- 1:19 What “intent” means in a search context
- 5:35 It’s all about answers
- 10:19 Who wins in a zero-click search world?
- 16:48 Are brand websites structuring their data?
- 24:24 The age of “sonic branding”
- 27:22 What’s a small-business to do?
This episode of Localogy’s Above the Cloud podcast features a conversation with Yext VP of Industry Insights Duane Forrester about why so many tried and true search optimization best practices have become obsolete.
Duane joined me via video chat from his hotel room near Dallas. He had spent the previous day doing what an industry thought leader does. He spoke at a conference, addressed senior management at a Fortune 500 company, and later in the day he worked the room at a Yext customer event. Much of what he talks about in these meetings involves what companies need to do to win at search in a new world of intent, answers, zero clicks, and voice.
Before joining Yext three years ago, Duane wrote books, served as Bing’s webmaster, and did marketing and PR for Caeser’s Palace, among other things.
I’ve boiled our nearly hour-long discussion down to less than 30 minutes. Duane got pretty deep into how the search engines have evolved past keywords toward discerning user intent, and why this demands that businesses structure their data in order to remain relevant in a new search environment. Winning today means being that source for answering consumers’ questions.
Here are some highlights from our discussion, with timestamped links included in case you want to skip to that segment of the episode.
It’s All About Intent
[Starting at 1:15] Understanding intent is key to winning in search, and discerning intent goes way beyond knowing which keywords consumers are using. While keyword analysis has its place, marketers that over-rely on it today are fighting the last war.
“Writing content against keywords is not how you win today or in the future. Search engines are way beyond keyword analysis. They are into the far reaches of sentiment analysis, which means understanding intent at great detail.”
The Answer Is…Answers
[Starting at 4:12] The marketer’s job today is to figure out how to structure their content to serve up answers to consumers’ questions.
“What’s fundamentally missing from today’s digital marketing is people figuring out what the questions are that consumers have. And questions aren’t keywords. No one is taught…to speak in keywords.”
Are Big Brands Vulnerable?
[Starting at 16:52] Most companies remain “hopelessly behind” in updating their websites for the new search environment. Optimizing for answers is not a small matter. It requires meaningful engineering investment. This suggests an advantage for big brands, given they have more resources and a big edge on name recognition. But there is also internal competition for resources based on which projects produce the greatest immediate return which can delay the investments needed to keep pace with change.
“There are hard costs. When you are an SEO and you go and ask for that engineering resource, someone is going to ask you, ‘What is our return on investment?'”
[Starting at 22:00] Duane made the point that while big brands may have the horsepower to make this pivot, their slow decisionmaking process provides an opening to smaller, more nimble challenger brands. After all, a flatter organization can make a pivot after a quick hallway chat among product, marketing, and engineering.
“You’ve got a mid-tier brand, they are generally smaller with fewer people, and fewer layers to go through. The product manager can just walk down the hall and tap the marketing manager on the shoulder.”
What’s a Small Business to Do?
[Starting at 27:22] Duane acknowledged the new answers environment is tough for small business owners, but there are actions they can take to keep up. One key is to be mindful of their time and not get bogged down in minutiae.
“I would tell a small business owner, don’t worry about all the details of SEO. Focus on understanding the intent of your customers.”
It all comes back to intent.
Here’s a video of Duane discussing how small businesses adapt to the answers environment.
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