Tag Archives: predictive SEO

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Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

On February 22nd, leading digital media agency Brainlabs hosted the latest in its series of PPC Chat Live events at its London HQ.

With speakers from Google, Verve Search, and of course from Brainlabs too, there were plenty of talking points to consider and digest. In this article, we recap the highlights from an enlightening event.

The theme for this edition of PPC Chat Live was ‘the state of search’, with the focus squarely on the trends set to shape the industry in 2018 and beyond. The speakers delivered a wide variety of presentations that reflected on the industry’s beginnings, not just for nostalgia’s sake but also to illuminate the future too.

Brainlabs has carved out a position as an innovative, data-driven search agency and this tone was carried through the evening, all ably assisted by Pepper the robot receptionist.

Although paid search took up the majority of air time, there was still plentiful room for ruminations on the evolving role of SEO and what the nature of search tells us about the modern consumer.

Digital assistants: empowering or simply enabling?

Peter Giles from Google opened the evening with a thought-provoking talk on the impact of new technologies on the way people find information.

Peter noted that the increased accuracy of voice-enabled digital assistants has led to a range of changes in consumer behavior. Some of these could be seen as empowering, while others perhaps play only to our innate laziness and desire for a friction-free life.

There were three core behavioral trends noted within this session:

Increased curiosity

Because people have access to an unprecedented amount of information, they are more inclined to ask questions. When the answers are always close to hand, this is an understandable development.

Google has seen some interesting trends over the past two years, including an increase of 150% in search volume for [best umbrellas]. What was once a simple purchase is now subject to a more discerning research process.

Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

Higher expectations

Although there is initial resistance to some technologies that fundamentally change how we live, once we are accustomed to them we quickly start to expect more. In 2015, Google reported that it had seen a 37x increase in the number of searches including the phrase “near me”.

Consumers now expect their device to know this intent implicitly and Peter revealed that the growth in “near me” phrases has slowed considerably.

Decreased patience

As expectations grow, patience levels decrease. In fact, there has been an increase of over 200% in searches containing the phrase “open now” since 2015 in the US. Meanwhile, consumers are coming to expect same-day delivery as standard in major metropolitan areas.

Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

Throughout all of these changes, Peter Giles made clear that brands need to focus on being the most helpful, available option for their target audience. By honing in on these areas, the ways in which consumers access the information are not so important.

The more significant factor is making this information easy to locate and to surface, whether through search engines, social networks, or digital assistants.

The past, present, and future of PPC and SEO

Brainlabs’ exec chair Jim Brigden reflected on the history of the paid search industry, going back to the early 2000’s when most brands were skeptical of the fledgling ad format’s potential.

In fact, only £5 million was spent on paid search in the UK as recently as 2001. The industry’s growth, projected to exceed $100 billion globally this year, should also give us reason to pause and consider what will happen next. The pace of change is increasing, so marketers need to be able to adapt to new realities all the time.

Jim Brigden’s advice to budding search marketers was to absorb as much new knowledge as possible and remain open to new opportunities, rather than trying to position oneself based on speculation around future trends. Many marketers have specialized in search for well over a decade and, while the industry may have changed dramatically in that time, its core elements remain largely intact.

This was a topic touched on by Lisa Myers of Verve Search too, when discussing organic search. For many years, we have discussed the role (and even potential demise) of SEO, as Google moves to foreground paid search to an ever greater degree.

Myers’ presentation showcased just how much the SEO industry has changed, from link buying to infographics, through to the modern approach that has as much in common with a creative agency as it does with a web development team.

Just one highlight from the team at Verve Search, carried out in collaboration with their client Expedia, was the Unknown Tourism campaign. Comprised of a range of digital posters, the campaign commemorates animals that have been lost from some of the world’s most popular tourist spots.

Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

Such was the popularity of the campaign, one fan created a package for The Sims video game to make it possible to pin the posters on their computer-generated walls. Verve has received almost endless requests to create and sell the posters, too.

