Position Zero Month. Today, Jordan Koene, CEO Searchmetrics, Inc. joins us for the wrap-up episode to Position Zero Month. Listen now to understand Zero’s impact on your brand and so that you can hear Jordan’s take on the technical and content strategies in pursuit of zero, as well as voice search and it’s implications on the future of position zero.
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Listen to Episode 9, Position Zero and Voice Search
Ben: Welcome back to Position Zero Month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. Today, we’re going to wrap up our month long deep dive into one of the hottest topics in the ever changing world of search engine optimization, position zero.
Ben: But before we get into the weeds of today’s podcast, to help you implement what you’ve learned from Position Zero Month, I’d like to invite you to Searchmetrics’ upcoming webinar, which we’re calling Zero or Bust: The Dos and Don’ts in Pursuit of Position Zero. Join Searchmetrics, Inc’s CEO, Jordan Koene, and Eli Schwartz, the Director of SEO and Growth at SurveyMonkey as they discuss the fundamentals of position zero and why it’s great for your brand, the impact of position zero on your visibility, and winning content strategies for featured snippets. This webinar is going to be held on Thursday, November 8th at 11:00 AM Pacific Standard Time, 2:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. To sign up, click on the link in our show notes, or head over to the News and Events section of the searchmetrics.com website. Again, that’s Zero or Bust: Dos and Don’ts in Pursuit of Position Zero webinar on November 8th, which you can sign up for by clicking on the link in our show notes or by heading over to the News and Events section of the Searchmetrics website.
Ben: To wrap up Position Zero Month, today we’re going to sit down with Jordan Koene, who is both a world renowned SEO strategist and the general manager of Searchmetrics’ U.S., to talk about what we’ve learned during Position Zero Month, and how you can evaluate the impact position zero is having on your business. Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Thanks, Ben. It’s been a long break. I’ve heard that you enjoyed the break, maybe a little too much.
Ben: Jordan, I missed you.
Ben: Alright, enough hugging and kissing. Let’s get back to work. We covered a lot of ground this month. We’ve talked to some experts that were on the Searchmetrics team, a couple of SEO experts, and even some general marketers about how they view position zero, about how they view its impact on voice search. So why don’t we start off by reviewing some of the episodes that we’ve published this month. I’d love to hear your thought on some of the content that we’ve created. First off, we talked Episode 1, the beginning of position zero, was me and you talking about what position zero is, why Google created it, and how it’s impacting content and commercial businesses. Let’s just do quick summary. Remind everyone who’s listening, if they didn’t happen to listen to the intro to position zero episode, what the general takeaway is in terms of what position zero is and why it’s important.
Jordan: Certainly. Happy to do a quick recap here. We did learn a lot from our contributors in the past couple weeks, but in summary, position zero is the ability to introduce a content above the organic and paid listings within Google search result page. This is a way to showcase a specific set of information, in some cases answering a very direct question or direct need that the consumer or user is putting into Google or seeking to find from Google.
Ben: Yeah, I think the most important thing here is there’s a way for SEOs to take up more real estate and potentially be the only listing, when you’re thinking about voice search. To me, that’s one of the reasons, if not the reason, why position zero is so interesting.
Jordan: Yeah, I mean it’s amazing to be able to control a position that really just takes the entire focus. I mean, when a user sees the position zero, there’s no way they’re going to miss it. Now, whether or not they click or they engage is a different story, but there’s no chance for them to scroll right past it.
Ben: I don’t want to spend too much time covering what position zero is. We’ve been talking about this subject for a month. If anybody has questions on generally what position zero is, there’s an episode that Jordan and I went into great detail about it beginning of the month.
Ben: Let’s talk about some of the more technical things. I sat down with Sebastian Edgar on your team, who was one of our lead technical SEOs at Searchmetrics. In the conversation that I had with Sebastian, the things that stuck out to me the most was that there’s A, a difference between rich snippets and featured snippets, and that there’s a process for submitting your content for rich snippets, but featured snippets, there really is no submission process. Everyone is up to Google’s discretion for interpreting what their content is, so that leads to getting ahead in featured snippets.
Ben: It’s all about what your formatting is, are you using tables, are the paragraphs short, discrete, to the point? Then also, are you optimizing your content? Specifically for featured snippets, it needs to be focused on something that would be useful for the desktop. Are you formatting the content in a way that it can be optimized to fit and answer a specific question?
Ben: What stuck out to you about what Sebastian said when we talked to him about some of the technical details of rich and featured snippets?
