Today I’m talking with Jono Alderson. Jono is a digital strategist at Yoast and also a bit of a wise old sage in the world of SEO, he’s not actually that old, but he has an air of Doctor Who about him if you ask me.
I saw him present at YoastCon last year and his talk about the future of the internet and Google searches was, without doubt, my favourite speech at any conference I’ve ever been too.
High praise right?
So today on the podcast I wanted to ask Jono a big question. We’re all working on our websites, right? Some DIY, some splashing big bucks, the platforms are working to improve, the plugins, the browsers, the search engine.
So what actually happens when all our websites are fixed? What will we do then?
In this episode we’ll think about the future… and what it means for the average Joe or Joanna.
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And big thanks to Amy Annetts for her lovely review.
About Jono Alderson
Jono manages special projects at Yoast. He’s a digital strategist, marketing technologist and full-stack developer with two decades of experience in web development, SEO, analytics, brand and campaign strategy, lead gen and eCRM, CRO and more.
He’s worked with startups, agencies and some of the world’s biggest brands to fix websites, implement growth strategies, prepare for the future, and win markets.
He built and run Days of the Year, and have accidentally become one of the world’s leading authorities on weird holidays.
Connect with Jono Alderson
Kate Toon: We’re all working on our websites, right?
Some DIY, some splashing big bucks on expensive developers.
The platforms are working to improve, the plugins, the browsers and search engines. So what actually happens when all our websites are fixed?
What will we do then?
Kate Toon: Today I’m talking to Jono Alderson.
Jono is a digital strategist at Yoast and also a bit of a wise old badger in the world of SEO. He’s not actually that old, but he has an air of Dr. Who about him if you ask me.
I saw him present at YoastCon last year, and his talk about the future of the internet and Google searches was, without doubt, my favourite speech at any conference I’ve ever been to.
High praise, right?
And in this episode, we’ll talk about the future and what it means for the average Joe or Joanna.
Kate Toon: Hello, my name is Kate Toon.
I’m the head chef at The Recipe For SEO Success, an online learning hub for all things related to search engine optimization and digital marketing.
And today I’m positively moist with glee to be talking to Jono Alderson.
Hello. He’s not there.
Jono Alderson: Hello. That was very delayed un-muting. Sorry, I’ve ruined it already. Let’s start again.
Kate Toon: No, that’s it, we’re keeping that in.
Jono Alderson: Disaster. After all that praise about being badger-like and Dr. Who. We talk to you never turns upon time anyway. So we’ll go with that.
Kate Toon: No, he would un-mute himself slowly as well, just-
Jono Alderson: A badger’s prompt, are they tiny animals? I don’t know.
Kate Toon: I think badgers are grumpy to be honest.
Jono Alderson: Perfect. Perfect. We’ll go with that one. Well, it is 7AM here, so I’ll try and mix a bit of ….
Kate Toon: And usually you’re not up until midday so I know how that-
Jono Alderson: Yeah, precisely. Not if I can help it.
Kate Toon: Well I’ve got your bio here, which I’m going to read on your behalf, because I’m worried that you won’t-
Jono Alderson: Oh my gosh.
Kate Toon: … love it so early in the morning. You remember who you are and what you do.
So Jono manages special projects at Yoast.
He’s a digital strategist, marketing technologist and full stack developer with two decades of experience of web development, SEO, analytics, brand and campaign strategy, lead gen and ECRM, CRO and more.
Jono Alderson: It’s a long list, isn’t it? Just all I’ve done.
Kate Toon: You’ve just added as many acronyms.
Jono Alderson: Yeah, I cook occasionally, that’s going on the list and a bit gardening, it just gets longer.
Kate Toon: Makes pancakes.
He works with startups, agencies and some of the world’s biggest brands to implement great strategies, prepare for the future and win markets. I can barely speak.
He built www.daysoftheyear.com which is hilarious site.
And have accidentally become one of the world’s leading authority on weird, horrid holidays. What day is it-
Jono Alderson: Holidays is a good word. Oh I will find out, I’m just busily firing over time. Today is thank a letter carrier day, also sweater day, which is nice. I’m all dressed up.
Kate Toon: Well it’s a bit sweaty here so it’s, well.
Jono Alderson: Oh we’ve got the opposite. It’s very cold and grey.
Kate Toon: Yeah, well there you go. Cold and grey day. So look, let’s talk about things and stuff. Let’s talk about when the whole world is fixed and we can all just nap all day.
Jono Alderson: Yeah, great.
Kate Toon: And earn money. So this is actually based on a talk you did at the Turing Fest in Edinburgh back in August. I thought it was really amazing question because I guess I’m often asked by students on my SEO courses, more and more people do it.
It’s like, “Well I’m a hairdresser and I’ve done your course, and she’s a hairdresser and she’s done your course. So how do I beat her now and everybody fixed everything?”
That’s where I wanted to delve into this topic. So yeah, you kick-off.
Jono Alderson: Sure.
Kate Toon: Why did you delve into this topic yourself?
