Voices of Search arms SEOs with the latest news and insights they need to navigate the ever changing landscape of Search Engine Optimization and Content Marketing. From the heart of Silicon Valley, Searchmetrics’ CEO Jordan Koene delivers actionable insights into using data to navigate the topsy-turvy world now being created by Google, Apple and other search giants.
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Benjamin: Welcome to the first episode of the Voices of Search Podcast by Searchmetrics. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and in this podcast we’re going to discuss the hottest topics in the ever changing world of search engine optimization. For those of you who are interested in learning about search but unfamiliar with Searchmetrics, we are an SEO platform that helps enterprise scale businesses and monitor their online presence. If you are looking to understand how you can optimize your content, understand what topics you need to cover, or how to ensure that your writers produce effective content, go to searchmetrics.com for a free tour of our platform.
Benjamin: To launch this podcast with a bang, today we are going to be joined by a heavy hitter in the search space. Jordan Koene is both the general manager of Searchmetrics US and a world renown SEO strategist. Prior to joining the Searchmetrics team, Jordan was the head of SEO at a little website called Ebay.
Benjamin: Today we are going to chat about why Searchmetrics is starting a podcast about search, what are some of the trends that Jordan sees in SEO today, and some of his keys to leveraging search data to find marketing insights that reach beyond the SEO landscape.
Benjamin: That said, Jordan, welcome to the first episode of the Voices of Search.
Jordan: Thanks, Ben. Looking forward to sharing these insights and having a lot fun talking about something that I know very well, but oftentimes don’t get to, get into the weeds of it. So this should be, should be that joyful place.
Benjamin: Great. So, Jordan, we’ve worked together for a long time, I mentioned Ebay in our intro and that’s when we started working together. I was very new in search and you helped me learn everything that I’ve learned about search somewhere along the way. But for the people who are joining the podcast that either know Searchmetrics or don’t know you, or are just learning about Searchmetrics as a whole, why don’t we start off by you giving us a little overview of you and your background.
Jordan: Sure. So, I guess the interesting part of this story is how I got started or recognized in the industry. In early 2000, I built a Spanish bookstore and the Spanish bookstore, called My Libros, it was a pretty remarkable website in the sense that it outranked the 800 pound gorilla, Amazon. We outranked them for everything, everything from category keywords to product keywords to book titles. And the reality is that created a tremendous amount of recognition for not only myself, but for the website. Right? We were not only generating the majority of our traffic from search and generating sales from that, but people were starting to recognize, like, how is this guy in an apartment in Saint Louis, Missouri, outranking Amazon, the behemoth of books in Seattle?
Benjamin: And this was back when Amazon was primarily focused as a book retailer, not the Goliath that it is right now.
Jordan: Correct. That’s before two day Prime, that’s before free shipping on book orders or $25.
Benjamin: Probably before Fulfillment By Amazon, FBA.
Jordan: Oh, yeah. Way before all that. Yeah. I mean, obviously Amazon at that point had already had its sights on bigger things, but they were a bookstore.
Benjamin: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Jordan: And that’s what they were focused on.
Benjamin: So, you’re outranking the biggest bookstore, the biggest online bookstore in the world out of an apartment in St. Louis selling Spanish books?
Benjamin: Okay. You want to tell us how that happened?
Jordan: Sure, part of it is luck. But a lot of it is really just learning about what fundamentally works in search. Search is like most any other skills that you can, you can learn the tactics and strategies. And over time, you can refine them and you can improve them. And most importantly, in my opinion, you can use data to justify those things. Which brings us to the current state of why I am at Searchmetrics.
Jordan: But, going back to My Libros again, what ultimately really was the big win for My Libros was some advice from my father. So, my father is a teacher, he’s been a teacher for well over 30 years now. And he is, he advised me to basically do outreach to all of the school districts. So I started doing outreach to all of the major school districts in the US. And you can go through a process of becoming an approved vendor from these school districts. So, I went through that quite time consuming process of becoming a vendor and when you become a vendor, you often would receive a long list of contacts at the school district. One of those contacts, although there were Spanish teachers and a variety of other people I could contact that would probably buy my books, I figured, why not just contact the web master and have them build … or give them a page about my business. And many of these web masters put that page on their websites. Now back then, if you had a link coming from a .edu site-
Benjamin: That’s a lot of authority, yeah.
Jordan: Yeah. And that was a big deal. Those days changed quite a bit, but back then that basically was like getting on a rocket ship and just moving straight to the first spot, Google. And it worked like a charm. And I had no idea that that’s what the impact would have, it was just dumb luck. But, from there I learned a lot about search and what is it about, like how to produce content and how to create a navigational structure that makes sense. And it started becoming a thing that I would refine and improve over the eight years that I owned that business.
