front end?

Eric:                 I do think it’s actually a really important ongoing initiative at Google to keep implementing and testing out new ways of improving the overall search results from their perspective. Improving is in their definition of what improving is. Just to be clear, the kinds of things I’m talking about that we’ve all already seen. We’ve seen the featured snippets, which are the kinds of instant answers which are sourced from third party websites. We’ve seen a knowledge panel or knowledge graph results, which are things like how many ounces in a pound kind of things, where Google just answers quick factual questions.

Ben:                 Sixteen, right?

Eric:                 Very good.

Ben:                 All right.

Eric:                 Local search results, image carousels, video carousels, news results, people also ask boxes. There’s so many different kinds of features. They are going to keep doing more of these things.

Ben:                 Eric, let me ask you, tell me the underlying reason why all of this is happening.

Eric:                 Sure. Basically what Google is trying to do is ultimately they’re trying to get more revenue from their platform. There’s two different ways they can do that. One is that they can go ahead and do things where they monetize each visitor better, and they might do that by keeping the visitor on their platform more. Then the other way they can do that is that they can cause people to use the service more. Let’s talk about both of those in turn. The first part is, in terms of monetizing the platform more, well, in theory if the users get the answers that they need from Google on platform without having to leave, they might continue to engage more with the platform and do more things which will eventually lead to them clicking something. That’s one way to increase revenue, right?

Ben:                 Right.

Eric:                 The other way is to increase usage because the results they provide are so satisfying to users that the users just want to keep coming back and getting more and more answers out of Google rather than migrating off to other ways of getting answers, like asking your friend via text or something like that.

Ben:                 There’s an interesting juxtaposition of the SEO community and Google here, where us as a community of content marketers and content optimizers are sitting here saying, “I’m doing my best to get my content to be recognized by Google as the best possible piece of content.” Then Google is turning around and saying, “Thanks for the information. I’m going to present that to the consumer on Google.com in a way that only gets them to consume the content on my domain and you get no additional trackable value out of it.” I understand from a Google perspective, they’re big enough that they could pull this off where they essentially are not necessarily stealing, but they’re taking content from websites and they’re presenting it as essentially their own, or at least in their own experience, and providing no value to the creators of that content, or less or little value to the creators of that content.

Ben:                 Don’t you think that there’s risk for Google in this scenario where they’re bringing everything into the answer box, they’re bringing all of these UIs? It seems like I agree with you that this is a path that they’re going down more and more to keep people sort of within their walled garden, but it also seems like there’s some potential backlash from the SEO community. We’re starting to see that with the Rap Genius lawsuit and some of the other things that have happened in 2019. How do you feel about Google’s strategy, and are they taking on more risk?

Eric:                 Well, there’s an inherent risk and I think it’s much broader than the SEO community. Google, first of all, pure walled gardens don’t work, never have never will. Users don’t want them. If Google tries to keep people too much on the Google platform and they exceed some level of acceptable norm, it’s the users who will seek other answers and their usage level will go down. I think there’s a dynamic tension there where Google has to set a balance of not going too far in order to not threaten their market share, basically, in their use. Yes, people say Google doesn’t have any competitors. Sure they do. They have calling your friend is a competitor. Texting your friend is a competitor. Going to Amazon is a competitor, right? There’s a lot of different places that users can go get things. Yes, going to Bing is a competitor. It might be in the appropriate place in that list since I had it about fourth. Yeah, there are different things that provide some dynamic tensions.

Ben:                 Understood. It’s interesting to hear you say it’s … Basically what I’m inferring from this is Google doesn’t necessarily care about how the SEO community feels about their content being repurposed on Google’s domain. They’re only going to act and start changing the user experience when the end consumers start asking for it. This is a question of whether they can not necessarily get away with it, but they’re going to take as much content and put it on their platform as they possibly can and let the users decide what is enough value and what’s enough value and utility on the Google domain or when they want to bounce to another experience.

Eric:                 Well, that’s not actually what I meant to imply exactly. Let me clarify a little bit. I think the more important pressure is from users on Google than the SEO community. Yes, the SEO community matters to a degree too, but I went to the user side of the answer because it’s the more fundamental issue. It speaks right to the core of their business.

Eric:                 Now let me just talk a little bit about, since you’ve alluded to it here, or actually you were quite direct about it, on the featured snippets side of things. That’s the case where featured snippets, again, is a thing where Google will crawl a third party website, see what’s potentially an answer to a user’s question, render content from that website directly in their search results and they get an attribution link as credit for being the source of that information. That’s, in principle, what a featured snippet is supposed to be. That trade, as it were, in other words, we use your content, you get an attribution link, might not be as good as the original trade that publishers have with Google, which is that Google would show publishers’ listings in their result and you get traffic, you get all the traffic. Now you don’t get all the traffic is the way the argument goes.