Jono Alderson: Precisely because of that question.
Because if everybody is increasing the amount of numbers of people are working to improve their sites and their content, can that go on forever?
Do we just end up kind of fighting to out compete each other?
And if that’s the case, how then is that any different from paid search say where you are never really building any equity or paying money out every day for leads, you received. But SEO becomes similar and it just becomes a machine you feed permanently against your competitors, then maybe it’s not the best channel. And maybe a lot of what we convince ourselves that we’re doing is valuable around content. And so it’s just another form of essentially feeding Google.
And I started to think this way and explore it.
And obviously that’s a bit concerning because it kind of starts to challenge a lot of the underlying ways we think about SEO.
Jono Alderson: So I had that kind of thought. But then on the other hand, a lot of what we’re doing at Yoast is trying to make sure that people shouldn’t have to [inaudible 00:04:54] that sort of stuff. Like it’s a great dysfunction of the world that if you are, say, an incredible baker or a artisan furniture maker, then you also have to provide content and manage your website and understand what a 301 redirect is. And all these other hundreds of things. And every minute you spend on micro managing the infrastructure of your website, you’re not baking or carving furniture. And gradually you become less skilled and less capable and the whole thing’s a bit broken. So I liked the idea that as we start to fix more and more of this backend stuff and optimise and streamline those processes, people can spend more of their time focusing on what they’re good at and having their websites just kind of market and position themselves for them rather than them having to actively micromanaging that.
Kate Toon: I mean, I’m going to go off script now because we do have a script organised, but Jono, what will we all do for a job?
Like you say that bakers have to learn how to know what a 301 redirect is. But equally if I have a car, I don’t necessarily know how to do car things.
I don’t have a car. I take it to-
Jono Alderson: Me neither. I have no idea.
Kate Toon: No, you take it to a mechanic and he does that and therefore he has a job and I can continue living my life while he fixes my car.
So what you’re proposing is literally ruining the economy of the internet and taking poor web developers… Web developers right now is smashing their iPods and I felt-
Jono Alderson: Wow, iPods.
Yeah and the grand up rising and the great rebellion of 2020, sure.
You’re no longer needed guys.
Well, we’ll come back to that, I think. It’s not necessarily unrealistic, although obviously that’s scary. I think, so let me rewind a little bit. I’m a massive techy and a nerd. And I’m really interested in the technical problems and challenges, but the more I work with brands and companies, the more I think the problem is around how we think about marketing and resourcing. So your car example is really great that if I’m going out and shopping for car, I know nothing. Actually what helps me is the information on people’s websites and the content they’ve produced and the messaging they’ve written. And how well they’ve done that determines how trustworthy I think they are and how much I can rely on them to have made my decisions for me and thought about things I don’t know and anticipated unknown’s and recommended the right things.
Jono Alderson: So to a degree, all the stuff we call brand and branding and all the marketing and advertising tactics and strategies that we use around that are essentially proxies for building trust.
What we’re trying to do is convince consumers that we and our product is the best solution for them based on their context, their budget, their preferences and so on and so forth.
So the car manufacturer puts all that work in to optimise their site [inaudible 00:07:41], not necessarily just because they want to rank better in Google, but because those things also make you seem more trustworthy or authoritative or of an expert to people who are searching and finding your content and therefore they’re more likely to choose you.
Kate Toon: Yes. I mean I totally get that as a conventional copywriter and an SEO copywriter.
Often told that these two are complete different things and you need to write for Google.
But of course we convert Google and then we still have to convert the humans at the end.
Google will drag them to our door, we have to pull them through kicking and screaming and force them to buy the products.
Jono Alderson: Yeah, absolutely.
Kate Toon: But I mean, getting back to the initial premise of every website being fixed, every website is fast. It’s crawlable, it’s perfectly optimised.
Even SCHEMA is working, zut alore!
I mean that sounds good, doesn’t it?
I like the platform that… One of the things you mentioned at YoastCon last year was all the platforms, even the Wix’s and the Weebly’s are actively working towards not making that the problem of the consumer, but making it the problem of the platform.
Because lorks even those who vaguely feel they know what they’re talking about when it comes to SCHEMA still can’t get it to work sometimes.
So it does sound like a beautiful future that you’re… Picture that you’re painting.
Jono Alderson: Yeah, and this stuff is hard and much of it is too hard to reasonably expect end users and website managers to do.
SCHEMA is a really good example.
I’ve spent two years maybe up to my neck in SCHEMA and I’m still learning and figuring out and there are big areas of unknowns where there aren’t really any good answers.
But having to make decisions about should this thing connect to this other thing in this way?
And it’s like an enormous jigsaw with half the pieces missing without a guide to what it looks like.
So yeah, to imagine every individual site owner having to figure this sort stuff out and code it and maintain it feels a bit crazy.
I think [inaudible 00:09:29] premise, I think what’s interesting, none of this is new. Marketing has always been a bit dysfunctional.
The Internet’s always been a bit weird.
