David Iwanow warns SEOs about the volume of noise that you're going to be competing against in 2023 and gives you tips on how to stand out and make yourself heard.
David says: “I think the big issue SEOs are going to face in 2023 is cutting through the noise. Regarding SEO, there's a whole lot of noise out there. You've got paid search, image results, TikTok search, and Amazon search. Yet, for consumers, it's information overload. Now, when you've got billions and billions of results, how can you cut through that noise to reach out to consumers? The big things to focus on are probably where you have the right to play and what you think is achievable. There will potentially be a lot of results around your brand terms or the general industry terms.
Alternatively, you can run a video, however, most people don't have the budget or the resources to produce video content. Therefore, when you're trying to cut through the noise, your best solution is text-based content (which is pretty easy to produce) and image-based content based on existing text. You also have other things, like rich snippets, Local Packs, or reviews.
Google seems to be rolling out a new schema every couple of weeks and then, obviously, there are also Google Ads to consider. Sometimes it makes sense to invest some budget into Google Ads to cut through that noise and validate that those particular terms are things you want to rank for before investing a lot of energy. Generally, the big thing is: how do you stand out from your competitors? You have to be realistic.”
What is the best way to determine what you should be focusing your energy on?
“There are a couple of things to do. Firstly, Snippet Digital has built a fantastic keyword tool that works with keyword intelligence. You can reach out to the Snippet Digital folks - who will give you a tour of the tool - and it has a great way of classifying the intent. Plus, a few third-party tools are out there which also classify keywords into intent funnels. That's one place you want to start.
If you're a transaction website, you want to make sure you're focusing on keywords which are more likely to convert. If you're an informational website, you won't convert by focusing on where or how to buy, and you don't have that functionality. Therefore, you need to consider the keywords, the intent, and whether it matches your website and its purpose.”
How do you best determine the intent?
“I like to approach it with manual hard work. You can rely on some tools when you try to do things at scale. Personally, it's the hard work - the classification at an individual keyword level - which is the best way to do it. You just need to be reasonable around this.
If you go to a tool like Semrush (or any of those tools) they give you 5 million possible keywords you've been focusing on. In contrast, it becomes much more achievable if you use your Google Search Console data and classify your existing search console data into the intent file.”
You talked about transactional information. Are there other types of intent that you classify your keywords into?
“There are a few other areas, but you've also got product and brand terms. Typically, if you're a website, you should be able to at least rank for your brand. That is where people sometimes focus on the wrong areas. That is the ‘cutting through the noise.’
For example, if you are targeting the term ‘Majestic’, you're moving from Majestic SEO into Majestic. Now you are competing against Majestic Wines, the apparel company, Majestic the DJ, etc., and you are fighting with these other brands. You need to at least start by ensuring you have visibility on your brand. Once you've got that visibility, you can start moving towards the category and industry terms.”
You discussed potentially competing with Google paid ads and focusing on brand SEO. Should SEOs be bidding on their own brand?
“It must be done carefully and it depends on how aggressively your competitors are going after your terms. In many situations, it doesn't always make sense. You've likely got larger budgets if you're a big brand or a big company. However, if you're a small retailer or a local tour operator, you may not be able to bid on terms like ‘Niagara Falls’ or ‘big bus tours’.
Therefore, it makes sense to be realistic about what you have available to spend because there's always someone with a bigger budget. For instance, if you're in the travel sector, you’re bidding against Expedia and Booking, whose spending pre-COVID was over 10 billion a year on paid traffic. You just don’t have the budget to pay the same for retailers, and they will lose money to get that consumer or customer into their store.
You need to consider bidding on brands where it makes sense and not just go crazy and throw all your budget into that.
In the past, I’ve seen agencies prefer to focus on that because it’s easy. There was a business where they spent about 89% of the entire paid budget on brand. When they stopped that, organic traffic increased, strangely, because cannibalisation was happening. Overall, you will get more traffic, but there will be a tipping point where you’ll start to achieve cannibalisation.”
Should you focus on an individual marketing channel (like Amazon) for each stage of the consumer journey or should you use multiple traffic sources for each query/opportunity?
“It helps to focus on the low-hanging fruit first, which is Google search. Then, you need to chase other opportunities. If you’re in the travel space, it may be optimisation within TripAdvisor or memorisation with Google Maps or local listings. It depends on where you are operating with your retail player, which could be Pinterest SEO or Amazon SEO.
You want to focus on Google search because that’s where most of the information or new customers come from. Once you get that working, you want to look at your top referral channels or where your top affiliate sales come from.
If it’s YouTube, you have to be on YouTube - assuming you’ll need more money to be invested in creating some video content. You must ensure that your Google SEO revenue is sufficient to fund some of these other channels. There’s no point throwing all your eggs in one basket and hoping Pinterest SEO works for you because that will take a lot more effort than optimising for Google.”
