The #SEOisAEO series: 3 Pillars of a successful AEO strategy, pertinence, understanding, credibility
- Can we combine an AEO strategy with existing AEO tactics?
- Google's algorithms look for signals for relevance. Could you expand on that?
- "Keywords are no longer the key": what do you think, how can you expand on that?
- Google can extract attributes of a company or its products through reviews people write. What do you think?
- Mobile and voice both tend towards short-form clear, simple content. Is short content the way forward?
- To what extent are links becoming redundant?
- Credibility signals are something you mentioned in a Search Engine Watch article. Can you tell us what you mean?
- Author E-A-T, company E-A-T, is it purely quality control, or is there a ranking factor in there?
- How has your approach to strategy evolved in 2018?
Jason Barnard: Hello and welcome to the third episode of “Answer Engine Optimization, the future of SEO”. This episode is all about AEO strategy. First, the killer question.
Can we combine an AEO strategy with existing AEO tactics?
Kimberley Krause Berg: Yes, we can, and we should. The first thing that I do is consider user intent when writing content or optimizing content - decide who we're targeting why and what we have that we want people to find on the internet. So I begin with a user persona and delve into who this person really is: what's happening in their life, what device they are using and where are they searching from when they're asking for information. So it can get pretty in-depth, but the foundation I use is empathy for the searcher.
Jason: Great! That’s a lovely philosophical approach whereby we optimize to the people we're actually aiming to reach out to. That means what we were doing before is the same as we're doing now, except we have more devices, more platforms, more channels in which to pull people in. I think that's great, I don't think any SEO tactics that we used n the recent past (that weren't blackhat) are now invalid. In short, you can maintain your SEO tactics and integrate them into your AEO strategy. Thank you, Kim. So, next up is my simplified view of looking at the strategy for AEO. It's three pillars, it used to be two, understanding and credibility. And recently I came up with a third. Relevancy - that is why I'm so happy Kim is here.
Start top left with the idea that we aim to answer a question, on the right, Google needs to understand what the options are, and then bottom left, we need to convince Google that we're the best answer.
First, we need to ensure we an answer/solution that is relevant for the question.
Second, we communicate to Google that we have the answer (and interestingly, that it can present on the device or on the channel).
Third, we need to convince Google that we're the best solution out of the relevant solutions it has found. During the upcoming episodes, we’ll look at this from the point of machine learning, leveraging the Knowledge Graph, and from brand positioning. So we'll leave those to one side for the moment.
What is the user intent of the question or the query, and from our point of view, how can we be sure that we are relevant and that we are aiming at relevant queries? You said, Kim.
Google's algorithms look for signals for relevance. Could you expand on that?
Kimberley: Oh jeez, yes. Google watches everything that we say and do, where we do it what device we're using, and I think a lot of people don't really understand how much Google knows what we're doing. Signals for relevancy for Google are trust, credibility, citations ... and importantly, different categories of information that people search for. I was reading a study on new moms, and the information that they're looking for is: how do I do, where do I do such and such. And they are a specific user persona to optimize for, but these moms are also kind of comparing notes and who has the most credible information. Businesses need to build up credibility over time. Trust and credibility are ancient, they go back to the '90s. There's actually a set of usability heuristics that we use for credibility alone. If you just implement those on your website, you're already rocking it. But people forget that. So dates, keeping everything current, working on your profile - every little thing that users do ...
Jason: Wow - what really comes out of that is that Google's got a phenomenal range of signals. And we don't really realize or we don't perhaps appreciate how many signals it has -it is watching everything and every single little detail helps.
Kimberley: Right, and who's sharing what. Sharing is huge, and Google's watching that as well.
Jason: Yeah, so lot's of social media, lot's of personas. Great stuff, that was a wonderful, wonderful answer. Straight into another question, this time it's David. I saw on Amazon that you wrote a series of books, including one on keywords
"Keywords are no longer the key": what do you think, how can you expand on that?
David Bain: I would say that you still need keywords to be considered, but you don't need keywords to be selected.