What’s changing is that Google’s reached a tipping point, particularly in that it’s starting to become or at least behave in a way which emulates an informed consumer.
Jono Alderson: So as people, we need all these proxies for trust.
We need to pair webpages and read reviews and try and understand what these sites are saying about carburetors and engines that we don’t understand and try and work out whether or not we think these products and brands are a good fit.
Well, Google is becoming increasingly able to do is that without having to go through those processes, they’re increasingly understanding the inherent quality of a thing.
Which means that if I’m researching a car and for example, one of the brands is too expensive or the wrong colour, or more than a 20 minute walk away from my house, or any number of other factors, they don’t get shown in the results. So when the consumer is going through that research process, those primes aren’t involved.
They’re not in the consideration set, they’re not in the mix.
And that makes it really, really hard to compete.
Jono Alderson: So what’s changing is until today, all of marketing and advertising has essentially been, how do we put a storytelling layer on top of our stuff that convinces users and hope we can get away with it because we’re overcoming shortcomings or distracting people from weaknesses or reinforcing our strengths. And then suddenly we enter a world where people just says, “Uh-huh, I can see the difference between the story you’re telling and the actual underlying quality of your thing based on reviews and feedback and all of our AI, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”
And if it’s not a good fit, then you don’t get shown. And what we’re starting to see is evidence of this impact in the real world.
So with things like voice search and your personal assistance and every time you say, “Hey, Google to your phone.” I just triggered it, haven’t I?
Jono Alderson: Every time you talk to your phones or your TVs or increasing your connected toasters and all these devices, we’re getting that connected. When you ask it questions and ask you for help, which is where we interact with these things, it won’t return a bad result.
And that feels incredibly simple when you say it, but the more you think about it, a bad result is one which is four stars rather than five stars or slightly too expensive or the wrong colour or these factors that I care about. And there is no opportunity to market and interrupt. If you are that brand and your product isn’t a perfect fit for that user, it doesn’t matter where you are and it doesn’t matter how compelling your copy is. It doesn’t matter if you try and advertise because you can’t, the consumer isn’t reachable. So suddenly we need to be thinking much more about, okay, if my website is fixed and technically okay, all of my resource and thinking needs to go into making sure that I’m a good fit. It’s a hard ask and it’s very, very different from the way we think about marketing at the moment.
Kate Toon: But it’s just not so black and white is it?
You know, you’ve got the slow page, you can reduce with your hosting and see it go down a few bits of a second and feel quite positive about it.
But I guess what you’re talking about here is, we talk a lot about EAT and expertise, authority and trust and it’s a much more abstract term.
I mean, I’m not sure there’s an exact checklist of how to prove to Google that you are this amazingly authoritative trustworthy thing other than obviously getting citations and reviews and building up some kind of online reputation. If we all the four star, how do we become the five star?
I guess is the question more, isn’t it?
Jono Alderson: Yeah, that’s the perfect question. I think you definitely like the…
A lot of Google’s understanding of what quality and fit looks like will come from that feedback group of people who leave reviews and engage, but much more subtle ways. Like things like we know that they use Google maps and Android phones to analyse where people go.
And even something as simple as lots of people visit this cafe and restaurant and the same people visited multiple times during the week is a really great indicator of quality that maybe doesn’t need lots of five star reviews on Yelp or other explicit digital signals.
But those kinds of behaviours will definitely impact whether or not that cafe shows up in search result or asking my phone where I should go for lunch or those are the kinds of actions.
Jono Alderson: So essentially we get to the point where maybe the best thing you could do for your SEO in terms of ranking and attracting converting consumers isn’t worrying about links or fixing your site speed. Because hopefully that’s already taken care of. But maybe it’s training your chef better or evaluating your ingredients. And what we get right back to is product market fit and maybe put away the technical bit of SEO.
All that’s left is product market fit.
What is Google if not a solution that takes people and their express needs and connects them to the best solution?
And I think that’s something we’ve forgotten about a lot in digital marketing because we’ve been distracted by the shiny, shiny toys and we’ve had tools and tricks which allow us to overcome the fact that we’re maybe not the best product market fit.
Jono Alderson: I really struggle with this as a technical person, somebody wants to fix things and do the code, but that’s not where the problem is.
The problem is maybe my product isn’t perfect for this particular subset of people. I mean maybe the pricing strategy is wrong or maybe my customer service team need better training to create better quality and value signals online and all these things…
Maybe in the same way that security isn’t part of SEO, but we need to think about it.
Product isn’t really part of SEO, but you’re going to have a really hard time if the thing you do and the thing you sell isn’t genuinely a good fit and everything attached to that isn’t optimised as well as just the code on your website.
Kate Toon: Yeah, and again, as a copywriter, we cover it from the opposite way around.
So I’ll often say, look, you know, you can’t out write a poorly technical built, site
You could write the most, I mean, well, but if the site is technically flawed site and taking 14 seconds to load and no one’s going to get it.
But that’s to say if take away the tech, you can’t… Well you can.
