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Kevin Indig on searching for meaning and the meaning of search

We chat to G2's VP of SEO and Content about the evolution of SEO as a distinct discipline, the changes he's seen along the way and what the future holds.


Kevin Indig leads SEO & Content Marketing as VP at G2 and mentors startups in Marketing at GermanAccelerator. Previously, he ran SEO at Atlassian and Dailymotion so it’s no surprise that he is widely regarded as one of the foremost voices in the SEO arena. We were delighted to have him join us for this week’s episode. His is a fascinating story, which places him at the forefront of a discipline that has emerged within his own career span. In many ways it offers him a unique perspective which he shares with us here – from his early days exploring search as a means to supporting his gaming tournament websites to spearheading the growth of an increasingly important tech discipline. When taken in the context of his ‘coming of age’ alongside SEO it’s little wonder that his insights on the topic are worth hearing.

In addition to this, our conversation also covers his time at Altassian and contrasts this with his G2 role, his thoughts on Google updates and how they impact his industry and his vision for the future of SEO. If you’re short on time, here’s some quick takeaways.

  • We hear about his time at Atlassian before G2 and the differences in approach to SEO at both companies.
  • Google updates can put the SEO world into disarray, we hear from Kevin how he’s been impacted previously and how to mitigate against this in the future (Spoiler: get ready to prune).
  • We look at the death of the 10 blue links and why Google is now an answer engine as opposed to a search engine.
  • In a crowded category, it can be tough to make an SEO impact. Kevin shares his advice for those looking to do just that.
  • We hear Kevin’s predictions for the future of SEO and why keywords might not be as important as we think.

If you enjoy the conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.


Growing up with SEO

Alexa: Kevin, we are so delighted to have you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for joining us. To get us started, could you just tell us a little bit about your background and how you first became interested in SEO?

Kevin: Absolutely. And the pleasure is all mine. So my background is that I’m the VP of SEO and Content at G2. I’m also mentoring startups in terms of marketing SEO go-to market at the German Accelerator, which is the official startup program in the Silicon Valley of Germany. And I’m a writer of a newsletter called Tech Bound, in which I hone in on marketing strategies and customer acquisition. I first got started in SEO, I think at around 16 years old. I’ve always been a pretty curious kid. I took apart radios, TVs, computers, all that kind of stuff to see how it works. And I would say I have a very analytical and ambitious mind. So all of that led me to get started at the age around 16 when I was playing a lot of video games.

Kevin: And so it was about the time when broadband internet became really good. And I used to play with friends online in groups. And so we, at some point started to participate in tournaments, but for tournament, you needed a website and I was the guy to figure out how to make a website. So I taught myself some very scrappy HTML and CSS and a bit of Photoshop. And I put together these horrible, bad websites – I’m lucky there’s no evidence of them anymore. But at some point I asked myself, where are these people coming from who visit our website? And that got me started thinking about this concept of search engines and that’s where it all came from.

Alexa: What a great story and what an amazing way to discover SEO. And I’m curious, at this point you’re really one of the leading figures. How did that come about?

Kevin: I think there are a couple of factors. One of them is consistency. So I’ve been in this for over 10 years now, but I was also very lucky to have a great start. So after like kind of teaching myself a little bit of SEO at these 16 years, it took me a couple of years until basically after college to join a great consultancy that was focused on enterprise clients, where I really learned the craft hands on. And that did me a great favor, that gave me like a great kickstart into this career. And then I’m also someone who does a lot of trial and error, I try out a lot of things. I really try to have a practical mind. I just see what works and what doesn’t.

And then also I have to say that talking and learning from others has been huge. Even outside of the agency that I started in, just like keeping a broad network and talking to people about how they do things, what they learned and sharing your lessons as well which was one of the reasons for why I started my own blog, the newsletter, that was always very, very big for me. And then I also touched on the newsletter itself. So just having a blog, being out there speaking and writing and giving back to the community in some sense, also really helped to be lucky to be part of that community and maybe be at the forefront of it as well.