Jordan: You know, one of the things that really stood out was how Sebastian described this dance or this relationship with Google. What he said, and he specifically said, “This is like having a conversation with Google.” Even as you described the distinction between rich versus a featured snippet, you’re actually getting directly to that point, which is you’re having slightly different conversations with Google about what should be presented in the search result. So in a rich snippet, you’re actually going to showcase the star rating or the pricing of the product or the information that you’re showcasing on your page versus the featured snippet, which is a paragraph or a table or a list that’s much more visible and much more elusive in terms of how to get it and how to get the placement for it. But at the end of the day, it’s this conversation that you’re having with Google about what is the most important element in content on your page.
Ben: So after we had our conversation with Sebastian about some of the technical aspects of rich and featured snippets and getting into position zero, we had a really interesting conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, talking specifically about building a content strategy to rank in position zero, and how to sort of compete in voice search. Courtney laid out that there’s really four different things that you need to consider: who’s the audience you’re going after, who are you competing with and what content do they have that’s working, are you optimizing your content, just like Sebastian talked about, to fit in a rich and featured snippet, and then there’s some technical things around formatting and headers. What stuck out to you about what Courtney Cox Wakefield was saying in terms of building a content strategy?
Jordan: Well, you know, there’s this realization that this content strategy is hard work. It really is, it genuinely is really hard work. It’s very challenging. But the element that really stood out to me was her comments around the manual process and the manual nature of executing on your content strategy. That without research and the heavy research that you need to do to create, which is the second point here, trust and authority, you’re simply never going to have a successful piece of content.
Jordan: So I mean there’s a couple things that really stand out to me about that. One of them is we at Searchmetrics have been investing heavily in reducing the manual nature of that process. Our content experience product is specifically built to address some of this paint points. Courtney’s points are perfect to help all writers and web masters and SEOs better understand that process and how to reduce the tension and the manual nature of it.
Ben: Jordan, you mentioned trust and authority as your second point. Talk to me about why you think that matters so much when you’re thinking about your content strategy.
Jordan: This is where Courtney’s podcast was so beautiful, because this focus on trust and authority is fundamental to the ability to rank for position zero, but ultimately, it’s the central theme around creating an audience and creating a constituent that’s actively engaged and reading and sharing and processing your content.
Jordan: One of the critical points Courtney made was trust and authority supersedes clicks. When you think about position zero, and you think about the whole concept that what we’re talking about this month, is really about creating that audience in being present. It’s really about securing billboard spots across Google, because in many cases, you’re not going to be getting clicks from this. It’s not a traffic generator as much as it is the ability to create awareness and generate a stronger affinity and connection with your brand.
Ben: That’s actually a really good transition for us to talk about the interview that I had with Alex Scoble, who’s the CMO from Flight Guru. So the thing that stuck out to be about my conversation with Alex was he comes from an SEO background, but he’s the CMO. So he’s looking at position zero and voice search from an executive level.
Ben: So I asked him lots of questions about how do you think about voice search, what are the types of terms you’re trying to rank for, and what’s the purpose of doing that. His story was basically, “We’re trying to reach our customers wherever they are in their journey.” The type of voice search terms people are looking for is very much the top of the funnel, like, “When is the best time to take a flight to Europe?” or, “Where can find the cheapest flights to London?” It was very research based and not very transactional.
Ben: To me, that was really insightful, because you’re talking to a CMO, and he’s saying, “Look, we’re just trying to get in front of as many prospective customers as we can, even if they cannot actually purchase through that medium.” Because right now with voice search, there is no ability to … Let’s say we’re asking Alexa, “What is the best time to go fly to Europe?” and Flight Guru presents that answer, there is no follow up way to click and then get to their site.
Ben: So talk to me a little bit about what you got out of the conversation with Alex and how does that relate to how you think about the evaluation of voice search and of position zero?
Jordan: The authenticity of what Alex was sharing is what really stood out to me. That the creation of content and its ability to serve a particular purpose to help inform and to help generate a reaction from the reader was what really stood out to me. It stood out to me from a couple perspectives. One perspective is that here’s a company, Flight Guru, who’s really trying to build up their brand, build up their awareness in a hyper competitive space. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves that the travel category is the most competitive space online. You have such a diverse group of competitors, everything from the actual travel sites themselves …
Ben: United, and Orbitz, and all the comparison sites, all of the actual airlines. Yeah.