Kate Toon: You can write up terrible products to be wonderful.
But you’re saying that kind of other signals, user behaviour signals the simple fact you’re carrying your mobile into the baker again and again, and Google is aware that you are you and you are there is going to become a signal.
And so the baker gets to go back to being a baker in the trueest sense.
He gets to decide, well actually that yeast is better than that yeast rather than [crosstalk 00:15:46].
Jono Alderson: Absolutely.
Kate Toon: [crosstalk 00:15:47] SCHEMA tag is going to work better than that SCHEMA tag, is that where you’re heading to?
Does it all again come back to kind of brand?
Not brand building in the kind of sleazy cheesy way, but word of mouth advocacy that if you bake good bread, finally baking good bread might actually be enough?
Jono Alderson: Yeah.
And isn’t that a nice dream?
And it comes with some dysfunction, it comes with some challenges, but I think that’s a better version of the world we have today where essentially you can gain the system by spending money. You can employ more developers or write better copy, for example.
And those things act as a proxy for actually being a good baker.
And wouldn’t it be nice if people were actually good bakers? I think, so this builds on a lot of assumptions. And it’s certainly not the world we’re in yet. I think, so I’m very lucky to spend quite a bit of time talking with people at Google and places like Facebook and Bing about where they see the future going.
And a lot of my thinking around this comes from those kinds of conversations. I know there’s a team at Google who we spend a lot of time working with, headed up by a chap called Alberto Medina, who you might have met at Yoast Com last year, really awesome guy.
Jono Alderson: And his team’s remit is…
So they’re working on what they call the progressive web. And the idea is that until now the internet has been a bit of a grand experiment.
And we’ve worked out what websites are and how advertising works and what is content and copy and how does this whole environment function and where does the money move.
And the point they’re getting a pain with this that we understand it well enough now to throw away the bad bits and we invent it a bit.
So their mission is to enable success align.
That if you are that butcher or baker or furniture carpenter or whatever. At the moment it’s hard to set up a website, to understand your market, to compete with your competitors, to spend the money on the right things whilst remaining a good baker, et cetera, et cetera.
So that remit is to develop the tools and processes and platforms just to make that easy.
That allow you to go online to have a standing, et cetera.
Jono Alderson: And the backbone of that essentially is how do they work with platforms like WordPress and others and plugins like Yoast and others and other companies and hosting companies and just the moving parts to remove all of the tech stuff, and just to fix it.
So whilst this feels like a bit of a pipe dream, what happens when everyone’s website is fixed?
This is genuinely a big part of Google’s mission at the moment that they want to remove all of that friction so that we can just live in a world where the way you rank, number one in Google for being the best bakery is by being the best bakery.
I mean there’s still other elements to that, but that’s fascinating, I think.
Kate Toon: It is.
And it sounds simpler and it almost…
You know I’m drawing comparisons in my mind to the electric car and the industry where it want it to happen.
They want electrical cars because they don’t want to change the infrastructure.
And as we talked about at the beginning, what happens to all the software, all the developers, all the platforms set up to facilitate the difficult, not the difficulty, but the profit from that difficulty.
What happens here?
Jono Alderson: They’re solving problems, right?
So there’s even other teams in Google and I don’t think they’ve worked out the answer to this yet.
So the whole AdWords market and pay per click advertising makes money on dysfunction.
Every click that’s not a perfect fit for the keyword and the intent, et cetera, Google makes money out.
So they’re like, Google’s entire commercial engine doesn’t really align particularly well with this mission yet.
And it’s really nice that they’re mature enough as a company to allow half of their people to be saying how do we make the world a better place? And how do we democratise success?
And the other half is saying, how do we get people to spend more money on ads?
At some point they’ll need to reconcile that and work out some kind of middle ground. But yeah, there is, we have industries and people and processes built around all this fixing.
Jono Alderson: This is where this all started for me.
As a technical SEO, a huge amount of my career has been spent fixing things. But not just stuff, things that shouldn’t have been broken in the first place, shouldn’t have needed fixing, that would solve problems elsewhere. Like nobody should ever need to create a 301 redirect.
Nobody should ever need to fix a broken page. Nobody should ever need to change a canonical URL tag.
These are well-defined, well understood technical SEO problems that there are standard guidelines and they are either binary right or wrong. The only times they’re wrong is when humans make mistakes, coding and implementing them. But we’re doing that over and over and over again.
And this sheer amount of waste.
Like I have spent undoubtedly tens of thousands of hours in my life fixing basic things which shouldn’t have needed fixing.
And if I could’ve spent that time, I don’t know, being about a baker, then maybe the world would be a better place. I mean that’s it. You know, like you do wonder why, we know for example, really basic one, you talked about 301 redirects but it’s not a great idea to upload a 5,000 pixel by 5,000 pixel photo to your homepage.
So why do the platforms let you even do that?
Why don’t they cut you off at the pass.
You know, and obviously Yoast is an example, it’s not pointing to Yoast, but you know, it tells you certain things.