Benjamin: Yeah, we talked a lot about this when we worked together at Ebay, we were on the SEO team, and I remember, I left Ebay to start a start-up that was a content-based business, it was a guitar lesson website. You told me that there’s basically three things you have to pay attention to, the rules of thumb for search, which are: how’s your site organized, what’s the structure of the site, you know, how responsive is it, how fast is it. What content you have and how it’s organized, and then who is talking about your content to give you some authority. So, it sounds like you stumbled into the authority and the link building strategy early on in your career.
Benjamin: And so, then you wound up at Ebay somehow?
Jordan: Yeah, so I wound up at Ebay. Throughout my career, I started working at a variety of different start-ups, at first it was working with e-commerce in small businesses doing SEO. And then I had the opportunity to go to a larger brand that ended up acquiring answers.com and working on pretty large sites during that time. That experience, obviously, was very attractive to Ebay since they really, at that time, weren’t a lot of people who were doing SEO at scale or what they now call Enterprise SEO.
Jordan: So I went to Ebay and spent five years at Ebay, managing both the content development and the SEO efforts, so a big part of my time there was looking at the content strategy along with the work with other technical teams to improve the structure and the links of the site.
Benjamin: Right. And you came into Ebay, you were hired by, and I’m probably going to butcher this name, but a well-known SEO, Dennis Hoodahabier. Did I get that right?
Benjamin: I think I’m close.
Jordan: More commonly known, Dennis G.
Benjamin: Dennis G., and Dennis, if you’re listening, we just want to give you a shout out. Thanks for putting us in the same room and getting Jordan to Ebay. So, you were at Ebay and eventually you worked on e-commerce and sort of specialized there.
Jordan: Yeah. So a good portion of my career was e-commerce. And so, there’s obviously a very special set of criteria that makes e-commerce SEO unique. Most of it has to deal with certain logic around inventory or the navigational structure, what they typically call it is refinement. So, how do you refine your categories and your inventory.
Benjamin: And a lot of different page structures. Your product pages, your product listing pages, your search pages.
Jordan: Right. Reviews, and how do all these things play with one another nicely.
Benjamin: Where do you get content for all of the different products that you have?
Jordan: It’s fun, for me, e-commerce has a special place, not only because of the variety of strategies and priorities that you have with one of these sites, but also because it is very transactional. So, you can see the results of your work really quickly. And I think that that response rate is such a validation of what you’re trying to do in search. And I’ve learned now at Searchmetrics that this happens in other categories as well, but from obviously a very different lens, not necessarily a transactional lens but maybe more from an awareness, or a brand building, or a traffic perspective.
Benjamin: Right. So, you worked your way from Ebay, focusing on e-commerce for a phase of your career. And you mentioned a lot about sort of using data to validate all of search hypotheses, and now you’re at Searchmetrics. Tell us a little bit about why you have made the transition to come to the service and data provider side as opposed to staying on the client side.
Jordan: Yeah. So, one of the major reasons that I made the transition was that I recognized the opportunity that exists in my space, in the SEO space. That there is a better way for us to go about solving these problems. Fundamentally, I think that most of the folks who’ve been in the SEO space for quite some time recognize that SEO has been predominantly a black box and because of that black box nature, there’s been a lot of speculation in terms of who’s good or who’s not good at solving for this black box.
Jordan: My belief, and the belief of a lot of people in the space and everybody at Searchmetrics, is that that black box goes away when you have data-driven decisions. When you can make a choice as to why you want to do something in SEO based on a given set of data criteria. We believe that that’s where the industry needs to go, what is going to help drive and propel the awareness of SEO at all levels, from the executive down to your entry-level associate. We really believe that that is the most critical component to making these decisions is understanding the data, prioritizing the data, and using the right data at the right time to make SEO successful.
Benjamin: So, you actually brought up an interesting part of using data from the lowest level, the entry-level SEO, all the way up to the marketing executive. I want to take a second and talk about some of the people that we think are potentially going to be listening to this podcast and why we’re putting it together. So, in my head there’s really three, let’s call them segments of people that are going to be listening to this podcast, right? The first is the SEO veterans. People that know you and know Searchmetrics and their interested in hearing Searchmetrics’ voice because it has some authority in the search space.
Benjamin: I think the second class is people that are interested in learning about search, either because they’re interested in joining the field or just because they are interested in learning how that sort of data gets used and search is an important life.
