In this final 2019 SEO Predictions episode, we wrap up our discussions with leaders in the SEO community to understand what’s next for SEO in 2019. Join Eric Enge, General Manager of Perficient Digital as he and Ben dig into the importance of desktop vs. mobile.
Ben: Welcome to SEO predictions month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’re going to continue our month long series covering some of the boldest SEO predictions for 2019.
Ben: Joining us for SEO predictions month is Eric Enge who is the General Manager for 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. And today, Eric is going to share some of his SEO predictions for 2019.
Ben: But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence, and make data driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content, and SEO strategies can be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.
Ben: Okay. Here’s our interview with Eric Enge who is the General Manager of Perficient Digital.
Ben: Eric, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Eric: Well, thanks for having me, Ben. I’m looking forward to it.
Ben: It’s great to have you here, and I just want to make sure that I pronounced both your name and the company name correctly. It’s Eric Enge and it’s Perficient.
Eric: Perficient it is, and Eric Enge it is. So two for two.
Ben: So, in my research for this podcast, I noticed that there’s Perficient, Perficient Digital, and then another brand Stone Temple that are all related to your work. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how those three brands all fit together.
Eric: Sure. So I’m someone who’s been doing SEO for about 20 years now, and widely published and do a lot of public speaking and things like that on topics around SEO and digital marketing. I have the good fortune to be named the Search Marketer of the Year or Search Personality of the Year three different times, and I had an agency called Stone Temple Consulting. It’s very well-known SEO agency in the industry. But in July of last year, it was acquired by a company called Perficient. So we became part of Perficient, and within Perficient, there’s a division called Perficient Digital or business unit called Perficient Digital, which is the thing that focuses on digitally related services. The other parts of Perficient do things like massive Microsoft installation and Oracle installations in enterprise, and consulting things of that kind. But our group is focused on digital marketing stuff, and so that’s why there’s three different names in the mix there. Each one of which has their own website. The Stone Temple Website is a historical thing from before the acquisition. At some point in the future, probably not too far down the road, it will probably get merged into the Perficient Digital side. It’s just not done yet.
Ben: It sounds like you’ve had a … Perficient is a large agency, and you have exposure to a fair amount of enterprise clients and also your background working in digital marketing, a deep background in SEO. So I want to talk to you a little bit about some of your predictions for SEO for 2019. You came up with up three big predictions. Let’s talk about your first one. What do you think is going to happen in 2019?
Eric: One of the big rages in the industry over the past year has been voice. Voice is going to take over the world. There were predictions that voice who would be voice plus image search together would be 50% of all queries by 2020. It’s actually Andrew Ng, formerly Chief Scientist at Baidu, who made that prediction. So my take on it is that voice is growing and will continue to grow and there’s lots of great opportunities around voice. But it isn’t going to take over the world just yet, and no, it’s not going to be anywhere near 50% by 2020. Maybe it will be north of 5% or close to 10% by then, but that’s kind of in the range I expect that to get to based on what I see.
Ben: We’ve done a fair amount of investigation into voice search, into position zero, optimizing are SEOs efforts into maximizing the ability, and it’s interesting to me that you’re talking about voice getting up to 10% of total queries. Do you have any sense of how voice is right now and what do you think the growth is going to be in this year? Is it doubling? Is it staying flat? What should we think about just for the next 300 … Well, I guess it’s a little less than 65 days, 350 days remaining in the year.
Eric: Yeah. So it’s a good question. So you can imply from what I said that it’s well less than 5% now. Unfortunately, there is no good clean data on what that really looks like and what the real numbers are. Folks like Google and Bing that are taking voice queries don’t report on what percentage those are at, and my sense is that they’re doing that deliberately because they don’t want to dampen the energy going into people investing in voice because that creative energy can help make the voice field … using voice queries more compelling to users.
Eric: But one thing I want to mention, the phrase voice search is a little misleading because the queries are very different right now than you would put into a browser because you don’t go to your browser and say, “Call mom.”
Ben: Not very often.
Eric: Yeah. It’s just not … But a lot of the voice commands that people are using with devices such as their personal assistance or their smart speakers are things just like that or, “Set a timer,” or, “Play this song.” Stuff that doesn’t happen in your browser, but it’s actually very common stuff in those other environments.
Ben: Yeah. I think that there’s a couple of different flavors of voice search. You talk about the commands and sort of the utility functions, and with the IOT or the home speakers, those are more utility based for the most part. I think that when people are walking around on their mobile phones and they are, “Hey, Siri. Tell me about,” something, something, something or whatever their command is going to be, I do think that there’s a little bit more on the mobile side that is more closely correlated to what a traditional browser search would be. To me, the thing that’s interesting about how people are using voice is (A) the proliferation of the devices, and so while we might not see voice become a high percentage of searches, the ability for people to start doing more voice searches is going to increase because the price of the voice search devices are going down. The big companies are pushing them more and more. And there’s also the difference between the user experience where Amazon seems to be focused more on eCommerce, and Google is more on data consumption and answering questions with their voice search services.
