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Searchmetrics’ CEO’s View of the Evolving SEO Landscape

Episode Overview: SEO can be a difficult industry to keep up with, especially for experts who’ve spent decades working in search since its inception to today. Join host Ben as he continues his discussion with Searchmetrics CEO Matt Colebourne as he shares his expertise and outlook of the global SEO landscape as it currently exists and what companies should prioritize moving forward.


  • SEO solution technology provides valuable data, but it’s up to companies to create the right internal taxonomy to correctly interpret data for their marketing strategies.
  • Great SEO consultants look beyond obtaining simple keywords – they examine all options, taking into account related, thematic keywords to capture more segments.


Ben:                 Welcome to a special edition of the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and today I have the honor of sitting down with the newly minted global chief executive officer of Searchmetrics. Joining us today is Matt Colebourne, who’s the global chief executive officer at Searchmetrics, which is both the Voices of Search podcast primary sponsor, and an SEO in content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. Yesterday Matt and I discussed his rationale for accepting the global CEO role at Searchmetrics and today we’re going to dive into Matt’s view on the global SEO landscape as it exists, today. Okay. Here’s the second installment of my conversation with Matt Colebourne, global CEO of Searchmetrics. Matt, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Matt:                   Thank you very much. Good to be here again.

Ben:                     Great to have you back on the show. Yesterday we talked a little bit about your background and the reason why you accepted the captain’s hat at Searchmetrics and my takeaway from that is you’ve had a long and storied history working in multiple different channels of marketing. You worked for DoubleClick and had some experience in display advertising, have worked in PPC, mobile, MarTech technologies, and now you’re doubling back to one of the oldest tried and true digital marketing practices. SEO is not new. What are you doing this for? There’s all sorts of new technologies. Why come back to search and content marketing at this time?

Matt:                    Because it works, is the simple answer. For me, technology needs to be simple. Great technology makes the complex easy to deal with, makes it relevant, allows you to actually make real decisions and get on with doing what it is you want to do. I’m not always attracted to the latest whizzbang technology. I suppose to an extent I’ve already been there and done that. My first ever exit was selling an AI company and that was way back in 1996. I was a long way ahead of the curve then. My feeling now is, when things get really exciting is when they reach scale, when they start being used to actually manage the trajectory of businesses. We have clients, who are making decisions about what products to put in their store, at what point in time and in what market. We have customers actually deciding no, we won’t launch product A, we’ll launch product B instead.

Matt:                    We have customers saying, I know we’re not going to sponsor that event anymore. It’s not building our brand the way that we want to. It’s not actually reaching the people that we set out to reach, with that brand profile. So for me, the fact that there is now, not just the data, but a way to make it simple, to make it clear so that people can make simple, clear marketing decisions. That’s very exciting. I love slight underdog technology. So I suppose to a degree that’s why I’m positioning organic search and content and data, which is hugely important when positioning it against, hyper play and against display not because we’re saying that those aren’t a valid part of the marketing mix, but because I do think that they are significantly undervalued parts of the marketing mix, and actually they can provide certain insights that the others can’t.

Ben:                       So let’s talk a little bit about the landscape of SEO. We’ve said in yesterday’s episode that Searchmetrics is very much positioned as an enterprise grade solution, not a point solution, but really a service that will solve all of your SEO needs for the largest companies in the world. Talk to me a little bit about how you think of the segmentation of all of the SEO products and offerings out there.

Matt:                       I think like most decent size markets, you need to come up with a sensible taxonomy because there’s a lot of point solutions out there. For us, we tend to look at, is what is being offered a complete solution or is it something that requires a whole bunch of other technology to make it work and critically, is it something that could be used by the target customer? I think that’s actually the way to look at it, because a lot of this technology, and I think one of the reasons that SEO is not grown as large as most people listening to this would think that it should be, is because of that complexity, because you need to understand how rankings work. You need to understand when you look at all of the data, what’s really going on. The technology is frequently not helping you do that. It’s giving you data, but it’s not necessarily giving you information and it’s certainly not giving you information that could be used to make that kind of decisions. 