Jordan: [inaudible 00:12:33] Yeah. It’s cut throat. Here, Alex is talking about how do you actually resonate and connect and create something that’s useful, because that’s the future of search. The future of search is being able to provide that answer to that listener, because that’s what it transitions to. It goes from typing and reading to saying and listening.
Jordan: Alex and his team, they’re thinking about that. They’re actually thinking about how do we generate that future and how do we create that within the content we have today. Really, that’s how the pioneers in his space are going to break through. They’re going to be able to break through, not necessarily by saying we’re going to create one more transaction from voice search. Everybody wants to get to that end game, everybody wants to make money, certainly. But doing that in this authentic way that helps consumers, informs consumers, is where the beginning of that journey starts.
Jordan: I thought that was really the beauty of Alex’s show, and how it helps all of us understand and connect the dots of what Courtney shared around developing an audience and coming up with a content strategy through the very technical and the rigor that’s required to show up in featured snippets. Without Alex’s contribution there, we wouldn’t really have a true vision as to where this is going, and how featured snippets, in this very specific and very tactical SEO element, is at the forefront of the future of our industry.
Ben: To me, that was the biggest takeaway as well. What really drove home the current state of position zero, and the voice search specifically, was a lot of what Alex was talking about, is that voice search right now is a billboard. There is no hook to get somebody into a transaction funnel that is efficient.
Ben: I want to turn the page, now that we’ve talked about all of the ground that we’ve covered in Position Zero Month, and get your thoughts, Jordan, on how to evaluate the value of position zero and of voice search. How are people figuring out what the impact of this is upon their business? Who’s really best served focusing in on position zero? How do you think about the value these placements drive?
Jordan: One of the interesting concepts that came up in the episodes is the idea of this being a land grab, that we’re really in the real estate business right now when it comes to featured snippets. For many of the brands and the businesses who are engaging in securing these positions, they’re doing so to understand how this placement will help their business. The ultimate outcome is still very much unknown, how this helps a business is somewhat unknown, but securing the real estate, securing the land, is that first step. So I found that to be a really interesting concept and something that many of us have to think about, because, playing on this analogy, you’re not sure how you’re going to process the use of that land. Is it farm land, is it going to be residential, commercial? What is it that you’re going to do with this land to help your business? But securing that is the first step, and I found that to be a very interesting concept.
Ben: I agree with you that it is the wild, wild west right now. You know, what you’re saying about this being a land grab, people are going and grabbing as much turf as they possibly can without the hooks to actually drive new business. It is an investment in the future. Playing out the wild, wild west metaphor is like now you get as much land as you possibly can so you can figure out what you want to plant and how you want to grow it and how you want to actually get value out of that land. You’re going to figure out your farming strategy down the road.
Ben: We talked a lot about position zero and voice, and to me, because there is no real traditional internet marking, there is no click, so you can’t do any of the re-targeting that you would do. You can’t get somebody from a piece of content and then sort of supplement that with a producing with voice search with position zero right now. Who is right to focus on position zero and who should still be worried about position one through ten?
Jordan: That’s a great question and something that all of our listeners should really think about thoroughly. Position zero and securing these placements is not for everyone. It’s something that many of us who are still building up the brand, building up our content strategy, there are other priorities that take precedent to this topic. I think this is really important, it’s something that I came to realize listening to episodes was so many brands still have technical foundational challenges, still have content and content strategy challenges, and without really having a strong enough base behind those two areas of SEO, it really becomes a nuance that doesn’t create value for the brand if they invest in featured snippets and trying to rank in featured snippets.
Jordan: Now the big challenge here, Ben, I think this is the hard part is executives love seeing this. “Oh, wow, look at us. We’re in this big box at the top of the search.” So there’s this tension that’s created naturally because of where this exists. It’s like driving down the 101 in the bay area and seeing your billboard for your company show up on one of the busiest highways in America. Everybody wants that, everybody wants to be recognized and seen, and feel that excitement.
Jordan: But in reality, that doesn’t make sense for every company and for every business. For the SEOs that are out there, for some of the marketing leads that are not just managing SEO but managing many channels, you really have to think this through and think about where you want to invest your time and energy. “Is position zero the right place for us today?”
Ben: As the general marketer in the room, what I’m hearing you say is there’s a difference between awareness building and direct response. Both of them are important for a successful marketing strategy at scale. When you’re thinking about SEO and specifically about position zero, this medium of search and content marketing is really more of an awareness play, when search and content marketing in general were primarily about direct response. So I think that there is a little bit of a sort of dynamic shift in how SEOs and content marketers need to think about what they’re optimizing for.