“The real advances in SEO come from people trying things out and sharing them with the community”

Alexa:You mentioned trial and error there and given that SEO is really a new discipline, how has trial and error helped you be at the forefront of a discipline that has emerged within your career span?

Kevin: Absolutely. So first, if you take a step back, I think that marketing is really a practitioner discipline. Of course, theory is important, don’t get me wrong, but marketing is not a discipline that you can just learn from the books and then be good at it. You have to do it. You have to be a practitioner. And especially SEO is very practical because it changes so quickly. And it’s such a black box. I mean, in essence of the hundreds of ranking factors that Google is probably using, we really only know maybe two-handful of them, for sure. And I’m saying that with those that Google has actually confirmed and that have come out as a result of many, many studies.

So the real advances in SEO come from people trying things out and sharing them with the community. And because Google is getting so much smarter, uses so much more machine learning technology and is so much more able to customize and weigh these ranking factors depending on what you searched for or what vertical you’re in, it becomes a bit more important to try things out in order to see what works for you in your niche in your vertical for your website. So over my career span, I’ve done lots of experiments from SEO, some more professional, some a bit more on the actually just trial and error side, but then a part of that is also having, or like self-educating by reading content or reading about these experiments that other people are doing that comes back to having this great network and being able to delve into it. So it basically comes down to SEO being a bit of a black box and just getting more actual practical knowledge for your use case.

From Atlassian to G2

Alexa: You mentioned you’re now the VP of SEO and Content at G2 and previously you had led SEO at Atlassian. I’d love to dive into what those strategies were like, especially first at Atlassian, particularly because they had no sales team. So the pressure must’ve been greater to produce organic leads there.

Kevin: Yeah, that’s true. Atlassian does not have an outbound sales team. The customer or user acquisition strategy is product-led and follows this concept of land and expand. Land and expand in a nutshell is very simple. It’s the idea that a product is instead of being sold tops-down, say you will sell to a CTO or a CFO or whoever on the C-suite, it is bottoms-up as in a developer would bring in an Atlassian product like Jira, and would use that. And it’s easy to use for the developer because it’s free up to a certain number of users per project. And then the product would spread from developer to a team, and then from team to department, from department to a whole company. That is the idea of land and expand.

And there are other companies that follow a very similar approach like Dropbox or Slack. And at their essence, they have a collaborative product, which makes things much easier. They usually have a freemium strategy. So there’s a very low friction to actually sign up. But then there are also all these other things that feed this kind of product-led growth loop. I often think in terms of loops and I learned this from the Reforge Group around Brian Balfour, when it comes to growth, right? So a loop could be again, like this land and expand strategy, but then you can stack loops on top of each other or you can combine them.

Atlassian is really at the forefront of agile development and did not only speak a lot of conferences about these topics, but also just drove that whole issue, that whole topic forward. So just owning a topic was really crucial for all these growth loops and kind of building on top of that product, that growth”

And organic user acquisition is another loop that we build in Atlassian in a couple of different ways. So one of those ways have been content microsites, which you can imagine as a site inside a site type of format, which we build around topics like Agile or Git or ITSM. And so the whole concept is that you build kind of a library or a single kind of source of truth around a very important topic in your space. And you answer all the questions that people have from the what is to the how-to, and you go really deep. And those microsites scale to millions of visitors on a monthly basis at Atlassian.

But then we also had a lot of brand campaigns, so that could be even offline things like we advertised on the Time Square, New York City with huge banners on Atlassian to just drive that brand forward. And that’s resulted in more direct visits from people, but also in more brand searches. And that’s really important for SEO. So if you have a lot of people looking for something like Atlassian project management or Jira project management, that’s a very strong signal to Google that this particular brand or product is very important for the keyword project management, for example.

We also did a lot of co-marketing. So we partnered with other brands, created unified strategies and assets and leverage their audience. And then lastly, we also had a lot of thought leadership content. So Atlassian is really at the forefront of agile development and did not only speak a lot of conferences about these topics, but also just drove that whole issue, that whole topic forward. So just owning a topic was really crucial for all these growth loops and kind of building on top of that product, that growth.