It’s quite a blunt tool and it’s traffic lights sometimes can confuse people, sometimes but it’s trying to stop you making the mistake in the first place.
And yet the platforms, they don’t seem to want to stop you making it, you know what I mean?
They don’t think, they kind of allow you to be a fool.
Jono Alderson: I think there’s more money to be made in developing tools which help you optimise and resize your images after the fact than there are in the platforms and preventing you from making those mistakes.
And this is, the problem is there is money to be made in fixing and in tweaking and in all those armies of developers at companies, you came back to, who yes, you might be out of a job if everybody just gets on with their baking.
Kate Toon: They can become bakers instead.
Jono Alderson: I’m obsessed with bakery now. It’s definitely breakfast time. Yeah. I mean, people will still need websites.
They will still need copy.
They will still need to be well designed and have good brands.
But the day to day optimising of all of that should go away or you should never worry about site speed.
Your site should just be fast.
And the technologies and the processes and the infrastructure, all of the things you need to be able to do that exist. It’s just as a baker you don’t know about AMP necessarily.
You don’t understand the best way to lazy load an image. You don’t understand the best way to compress your CSS. You shouldn’t have to.
So the stuff that Google are building takes all of that away.
I should mention a few, because I’ve glossed over it.
Some listeners might be familiar with AMP, which is Google’s [crosstalk 00:22:33].
Kate Toon: We’ve got a whole episode on that.
Jono Alderson: Excellent. So I’ll skip over it. But Google are the leading force behind what AMP is becoming.
And a lot of the way it works is changing and improving, but they’re really baking it very deeply into WordPress, which is quite exciting, to the point where it will be impossible to build slow or insecure pages.
And the principle is it’s all just Lego blocks and much of that.
So if you want a slider or an image gallery or a header or a navigation, you just go, I want that bit and that bit, I want that one in red, that one with these words.
And it just works. And it improves over time as they improve the architecture.
So you got, they’re betting very heavily on WordPress because this is where all the toys live and integrate. So you build your AMP site on WordPress, out the box, you make it into a progressive web app, which is another of Google’s tech, which integrates.
Jono Alderson: You bolt on all the analytics and reporting and you end up very quickly in a place where just using essentially Google’s approved stack of toys and tools that clip together, you’re already twice as far ahead of the competitors and all of your stuff just works.
And they’re rolling out more and more of these toys and they all integrate and they all connect and suddenly all of the fiddly bits, which you didn’t even know you were getting wrong, like I’ve minified my CSS in the wrong way. What’s that even mean?
You don’t even have to think because these tools take care of it and you end up with something sleek and fast and beautiful that your competitors have to employ a hundred developers to keep up with.
Jono Alderson: I think what’s really interesting about this is the pace of this and the access to it will only really be in WordPress for the foreseeable future because cumbersome CMS and enterprise software won’t keep up, which means that it’s the small businesses who will suddenly be hyper competitive.
Like your big businesses who have hundreds of engineers and techies all working on their big cumbersome legacy systems will struggle to move as quickly and have as good a website as the baker on the corner, which is the opposite way around than the way it’s been forever.
Jono Alderson: Like the baker couldn’t afford to have the latest shiny, fastest tech, but now there are better websites.
I think that will have a huge impact on economies in the real world, nevermind just the digital on capitalism on the way we spend and choose. It will have huge impact in ways we haven’t even really seen yet. So that’s pretty cool.
Kate Toon: I mean we’ve got the line there.
We’ve got the WordPress and then we’ve got the kind of custom CMS and then in between we’ve got the kind of hosted platforms who, because they are privately owned don’t, you know, obviously WordPress, anybody can develop for it.
There’s thousands of people developing all the time.
If you’re a Squarespace or Wix, or Weebly you have your team of developers which isn’t as vast and so they will…
Do you think there’ll be somewhere in between?
Between the WordPress and the big archaic systems in terms of catching up with all this sexy stuff?
Jono Alderson: I think that’s an interesting question.
I know that one of Google’s big motivations for getting in bed, playing with WordPress in particular is that because it’s open-source and people can get involved and they can play along, that means that A, the work that they do in it and improving it goes out to a much wider section of the web. B, it’s not a walled garden.
And as they talk about things like Facebook and Amazon, one of the challenges they have is that if people struggle to compete online, they go, “Oh, you know what?
I’m not going to run my own website. I’m just going to have a Facebook business page and that’ll be fine.”
Jono Alderson: There’s a really nice florist locally to me who I really know and love, they’re really great.
They don’t have a website.
They just have a Facebook page because it’s too complicated and confusing to manage websites. For Google that is an explicit failure.
They’ve failed to provide the tools to allow these people to manage and run their website and as a result that business is no longer essentially in Google. It exists only behind Facebook’s closed walls and that’s harmful for the open web. It’s harmful for consumers.
Now, I don’t know if a pure play, Google only world is necessarily any better. Certain [crosstalk 00:26:20].