Matt:                      We frequently have a situation and this is a fairly binary classification where, if we’re talking to a customer and they’re comparing us to a crawler or they’re comparing us to a ranking measurement tool or just a point solution to write the blog on their website, for example, without thinking about how over those things integrate together, then we’re probably going to say, look, when you understand the value that this can deliver, when we can have a conversation about what level of engagement are you getting? Is that a level of engagement that your brand really deserves? You may think you’re here relative to your competitors, but actually when we look at the whole market space, you think you’re 30 percent. Actually, you’re 20 and the capacity you think you’re ahead of actually certainly in these geographical territories, you’re behind. That kind of high level insight and then making that simple and making it easy to try the whole thing together so that ultimately what the customer is getting is engagement, sales, but also awareness and consideration. So we very much look at, the comparison I would use is we’re more like an SAP where you’re looking to build a major solution versus buying an off the shelf tax management package. A simple accounting package.

Ben:                      When I think of the search landscape, the segmentation in my head is your SMB tools, your growth stays tools and your enterprise tools and for the SMBs, the point solutions are fine. You can cobble together a toolkit when you’re a growth stage company and maybe you’re investing in some platforms, but on the enterprise level, you really not only need a large platform, you need access to data and you also need services and operators that are able to drive the Ferrari. Life gets more complicated when you’re working on a site that is larger, more complicated, multiple constituents working on it. When you started thinking about the service offerings and the data offerings within the content and SEO landscape, how do you differentiate and how do you think that SEOs and content marketers and CMOs should really distinguish what is valuable and accurate data and who are the service providers they should trust?

Matt:                     I’d have to avoid being too self serving. There are definitely these some charlatans out there. There’s data that is extremely old or less than statistically rigorous in certain cases.

Ben:                       There’s people that are emailing me every day telling me that they can optimize my website to rank number one in Google. How do you figure out who’s that guy and who’s the Searchmetrics of the world?

Matt:                      The question becomes, you can be number one in Google for what? Unless they actually answer that question, they’re talking rubbish. Fundamentally, one of the first things we’ll do when we work with a new client and where they will use our digital strategies group is the DSG guy will look at the site and say, “What’s your business?” It sounds very simple, basic, and obvious question, but it’s incredibly involved. What is your business? Because lots of people say, “Well, we sell this.” So then they start looking at keywords related to purely their product and they frequently will miss all the usage. The people talking about, let’s say you’re selling canoes. So they’ll buy all the canoe words, keywords, but they won’t buy the camping trip. They won’t buy the trails huddling up Zambezi, etc., etc.

Matt:                      They’ll miss massive sections of the market that they should be looking at. Fundamentally, if somebody comes along and says, you could be top for five G words. So what? Somebody that’s really going to help you is somebody that comes along and says, what’s your business? What we can do is actually figure out in the search space, how big is this business? In most cases, what we’re of going back to people with is, you probably haven’t thought of it, but you thought your space was about this, and you’re concerned about being top in there. Actually this is just a small part of the market. All the things that people are actually searching for is about this size. It’s two, three, four, potentially even 10 times the size.

Ben:                        For those of you listening at home, Matt’s making a small circle and a larger concentric circle showing that you think that your target market is relatively small, but in reality it’s kind of massive.

Matt:                       Exactly. And I think that’s one good way for a business to tell what kind of company they’re talking to. Is it a company that talks business or is it a company that talks tools, short term measures that may or may not even relate to success for a business. In most cases, what are businesses looking to do? They’re looking to increase awareness and consideration, to drive traffic of course, but to drive the right kind of traffic to the right place and that is actually going to generate engagement, positive experience, and ultimately they’re in a … When you look at it from all of those perspectives, that’s when you can tell what kind of company are they.

Ben:                        As I think about the landscape, we’ve talked about the difference between segmenting the SEO landscape in terms of company size, how you figure out who are the reputable vendors, and I think the biggest thing that I’d love to hear your perspective on is from the executive and from the CMO level, there seems to be a repositioning of how important content and SEO are in the greater marketing landscape. How do you think that marketers should think about the value of SEO and how do they compare it to performance marketing? How should they compare to their earned marketing opportunities? There’s all the other marketing channels that are out there. Is SEO going up in terms of its importance to marketers? Is it static? How should it be compared as a marketing channel to other channels?