Benjamin: And then on the sort of high end, there’s the marketing executives that are trying to understand more about what might be a crucial part of their marketing mix that feels like a black box.
Benjamin: So, talk to me a little bit about what your rationale is for wanting to put a podcast together and what do you think people can expect to get from this show?
Jordan: You know, everyone, when they start something new, gets super optimistic, right? They have these-
Benjamin: I am.
Jordan: -grand dreams of striking it rich, especially us out here in California. I guess that’s metaphorically how we-
Benjamin: Gold mining country. The wild west.
Jordan: Yeah, it is, it is. And fundamentally, I think that there’s a couple of things. First of all, I really believe that we can find new outlets to help all of those various audiences that you mentioned, Ben. I believe that we can find better outlets to help them learn and understand SEO. That we can talk about the strategy, talk about the data in a way that provokes the right questions in those meetings. That pushes the right engineers to make the changes, that helps the editorial-in-content teams understand how it works. And today, I feel like we’ve built a community and we’ve built a mind-set that is in many ways authoritative and very well respected in many companies and organizations. But it’s often undermined by the approach that we use, by the lack of business empathy that we have in the way we structure our ideas and our strategies to help grow search.
Jordan: I believe that we can change that by using tools like a podcast. A podcast is something that is unique in the sense that you can go back and re-listen to it over and over and over again. You can create your own visual map of what it means to your business. I think that video is also a great tool, but once you look at something in video you almost want to repeat what’s been created. In a podcast, you can use your own imagination, your own criteria to determine how you would go about solving that problem.
Jordan: Lastly, we feel this is something that can be widespread. We can push this out to the community, make people aware of it and they can contribute back to it. They can give us feedback and insight, probably more so to Ben than to me, I hope. Just teasing. But, in the sense of what we should be talking about and how we can keep helping, not only the community, but all of the stakeholders that are involved in SEO.
Benjamin: As the non-technical SEO in the room, I think the goal for me is to take some of the insights and some of the expertise that Searchmetrics has built in-house. There is a team of really smart people and Searchmetrics speaks data science fluently, and I think the goal for me of this project is to turn that into English so the average person on the street can understand how some of these things impact their lives. I think that we’ve had a relationship where you’ve been able to sort of teach me a little bit about SEO and if nothing else, I’m good at just speaking plain English that people understand. Now, that’s my hope for this podcast.
Benjamin: So, now that we’ve talked enough about the rationale for creating this podcast, catch us up with what’s going in SEO industry. So, what are the big things that are on your mind for this year in the SEO industry?
Jordan: There’s a few a really big themes that are coming to light. In the past six months, what we’ve seen from Google is a higher degree of emphasis on mobile. This is something that they’ve been talking about for years and they are finally really pushing the envelope around mobile and we’re seeing more and more brands reach this tipping point where mobile is becoming the lion share of their organic search traffic.
Jordan: So, that’s one of the trends that we’ve seen in the past and where things are going.
Benjamin: So, in Mary Meeker’s internet report, she said that the global smart phone penetration is starting to decline for the first time. Or I guess the growth is starting to slow. So, people basically have mobile phones that are going to have them on some level. Does that have any impact on how you see the trend with SEO growing, where mobile phone growth is slowing? Is the SEO industry just catching up? Now that everyone has a phone it’s becoming a bigger priority for Google?
Jordan: Yeah, I’d say that search behavior is a lag to the consumption and utilization of mobile devices. So, if you just look at the technology in and of itself. And the same thing is going to happen with voice search. So that’s what’s coming in the future, if we go to the future topic. And just the IOT, internet of things, and how search works within that.
Jordan: But going back to the mobile question that you asked, the reality is that if search is just now reaching that growth phase, that maturity phase where there is a high degree of utility and practicality behind mobile searches. And it’s becoming easier. I mean, all of us, especially folks in the US or any other developed country, you realize how simple it is to use your search experience now in mobile, you can quickly get to the maps. You can quickly get to ratings and review information when you’re in a local place. You can get pricing information. Think of just the introduction of how now PLA, which is product listing ads, within Google search, how that is now so quickly changing the game when you do a mobile search, cause you instantly get price feedback when you’re standing in Target. So, I know that those things seem really small, but the reality is that all those things coming together have created an environment where mobile is far more easier than it was five years ago to use. And that is at the core of why we’re seeing such growth in mobile search.
Benjamin: So, the interesting thing to me is not the importance of mobile, it’s that it’s a priority now and it hasn’t already been a priority. Is there something that’s happening now that’s making it more a priority, or is it just Google is putting the clamps down and saying every website has to be responsive or their not going to prioritize it?
