I’ve seen Bill Hunt of Back Azimuth Consulting speak at a few conferences and always walk away impressed and with notes I can apply at SEJ and with my clients. Below, I asked Bill a little more about what he’s covering at SEJ Summit NYC in November 2nd, 2016.
Your SEJ Summit presentation is about finding those little SEO mistakes that can turn into huge problems. Can you talk about what you mean by ‘little’ mistakes and how they can affect an overall search strategy?
Most of the time when your search performance declines it is due to a relatively simple mistake. A perfect example was the other day a Fortune 100 company had updated their template for a specific section of the site. Once the smaller cluster of pages testing was complete would roll out to the entire business group. Our HREFLang tool detected 3 errors for every country. Looking at the errors, someone had set the canonical to the Global home page. This resulted in the local pages dropping from Google. Had it not been detected early, thousands of pages could have been dropped from the search engines. It is critical that companies have ongoing diagnostics in place to check for simple but deadly problems like these.
I personally think that there is an overemphasis on sexy and cool techniques and not enough on fundamentals. Everyone wants to be a home run hitter when four consecutive base hits gets the same outcome with less risk and effort.
What is the number one SEO mistake you can’t believe brands are still making?
The biggest mistake made is not making SEO a core part of the web ecosystem. It is impossible to understand that the tactic that drives 60 to 80% of your total traffic is left out of key decisions where UX or creativity trump not only SEO, but overall web performance. The companies that are the most successful in Search have identified SEO as a mission critical element and have woven into every element of the web and content ecosystem.
If I could give a second mistake that is almost at the same level it is the way companies approach link building. It is amazing how many companies do not integrate this into their PR, external relations, partner programs, and social media process. They are willing to pay huge sums of money to link builders to generate links to pages that may not even need them.
For example, an agency pitched one of my client’s marketing executives on link building and he approved a trial since they showed him the site was lacking compared to their peer. The problem was many of the pages they were going to get links to already had #1 or #2 rankings and did not need more links to them. When pushed to get links to deeper pages and from sites with actual link value the agency did not want to go forward after the trial.
You have been involved in SEO for many years—as far back as 1993. What new skill do you think SEOs need to embrace today if they want to succeed going forward?
As silly as it sounds, new SEO’s need to understand how websites work. It is amazing how many don’t understand the difference between the web server and the CMS and how they work together. I hear a lot of suggestions that people learn about machine learning and deep data analysis, that is great but if you don’t get the fundamentals correct you cannot be successful.
Voice search is becoming more and more popular. How do you think this shift towards talking to search engines will affect the way SEOs work?
It will be good overall as it will finally force Search people to think about what people wanted when they did the query and have they answered it. I think there is a lot of opportunity around detailed FAQ pages that incorporate questions into the content.
We have to understand the questions people ask no matter how they ask them. There always has been those who over generalize on just words and mapping any crap content to them rather than asking “why did they ask that and what information do they need to satisfy their request?”
At a recent conference, I presented on keyword modeling. I showed how a large resort destination mined their own on-site search data and identified over 600 different questions people were asking. We estimated that 15% were directly monetizable such as “ upgrade single day to multi-day passes” which can easily be translated to voice as “How to upgrade single park pass to a multi-park pass.” What was strange is that the majority of the question were not answered anywhere on the site.
Google recently announced they will be limiting the data available to low spenders through their keyword planner tool. Do you think this will have a big impact for most users?
I am going to say yes and no. Most people already have a decent handle on their keyword universe and just use that data to make fine tuning. However, for new businesses and people who are not willing to use their brain, it will be devastating. That has been the easy button where you go put in a phrase and it pukes out options for you. It is frightening how many companies don’t have a handy list of the things they sell or do for people.
Bonus Question: What is the best book you have read in the last few months?
I just finished Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by Stanley McCrystal. In a nutshell, it is about how traditional top-down management doesn’t work, especially in special operations and technology companies where information needs to flow quickly in both directions, and you need to allow smaller teams to work with just basic guidance and not micro management. This would be great for web development and marketing teams to work more as strike teams making rapid changes based on new data and changes in customer preferences versus taking on major more traditional development projects.
Great advice. Thanks for answering my questions, Bill. See you in NYC!
Don’t forget; you can still buy tickets and come see us in NYC Nov. 2nd at the TimesCenter in Manhattan.