“Most of the content that we have on G2 is not self-created, is not company-created, it’s created by users. And so just by simply trying to improve the quality of our reviews, for example, we do a great deal in driving SEO”

Alexa: I’d love to contrast that with your current role at G2. Can we talk a little bit about what the strategy is like there, where you’re working with so much user-generated content?

Kevin: Absolutely. So G2 in contrast to Atlassian is a marketplace, instead of a SaaS company. And so our group growth loops work a bit different as in that the more user-generated content we have, the better we perform in the search results on Google, the more reviews we get, that’s like the very simple essence or our very basic essential growth loop, but then there are other things that are coming on top. So we also have an editorial site, which is learn.g2.com, where we educate our audience, try to catch them earlier in the user journey and then funnel that traffic over to our marketplace. So it is an essence of a kind of different approach to SEO. And I think that’s like one thing that a lot of people need to keep in mind, that’s the strategy for us as companies fundamentally different compared to a marketplace, right?

So most of the content that we have on G2 is not self-created, is not company-created, it’s created by users. And so just by simply trying to improve the quality of our reviews, for example, we do a great deal in driving SEO. So one example is that we vet all of the reviews, right? Like you cannot simply go to G2 and post a review. It will have to go through a moderation process. And we make sure that you use the software that you review and that you are legit. And that allows us to have a very vast catalog of very high-quality reviews, which is then rewarded by Google.

Then of course there are other things that we have to pay attention to like that we create, for example, category pages for categories that have a high search demands, or that we kind of make pages that have a kind of a low degree of reviews or low degree of content that we take those out of the search results until they reach a certain threshold of quality that we feel comfortable exposing to searchers. So there are multiple facets that all come back to growth loops, but in essence kind of work differently compared to a SaaS company.

Alexa: I thought it was really interesting how you mentioned the differences between an SEO strategy for SaaS and then for marketplace. Could you speak a little bit more on the differences for maybe a B2C company?

Kevin: So I think a great example would be, or the classic e-commerce example is Amazon, but I think there’s also a merit in looking at companies like Spotify, Netflix, and how they scale their catalog. So when it comes to B2C, usually we have an inventory of products which for Spotify could be songs or albums or artists. And then the question becomes, what can you provide in terms of value and information on these pages that would be valuable to searchers? So a specific example is when I think about people looking for artists on Google, what is something that they want to know that I can display as Spotify on these artists’ pages to rank highly? So it could be all the albums of an artist. It could be the biography, but maybe there are other things as well, like their social profiles or recent news about this artist.

This is how I think about marketplaces and B2C companies in general is you really want to hone in on what would be valuable to the user. And I think Amazon is the absolute best practice here. They do so many great things. But then also, how can I scale this on a page template level, right? So it comes back to this idea of artists pages, album pages, or maybe even song pages. And it’s very transferable for any company that deals with a scalable inventory. I call them inventory-driven sites. And I’ve written about this before, if people want to learn a bit more, but the basic essence or the essence question is, is your inventory scalable? And if so, what are the different parts of your inventory? Is it categories? Is it sub-categories or products? And then how can you provide the most value possible on each of those different page types?

Alexa: That is really fascinating. And I’d love to dive a little bit deeper into Google in general, because Google really regularly introduces updates. And a lot of SEO folks have told us that really messes up the rankings for their clients. I’m curious if you think that this is overestimated, because assuming you’re not trying to game Google, some pages on your site will go up and some will go down.

Grappling with the Google game

Kevin: Yeah, it’s really interesting to watch this whole game with Google algorithm updates. It took a fundamental turn in 2016 when Google started to lean heavier on machine learning technology for natural language processing and natural language understanding. In essence, what Google is trying to understand is the meaning of searches and the quality of content, but in the meaning of searches, it’s very difficult because it’s very implied, which is easy to understand for us humans, but very difficult to translate from machines. And so that’s why what we have seen since 2016 is a better understanding of Google or basically an improvement of Google’s understanding of what high-quality content means and when it is relevant for a specific search.