Ben:                 Yeah, essentially winning the game is a little less valuable because even when you win, when you show up in the top result, when you are a featured snippet, no one’s actually being directed to your lending experience, which doesn’t give you the customer relationship. It speaks to the changes of SEO becoming more of a brand channel than it is a performance marketing channel. There’s still value out of being seen in a featured snippet, but you’re just not getting the user to your domain. You don’t get the ability to upsell, cross sell, build the relationship, re-target. That’s really where therein lies the rub of what’s the value of SEO when Google is starting to own the relationship or not sending people to another domain.

Eric:                 Yeah. There’s no question, and this is the reason why I put it the way I did, the nature of the deal between the publisher and Google has evolved because of featured snippets. The brand value might not be seen as good. I’m still in the process of trying to dig out data, by the way, which determines whether or not the clicks to the site showing in the featured snippet in fact decline. I don’t think we’ve actually seen clear data on that yet, but there is reason to believe that it might in many cases. Yeah, it is a big change. I think it’s one that is hard to swallow for a lot of people, but on the other hand, almost everybody that I see in the SEO community is talking about what they can do to earn more featured snippets.

Ben:                 Talk to me about some of the data that you’ve pulled and some of the analysis that you’ve done evaluating some of the value of featured snippets and why they’re important.

Eric:                 Sure. First of all, let me just briefly explain the source of the data, which is we worked with a company called Authority Labs. What we did is we got search ranking data and click stream data, the same 2 million queries tracked on a daily basis for 30 consecutive days. From that we were able to build some detailed models on how different search features impact search results. Among other things, we saw that in the organic world about a third of all queries end up in no click, and in the mobile world slightly more than half, I think it’s around 54% of all queries end up in no click. The user either gets the answer they want directly from Google or they click the related search or modified their search query or didn’t click on anything. That’s interesting already on the surface to see how large that landscape is.

Eric:                 We also have done some testing that suggests that in the area of featured snippets that there is a small degradation in the number of total clicks that go out to the SERP as a whole. We haven’t yet isolated down that data to see how it impacts the person ranking number one or who got the featured snippet. It does look like there is clearly an indication that people are getting their answers from the featured snippet rather than clicking through, at least from a [inaudible].

Ben:                 You’re doing some analysis to say, look, there’s only a certain percentage of people that are going to click to begin with and there is value. People are still reading the information from the featured snippet. How do you quantify what that value is?

Eric:                 I have no idea.

Ben:                 Fair. There still is some value and people are actually consuming the featured snippet is the conclusion here.

Eric:                 Yeah. I mean, clearly it’s better value if they click through to your site. The question we’re still working on answering is just, is the person getting the featured snippet in fact getting fewer clicks or not? I hope to have that answer sometime over the next couple of weeks.

Ben:                 Well, stay tuned. We’ll have to have you back on the show. At the end of the day, the prediction here is that there’s going to be more featured snippets and more changes to the UI where Google is presenting information that is not necessarily owned by Google. Any other places where you think we will see Google put in more featured snippets? Any predictions for how the UI will change?

Eric:                 Well, it isn’t just featured snippets, first of all, just for clarity. I think that’s one of the big areas is featured snippets for sure, but I think it’s also more different types of search featured. I think Google is on a journey to try many different experiments, and that’s why we keep continually seeing new kinds of things show up in the search results. We all read SEO Roundtable and Barry Schwartz when he puts out the latest spotted in the wild, this new thing has happened in the search results. I think that journey is going to continue, especially in the mobile environment, because I do think that Google is pressing as many different ways as they can to leverage the immense data they have to find ways to create what they consider a more engaging experience and a more enriching for Google experience.

Ben:                 I think the headline here is that SEOs need to keep an eye on some of the UI changes for Google. While it’s going to be harder to quantify the value that brands are getting from their search experience, there’s going to be more of an opportunity with submitting your content directly to Google and formatting your content in a way that makes it appropriate for Google to grab that allows you to get ahead of the line, essentially win the search experience.

Eric:                 Yes. The key for publishers is learn to take advantage of all of Google’s search features that apply to your business. Does it make sense for you to be doing YouTube videos? Then do that. Does it make sense for you to be playing an image search? Then do that. Does it make sense for you to chase featured snippets? You’ve got to take advantage of this changing search landscape to maximize your yield. Just straight webpages isn’t going to … Yeah, you can get a lot out of them but you’ll get a lot more if you’d play a much bigger game.

Ben:                 Okay, and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Eric Enge, Principal of Digital Marketing at Perficient Digital. In part two of this interview, which we’re going to publish tomorrow, Eric is going to discuss why visual search is more important than voice search in 2020. If you can’t wait until our next episode and you’d like to contact Eric, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is StoneTemple, S-T-O-N-E-T-E-M-P-L-E, or you can visit his company’s website which is Perficient Digital, P-E-R-F-I-C-I-E-N-T Digital.com. Just one link in our show notes that I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to VoicesofSearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions, your SEO questions, or apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast as well.

Ben:                 Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle for the show is VoicesofSearch on Twitter, or you can reach out to me directly. My handle is BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. If you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, in addition to part two of our conversation with Eric Enge, Principal of Digital Marketing at Perficient Digital, we’re going to publish content multiple times a week, so hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. Okay. That’s it for today. Until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.