In the 27th episode of the DesignRush Podcast, our editor Vianca Meyer talked to Daniel Foley Carter, one of the most prominent SEO experts in the United Kingdom and on the web.
Listen to the full episode to get answers to questions such as:
- Why SEO now focuses on meeting users’ needs rather than optimizing for search engines?
- How to measure the success of your SEO campaigns by its impact on ROI?
- Is 2024 expected to bring recovery and stability to digital businesses?
With over two decades of experience in the SEO industry since the late 90s, Daniel Foley Carter is a seasoned enterprise-level SEO consultant known for delivering exceptional results for medium to large businesses globally. Specializing in non-linear SEO auditing, consultancy and overall strategy implementation, Daniel leverages a big-data-driven approach to drive ranking, visibility and revenue growth. His portfolio boasts collaborations with prestigious clients like BNP Paribas, Lenovo, and Virgin. Beyond his agency work at Assertive UK, Daniel contributes to business development and agency scaling through his SaaS platforms SEO Stack and SEO Audits.
Vianca: Can you share your best foundational strategies for effective SEO, especially considering the rapid changes in Google's search algorithms?
Daniel: SEO has evolved significantly due to advancements in Google's ability to process big data and use machine learning and AI.
The SEO learning curve has become more complex, time-consuming and expensive. The focus now is on creating content that benefits the end user, not just the search engines.
Foundational SEO today requires understanding what users want and translating that into a well-designed, quickly-loading webpage with user-oriented content.
SEO professionals should focus on understanding user needs and ensuring the site they're optimizing genuinely offers what users are searching for, rather than just inserting keywords into content.
The shift is toward content and website design that meets the end user's requirements.
Are you suggesting that SEO will eventually focus solely on the users rather than the websites themselves then?
Yes, that's exactly it.
Google's aim is not for people to build sites specifically for its algorithms. Instead, the focus is shifting towards using behavioral data as a key indicator of a site's value.
This change puts the onus on SEO professionals to create content that genuinely serves the end user's needs.
Take the example of searching for cheap trainers.
Traditional SEO would focus on creating content-laden pages about buying cheap trainers. However, Google is now more likely to favor a site with an extensive range of cheap trainers, efficient filtering, good UX and fast loading, even if the content isn't as substantial.
Google's helpful content guidelines emphasize creating unique, valuable content that appears to be made for users rather than search engines.
The evolution of Google's algorithms and the latest helpful content update means it's no longer solely reliant on content to determine rankings.
It's now considering a broader set of factors like:
- Product coverage
- Brand signals
- Aggregated user behavior
Given the shift towards prioritizing end-user experience, how is this being implemented in SEO practices now?
Breaking down SEO into its core components is key.
While the focus is on creating content for the user, SEO still encompasses various aspects like content, links, brand and behavioral factors.
For instance, in technical SEO, it's still crucial to ensure that search engines like Google can crawl and render your site effectively.
However, with the advancements in technology, some traditional SEO tasks are becoming less critical.
For example, AI image recognition technologies like DALL-E are becoming capable of understanding images without needing extensive alt text descriptions.
Structured data, used for rich snippets, is another area where Google's algorithms are evolving to better comprehend and organize data without needing as much input from SEOs.
A significant shift is seen in how Google rewrites title tags, with studies showing that 61.6% of title tags are now rewritten by Google. This change indicates a move away from traditional SEO practices where meticulous attention was given to title tag length and keyword placement.
As we progress, the need to spoon-feed search engines with detailed SEO elements is diminishing.
Machine learning and AI are becoming so advanced that they can interpret and understand web pages with less direct input from SEOs. This is the transition from traditional to modern SEO where advanced technology reduces the need for traditional techniques.
Do you believe UX will become a more significant factor in SEO due to these changes?
Yes, UX is intrinsically linked to meeting end-user needs and will play a crucial role in SEO.