And that sounds very broad, but the way that it reflects is that we see a lot of sites that lose traffic for irrelevant keywords. And that means that sometimes traffic will go down, but it doesn’t hurt the business necessarily because these keywords weren’t relevant in the first place. So what a lot of companies see is that the traffic might go up and down, but the revenue or their conversions might stay unchanged. And so that’s the first important difference to make when it comes to these updates. But sometimes Google also gets it plain out wrong by weighing certain factors more heavier or lighter. And Google plays around a lot with those. They continuously adjust the algorithm and tweak it. And at the grand scale of things, Google has a slightly different perspective than us webmasters to be fair. And so for Google, if the overall results become 1% better, that’s a great result, but that can mean that some results are worse at smaller scale. And that’s something that at Google scale, they’re willing to take an account if it means a site improvement overall.

Alexa: I’m curious then if there was an update that had a major impact on your work, or do you find that the updates tend to not affect it so much?

You really have to assess the quality of every page, which is why tactics like pruning have become so important. You want to imagine it like pruning a tree  -where you cut off the weak branches in order for the whole tree to become stronger and to really focus on the branches that are healthy, that are growing well”

Kevin: I think the update is affected a lot depending on if the sites that I’m working on are coming out as winners or losers, of course. But I think if I look back over my career, the update that had the most impact was the Panda update in 2013. And so the Panda update basically “punished” sites that have a lot of low-quality content in Google’s index. And there was a fundamental shift in the approach of SEO. Before that, the biggest driver of growth was just to pump as many pages into Google’s index as possible. And the quality was more secondary. Nowadays or post-Panda, every page counts. So you really have to assess the quality of every page, which is why tactics like pruning have become so important. So you want to imagine it like pruning a tree where you cut off the weak branches in order for the whole tree to become stronger and to really focus on the branches that are healthy, that are growing well.

And you can apply the same view on a site where you would cut or trim articles that might not perform as well, or that might’ve been created in the past and that are a bit thin and a bit shallow. You want to make sure you groom your site. It’s almost like a library or like a tree so that the overall quality stays high. And so this kind of shift in an approach to SEO I think that had the biggest impact on my work. And I would assume probably the work of most people.

Alexa: Panda was a massive update. And I know Penguin happened around that time as well. And all of those updates I’ve heard have just had major impacts on the past and future of SEO. And I’d love to kind of dive more into that transformation of search that you were speaking to because Google has really been transforming that idea over the past few years, especially in 2018, when they spoke to how they’ll improve it over the next 20 years. And then in 2019, when they made that claim, that they’re moving from an assistant to a company that really helps people get things done.

Kevin: Yeah. I think it’s the biggest transformation SEO that nobody’s speaking of. When Ben Gomez wrote that article in 2018, he basically laid out the roadmap for everything that we’re seeing in search today and probably over the next 18 years. So he basically doubled down on three fundamental changes. The first one is a change from text to more visuals. And we’re already seeing that in search today where Google shows way more images, way more videos, way more podcasts even. And we’ve started to see the impact of that last year in March, when for example, Google rolled out a lot more image thumbnails on mobile devices. It has started to show way more image packs.

So to take a quick step back, I was actually very lucky to get a lot of data to analyze these changes. And so I got a data set from SEMrush, which showed me the traffic of the 1,200 strongest domains in the world. And I got a data set from Rank Ranger that showed me SERP features for over 100,000 keywords, both on mobile and desktop over the last two years. And so these SERP features, you can imagine them like the local packs or the local results that you see in regular organic search or the images, the videos, the direct answers and so on and so on. I’m going to explain that further in just a second, but so that’s the first kind of transition, right? We see this change from text to more visuals and we can see that in the data as well.