Ben: Just quickly, before we talk about your next topic, how do you see the difference between the Amazon’s, the Google’s, and the Apples of the world in terms of voice search and their strategy for this year?
Eric: Well, I think one of the big drive in what you just mentioned, Ben, is a differentiation between Amazon and Google has to do with what they are known for and what they have access to. So for Amazon to wire up the eCommerce experience based on their extraordinarily popular eCommerce capabilities already is easy. It’s not just that it’s easy technically to do because it’s easy for Google to do technically. But users have that expectation. So the reason why they’re more likely to buy something via Alexa than Google Assistant has everything to do with that. Users are used to buying things from Amazon, and they’re not used to buying things through Google and vice versa. They’re used to asking questions to Google, and the other major differentiation to wrap our brain around is that Google has the ability to crawl the web. Hence the whole conversation of featured snippets in voice to get answers to questions and Amazon doesn’t. So these things sort of guide different areas of focus because the users are seeing that as the reason to go in the direction of one device to the other.
Eric: The challenge for Siri is that they’re not known for either of those things. Apple isn’t. So the user expectation isn’t the same there. I actually use Siri for some things, by the way, including dialing phone numbers and sending text by voice because it just works and it’s simple. I don’t have to go into a third party app, and that’s the other piece that’s really important. What ends up being easiest to use because the driving factor of transition to voice will be those situations where it becomes easier than the alternatives. I mean, materially easier than the alternatives.
Ben: Yeah. I think there’s still a long ways to go in 2019 in terms of the user experience and it’s still a battle in the trenches. It’s early days for voice. And, to me, this year is purely going to be about a land grab between the three big companies of who can get their devices out there the most.
Eric: Yup. Agreed.
Ben: And then they will focus on improving the user experience in 2020 and beyond.
Ben: Let’s talk a little bit more about your second prediction. Why don’t you go ahead and tell our listeners what you think see the second biggest thing that’s going to happen in 2019.
Eric: So, there were a lot of very important Google updates that took place in 2018, and I expect the focus of those updates continue to be the focus of the updates from Google in 2019. Let’s talk about what the focus of those updates was. My perception, by the way, is not the way that a lot of other people have written about it, but an improved understanding of user intent with a query, an improved understanding of the content, the various websites to meet that intent. That, I think, is the big area that Google is focused on right now. In our analysis of the updates that they did in March and April and August and then September, October, all those updates, they were all tinkering in those areas in very material ways, and I expect that to continue because it’s probably little that Google can do to further improve the quality of their search results and address that area.
Ben: To me, this prediction is there’s going to be more of the same in the sense that where Google’s updates were focused on optimizing the ability to answer questions, right? Matching people’s user intent, it’s an on demand world, people are looking for shorter snippets of information. And, to me, one of the things that we talk about in Jordan Koene who’s the CEO of Searchmetrics prediction for 2019 about how long from content will be refracted and reprioritized as Google has the ability to not only look at a piece of content and evaluate as a whole but look at pieces within an article or a post and being able to pick those out and basically evaluate individual paragraphs, individual bullets, individual sentences. Is that kind of along the lines of what you’re suggested is that Google’s going to be able to understand the pieces of content, not just content as a whole?
Eric: So, I think that’s definitely related to what I was saying. It wasn’t exactly what I was focusing on. But I think Jordan is probably right in his prediction. For me, it’s like … Here’s the way I’ll model it for you. Let’s say you have 100 users come to your site. You’re selling digital cameras in my example here. They searched on the phrase ‘digital cameras’ and they arrived at your site. And so ask yourself the question, “What is it that they want?” And let’s imagine that you get to survey these 100 users and get them to tell you. They each provide you five-10 things that they’re looking for, and some of them are going to be looking for zoom capabilities, and some are going to be concerned about storage, and who knows what else.
Ben: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eric: Any number of different things they are going to be concerned with, and you get all these lists from them. And you’ll find that none of the two lists are the same. And you’ll also find that let’s say 100 people had five to 10. Let’s say you get 700 different things people wrote down. Of the 700, you’re probably going to find 400 or more unique different things. And my point is that the user needs are highly variant.
Eric: And the world … Our approach in the world of SEO researching the top 10 keywords, writing detailed pieces of content of those top 10 keywords, and you’re done is broken. It’s not the way you should be thinking about it today. You should be thinking about how do I create something that satisfies the maximum percentage of users who come to my site, and that means looking a lot more deeply than the top 10 keywords.