So, what do I mean by that? You need traditional SEO to be considered, to get to the top page of Google. As long as if you're on the first page, then you can be considered for Answer Engine Optimization. So I think keywords are really helpful to establish yourself, your site's area of focus to begin with. I would still want the keyword in the heading, somewhere in the content, possibly in the meta description. But I think it's fair to say that keywords in links are no longer key. Answer engines are still looking for keywords, but they also require context and authority.
As an SEO you really want to be involved in your entire content publishing strategy and not just think about the technical side of SEO. I think if you're a big business or you work for big clients, personas are absolutely key - what Kim was talking about earlier. You need to get a grip of precisely who your target audience is, and write in the tone, the context of their particular situations.
I think that if you are an individual, if you have your own brand, or perhaps you're a coach or a consultant, a personal brand, then you're probably writing to satisfy your own interests and needs. So your requirement of having a persona is lessened. In summary, in relation to keywords I would say keywords are still a key, but only to one of the doors, and there are many more doors than there used to be.
Jason: Yes, great. One thing I’d add, and I do try and push this with my clients, is that it's helpful to users if they see what the words they typed into the search box when they land on the page if only to reassure them that they’re on the right page.
David: Yes, and also a mention of the keyword gives a search engine greater confidence that that's what the page is about, but you shouldn't be stuffing your page with keywords certainly.
Jason: No, not anymore :)What really comes out from those answers is “make sure you're relevant”. Then you need to make sure that you're understood, so you need to communicate. Sometimes we forget that we need to actively communicate. You can't just expect Google to understand you. The more you're communicating, the more you make it easy for Google, the better you will perform. In the context of getting Google to understand your answers, we'll be looking at structured data the Knowledge Graph, and brand position later on in the series. So a couple of more detailed questions.
I read recently from Bill Slawski that Google may use reviews to learn about entity attributes. I thought that was phenomenally interesting, the idea
Google can extract attributes of a company or its products through reviews people write. What do you think?
David: Google will obviously crawl many things on the web to try and find out more about you as an entity. And what it will mostly do with reviews is looking to build a greater level of trust about you, about your brand, through sentiment in different reviews out there. Then additionally if, for instance, someone was describing a business online and the last three reviews used the word closed, then that's maybe a bit of a clue to Google that perhaps that business may not actually be operating anymore.
Obviously just focusing in on reviews, you would do well as a business to identify the top two or three review sites out there, and funnel your satisfied customers towards them, to skew things slightly more positively in your direction.
Jason: Yeah, reviews are incredibly powerful, especially positive reviews to indicate to Google you're trustworthy, that you're a good source of information. Then the patent, I think that Bill was talking about was that what people say in reviews also give it clues to attributes of the entity.
David: Yeah, absolutely. It's adding context, isn't it? In the previous episode you had with Dawn, Juliana, and Eric (great episode, by the way) - they were talking about the challenges that search engines sometimes have with referring to he’s and they’s and who specifically these words are referring to. So search engines aren't infallible and it's important to try and make things as simple for them as possible with regards to context and what people are saying.
Jason: Sure, yeah. They're not infallible and they need help, and the more you can spoon-feed them the better. Onto Rebecca. Something Dawn Anderson said in the last episode:
Mobile and voice both tend towards short-form clear, simple content. Is short content the way forward?
Rebecca Sentance: Well, there's a bit of a contradiction inherent in the industry currently, where on the one hand we're pushing for long-form high-quality content to cater to Google's algorithm. And on the other we're promoting these short succinct answers for mobile and voice. But the first thing that I would say is that no advice is absolute. You want to create content that satisfies a purpose, regardless of what you might have read about what's going to do best on mobile or voice, because at the end of the day what's going to do best is what works for your brand and what users are looking for.
So, two pieces of advice for people looking to create content for mobile and voice. First of all, create the content that serves the purpose that it needs to, regardless of length. If you're writing a how-to guide then make sure it covers all the points in enough detail, if you're writing a blog post, make sure it gives a full treatment of the subject matter. Don't feel that you need to cut it short because you're worried about its reception on voice or mobile. Second, is use mobile - carry out searches on mobile and voice, and find out how your content ranks and how it's presented. And then you will know exactly how it's being received by these audiences. If you have a good responsive mobile site then regardless of whether you're content is in-depth or short and concise, it will be presented well. So the presentation and the design is more important.