Matt:                       I think it’s fair to say, like any other market will move up and down in the short term, but overall it’s been growing significantly year on year and I really don’t see that stopping anytime soon, given that most of the ecommerce is slowly in the current climate, probably doing so a bit faster and migrating to at least being able to satisfy digitally, if not moving to a digital only approach. The macro trends are businesses going digital and therefore the volume of business is growing every year. That’s been happening now for 10 years, and I can’t see it doing anything other than accelerate in the current climate. Secondly, certain other solutions and pay per click is a fairly obvious one. The cost is rising and the efficiency is falling, so the ROI tends to be going down over time. It’s quite risky, in that if you get it wrong, if you buy the wrong campaign and you only make a small mistake in where you’re driving that traffic to, it can cost you a lot of money very quickly and deliver very little in terms of a return. If you then add in the fact that you are to a degree, at the mercy of the search engines with a fairly opaque model that determines the ultimate price paid. I think that’s why you see a lot of people arguing, “Why is their bill going up when their conversions are falling and the competition for the keywords they’re bidding on doesn’t seem to be right. I think that the market started out relatively transparent, has now become quite tricky to navigate, for anybody.

Ben:                       I think one of the trends that I’ve seen in my marketing consulting practice is that, marketing tends to be a little cyclical and SEO and content marketing a decade ago were obviously very important. People were really focused on Google. You were there for the rise of DoubleClick and more of the display and performance marketing evolution and we’ve got so focused on being direct response focused, people sort of feel like SEO is table stakes. They’re not investing in those channels because it’s easier to put a dollar into performance marketing to get a dollar and 50 cents out today. And to me, the biggest takeaway and what people are realizing at a macro scale is that if you invest in content, and if you invest in SEO, you’re going to put a dollar in today and get 80 cents, but tomorrow you’re going to get 90 and the next day you’re going to get a 100, but the next day you get 110, and 20, and 30, and 40, and it continues to become a more valuable channel the more you invest in it. To me, understanding the life cycle of SEO and the value and the consistency that you need to generate a content business is something that marketers at large are starting to realize. Have you seen a similar trend?

Matt:                       Yeah, I would completely endorse that view. I think I know quite a few CMO’s, and certainly when I took this role, unsurprisingly I gave them all, or not all of them, but a good section of them, a call and said, “Can I talk to you about Searchmetrics?” And frequently the answer was, I know SEO is important and I know content is important…

Ben:                         But I just don’t get it.

Matt:                       Exactly. You put your finger on exactly what I was going to say.

Ben:                         I’ve got some nerds in the corner. They’re doing some stuff. I don’t know what it is.

Matt:                       There’s these really small people and they sit in the corner and they do something and it sounds really good, but you know what? Here’s my head of SEO sitting in the office, the big office at the front or of the corner and there’s the guys in the little room at the back doing STI. I think that’s why at that point, you go in with macro level arguments which say, well 50 to 60 percent of your traffic is coming through organic search. Managing your SEO and your content and your data gives you a way to leverage that 50 to 60 percent that is probably more valuable, because those are people who’ve chosen to arrive at your site through taking an active search themselves, where they didn’t necessarily just end up because you’ve bid highest on the click. The intentionality is arguably slightly better, but you’ve got to talk those kind of high level metrics. You have to talk, this is off of your traffic, this is therefore off of your sales. Getting it right needs to be at least as important as your other half.

Ben:                        I think that’s the biggest opportunity in the SEO industry, not specifically just for Searchmetrics, for us all is essentially the reposition of the value of SEO and content marketing to the greater marketing community. Understanding that your SEO visibility, that the value of your content can be manipulated, can be improved and can be very steady and predictable. So Matt, let’s put a pin in it here today. I do want to continue the conversation with you. We’re talking about the global landscape and obviously that is changing every day with the outbreak of the coronavirus. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that, so let me just say thanks again for being our guest today and we’re going to come back tomorrow and talk about your thoughts on the impact the coronavirus is having on the SEO landscape.

Matt:                      Thanks for that Ben.

Ben:                        And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Matt Colebourne, CEO of Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Matt, you could find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is, black blade, B. L. A. C. K. B. L. A. D. E., Or you can visit his company’s website, which is, S. E. A. R. C. H. M. E. T. R. I. C. S. dot com. Just one more link in our show notes that I want to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to Voices of where have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests, you could send us your SEO questions or your topic suggestions.

Ben:                       You could even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you could always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter, and my personal handle is Ben J. Shap, 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 the last part of my conversation with Matt Colebourne, global CEO at Searchmetrics, where we discuss the impact the Corona virus is having on the SEO community at large, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the work week, so hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

Matthew Colebourne

Matthew Colebourne

Matt Colebourne is the CEO of Searchmetrics. Matt has an extensive track record of building technology businesses and has over 20 years’ experience in various senior leadership roles in the digital marketing arena. He is an avid cyclist, motorbike rider and volleyball player.

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