Ben: So essentially, you’re suggestion in terms of what SEOs should be doing is being focused less on, like you mentioned, your top 10 keywords related and more trying to cover the maximum footprint of user interests.
Eric: I think that’s right. By the way, that doesn’t mean that knowing the top keywords is unimportant. No, it’s still extremely important. It’s just not enough.
Ben: Right. Yeah. So it sounds like you’re suggestion in some way to take a broad approach, and as you’re putting your content strategies together for 2019, instead of focusing on top level head terms, it’s really about a broad approach to reaching sort of your belly and your tails term and let those feed up into your head terms.
Eric: Yup. Brett’s and desk.
Ben: Okay. Talk to me a little bit about your third recommendation. This one is a little bit more about where SEOs should be focusing their attention, and, to me, this was a little controversial. What’s your third prediction?
Eric: So yeah, it is a little controversial. So I did that deliberately so we could have some fun. So third prediction, mobile usage will continue to grow but for most businesses, the desktop site may still be more important.
Ben: So, wait. What now? It’s like, to me, that is totally counterintuitive to what we’ve been talking about in a lot of the predictions where it’s a mobile world. People are consuming more content on the go, and your suggestion is, “Hey, focus on the desktop experience.” Why?
Eric: Okay. So first of all, I probably don’t disagree with what the other people said. I’m just adding an important flavor to it.
Eric: So certainly, our own studies, we publish an annual study on level of mobile versus desktop usage, and they show that more than half of visits, approximately 60% of visits to a website originate from the mobile device today. And we know from Google’s mobile first indexing initiative, once your site has been switched to mobile first indexing, that the SEO of your mobile site will drive your ranking. So from an SEO perspective, you’re paying a great deal of attention to mobile makes a great deal of sense. However, the last time I looked at this, and it wasn’t that long ago, data from Google showed the 75% of conversion still happen on desktop. 75%.
Ben: I see. So your prediction is less about the total number of searches. It is more that the searches that are driving the highest level of conversion happen on the desktop still, and so where you said for businesses focusing on your desktop is important, that’s really that your highest ROI searches are going to be coming on a desktop experience.
Eric: Correct. So now just to draw this out a little bit, when I talk about mobile, I’ll actually be talking about in the mobile session coming up that SMX West in the end of this month. But one of the points I usually make is that this part about more conversion happen on desktop. But in spite of that, I still tell people that it makes sense to design and build out your mobile site first and have that design, and then extract your desktop site from it because if you start with your desktop site, you’re basically taking 10 pounds of stuff and putting it in a five pound bag. You’re fighting against yourself. Of course, you start with the mobile experience first, and then you build a wonderful desktop experience. It’s probably easier from a design perspective to have a great experience in both places.
Eric: But yeah, I’m just kind of telling people don’t ignore the desktop side of things because it is for a lot of people where you’re going to get most of your conversions.
Ben: To me, this is really a question of where your business needs to focus in terms of its funnel or its maturity. Where if you’re looking to drive top of funnel activity, your mobile experience might be something that you want to tweak first and prioritize. If you’re trying to make sure that the customers that you’re getting are driving conversions, then optimizing your desktop experience might make more sense. So while I understand the point of desktop being valuable and even maybe more valuable for businesses in 2019, I think that this is a tricky conversation and it kind of depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
Eric: Yeah. Well, that’s the reason why I wanted to introduce it was my third point because I don’t actually disagree with probably what most of the other people were saying on your session of this podcast that mobile’s incredibly important. It’ll be a driver of most of your visits, especially if you’re a local business, you’re going to have somebody down the street who’s going to cause a walk in. Any number of reasons you can argue that mobile is more important. But if people are going to walk away and forget about desktop, for a lot of businesses, that’s a mistake.
Ben: So I feel like we’ve covered a lot of ground that was similar to what Jordan and I talked about in his predictions in the sense of what’s going to happen with the algorithm and how content is going to be refactored, mobile and voice and how to prioritize those. The one thing that we didn’t talk about was some of the potential regulatory things that are going to happen in 2019 where Google could potentially have some regulation come down in terms of both their data practices and privacy and also whether it’s going to be considered a monopoly, whether they’ll be regulation on that sense. Do you have any feelings and thoughts about how government is going to play and what that might effect SEOs in 2019?
Eric: So there is the very real specter of something like a GDPR, the European regulation, becoming something the U.S. does similar. There’s many elements to GDPR, but the biggest one that a lot of people have been exposed to is you arrive at a website and it tells you, “We go through your machine. Just be aware of that. Is that okay with you or not?” And we’re all familiar with that because we see it when we go to a new website for the first time. And U.S. could do something similar to GDPR, and that sort of general direction is very privacy, protection oriented. At least that’s what it’s trying to do. I do think that GDPR is already at a point where people are snow blindness about it. Yeah, whatever. They click the button. Go away.