For instance, if a user is looking to book a holiday and the website has a wide range of options but suffers from poor UX, such as clunky mobile usage or inefficient filtering, it could drive the user back to Google to continue their search.
This pattern signals to Google that something is off with the user experience on that site.
Google gauges this through patterns like constant page exits (Pogo-Sticking) and low engagement, painting a picture of user dissatisfaction.
Even if the content is exceptional, if it's not presented in a user-friendly manner, it won't resonate as effectively with the audience.
Given the unpredictable nature of SEO, what should industry professionals focus on looking after now to stay on top of emerging trends?
SEO is indeed unpredictable, but common sense suggests focusing on areas that cater to end-user needs.
Breaking SEO into components, I believe machine learning and user behavior will become increasingly important.
Behavior is the key factor now.
If user engagement is high, it overrides traditional metrics like keyword placement or content clustering. Machine learning can analyze this behavioral data at scale, clearly identifying what content truly meets user needs.
I see this shift as pivotal in the next five years.
The importance of brand and trust factors will also increase. This includes the overall brand presence online, such as:
- Search queries for the brand
- Social media activity
- Reviews and online mentions
How Google integrates AI into search will also be disruptive, especially with new features like SGE affecting organic search visibility.
In terms of technical SEO, as web development trends toward cleaner and faster websites, I foresee a simplification in tech SEO requirements.
How is generative AI expected to transform SEO practices?
Generative AI is reshaping SEO in multiple ways — From the search perspective, it aims to enhance user experience significantly.
For instance, Google SGE (Search Generative Engine) is like rich snippets on steroids.
It's interactive, uses AI for data generation and is speculated to improve user experience by making search results more interactive. However, this could reduce organic search visibility, as users might get the answers directly from the AI-enhanced search results, leading to a decline in organic clicks.
The disruptive aspect of AI in SEO also lies in content creation.
Initially, AI was seen as a cost and time-saving tool for producing content quickly. However, it's becoming clear that AI-generated content often lacks the uniqueness and context required for effective SEO, as it's trained on pre-existing content. This creates a mismatch with Google's directive for new and unique content.
AI's role in SEO will likely pivot toward big data analysis and automation of tasks like schema building. The biggest advantage of AI will be in analyzing large data sets to uncover patterns and insights that can drive SEO strategies.
With Google's constant algorithm updates, how have you adjusted your SEO strategies?
I haven't significantly changed my strategies overall.
I've always been cautious about jumping on bandwagons like AI content, aware of the potential risks. My approach has always been heavily reliant on testing, avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach for each client.
When Google launches updates, be it related to EEAT, spam or helpful content, I take stock and experiment to understand the impacts and necessary adjustments.
Google's updates have been particularly challenging in 2023, causing frustration in the SEO community. For instance, despite efforts to produce good quality content, many have seen their pages tank post-update.
This leads to a critical aspect of SEO — understanding whether a decline in rankings is due to site issues or the update itself. Often, good quality sites see a decline not because of their faults, but due to the poor quality of the update.
Google's subsequent updates often correct these issues.
The key to adapting is not taking the decline at face value but understanding the broader context of SERP changes. If you see poor-quality results dominating after an update, it's likely temporary.
It's essential to continue testing and not react hastily to initial declines.
If you had to name only one most accurate metric to assess a website's authority, what would that be?
The industry has long sought a definitive metric for website authority.
While tools like Ahrefs, Majestic, and Moz offer various metrics, I find they can set unrealistic expectations and are disconnected from actual SEO impact. These metrics, created by third-party tools, are not used by Google and are calculated independently by each platform.
Instead, I focus on the projected traffic of a page, as nothing indicates potential value better. This metric shows if a page is appearing in search results.
It's more reliable than third-party popularity metrics, which can be inflated by artificial link schemes and don't reflect the quality of the domain.
I also consider the overall domain traffic profile, checking if it's on an upward trajectory or declining. Lastly, I verify if the page linking to me is cached and assess its outbound link ratio.