How do you cut through the noise and make people aware of what you do through top-of-funnel keyword phrases rather than brand or product phrases, and how do you justify the budget for that?
“For many players, capturing visibility at the top of the funnel is not something you can do in the next 6 to 12 months. Hence, you must be realistic in your timeframes. For products, it should be timed for the next couple of months if you want to focus on it. Then, you start moving into solution-based terms. Consider the Majestic-themed examples given earlier - but more like backlink research.
Then, you go to the next stage of the need-based stuff, where you deal with issues like: How do you understand your competitors? Should you use a competitor’s phrase domain authority? That is the top part of the funnel, and you have to work your way up to that.
For seasonal terms, like ‘Black Friday 2022’ (which is still not for a few months as of this conversation), there are already websites focusing on ‘Black Friday 2023’. For these, it can take three to four months to start to get some visibility. Based on what a few people have recently talked about on SEO Twitter, people are already doing Sunday research around Christmas. Hence, if you have a website with content meant to focus on getting Christmas sales - whether it’s selling toys, Christmas cards, etc. - you’re already a bit too late to start doing your SEO.
Using tools like Google Trends, you can start to see when there are common seasonal patterns, and you want to get ahead of that. If you plan to switch on your Google Ads in November, many people will have already made their purchases because of global shipping delays, which usually means it may be two or three months before they can get their items.
It also gets very competitive as the months go by. The traffic you could have bought today through Google Ads for 15-20 cents per click will probably double every month until the week before Christmas, and people are desperate for their last-minute sales. Then, they might be paying $5, $10, or $20 per click to capture that traffic.
It’s only going to be a handful of competitors - like Amazon, Walmart, or Tesco - who can guarantee that it will be shipped before Christmas. It is thus important to be realistic about it. You also want to ensure you own your product or your geographic space. As you move up in terms of your authority in the space and your content, you can move higher up in the pecking order.”
How do you deliver on your content experience and what kind of content is likely to keep people? How do you achieve focus and retention?
“It’s ideally about focusing on more of the FAQ types with product usage questions like, ‘How do I calculate my trust flow?’ ‘What is the difference between trust flow and citation flow’ ‘How to spam or influence Majestic’s backlink profile’, etc.
Those types of things relate directly to your product but are different parts of the funnel, so you will often find there will be third-party sites. All these various sites are already trying to focus on some of those terms which don’t always have high volumes of traffic but can be very engaging for consumers. For example, ‘What is the difference between Moz and Majestic?’ or ‘What is the difference between Ahrefs and Semrush?’
That’s where you can start to expand your content topics without going to the very top. If you want to rank for ‘backlinks’, that’s nice, but it’s more of a vanity metric. But, in calculating ‘backlinks’, you are only getting ‘backlinks’ with ‘Majestic’. So, that’s where you can touch on the top part of the funnel - although it’s much more likely you already have the right to play in that space. Those types of visitors will be more engaged with your brand and hopefully will also lead to conversions.”
There could also be new growth areas, like if you are looking for ‘SEO metric APIs’, ‘backlink discovery tools’, ‘digital maturity models’, and others. There’s a lot of stuff. An example is ‘Majestic’, where you have the right to play, and it is possible to capture traffic around those types of terms. Yet currently, no one is playing in that space, outside of SEO bloggers and some of the comparison engines.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What is seductive in terms of time but ultimately counterproductive?
“Getting caught in that SEO bubble. As SEOs, we get curious about stuff, start clicking around and assuming things, and suddenly, we’ve got 15,000 possible keywords that we can create content around.
Another one is manual reporting. There are still agencies that send an Excel file of the monthly report five or six weeks after the end of the month, and now you can’t do anything with them. It’s good to also make the report actionable. If you only know general data - like your competitors, an increase in trust flow, Majestic score, etc. - it is still useless.
You shouldn’t focus on such a small aspect. Instead, you want to look at general trends, like how you are trending over time. We have done this in the past, where we’ve taken all the data out through the Majestic API, visualised it in Tableau, and started seeing trends. With that, we can say: ‘In the next six months, this competitor will have five times the amount of backlinks you have and twice the authority, which means they’ll start ranking for your term.’
Hence, you need to make a proactive campaign to look at link reclamation rather than just increases in your Majestic score. It is great, but it’s not actionable. Manual reporting needs to be automated, otherwise, it takes too much time. And when the recording is done, it needs to be actionable.”
David Iwanow is the Head of Search at Reckitt, and you can find him at reckitt.com.
If you like to get up-close with your favourite SEO experts, these one-to-one interviews might just be for you.
Watch all of our episodes, FREE, on our dedicated SEO in 2023 playlist.
Maybe you are more of a listener than a watcher, or prefer to learn while you commute.
SEO in 2023 is available now via all the usual podcast platforms
Opt-in to receive email updates.
It's the fastest way to find out more about SEO in 2023.