The Evolution of Search Engine Optimization: Q&A with Deren Baker
As the internet evolves, so do the wants and needs of consumers – which means that marketers must adapt their strategy along with them. Jumpshot’s CEO Deren Baker is a tech industry veteran, holding previous roles as COO of Switchfly and SVP of Product at Travelocity. As a data-driven decision maker, Deren is a true believer in consumer-focused product development. Read on to learn how he sees the ever-evolving search marketing industry and where he thinks it’s going in the future.
How have you seen SEO evolve in the last ten years?
SEO has drastically changed in the last ten years, ranging from groundbreaking advances to minor tweaks. The mission has been to remove poor quality sites (including ones with outdated, thin or plagiarized content, and ones designed specifically with search engines in mind rather than consumers) from search results with both algorithmic and non algorithmic changes.
Google’s been a driver of this by introducing Panda to eradicate low-ranking, thin and duplicate content-based websites, Penguin to tackle link-buying SEO tactics and Mobilegeddon to penalize non mobile-friendly websites. All of these changes have pivoted the focus of search engine optimizers from technical architecture of a website to the overall user experience.
How has SEO gotten better over the last ten years?
Ten years ago, SEO was incredibly technical. Now, it’s far more holistic. While it used to be centered around keyword analysis, meta descriptions, and site structure, today SEO focuses on user-centric content that is both relevant and valuable to the reader. While content and search marketing go hand in hand, content marketing has recently grown at a faster pace than SEO.
The focus of search engine optimizers has shifted from backend to frontend – from integrating keywords and tags in metadata fields to creating unique content that generates organic traffic. I think this is one of the greater changes in Search Marketing and SEO specifically. We’re creating value for real humans rather than building metadata for crawlers and bots.
What do you miss most from the old SEO model?
Back in the day, before Google, Yahoo and Bing began their transition into Encrypted Search, businesses had far more visibility into organic keywords driving traffic to their website – it was all available on their backend analytics. Behind every search, there’s a person. Knowing the natural keywords and search phrases that people gravitate towards impacts how marketers connect with their target.
Today, SEO professionals can only infer which natural keywords drive traffic to their website through hacks and workarounds. Some strip keywords from the landing page, while others deduce the keywords from the search engine’s search result page (SERP). Regardless of how they do it, marketers ultimately end up with estimated results. The keyword holds the – pardon the pun – key to understanding the customer journey, which is why Jumpshot is working to bring back visibility into natural keywords – for everyone. Stay tuned!
What implications does the constantly evolving SEO world have on product management?
Industry experts know this, but most consumers don’t: when users search for something, the order of how those results are listed has a huge impact on conversion rates. Take New York City hotel searches for example. If you present the wrong list of hotels in New York City, website visitors will very easily go somewhere else, but if you nail the top ten hotel results according to their search terms, you have a great chance at converting that browser into a buyer.
The problem is that marketers play guessing games with keywords, making it harder to customize that list. Ultimately that lack of visibility into customer intent leads to frustration for everyone. Customers, who are accustomed to personalized results, don’t get the results they’re looking for, and travel companies risk losing customers because they’re not addressing the right needs.
Where do you see SEO going in the next 10 years?
It’s a Big Data world, we’re just living in it. We have so much more data than we did ten years ago, and it’s going to keep increasing. We now have a greater ability to analyze that data than we ever did before. While many think that technology is replacing humans and that machines can do our jobs better than we can, I see the opposite for SEO.
With organic search driving most traffic, SEOs are going to stand up against bot-generated insights, move away from speculation and focus on real results. Search engine optimizers need insight into consumers’ real intent and the ability to tie that intent into a return on their SEO investments.
As all of this data pours into the market, companies will be able to quantify real results from landing page A/B tests, make data-driven decisions about their mobile and web-based SEO investments, optimize their content marketing initiatives, and unearth strategies that work for their competitors. Big data will level the playing field for marketers of all shapes and sizes, giving them access to data that’s currently only available to a select few.
In a similar vein, the human component will continue to infiltrate all aspects of marketing. The holistic approach to SEO will drive how we build our product strategies, as companies will have access to more data about their customers, enabling them to put an emphasis on the entire customer journey and user experience, not just the purchase point.
Bottom line: With the constant evolution of SEO, search engine optimizers can get caught up chasing algorithms when they should be spending their efforts on overall customer experience. Most SEOs understand this and focus more on people than on crawlers and bots, but something is still missing. You cannot fully accommodate your customers needs if you don’t know what brought them to you. There are a lot of hacks and workarounds to infer consumer intent, but all you get are speculations. It’s time to bring back real keywords.