With Performance Marketing Insights: Europe looming fast, PerformanceIN has been catching up with some of the event’s speakers to give attendees an idea of what to expect. 

‘Achtung Bitte! This is Your Search Update’ will bring together four top European search experts in order to tackle some of the most prominent debates and issues surrounding their specialism in 2015.

One of those taking part, SEO consultant Jan-Willem Bobbink was on-hand to answer some of PerformanceIN’s questions about his industry’s profile, international SEO and Google’s next move. 

With ‘mobilegeddon‘ trending worldwide and search-focused events cropping up around the world, is it strange to see SEO – essentially boosting visibility on a search engine – gain such a celebrity-esque status?

Jan-Willem Bobbink: Not only from a marketer’s point of view but Google’s as well, this is an excellent way of sharing some insights into how search engines work. Making use of the media, introducing the concept of grading the quality websites (in this case websites should be mobile friendly), makes it easier for people to understand how Google is ranking. 

Most people outside the industry still think Google is always showing the “best” websites first, but have no clue about the factors it actually takes into account. For our industry this surely is a positive development. If people know how Google works, they will be more suspicious when they look at their 10 organic links, resulting in better user data for Google, hence better organic search results for their users.

The other positive side of the media-broad campaigns Google has been doing, is the fact that SEO is still regarded a shady tactic by many marketers that are not familiar with online marketing. Showing them that Google is looking to quality signals to improve their results, instead of finding the websites that have the highest number of low-quality links, is a good development.

Following the news that apps and tweets are landing on Google, can you see SEO expanding out of a website-based consideration in the immediate future? Could this create a wave of roles for experts that handle search promotion across all web properties?

JWB: If you look into Google’s mission, it gives a clue about the current developments; one of them being the indexation of tweets.

Google is also fighting for market share on mobile devices – people spend a lot of time on smartphones and tablets nowadays, so you can see Google spending a lot of effort to get all the apps and mobile websites indexed. 

One of the developments a lot of people missed is the addition of direct links to content within Android apps directly from within the search engine result pages. By doing that, users don’t have to go to a publisher’s website, download the app and search for the specific piece of content again.

The same concept applies to the indexation of tweets – more information is directly available from within the results pages. Google has been testing flights, insurance and hotel widgets inside the 10 organic results. Their research team is investing heavily in developing so-called ‘Actions’. With these buttons you will be able to immediately act upon your search request. This could be buying a song or a movie, ordering a pizza from a local store or purchasing a flight ticket to Berlin. As you can see, Google wants to serve a user throughout the customer journey. 

I don’t expect a new wave of experts. You are still optimising for the same search engine. But as a search engine optimisation expert, you do need to stay on top of the latest developments.

That also means that you really need to invest time in the technical part of SEO, which is becoming more important again – looking to app indexing, for example. The industry has seen SEO moving towards a more marketing-centered perspective in terms of link building, but the technical part of SEO has become more advanced again. I advise people to pick one of the sides and be really outstanding in that specific topic. 

What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen brands making when it comes to international SEO?

JWB: There are quite a few SEO-related mistakes that are still being made by well-known, established brands. 

No coherence between different websites if there is a multi-domain strategy makes it really hard to implement cross-domain hreflang tags, which point Google to the right version of a user’s language or location. Another major mistake is not investing in proper translation when going abroad with a website.

Always invest in native speakers. Conduct research on local culture and browsing behaviour of your local clients. Just translating your website will get you some rankings but if there are no users that convert into clients, your effort will be wasted.

Since Google has difficulties with showing the right website version for specific users (English websites on both a .com and a .co.uk, for example), it has introduced the hreflang tag. Use this, but make sure you use it properly. If there is even a tiny mistake, Google has publicly said it will just neglect any hreflang tag within your website. 

Doing international SEO doesn’t mean copying your current strategy and arranging a few local links. You often enter a completely new market, with different rules, and a different society. Conduct proper research, build local personas and adjust your local websites accordingly. 

One of your fellow panellists (Fili Wiese) recently took to PerformanceIN to issue a series of tips on spam actions. Is there anything you’re hoping the audience will bring up?

JWB: Publishers have been confronted with a lot of penalties, like the link-based ones Fili has been discussing. What I find interesting are not the link-based, algorithmic or manual penalties, but actions on things like thin content or algorithmic Panda devaluation because Google thinks your content is not OK. 

What makes great-quality content? How can Google measure content quality? How do you deal with these kinds of penalties? Investing in content has always been low on the list of publisher priorities. But since Google is really aggressive in assigning thin content penalties, I would update your content to a point you would like and appreciate it. No more auto-generated, auto-spinned, 300-word articles - invest some time in audience profiling and adjust your content accordingly.  

One of the aspects that has not been discussed that much is optimising for Google’s Knowledge Graph. By profiling your audience, you will get familiar with the type of questions your users are dealing with. Answer those questions and there will be a chance you end up in the search results with an answer card, resulting in click-through rates as high as 70%.

I shared some insights on this during a session in Munich last March.

Finally; the million-dollar question. What can you see Google rolling out over the next year?

JWB: Next to all the developments in the field of indexing new types of content, I expect an updated or a new algorithm change focused on link profile quality. Paid links, in the form of sponsored content, for example, are still not automatically detected that well by Google. Yandex is far ahead in that game, so I expect Google to develop an updated algorithm too. 

Yandex has been able to identify paid links algorithmically and use those to devalue a site’s rankings. So paid links give negative signals in their algorithm. Google still has to take manual actions, which means manual labour will help guarantee a website’s link profile.

For the upcoming 12 months, I would invest budget in making content available via multiple platforms, checking and maintaining a healthy link profile and investing in quality content that really adds value for the user.