“Google just doesn’t want to display you an answer. It wants to better understand the whole user journey”

But the second change is also very interesting, it’s the change from queries to a query-less experience, which basically means that Google wants to shift more towards a kind of push engine instead of a pull engine. So they basically want to understand what people are searching for before they even search. And the first kind of incarnation of this transition is Google Discover. Google Discover is a feed of content that people can see on the mobile home page of Google or on the mobile app. And it’s a feed of articles, which seems like a small detail, but it’s actually major because traditionally Google has been a search engine that relies on a pool channel, right, on people bringing their intentions and formalizing them in search results. And now they’re switching more towards something that Facebook does, which is push. And they’re also monetizing that with so-called Discovery ads. So you can now bid on ads that show up in this Discovery feed, but also show up in Gmail and also show up on the YouTube homepage.

So it’s a very, very interesting change that we’re seeing on Google  and it funnels into this bigger strategy that I call platform confluence. And the idea behind that is that big platforms like Facebook, Amazon, and Google are now tying all of their sites and apps together into an ecosystem and track and monetize users across each of these sites and apps to include increased overall quality. And one of the incarnations again is the ads in Google Discover.

And the third big shift is a shift from answers to journeys. And so Google just doesn’t want to display you an answer. It wants to better understand the whole user journey and the way that they do this is they show you more results through the so-called Knowledge Graph and Topic Layer. And the way that you would see this as if you Google for a celebrity, for example, you get all of their data on the right hand side, in the so-called Knowledge Card. And that Knowledge Card is built on a technology called a Knowledge Graph, which is a database of so-called entities, which could be names, things, books, places.

And in 2018, Google started to add a second technologic layer on this Knowledge Graph, which is called the Topic Layer. And that helps them to also understand things like opinions or news or trends, and basically understand them on a mathematical level and where they’re heading. So one specific example is that if you were to Google the keyword Wuhan, two years ago, you would obviously get a fundamentally different mix of results than nowadays it’s because Google understands that the expectation behind such a keyword is very different and very impacted by the recent events of the COVID-19 outbreak. And this seems like a very small thing, but it’s actually fed by very powerful technology that allows Google to understand the whole user journey that people are on and then give them better answers throughout each step of that journey. And so these are the three big fundamental changes that we see, I think really just the beginning of and that I’m expecting us to see much more of in the future.

The death of 10 blue links

Alexa: Absolutely. And thinking along the lines of that future, a really big thing that happens was the death of those 10 blue links. And for those who don’t know what that means, could you briefly talk us through that and really speak to how that’s also changed SEO over time?

Kevin: Absolutely. I already touched on this with this idea of SERP features, but to take a step back 10 years ago, or maybe 15 years ago, search engines really just displayed 10 blue links, 10 results, nothing else, and then came so-called universal search, which means Google pulled in results from other verticals like image search or Google News, or even YouTube. And nowadays we have a ton of stuff going on in the search results, right? So it’s not just the organic results and the ads, but it’s also a lot of other things that Google is displaying. And it’s very interesting because as a result, the way that people scan search results and the way that their attention flows through pages on the web in general has changed.

So the traditional format is that people scan webpages in an F-shaped pattern. So they would start at the top left side, move over to the right side and then work their way further towards the bottom of the page. That is not the case anymore unless, you maybe look at a pure text page like Wikipedia results. Instead, nowadays people follow a so-called pinball pattern. And the leading group of researchers who actually came up with that is Nielsen Group. And they show with eye tracking that the attention of people flips and flops around webpage more like a pin ball, right? And that’s due to all the different results that Google is showing. There’s so much going on that people don’t just start at the top. They just, they jump around. Right. And that emphasizes the importance of understanding the so-called SERP features.

Google has actually changed from being a search engine to an answer engine”

And as I explained or as I touched upon before, SERP features are all the different things that Google shows besides the regular organic results and ads. Sometimes that’s a direct answer. We call it a featured snippet that gives people a very specific answer to a simple question, like how many days are in a year, right? Google will tell you that the answer to that question right at the top of the search results, but they’ll also show different types of content for more complex questions or different types of searches. And so Google gets way, way better at understanding the so-called user intent or what people actually want when they perform a search and then tries to give them answers more specifically. Because one thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is that Google actually changes more from a search engine to an answer engine.