Ben: If you are trying to raise the profile of your brand, and you’re trying to get in front of as many people as possible without actually necessarily focusing on whether they are going to convert, position zero could be a great strategy for you. It might be worth investing your time. If you are worried about the effort, hours, and money you’re putting into your search strategy, and you need to rationalize that from a revenue perspective, position one is the highest you can get in terms of understanding who is coming through those placements and what value they’re driving.
Ben: So that, to me, is the biggest takeaway from the entire Position Zero Week is that … you know, when we talk about position zero, we talk about voice search, it is very much still in the awareness play. I guess that leads me to Jordan, what’s the future of position zero, of voice search? Will it continue to be an awareness play, or do you think Google’s going to build out the hooks to be able to track whether someone converts from these mediums?
Jordan: It’s a combination of a lot of those things. Obviously here now we’re getting into this whole opinion base of a topic around, say, elements like voice search and what will Google do, which I’m always leery of trying to guess that Google’s going to do. The foundation of where Google’s going here is pretty clear. You have less real estate, you have less availability to users when you’re doing a voice search. I need the ability to give users a very clear and direct response, and I need to do that in a way that still serves the purpose of a search intended query. I believe featured snippets are certainly helping us get closer to that, but we’re far, in a way, from the ability to say that featured snippets is the ultimate solution. I believe Google will continue to invest here, they’ll continue to evolve this experience.
Jordan: I’m a big proponent of the idea that selection is critical to a great search experience. My fundamental belief is that today, featured snippets are pretty binary. They’re very simplistic in their nature. At some point, Google’s going to have to allow users to pivot and maybe refine the way they think about the voice query that they inputted. This isn’t just Google, this is Amazon, and Apple, and all the companies who are trying to really understand how a new search medium, a new search vehicle, will influence results. So one of the things I definitely see coming down the pipeline is the ability for us as users, because all of us are users of Google and these various search tools, to provide input, to provide insight, then also to have the ability to refine and select some of these choices.
Jordan: You know, a great example is there are tens of thousands of recipes out there. Why is it that Google put one of these recipes into this featured snippet? Is it possible for Google to maybe put one of the recipes in there that might make more sense for me, in my lifestyle. These are the types of things that I believe will Google will start to refine and improve. They may even change the entire featured snippet experience and the way that it surfaces and serves to consumers to meet those demands.
Ben: I think you’re being overly cautious when talking about what Google will do and whether they will build out the ability for people to use voice search to complete transactions to get farther down the marketing funnel. We’re in the early stages of voice search. I believe, and this is my personal opinion, that’s coming. Eventually, voice search will turn from being the billboard that we’re talking about, being an awareness type channel, into one that can be monetized. That’s why achieving position zero and learning it and understanding it is going to be increasingly valuable over time. It might not be the right strategy for everybody right now, but I think that as the medium of position zero and of voice search continue to grow and the functionality increases, this is going to be an even more valuable placement than it is today.
Jordan: Hey, Ben, before we let our listeners go, I’d love to say a big thank you to Alex, Sebastian, and Courtney for contributing to the podcast. I know it’s not easy to take time out of busy schedules, but your contributions have helped not only our listeners, but the industry as a whole. So thank you very much.
Ben: Totally. Courtney’s got a book coming out, so hopefully we’ll have her back on the show as soon as her book about voice search comes out. So if anybody’s interested in that, we’ll put a link in our show notes as soon as it is available. If anybody’s looking for flights, it was flightguru.com. Alex was really generous and really insightful.
Ben: I think that’s a great way for us to wrap up this episode of the Voices of Search and for us to wrap up the Position Zero Month. Thank you for listening to all of our content this month, and my conversation with Jordan Koene, the Chief SEO Strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc.
Ben: We’d love to continue this conversation about position zero with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can click the link to his bio in our show notes, or you can reach out to him on Twitter. His handle is @jtkoene, K-O-E-N-E. If you have any general marketing questions or if you want to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can tweet me at @benjshap, that’s B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.
Ben: Don’t forget, Searchmetrics is hosting the Zero or Bust: Dos and Don’ts in Pursuit of Position Zero webinar on November 8th at 11:00 AM Pacific Standard Time. So click on the link in our show notes or head over to the News and Events section of the Searchmetrics website to reserve your seat.
Ben: If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this show and you’re feeling generous, we would love it for you to leave a review in the Apple iTunes Store or wherever you listen to your podcast. Okay, that’s it for today, and that’s it for Position Zero Month, but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.