When it comes to voice, find out how voice assistants are presenting your content. Listen to the excerpts that are being vocalised - it's important to know how your content will be presented to audiences, then you can work on presenting it in the best way possible.
Also, you shouldn't confuse short form content with readable content. Readability is when you have content that's written clearly with straightforward terminology, simple language, and it's easy to understand by all sorts of different audiences and that kind of content is great for accessibility like Kim mentioned, and also for SEO. So, by all means, write readable content. Google's official guidelines for voice say make sure that your excerpts are clear concise and grammatical, but that doesn't mean it has to be the short form at all.
Jason: Yeah, great answer. I really love “don't necessarily write short, don't necessarily write long, you have to look at the context - user intent, device and the delivery format”.
Onwards. Once Google has figured out what the user intent - what the user is really looking for - and has figured out what the available answers are. The last step, it needs to choose which is the best answer to offer.
So it's looking at credibility and we as marketers need to convince. Previously in old-school SEO, we were looking at links, now it's much more complex. There are a phenomenal number of signals Google relies on to decide if somebody's credible, as Kim and David said earlier on. An important concept is that it's up to me to convince Google that my company is credible and my answer is the most credible. It's a bad idea to sit back and expect Google to understand that it on its own.
And that's a great deal about Brand and Brand building, which is going to be the subject of the last season of this series. Let’s look at links - I saw Gary Ilyes say that short heard requires links, the long tail does not. He seems to be implying that, for long tail keywords at least, links are pretty much redundant.
To what extent are links becoming redundant?
David: Obviously links are still important for search engines. It remains important to get links. How can a site really go about obtaining links? Research what great players are doing, which websites in your niche are producing great content, how their links are evolving - that's likely to be a good strategy to follow.
So what does a link really mean to Google? Links are a strong signal to Google that says, "Consider me." And the degree of consideration is based on the authority and relevance of the linking site. For example, if you generate maybe ten fresh links to a piece of content in a couple of days after you hit publish, that's a strong signal to Google that it should consider that page to be ranked for relevant phrases.
So what Google then does, in my opinion, is that it decides to test. So it raises your ranking from maybe 30 to 3 for a few hours to get a feel for how people interact with your content compared with other content that was already ranking highly. And then if it finds out that people prefer your content - if you get a higher click-through rate, if people stay in your site for longer, or they don't come back seeking another answer - then the question is how do you retain your rankings, and that probably revolves back to UX and just ensuring that your site is a great experience, wonderfully fast loading, and probably more traditional areas of SEO really as well.
But to summarize, to what extent are links becoming redundant? They're not redundant, I think they're just becoming an initial signal, rather than an overarching ranking factor.
Jason: Yeah, sure. What I hear from you David, because you've done the links and the keywords questions, is that to get into the consideration to be an answer, you need to rely on these "traditional" SEO ideas, which are keywords and links. But once you're there, you need to convince it and you need to look at the relevancy from a very different point of view, which is, in this case, UX, looking at user experience.
We've come right back to the first question that I asked Kim, which is can you integrate your SEO tactics, your SEO strategy into an AEO strategy. And the answer is that you should build your AEO strategy on top of your SEO strategy. More on credibility. Rebecca.
Credibility signals are something you mentioned in a Search Engine Watch article. Can you tell us what you mean?
Rebecca: I was just trying to give a name to something that seemed to fit what I was describing. I did a write-up about Answer Engine Optimization based on a webinar that you did with Chee Lo at Trustpilot. And I was trying to build on the techniques that you explained in the webinar, in which both of you emphasized the importance of communication and credibility to AEO.
So communicating to Google or to another answer engine what your business is about, and proving that your answers come from a credible source. So credibility signals is a term that I made up, and it's not an official Google term. For me, credibility signals are things like links, positive mentions, third-party reviews and having a presence in a trusted database like Wikidata or Crunchbase. All of these things send an extra signal to Google that your content is a trustworthy source.