Jordan: Well, Google’s been preaching this story for probably now five or six years. It is not new news to web masters and brands that this is the area of focus. I think that the big difference that we’ve noticed is that slowly but surely the sophistication at which different experiences are impacting mobile traffic are becoming a reality.
Benjamin: What does that mean?
Jordan: So, that means that when a brand is able to win in a particular mobile experience, so that could be an element on the mobile search, so that could be a position zero, a ranking that yields much greater results than it did in the past when it comes to mobile. And that’s not necessarily because of all the efforts and changes that they made to their website for mobile, yeah, a lot of companies have done that. But it’s because the growth of mobile demand, so people doing these searches, has reached that peak, that maturity level. And so when you do win, you win really big now in mobile. You win like landslide win and that’s how the game has changed from even five years ago, but even more so ten years ago or fifteen years ago when I got started in the search space. Fifteen years ago I wasn’t even thinking about mobile, I wasn’t even thinking about … I would have been really happy with ranking number four.
Benjamin: Back in my day, mobile didn’t even exist.
Jordan: Yeah. That’s one way to look at it, I guess.
Benjamin: Said the dinosaur.
Benjamin: So, you mentioned search spot zero. And I think that’s an interesting concept and from what I understand, that’s actually something that’s changing a lot in the search landscape of not necessarily being the first organic result but Google plucking your content and showing it on the search results page. Tell me a little bit about what’s going on there.
Jordan: This is a great segway on the mobile topic, because position zero or being in the … it’s now really the new first position in Google, right? So this is how do you become visible above the ranking results in an organic way. And all of you have experienced this in some way, shape or form, in both mobile and desktop. The reality is position zero is becoming a much more aggressive need for brands who are investing in search, in particular in spaces where you can identify very structured data and information, organize it in a way that’s superior to the rest of your competitors in that serp and then have Google materialize that in a higher ranking.
Jordan: The reason that Google is doing this and experimenting with this is that eventually the real estate that we had in mobile search is already a huge reduction from what we had in desktop. And the real estate that we have available to us as search engine marketers, when we get into voice search or internet of things experiences, is only one. You can only have presence in one spot.
Benjamin: You took the words out of my mouth in that the ability for Google to answer a question, not present somebody with search results, is becoming more and more important because a lot of that is being delivered in terms of audio. It’s essentially their “feeling lucky” button, you know, ten years forward. It’s I just want the one answer and I want the right one. And if Google has a high degree of certainty, it seems like that is more of a priority now because the world is turning towards voice instead of the display type of distribution of information.
Jordan: I agree. I will preface this, now we’re going way down the road.
Benjamin: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Jordan: I actually think that that’s going to change over time. I think position zero is going to be hyper important for the next three to five years, but what we’re gonna learn is that as these technologies evolve, our ability to identify selection will become present as well. I believe that as human beings, we expect diversity and selection in our decision making process. And Google won’t be able to get away with this forever, but they have to start some place. And, so for a lot of the companies that are focusing on this right now, and if they are able to do it well, and they are able to capitalize on these position zero spots, they’re going to see great results today and great results for the foreseeable future because there’s going to be a lot of traffic coming their way.
Benjamin: So, essentially what you’re saying is down the road, you ask Google voice or Amazon Alexa or Apple home pod, “What’s the average weight of an aardvark?” Right, it won’t just be one answer, you’ll be able to select through multiple answers using your voice.
Jordan: Right. And I tell you, the question’s important, right? Because more often than not, and we know this because Google, boy this may be a six years ago now, Google made a bunch of changes to the search algorithm to improve diversity of results. And they’ve done this in a variety of different ways over the years, but the fundamental truth stands that the majority of the queries, the searches, that Google has are subjective. Like, “How much does an aardvark weigh?” You can kind of get to the average weight and you can give a very specific answer to that, so it’s not particularly subjective. But something like, a question or search query like, “Best dry cleaner?” That’s a very subjective thing and so Google has to use various results to determine what is the best way to serve that you. And that is going to happen more frequently where Google’s gonna say, they’ll even give you a criteria. So they’ll probably respond back by saying, “Would you like the best rated? Would you like the best one that’s closest to your current proximity? Would you like the best dry cleaner that also does alterations?” And then from those options, Google will narrow in and give you one result. But by that point you might actually already be dealing with a website or a result that isn’t in position zero anymore. You might be dealing with a result that’s number ten.
Benjamin: Yeah, essentially it’s a filtering mechanism to lengthen the string of your query. Right? It’s not just best dry cleaner, but best dry cleaner by location considering price. Okay.