And that’s something that the CEO of Google and now Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, has openly announced at Google I/O in 2019. Right? So we have this huge transformation, which means that Google tries to answer questions in the search results before people even clicked through the websites. And that obviously has a huge impact on the websites themselves. And that’s why we come to this conclusion that the idea of 10 blue links is actually dead. And so then the results in question, of course, is what can companies and marketers do to counterbalance that.

And there are a couple of answers to this. So the first one is that you, as a team, want to focus on a variety of different content formats. So in 2020, it’s not enough to just write great articles that’s more or less table stakes, but you also want to invest in more visual content or in audio content, right, in podcast and YouTube channels and in great graphics and proprietary pictures and all these kinds of things.

Another piece of that answer is to maximize every click. And what that means is that you want to retain users as soon as they come to your site. One way to do that is to have them sign up for an email newsletter or have them download a native app, or have them sign up for the web app for the basically your website, because that is an environment that you can better control, where you can feed them information in a more controllable way, and you can better understand what these users are doing on your website. So some companies are doing that really well, and they understand how to funnel users into their ecosystem, not by pinging them with thousands of notifications, but by providing them actual value of signing up for that ecosystem. And then once they’re there, they understand how to feed the users valuable content to keep them engaged and retain them over time.

Finding space in a crowded category

Alexa: That is such helpful advice. I’d love to know what your advice would be then for people at B2C and B2B companies who are struggling with how much categories have evolved. What’s your advice for innovative SEO in a space that’s already really crowded?

Kevin: This is a great question because the competition in search results is real. Over the last couple of years, companies have really understood that content has a very high importance when it comes to SEO. And so they have started to invest more into content, and that means that the spaces are getting more crowded for everyone. But to make that a bit more tactical and tangible, first of all, you want to innovate with new content formats. So at the beginning of the conversation, we talked about user-generated content, but I think besides that there are also opportunities to just answer more questions in our content or find out new ways to scale content.

And it comes back to this idea that we touched upon for inventory-driven sites. I think there’s a real opportunity to learn more from similar sites in other verticals. So an example would be what could Spotify learn from Netflix, for example, in terms of the content that they display, how they organize their catalog, how they link internally, how they create a great user experience. So I think real innovation comes from improving the user experience, making it easier for search engines to crawl and render and understand your website, but also provide more value that you wouldn’t have thought of before.

I think there’s a real opportunity to learn more from similar sites in other verticals. So an example would be what could Spotify learn from Netflix, for example, in terms of the content that they display, how they organize their catalog, how they link internally, how they create a great user experience”

And I want to come back to Amazon because they do a really good job in continuously improving their offering. So they’re not just displaying a product, they’re also for example, comparing it on the product page with other products in our catalog. But they’re also displaying frequently asked questions for users. And I think there was a very, very smart undervalued play, where they, as an e-commerce site, added little UGC components to their offering.

And I think that’s how brands can integrate and think about what they do is what are elements from related sites in different verticals or different market segments that I could be inspired by, or copy or surface in a slightly different way, but also what are companies and teams to invest more in different content formats. I spoke about that before. I would ask myself, how can I translate for example, written textual content into audio content and make that very attractive to listen to, maybe spin up a podcast resulting from that. How can I translate that into videos and how can I tie it all back to my site, right? Like how can I provide a really good offering of content that people want to engage with and that is all connected, right?

And I think one more tangible example that we’re seeing is this idea of a second display when watching TV, right. People are on their phones when they watch TV. But I think we can also translate that into online content experiences. So how can I make texts more valuable when for example, my users are watching one of my videos? Should I maybe for example, tease a blog post in the description of a YouTube video and then have them click through to my site to read the rest? That would be something that I would think about, and that would fall into this idea of innovating across multiple content formats.

And then I also think that as online marketers and as SEOs we want to try more, we want to ship more MVPs, which is minimum viable products, measure the impact, scale accordingly. So I think also that innovation in a lot of cases has become product innovation and that we want to adapt a very similar mindset as marketers of, for example, agile development or agile marketing.

What it all means for the future

Alexa: And that really ties into the future of SEO, right? Connecting all of those platforms together, providing value across all of those different platforms in ways that users can really gain really interesting insights. So I’d love for you to speak to the general future of SEO and how teams can really get on the forefront of that.