So every action that you can take to confirm that your business is credible that it has a consistent factually correct presence across the internet sends extra signals to Google that you're credible, and it will weight things more heavily in your favour when it decides what content, what source, to draw the answer from.
Jason: Brilliant. Wonderfully put, I thought that was incredibly clear.
Next up is something I was really interested in asking Marie, but unfortunately, she couldn't be here. But Kim stepped in and she knows what this is all about this too.
Author E-A-T, company E-A-T, is it purely quality control, or is there a ranking factor in there?
Kimberley: Can you clarify?
Jason: From what I understood Marie is saying is that you need to build up your expertise authority and trust. Both for authors who are writing your content, but also for your company. We know it's an integral part of the quality guidelines for the 150,000 people Google has checking that the results are good, and that's what Marie was talking about. But then one would think that, given what Rebecca just said about credibility signals, the two match up actually quite nicely in many ways. I'm wondering if you feel that E-A-T may well actually now be a ranking factor.
Kimberley: Well, yeah. QA is something that I do in every audit, but I look at it from the user perspective, and we are trying to persuade the user to trust us to believe us, to use our brand and our product. And there's a lot of different ways to do that, there are a lot of quality aspects that we look for when we perform an audit, and Google notices these too. This is like the extra effort that you're doing.
Jason: So, you're saying that E-A-T actually also comes down to Google’s perception of UX as well. Great stuff. Over the last year obviously, the SEO landscape has changed significantly.
How has your approach to strategy evolved in 2018?
David: For me, AEO is really based upon three things, understanding and credibility... and also timeliness. Timeliness should really be in the ring. The reason I'm saying that is on Search Marketing Scoop a couple of episodes ago, I was discussing this with Mike Allton, and he was giving an example of a blog post that he published, which was about what happened with Vine. And he's driven tens of thousands of visits to his site through that one post, and he appears in the answer box and number one listing for certain fairly highly searched keyword phrases. But he managed to do that, I think, largely because he knew what was going on in the industry and he published at exactly the right time.
And I think that that has to be a keen part of the mix here. It's not necessarily about researching what people have searched for historically. It's being aware of what is likely to happen as a news story in your industry over the coming few months, and being on top of things before it happens so you can perhaps grab the keyword phrase before it becomes used by the majority of people, and that will give you another significant chance of being that number one slot.
Jason: Wow. Super. Great stuff. Kim, how has your approach to strategy evolved over the last year?
Kimberley: Oh, accessibility is number one, and the reason being is it's all about inclusion. And we have just spent the first 20 years really focused on a narrow user group, and by opening it up to accessibility, you're including so many more people, which begins by understanding what accessibility is. I need accessibility for my eyes, I'm not blind, but I need visual accessibility. It’s also emotional, it's mental, it’s physical... it's so many things. Then think about text-to-voice software, and that's going to be huge.
The other thing is removing barriers like an ad or a slider or a big hero image that shrinks to nothing on mobile. When we produce content we're also putting up walls and barriers and hurdles and things like that, preventing people from even getting to the content. Google's going to go, "Uckh akkh, we're leaving." Then "Sign up for our newsletter before you can read our content" that's a barrier. Why would you put content up and then prevent people from seeing it, or make them perform a task before ... it's just logic. So I guess my answer is just common sense.
Jason: Common sense, great quote. Great answer, love that one. Now, Rebecca, you've got the last shot at this question. How has your view of AEO strategy changed over the year?
Rebecca: I come at it mostly from a theoretical angle because I write and analyze SEO and AEO more than I do hands-on. But you said that this year is the year that AEO became a thing, I might say that's true for me because if you go back to this time last year, I didn't know what AEO was. So, over the last year, I've come to understand what answer engine optimization is and how it works. But also I think I've got an appreciation of the extent to which search and answer engine strategies are becoming much more fluid and nuanced, even more so than they were before.