Kate Toon: [crosstalk 00:26:20] going to say, like aren’t they, by doing this creating their own walled garden?
Jono Alderson: Yeah, it just happens to encapsulate everything.
Kate Toon: Yeah, I mean and always talking about Google being synonymous with the inter-webs.
You know, they’re not two separate speratething. And you know, obviously these days, I think in Australia now it’s 95% share.
If you’re literally not on Google, [inaudible 00:26:40] on the internet. Because usually, I always say, I don’t even type in nike.com.
I type in Nike into Google
Kate Toon: So ultimately we know there’ll just be three companies left in the world.
They’ll be Facebook, Google, Amazon in they’ll all own part of the world and it’d be like 1984, or something like that.
Jono Alderson: Yeah. This is one of my favourite things.
So I balance my time thinking about very technical, imminent stuff and then very long term and game stuff and I keep coming back to that conclusion is, you end… I’ve asked some other people to think about this sort of stuff.
You end up with these brands essentially competing over elements of the human experience, which is a terrifying world to live in.
To go back to your thought, I think maybe there is room for the middle ground between the kind of the WordPresses and the enterprise clunky stuff, but I think it’s definitely open-source.
I think the complexity and scale of the stuff we’re talking about like so let’s say an enterprise company like Nike as example you mentioned, they have a team of a thousand developers and they think they can compete with WordPress and all the shiny stuff that’s happening.
Jono Alderson: Those people need to create and maintain something comparable with the whole of AMP and the whole of WordPress and the whole of Yoast and the whole of a hundred other plugins. And suddenly the sheer scale of all of that adds up because SEO and having a CMS isn’t just having some tech skills to write some content in and some meta tags.
It’s how all of those things interact and trying and integrate with Google and other services and you just can’t keep up with that. And I think that Google’s involvement and investment in the WordPress space now is that it has essentially won.
Jono Alderson: It’s going to be so hard for anything else to keep up with the volume of innovation and everything new that people pushes out will land in WordPress first, which means that more people adopt, which will mean there’s more resource in the space.
I think that in the same way that Google becomes the gateway to the internet, WordPress becomes the operating system of the internet.
And so you have a lot of people in the WordPress space talk about it because it’s so much more than just a content management system.
It becomes the software that powers the web. And that’s very much the way that people are seeing, which is… Yeah, equally scary, but I think better. I like the idea that we solve these things once. Nobody should be worrying about how permalinks work five years from now.
Or how to fix this.
Why can I put a five mega image on my home page?
Those sorts of things. All of that should go away just because we fix it once and centrally. That’s quite nice.
Kate Toon: I do like that. I do like that.
And as somebody who teaches people how to do this, we do technical week, the second week of the course and everyone hates it.
But then when they’re done, they’re done because you know, yes, it’s hard but the problem is they’re not quite done because then SCHEMA changes a bit and AMP changes a bit in the guidelines, but at least the hard bits are done.
Jono Alderson: Oh yeah, the guidelines. Yeah.
This is… So, yeah, whilst I talk about this as a great utopia, the grand challenge of all of this is that it’s happening iteratively tiny step by tiny step and everybody involved just kind of working out as they go.
So the guidelines change constantly.
SCHEMA is a really good example. schema.org has its own set of standards that are evolving and changing based on the pressures and pushes and pulls of the real world.
Google has its own interpretation of those guidelines which change based on the phase of the moon and their current favourite flavours of whatever, some bits that they promote massively some bits and everybody rushes to integrate and we scramble and it all ends up in WordPress.
And then they go, no, we don’t like that anymore and they deprecate it. There were obvious commercial pressures on some of Google stuff as to how they interpreted and they deliberately diverged from the standard in places.
Jono Alderson: And then Bing has an entirely different interpretation and Facebook has its own open graph standard that’s slightly different, and none of these things quite gel. And they’re working it out and fudging it as it goes along.
So whilst one possible outcome of this future is this perfect unified, consolidated platform and everything is great, the other is just more fragmentation and we end up with 12 different standards and a world not radically different today, but just more technical work involved. So there’s a, yeah, we’re trying, spending a huge amount of my time trying to glue all of this together.
So I’m talking to Bing about what Google are doing and vice versa and saying, guys, can we decide one approach on this whole thing?
In the hopes that it all just comes together.
Otherwise, we’re going to create a royal mess.
Kate Toon: Yeah. Like a little diplomat in the middle of it all.
Oh, let’s come back to the five points about marketing.
So you know, if we reach this utopia and we don’t have to worry about technical bits and bolts anymore and we really are being chosen as the best fit by other means, by reputation, by behaviour, by baking the best croissants, as we said, do we really need to worry about marketing anymore?
Do we need to worry about our copy and our branding and our taglines and things?
Or is that a thing of the past as well?
Jono Alderson: No, I think we definitely do need to worry about it, but it moves much closer to product and it’s not just a story we tell to try and get people to the door. It becomes something much more.
Marketing becomes much closer to brand and to product and it all becomes about how do we encourage consumers to take the kind of actions that create the value signals, which these system will understand.