This isn’t what most people think of when they think of SEO, but it is a perfect example of how creative campaigns can drive performance. For Expedia, Verve has achieved an average increase in visibility of 54% across all international markets.

The core lesson we can take away here from both Jim Brigden and Lisa Myers is that the medium of search remains hugely popular and there is therefore a need for brands to try and stand out to get to the top. The means of doing so may change, but the underlying concepts and objectives remain the same.

The predictable nature of people

For the final part of the evening, Jim Brigden was joined by Dan Gilbert, CEO of Brainlabs and the third most influential person in digital, according to Econsultancy.

Dan shared his sophisticated and elucidative perspective on the search industry, which is inextricably linked to the intrinsic nature of people.

A variety of studies have shown that people’s behavioral patterns are almost entirely predictable, with one paper noting that “Spontaneous individuals are largely absent from the population. Despite the significant differences in travel patterns, we found that most people are equally predictable.”

As irrational and unique as we would like to think we are, most of our actions can be reduced to mathematical equations.

That matters for search, when we consider the current state of the industry.

After all, companies like Google excel at creating rational systems, such as the machine learning algorithms that continue to grow in prominence across its product suite.

As Dan Gilbert stated, this gives good cause to believe that the nature of search will be fundamentally different in the future.

Our digital assistants will have little reason to offer us a choice, if they already know what we want next.

That choice is the hallmark of the search industry, but Gilbert sees no reason to create a monetizable tension where no tension needs to exist.

Google’s focus has always been on getting the product right and figuring out the commercial aspect once users are on board and this seems likely to be the approach with voice-enabled assistants.

Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

In fact, the technology is already available to preempt these decisions and start serving consumers content and products before they even know they want to receive them. The field of predictive analytics has evolved significantly over the last few years and the capability to model out future behavioral trends is already in use for companies like Netflix and Amazon.

The inflection point for this technology is dependent on people’s readiness to accept such a level of intrusion in their daily lives, rather than any innate technological shortcomings.

History suggests that, while a certain initial resistance is to be expected, ultimately we will grow accustomed to this assimilation of technology into our lives. And, soon after, we will grow impatient with any limitations we encounter.

That will create a seismic shift in how the search industry operates, but it will open up new and more innovative ways to connect consumers with brands.

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Interview: Can you forecast SEO? Sastry Rachakonda says you can

In the world of search engine optimisation, there are a wealth of tools which produce analytics and SEO reports after changes have been made to your site.

But what if you could predict how your site’s ranking would change before you’d made any alterations –and see the impact on traffic, ROI and more?

Sounds too good to be true, right? But ALPS, a new platform from iQuanti, sets out to do exactly that.

ALPS, which stands for Analytics Led Platform for Search, is a “best-in-class analytically driven platform”, in the words of CEO Sastry Rachakonda. The platform “allows you to set your SEO strategy with a deep understanding of your competition as well as your business.”

The aim of the platform’s predictive capabilities is to let SEOs understand exactly what impact a certain change to their site would have, before they invest the money and time in making it. But it also gives an in-depth insight into exactly what competitor websites are doing with their SEO, allowing users to adapt their strategy accordingly.

So how does this tool actually work, and how accurate is it really? I asked CEO Sastry Rachakonda for some insight.

A gap in the market

As you might imagine, a platform like ALPS is built on an in-depth knowledge of SEO, a lot of data, and a lot of research.

“I used to be a marketer in large Fortune 500 companies,” explains Rachakonda. “Having looked at the SEO space from the other side, I found there were a lot of gaps in the existing tools, and that was pretty much the genesis of ALPS.”

Existing SEO platforms have a good level of analytics and reporting, says Rachakonda, but as of yet, nothing predictive.

Building a tool like ALPS practically required Rachakonda and his team to build their own search engine – or at least to understand how the theory behind them works. They plumbed the industry research and patents available – including a number filed by Google – in order to understand the factors that go into making a search engine.

“At the core of ALPS is a desire to get a deeper understanding of how the algorithms work,” explains Rachakonda.