Kevin: Absolutely. I want to preface this with a little caveat. One thing I learned in the 10 years, or over 10 years that I’ve been an SEO now is that predictions are really hard in an environment with very high certainty. So take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt, but here’s how I think about the future and how I prepare. So first of all, I think keeping these three shifts of Google in mind is super important, is absolutely crucial.

I think it’s relatively inevitable that organic and paid results will merge closer together, that the line between them will blur more and more”

The second thing is that I expect a higher conversion between paid and organic results. I think that when I look at the data of Google, in terms of their quarterly reports, how much revenue they make and where the revenue comes from, I think it’s relatively inevitable that organic and paid results will merge closer together, that the line between them will blur more and more and that Google is under immense pressure to make more revenue. So I would prepare for that and for that case. And I think that it’s becoming increasingly important to do a lot of testing with paid Google Ads and organic results. And what the difference is.

So to like open a little branch of this conversation. We did a lot of that testing at Atlassian, where we looked at what happens when we bid on some of our product names in the Google search results, and what happens when we turn that off. And what we learned is that it very much depends on the brand strength. So a very well-known product doesn’t necessarily need ads for people to click through the organic search results. So when we turn those ads off, people would still like look for the organic result and they wouldn’t care if, for example, a competitor bid in the paid results, but on the other hand a not so known brand would like very much suffer under us turning paid ads off. And I think that’s an example for a small experiment that we as marketers need to do way more of in the future because those lines between paid and organic ads or results are vanishing so much. So that’s the first one.

The second one is that this idea of keywords and keyword volume is dying a fast death, to be honest. So I think the whole idea of search volume in the beginning was great. It was basically Google telling us how much demand a certain keyword has. That concept is becoming more and more flawed for a whole variety of reasons. But one of the reasons is that this idea of search volume was very kind of centered around the ads in the first place. It actually came out of the Google Ads or Google Keyword Planner and was not giving you good information or good data for more informative searches or informative keywords.

This obsession over keywords, I think, is something that I don’t see in the future of SEO. And I think that we as marketers need to detach ourselves from a little bit”

The other reason is that nowadays we speak more of a topic-based approach instead of a keyword-based approach to content and rankings. What that means is that single pages can rank for thousands of keywords. So if you just look at the keyword search volume for a single keyword, you run at risk of missing all this other stuff that this page could rank for. And therefore your traffic projections and forecasts are flawed. So that’s like a long winded way to say that this idea of keywords and obsession of keywords, I think is also something that in the future, I don’t really see having a place anymore. Instead, I think we should try to, first of all, get more demand from actually talking to users by user interviews, for example, or surveys. We should think about or we should more think about this concept of libraries as in like, okay, I want to be present for a specific topic. What are all the subtopics and all the questions and all the points that are needed to cover instead of starting with the keyword search volume driven approach.

And then I would also think about what can you do to reflect more of the content that Google shows in the search results on your website? So what are all the questions, images, videos, all the texts, quotes from experts that you can show in your content so that people potentially don’t even have to go to perform another search, right? They get all the answers and all the information that they want on your page. And in best case, you can even predict what people would want to search for next, and then also display that on their page or make that the CTA so that people stay on your site for longer. So I think that keywords and backlinks will be an important factor for search engines for a long time. But this obsession over keywords, I think, is something that I don’t see in the future of SEO. And I think that we as marketers need to detach ourselves from a little bit.

Alexa: Absolutely. Really moving to that topic-based approach. It’s really fascinating. And Kevin, just one last question before you go, where can people keep up with you and all of your work?

Kevin: Thanks for having me on again, it was an absolute pleasure. So if just want to keep up with me, you’ll find a lot of information content on my site. And I publish a weekly newsletter called Tech Bound, and in which I write all these thoughts down. You can follow me on Twitter, on @Kevin_Indig, or you can just find me on LinkedIn by looking for my name. And if you just Google my name, you should find all of that anyway, if I do my job well.