So if you think about something like the rise of linkless mentions, this isn't just the number of links that point to your site, it's not mechanical. So we've moved away. As David said, links are still important, but we're moving away from mechanical link building, and it’s much more about the quality of how your business is referenced, where it's referenced, who it's referenced by. That's a lot more nuanced, and a lot harder to track, but also a lot harder to game the system
Jason: Super. Perhaps we’ve moved away from pure link building and back towards more traditional press relations.
Rebecca: Yes, there’s been a lot said about the role of PR in digital marketing. A lot of people have said that PR is by no means on it's way out if anything it's on it's way back in, and that's really interesting when you think about how PR would interact with SEO. You wouldn't think the two have a relationship, but in fact, I think there's a big overlap.
Jason: Now, a little bonus from position zero because we had a couple of good quotes last week from Eric and Dawn. Eric was saying Google is building an algorithm on top of the normal search algorithm that specializes in finding the best short answer to a user's question. Then Dawn said that they go to the Knowledge Graph first, pull everything out of that, and then they fill in the gaps from the web page.
I was wondering if you've got anything to add to that position zero discussion that they started last time, David.
David: I would say that Google wants to build a UST, an ultimate source of truth. If you're trying to rank for a query that Google already has a UST for, forget it and move on to building an answer box for a query that isn't being fulfilled correctly. I'd also say that Dawn called it assistive engine optimization, and I'd second that. Google Assistant is called Google Assistant for a reason. They don't just intend to provide an answer, they intend to provide a solution for you, and remember that this solution could take multiple steps in the future.
Jason: That was a really great answer, or a great addition to what was said last time, thanks a lot David. UST, I'll remember that one. And you seconded assistive engine optimization as opposed to answer engine optimization.
Kimberley: Assistive where you are. What do I mean? This applies more to what Dawn was talking about, and a little bit of what Eric was talking about, and that is assistive technology when you're travelling. For example “show me the best restaurant near me”. That works if you're sitting at home or you're looking for something local or when you're travelling and on the move. So, think “assistive where you are”. We are not stationary. We are moving people, and we have different needs. So I think we have a long way to go in a lot of ways to optimize.
Jason: Super, great. Thanks a lot. Now, Rebecca, what have you got to add to this position zero discussion?
Rebecca: In terms of what Eric said in the last episode about Google building an algorithm on top of an algorithm, I think no one really knows what it is that Google is doing for sure, but it sounds like what he's saying is that Google is focusing part of its algorithm on specifically looking at the top 10 results that already rank in search and then extracting the best answer from among those. And that sounds like what you've been saying - that Google works to understand what's at its disposal, and then choose the best answer to rank. I also found a very interesting study that Larry Kim of Wordstream did, which might provide insight into how Google picks that best answer from the top 10. He found that pages with high engagement metrics like click-through rate and dwell time were more likely to get the position zero featured snippet. So Google's trying to look for signals that say, "This is the correct answer. This is the answer that's satisfying people's searches." And, by the way, if you want to know about answer engine versus assistive engine optimization, I'd say why can't it be both?
Jason: Okay, brilliant, wonderful. That was great stuff, and thanks for the support :) One thing that did strike me, you mentioned the dwell time and how much the users were engaged in the content, I think that's a very big signal for Google. On top of that, people have been talking a lot about pogo sticking, but I would like to add something to that discussion. I don't think pogo sticking isn’t so interesting - it is more interesting to consider whether somebody continues to search for the same thing after visiting your site. So it's not so much “do they bounce and then go back to somebody else's site”, it's more “after visiting your site, do they then search something completely different”, i.e. they have found the solution, which is what Google's aiming to provide them with.
Jason: Thank you, Rebecca, thank you, Kim, thank you, David. Wonderful answers to questions that aren't easy to answer in a simple and helpful manner. You all did a brilliant job. A quick wise word from Ivan Bercovich (who was at Graphiq before, which has been bought by Alexa), he says “authority, precision and adaptability” is the future of SEO. I really like that trio of words. I think it ends the episode very nicely.
This is the third episode of Epic Series by Jason.