Image by iQuanti

Using this knowledge, they were able to build a model which could simulate how a search engine would respond to various changes on a website, and alter the site ranking accordingly.

The ALPS tool uses 105 different factors to model search rankings and predict SEO. While this might sound pretty complex, Google is rumoured to use between 150 and 180. Of course, Google has a lot of internal data at its fingertips which outside parties could never hope to replicate, much of it accumulated over decades of learning and tweaking. But iQuanti did its best with the information that was available, and while some of it was purchased, a surprising amount is publicly available for anyone to use.

ALPS aims to replicate Google’s search algorithms as closely as possible, but it works for other search engines as well.

“We looked at Google primarily because that has the most volume, but the variables remain the same,” says Rachakonda. “There isn’t a dramatic difference between search engines. In our roadmap, we are looking at tweaking it to come up with a secondary model that will more accurately replicate Bing’s search engine ranking.”

While the platform obviously can’t match Google one hundred percent, it comes pretty close, says Rachakonda – and it’s the most extensively-researched and modelled tool of its kind. “Is it perfect? No, but I would say this is the most far-reaching effort in that direction, and we have been successful in driving results.”

From art to science

At the core of ALPS is its scoring engine: the higher your score, the better your SEO. The ‘ALPS score’ is made up of four components: on-page, off-page, social and technical SEO. The platform also gives you your Google search ranking for a particular keyword – users can choose the keywords they want to target when they onboard with the platform.

You can then compare your SEO score in various areas with competitors who rank above and below you for the same keyword, see what they’re doing better than you (such as having better on-page SEO), and use the tool’s predictive function to forecast how altering different parts of your site will affect your score.

Interview: Can you forecast SEO? Sastry Rachakonda says you canImage by iQuanti

Of course, SEO nowadays isn’t just a keyword game, and a lot of the factors that are now key to SEO rankings are more subjective and difficult to quantify – like content quality. So how does ALPS account for changes to something like the quality of your site’s content?

Ajay Rama, Senior Vice President of Product at iQuanti, explains,

“There are two aspects to content quality that we look at: A, if the page is relevant and meeting the primary purpose it was meant to serve; and B, whether the content is from an authoritative or trustworthy source.

“Our algorithm analyses the purpose by looking at the mix of terms that are being used and not just exact word combinations. It looks at synonyms and topically similar words. It also looks at whether the links that the site is getting are provided in the same context as the page content, and then assigns a relevancy score to it.

“To determine the trustworthiness of a site, we look at the nature of links that the content has, and whether they are from trusted sources or domains.”

ALPS also has a dedicated section for mobile SEO, which looks at how pages and keywords rank differently in mobile search compared to desktop.

Another feature that many SEOs would find handy is its ability to account for Google penalties for something like failing to nofollow ‘freebie’ links by bloggers. So you can simulate the impact of disavowing various links on your site, and then watch your ranking respond accordingly.

Interview: Can you forecast SEO? Sastry Rachakonda says you can

Why has there been so little development in the predictive SEO space? | Image by nvodicka, available via CC0

The ability to simulate how changes to your SEO will affect your ranking before you make them is obviously incredibly handy in the search industry. So why aren’t more companies doing this?

I asked Rachakonda why he thinks there has been so little development in the realm of predictive SEO.

“It requires a combination of strong, data-driven folks, engineering, as well as strong marketers – typically, a lot of tools come from very strong engineering companies, but I think that there is a strong overlay of marketing and data science that you need [for SEO],” he replied.

“SEO is a bit of an art. A lot of times, the investment in paid search is much more than in SEO, because of how predictable paid search is. And we hope that we can transform the industry with this tool, by making SEO a lot more predictable and results-driven.

“Could others do it? Obviously – but this is the first, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are followers. This is a space that is really ripe for innovation, and for really making data work a lot more. This is one of those corners of digital marketing that is still very much an art, not as much a science, and hopefully this tool will take a big step towards making this a lot more of a science.”