So if we know that and it’s not about trying to engineer and work out what those are.
Yes, we can speculate that somebody visiting the same cafe seven days in a row is a good signal, but that doesn’t mean that all of your marketing should try and encourage people to walk in a certain direction at certain time of day.
Jono Alderson: It’s about how do we craft the story telling?
How do we encourage the loyalty? How do we make people feel like they’re part of something? How do we tell those stories?
It’s not radically different to what we’re doing at the moment, but the focus shifts from how do I convince you to click on my website and then come to my store, buy my thing, to how do I convince you that I’m a good fit and get you to believe?
And it’s much more about storytelling,
Kate Toon: I think it’s, I’m going to use the dreaded word and I’m doing air fingers. You can’t see them. But I think it’s a lot to do with authenticity.
And actually being what you say you are, living that through your brand, telling, as you said telling your stories, being real, building human contacts and one thing I’m really into at the moment is what I call endearing content. Content that really endears.
Jono Alderson: Oh, that’s nice.
Kate Toon: So it’s not necessarily your wins or your failures, it’s just little stupid things that other people find cute and funny.
Because we’re all humans at the end of the day and the fact that you spilled some coffee on your t-shirt before we started this podcast. You didn’t, but I mean.
Jono Alderson: Yeah, I may well have.
Kate Toon: Yeah, that makes you think, well yes, he’s talking to Bing and planning world domination with Google
And that endeared me to you with you in a way that no amount of five-star reviews and clever SCHEMA is ever going to create a connection that’s on a different level, I think. I’m not sure.
Jono Alderson: Yeah, that’s lovely.
And the other thought I have which is much more practical and this is this, this may be un hashed out nonsense, but I really liked the idea of…
Let me take a step back in [inaudible 00:33:48] actually.
You don’t have one type of consumer and one audience with one problem. If you’re trying to reach a broader audience, their needs are nuanced.
Do you want to be segmenting who they are and what they want and how they think and what problems you’re solving for them. I really liked the idea that we should not only have a content strategy about how we communicate and talk to a segment as audiences, but also to have a solution strategy.
Which is to have a really good mental model of which problems does my business solve for which types of users and for each one of those problem user combinations, have I got a good page of content and copy that talks to that user about how we’re positioned to solve that problem.
Jono Alderson: And I think many businesses don’t have this.
They fall into that old trap of going, we are Blue Widgets Inc. and we sell blue widgets to people who want blue widgets and it’s not tailored.
I think if you take that the other way and you go actually what are blue widgets for?
What do blue widgets do?
How do people use them differently?
Can we create all of that content and actually then when we’re in a world where your Google assistant is only picking you the best results or you only show up in the top results for Google, when you are a good fit, then actually you have all the content that reinforces, that demonstrates that you’re a good fit.
All that in advance. I think it’s a practical thing to do now. I think everybody should be starting to think about how do I build that matrix of problems I solve and make sure that you’ve got content that reflects that.
Otherwise, you’re really going to struggle to do that once other competitors are winning.
Kate Toon: Yeah, I like that.
So I think beyond just the consumers think about solutions, I also think it’s important to think about your brand personality and your brand values and be consistent with those and understand that, Delilah may bring more people through the door, but that kind of chocolate mint chip with sprinkles on, yes, it’s not going to appeal to everybody.
The people that it does appeal to me, they’re going to love you harder and you’re create more advocacy and loyalty and oh, it’s a whole big topic. We could go on and on.
But I wanted to put some thoughts to you. I asked members of my Digital Master Chefs group how they would market if their website was finally fixed.
So Amy Wyhoon who is a social media marketing manager said that she would maybe create a VR experience of her service so that they could experience what it’s like, but it only lasts for a couple of minutes.
So you physically kind of almost feel like you’re touching, well, she’s a service based person, so I’m not touching her exactly.
But VR, do you think, you know?
Jono Alderson: Disconnect there isn’t that?
Kate Toon: Yeah.
Jono Alderson: I love that. I like that.
That’s great. In the same way that, so that’s exactly what I’m saying that all marketing and content and websites are a proxy for trust like that all of this stuff is trying to convince me that this service or this shoe or this croissant is going to be great.
Actually, if you can go one step closer and say make it tactile and make it experiential, then even better. I know there was a brand who did this a while ago, I can’t remember it was one of the shoe brands. And they created an interactive experience where you put on the VR headset-
Kate Toon: Sheepbrand or shoe brand?
Jono Alderson: Shoe, sorry, shoe. You put on the headset and you’re walking over a chasm on this rickety plank, like in an Indiana Jones film, and of course you’re looking down because you’re walking over this plank and you’re wearing the shoes and they’re adventure hiking shoes and in your mind now you have an association of if I’m going tracking in the hills, these are the shoes and this is what it’s like to wear them. It’s super clever.
Kate Toon: I love that it would work really well for a sheet brand as well.