Benjamin: Let’s change the subject a little bit. We’re talking specifically about what’s happening in the SEO industry and how searches, the landscape is changing, but search data is valuable outside of just what’s happening sort of in the tactical ground war of content optimization. What are some of the interesting things that people are doing to use search data to make non-search decisions?
Jordan: So, what are businesses doing to use search data in a non-search way is a topic that we encounter quite a bit more today than we have in the past. First of all, one of the great things and something that I’d love to spend a lot of time talking about in this podcast, especially in future episodes, is about the presence of organic search at the management and leadership level. And I think that is one of the core reasons why we’re seeing your question coming up more often, which is, as executives and leaders and data analysts and all these folks become more exposed to search, they start asking questions about how can we use that data elsewhere.
Jordan: So, the most common and the most traditional one is in what you would consider a cousin or sister industry. So, a paid search or using SEO data to power your affiliate or other marketing channels, typically. That’s the most common thing that you see. One of the crazier places where we’re starting to see search data become really critical and really important, is around big investment decisions. So, we’re starting to see a lot of organizational institutions who make investments, start to analyze search data to help them predict the health of a website in a business. So many of the companies today are publicly traded. So many of these online digital companies are publicly traded from the trip advisors of the world to the Amazons, having that search data as one of the KPIs, to understand the health of that company as a quarter incomes is really important.
Jordan: So, that’s one place where we’re starting to see this materialize and become an important set of metrics to make non-search decisions. Another one that we see quite bit is in powering, and because it’s becoming … because machine learning has become so pervasive in various technology teams within companies, what we’re starting to see is using this data to train many of the machines and algorithms that departments and teams are using. Whether it’s an internal search or it’s a refinement for your customer support team. So what are the most common questions that are being asked in Google and then how do we answer those in our support forum.
Benjamin: That to me is one of the most fascinating things that I’ve learned having been around the Searchmetrics Company for a while, is that you have an understanding of what are the questions people are most likely to ask around a specific topic. You know, if I’m running, let’s use your example of a dry cleaner, and I want to know what my customers care about, you know, you can use search data to get the, “What’s the price? What’s the turn around time? How often does somebody’s clothes get ruined?” Whatever the questions would be to understand the variables that your customers use. So, as a marketer, understanding the customer mind-set and where their biggest concerns are helps you, obviously with your marketing if you’re doing organic marketing, but also a lot of your customer development you could use the data to understand more about the personality traits of your customers. It’s fascinating to me.
Jordan: It’s really remarkable. I think, I mean I never would have predicted that this is where we would be when I started in the search space. I mean, literally my goal in life when I started was, “How do I trick Google?” I mean-
Benjamin: How do I sell some Spanish books?
Jordan: Yeah, how do I sell some Spanish books was the ultimate goal, but like, what channel can I do that, I have no money, right? I’m in college, I have zero dollars, so that became a necessity. But today, it’s really remarkable to see how you can use this information to solve a lot of other business problems.
Benjamin: I think that’s a great point and you’ve obviously come a long way since the My Libro days, and I think that’s a good place for us to recap and then wrap up.
Benjamin: So, just to summarize some of the things that we talked about, the purpose of this podcast is to leverage a new medium of content to help educate, inform aspiring and experienced SEOs, so that you can understand how to use data and understand what’s changing in the search landscape.
Benjamin: We also talked about some of the big trends in search. Obviously mobile is a huge priority for Google. We kind of see voice as the future and so that’s some of the hot topics that we’re gonna get more into in the future.
Benjamin: And also, there’s this notion that people are starting to use search data beyond just SEO optimization, but trying to understand the overall health and performance of a company. They are trying to understand a little bit about the customer mind-set and get some really rich insights into how people are thinking about a subject using search data.
Benjamin: And so those are a couple of the topics that we’re gonna cover in more detail down the road.
Benjamin: And that wraps up the first episode of The Voices of Search podcast. Thanks to Jordan Koene, the general manager of Searchmetrics, for sharing his thoughts with us.
Benjamin: If you’re interested in getting in touch with Jordan or learning more about Searchmetrics, if you’d like a walk through of their product, head over to searchmetrics.com.
Benjamin: If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO insights and strategy in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app.
Benjamin: If you have questions or you’d like to be a guest on the Voices of Search podcast, visit the contact us form at the Searchmetrics website, again that’s searchmetrics.com.
Benjamin: And if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to give us a review in the Apple iTunes store.
Benjamin: Okay, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember, your content is always king.