Ben: I got another email from another company saying they’re going to do something with my data. They’re all the same thing.
Eric: Yeah. I don’t have time for this. I’m trying to get something done kind of thing. In terms of the monopoly, that is a very interesting thing. We’ve had this kind of weird trifecta of things going on for a while, and that is Microsoft and Bing, they don’t want people to realize how small their market share is in the U.S. There isn’t any really good data on that because it’s not in their interest. They’re trying to get people interested in advertise and Bing advertising, Bing ads. And then we have comScore, which happily reports that Microsoft, including the Yahoo stuff, is somewhere between 30% and 35% of the market. And anybody who looks at the analytics for numerous large brand websites like I do can tell you that ain’t the case.
Eric: 10 at best. And then Google, of course, which doesn’t want to talk about it being any bigger than what comScore says because they don’t want to be thought of as a monopoly. So we have these three parties colluding for different reasons. And colluding, I got to be careful of that word. It’s not active collusion.
Ben: Three parties agreeing on data that may or may not be 100% accurate.
Eric: For their own reasons, which are very, very different.
Eric: It’s kind of an interesting environment. I don’t know that I’ve actually seen any material action moving forward in the U.S. around addressing the monopoly possibility, but certainly the case in Europe where there’s been active discussion about it and potentially addressing it. It’s yeah. While we’re talking about this, we might as well throw in the whole business of net neutrality also. Network neutrality and that potentially … I mean, technically has been repealed but not through all the various appeal processes and the like.
Ben: It’s repealed-ish.
Eric: Yeah. Well, yeah. So there is a crap load of big things that could happen that could change the face of what we’re dealing with in very dramatic ways. For my part, I know that the true concept of free economies and true capitalism has a lot of danger to it. But when it comes to access to the internet, it’s worked. Yeah, there’s been a lot of good and bad things that happened, but in aggregate, it’s worked really well to have a free and open internet. I hope and pray that that continues. It’s responsible for major economic boom, and a lot of innovation has resulted in a way that has really allowed a lot of people with even very limited resources with a lot of creativity and energy to prosper. So a really great promise of certain amount of democratization of it all. I’m such a big fan of that. I’m terrified of it going away.
Eric: As for Google’s piece in it, they do need some regulation. I mean, they are in the business of making money, and they may have a do no evil creed, but they’re a business and they’re public company. So coming up with the right level of that is very tricky. There’s no doubt about it.
Ben: Yeah. I think you and I see this very similarly. I don’t necessarily think the regulation in terms of monopoly is coming based out of the United States in 2019. I think that it’s a little too complicated to say Google has a monopoly of search, and that should be regulated when they’re competing with Amazon and Facebook on some level for the ad dollars and Apple on devices. They’re fighting a multi-front war. So I have a hard time believing that Congress is just going to come down specifically on Google. If you do that, how are you not coming down on Amazon for eCommerce or Apple for some web ownership of the device space.
Ben: I just think that it’s too complicated to draw that line in the sand. I do agree with you that the privacy regulations is more likely going to hit this year.
Ben: And in terms of net neutrality, absolutely think that it will have an impact. I’m not really sure what it will be in terms of impacting SEOs and Google, but just the freedom of the web and innovation in general I think will be stagnant if there was regulation on that front.
Eric: Yup. Absolutely.
Ben: Okay. Before we let you go, any last words of advice for SEOs and they’re preparing and executing their 2019 strategies?
Eric: So well, I’m going to go back to my second point for a moment, my second prediction. You want to layout for how to grow your traffic, content, content, content. Don’t use cheap copywriters. Use subject matter experts so you’re writing content to solve the real problems for users. Google is eating it up. They love it. It’s simple. They time the ROI is short. What could be better? So that’s sort of my number one recommendation.
Eric: Voice thing, it’s not going to go that fast. But there’s some great branding opportunities there right now for sure. And in spite of my third prediction and the way I chose to frame it, absolutely mastering mobile, you got to do it. It’s a big area focus for people.
Ben: Okay. Well, Eric, thank you so much for making the time. I appreciate you sharing your predictions with us.
Eric: Absolutely, Ben. Thanks for having me. Appreciate the opportunity to be on the show.
Ben: Okay. That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks to listening to my conversation with Eric Enge who is the General Manager of Perficient Digital. If you’d like to learn more about Eric, you can click on the link in our show notes to his LinkedIn profile or you can send him a tweet @StoneTemple, or you can visit his company’s website, which is stonetemple.com.
Ben: If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can send me a tweet at @BenJShap. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic of your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team. And if you like this podcast, you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed next week with our last set of SEO predictions for 2019.
Ben: Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d be honored if you’d leave us a review in the iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Ben: Okay. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.