Yes, definitely. Marco Wittich who has a brand selling dog products, dog food and things like that. He thinks that all of this would bring him back to where and why we started. To our unique products and services, so if you don’t have any products or service, you’re not going to get sales. I’m thinking of the baker and his croissants again.
Products that people love and come back and buy more. So I like that one.
Kate Toon: Keneena Fanning who has a clothing store with cookie clothes, I think they’ll come back to unique branding and face to face connection with customers, even if that’s virtually. I buy off people I like and trust. It’s rarely just the product. That backs up what you said as well.
Jono Alderson: Yep. That’s nice.
Kate Toon: And Shannon Morrison said everything in person, real life or virtual, go to the exact opposite of automation and AI. You have to 100% become literal face to face with your brand and get in front of as many people as possible. What do you think of that one?
Jono Alderson: I think that’s really interesting. I think for a long time the tools we have had for marketing and advertising have been about reach.
So once upon a time we did handle one-to-one and I would swap my two goats for your six turnips and then we got print and now I’m in front of a million people with one generic message. And then we get radio, in front of a thousand people with maybe 10 messages. And then we get the web and we gradually start to get back to this point where distribution doesn’t mean generic messaging. And we can get in front of huge audiences but still be personal and still be individual.
And I think because we’ve gone through that journey and we’re still coming out, the other side, brands are still working out what the internet is. We’re still conditioned to think about marketing as mass messaging and it doesn’t have to be. We can be human.
We can put faces on our content, we can be vulnerable, we can be endearing.
Jono Alderson: As you started up, so much.
Brands can be endearng
And so many of the world’s most successful brands, the ones which gets so much used as case studies all the time, are successful, not because they’re big in number and have big pockets, but because they are personal and endearing and we believe in their stories.
So maybe the best thing you could do for your SEO or your content strategy is to put your face on it and tell a story or hire a celebrity or do TV ads and billboards. But work on how do you connect with people?
Use the technology to grow the reach and the scale. But that doesn’t mean just shouting into the void and that’s going to be very much a focus on marketing in the coming years. I think there’s to try and regain that human personal element.
Kate Toon: Hurrah. Personal branding that’s what it’s all about. No, that’s great. I love it. Brilliant. Well I’m sorted. So my website will be completely fixed and everyone else’s will be, what do you reckon? End of the year? Maybe the year after? What’s the timescale for this?
Jono Alderson: Hopefully. Kind of now. It’s kind of happening. So some of the bits of kit and this is still experimental, but essentially if you are off the shelf with the combination of WordPress, Google’s AMP stuff, that PWA stuff, Yoast, and a hand full of others, you can get to essentially 90% done pretty much on the box. There’s still stuff to do and obviously WordPress is not the whole web and Yoast is not the only SEO plugin, but it’s getting done close. I think the more pressure Google put on this, the faster adoption will happen because the toys are there and the rest of the world will catch up.
I think this isn’t decades away. I think we’re talking about the next few years where it becomes a real possibility that you don’t have to think or worry about the tech stuff because it’s done for you. And it will happen very quickly because the challenges aren’t enormous, they’re mostly political about other white companies making the right agreements with the other ones and allowing integrations and stuff. But I think we’re very, very close, which is, yeah, it’s going to be transformative.
Kate Toon: Hooray. Well, thank you so much.
I loved that episode. I always love talking to you. I’ll have to get you back on.
Jono Alderson: It’s been a absolute treat.
Kate Toon: Baker’s and croissants No, that was brilliant. And I look forward to seeing you at YoastCon in April.
Jono Alderson: Yes. Yeah, I shall see you in practically weeks now, isn’t it?
Kate Toon: Yeas, hooray. So that’s the end of this week’s show.
If you have any questions about what happened today and what happens when everyone’s website is fixed then head to my SEO group on Facebook.
Or you can also harass Jono. I will include all his social media in the episode notes, so you can tweet at him and talk about this more.
At the end of the show, I like to give a shout out to one of my lovely listeners and this week it’s from Amy Annettin Australia and she says Kate’s style of delivering super-helpful web search information to our listeners is entertaining and very easy to listen to. Her podcast is one of my go to’s for the latest advice on SEO digital marketing done by real humans…
Done with real humans in mind. She can’t read, but she does a good talk.
Kate Toon: Don’t forget to leave a five star rating or review on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you heard the podcast, it will help others find the show. And you’ll get a shout out as well. And as I said, don’t forget to check out the show notes for this episode at www.therecipeforSEOsuccess.com where you can learn more about Jono.
Check out useful links and leave a comment about the show. And finally, I have a new podcast. Well, not new, but revamped. The Kate Toon Show is my personal, branded and daring podcast about living life as a misfit entrepreneur. My tips and advice on how to be happier and a more successful business owner.
Kate Toon: So thank you very much, Jono.
Jono Alderson: Thank you. That was an absolute delight. I’m going to go have a croissant.
Kate Toon: From the best baker in town.
Jono Alderson: I hope so.
Kate Toon: Until next time, happy SEO-ing.