Ken Shults is the managing director of global consulting at Global Strategies. Ken leads the company’s developments in analytics, and relies on his rich experience in mass customization technology platforms, marketing programs and predictive algorithms to provide essential guidance to his customers. Share14 kicks off today, and I sat down with Ken to discuss the changing face of SEO, and how content factors.
The SEO landscape
Andy Betts (AB): How have you seen the SEO landscape change over the last year?
Ken Shults (KS): A lot of the “rules of the game” are different after this year. It was a pretty pivotal one for the search community. With the advent of secure search — and Google removing keyword level data for paid search as well as organic search access to keyword level data in web analytics is essentially gone. While not catastrophic, it’s definitely something we’ll have had to get used to. We occupy an information-hungry industry, and having to adapt to getting that insight in a different way is changing things up for search professionals across the board.
AB: What change in the industry has had the biggest impact for you and your clients?
KS: Google’s move to secure search has definitely had a good size impact from a workflow perspective. It’s tough — how can we continue getting valuable insight into how people reach our content without the power of leveraging keywords? “Keyword unavailable” really shook things up, but Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) has become the best alternative for keyword data. The interesting thing about it is that it’s heavily sampled. For one of our largest computer clients, we used to be able to identify four or five million keywords, while GWT only offers the top few thousand keywords for each account. Secure search has really shrunk the scope of our knowledge. With some creative configurations, I can expand that information given through GWT, but there are some pretty large limitations: I can’t export keyword data at the page level at the kind of scale necessary for some of our clients and I lose all engagement data at the keyword level.
AB: How do you see search evolving over the next year?
KS: For Global Strategies clients, we approach our consulting efforts with a “we’re your conscience” kind of attitude with natural search. SEO is not a verb, as we like to say, and I think this rings true for everyone. It’s something that happens when you do everything else right. As shifts in algorithms move toward penalizing content that isn’t high quality or that associates with bad neighborhoods, the focus is on quality content that is more likely to be shared and liked, and that’s where a big source of authority and reputation will come from. We want to help organizations shift their mindset, and help them understand that SEO is a product of creating quality content and optimizing it for the search landscape. Things will continue to move this way. We have to think in terms of semantics, and put content first.
The content marketing shift: optimization, measurement, performance
AB: Speaking of content, how are you aligning content and search optimization efforts for your clients?
KS: Well another big evolution recently has been the creation of the Panda and Penguin algorithms. They’re putting greater emphasis on quality content, are doing things with upstanding web citizens and are staying away from bad neighborhoods. As a natural search consulting firm working with large global enterprise clients, that works in our favor. We haven’t been willing to accept the kind of risk that has come along with spamming, paid linking or content farming activities that would’ve put us at risk with Panda and Penguin. We’ve always felt like content should be the star, and making it easy to find and share is truly the end goal. If we take that as the philosophy, any shifts in these algorithms will actually benefit our clients in the future. Google Hummingbird definitely comes to play in the convergence of search and content as well. As search engines evolve, we’re seeing a move from piecing together strings of text to actually being able to understand relationships between entities and queries. It makes things easier in a way from a search standpoint — especially with natural search, where Google can effectively match pieces of content with a large variety of specific queries. Now, creating quality content is rewarded with SEO results.
AB: Tell me more about your session. Can you give us a preview of what you’ll cover?
KS: This year, I’m presenting on the impact that secure search has had on what we do everyday as search engine optimizers and content creators — and how companies can navigate these areas of impact. We use insights from search extensively and our ability to go about that has been impacted by the insights that are available now, after the secure search move. We now have different tactics to get information and pull insights, and I’ll talk about those. In other cases, we’ve lost the ability to see certain information and answer questions about audience, so I’ll discuss that too.
AB: Why Share? Why do you attend?
KS: There are several search-oriented conferences out there, but what’s great about Share14 is that we all have a platform in common. The vast majority of attendees use BrightEdge technology on a daily basis, so we have this shared experience to work off of. We’re all working off the same toolset, so when meeting others at Share, we have this common ground already established. We are using the BrightEdge platform to accomplish the kind of goals we likely share.
AB: What do you love about BrightEdge?
KS: SEO is a tough arena to navigate, and BrightEdge is a platform that makes the process easier. You know what to prioritize, where to work, and can rapidly identify issue areas to work from. While you can’t expect it to do the work for you, it’s a powerful resource that provides some essential insights. At Global Strategies, it’s been valuable having BrightEdge on our side to help our own clients. Now we have this convenient, automated platform to hold data together in one place, making it easy to examine and evaluate. BrightEdge technology has been a big help to us from an operational standpoint.