Making the Most of Google’s “Shrinking Opportunities” with Jeff Ferguson @CountXero #VCBuzz

Making the Most of Google's "Shrinking Opportunities" with Jeff Ferguson @CountXero #VCBuzz

It is well known that many SEOs and marketers have love-hate relationships with Google.

We tend to hate and criticize many of Google’s moves but we still use and optimize for nothing but Google.

Is there a way to gap that bridge?

In other words, how to discover new opportunities “inside the box”, i.e. inside Google’s box?

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About Jeff Ferguson @CountXero

Jeff Ferguson @CountXero is partner at Amplitude Digital, an award-winning digital marketing agency.

With over 25 years of online marketing experience, Jeff has led the online marketing efforts for companies such as Hilton Hotels, Kimberly-Clark, InterActiveCorp, Experian, and Napster.

Jeff also teaches digital marketing courses at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Connect to Jeff on Linkedin

Questions we discussed

Q1 How did you become a digital marketer? Please share your career story!

I graduated from undergrad in 1995 with degrees in comp sci and communications, intending to become a copywriter; however, the world had other plans for me. I kept getting asked about the internet in interviews and passed on the first few offers.

Then, my 1st student loan bill arrived, and in the following interview, I said I knew everything about the internet. I started as a “webmaster” but eventually moved away from the tech side of things, focusing more on marketing.

However, rather than specializing in one aspect of digital marketing, I touched them all, which was pretty standard back then. I guess I’m more known in “search engine” circles, but I’ve worked with everything.

We’ll probably talk about the evolution of job roles and responsibilities later, but I think that’s something we really need to look at again in digital marketing.

Exactly! I’m looking forward to the day when there is no more “digital marketing,” but just “marketing” that includes digital, because, of course it would!

Q2 In your article “Are Google’s Featured Snippets Stealing Clicks? It’s Complicated“, you point out that arguing the legality of Google’s moves is a waste of time. What do you suggest doing instead?

Meanwhile, regular consumers seem to love the instant answers.

I don’t know if it’s to look cool in front of the other kids, but it’s pervasive for SEOs to “rage against the Google machine” regarding features like Featured Snippets. Meanwhile, regular consumers seem to love the instant answers.

Instead, I advise my clients to lead in and use it where they can. Frankly, I think it makes for a great top of funnel placement. Your page might not always get the click… but if you do things right, you still get the impression, which is a solid win at that touchpoint in the consumer journey.

Q3 Have you ever seen a decline in traffic as a result of any Google’s moves? How did you cope?

Of course, but it’s relatively rare for my type of client. I figure I can either sit around and complain or use it as inspiration to try and do better. Most shifts come from someone building a better mousetrap.

Q4 Let’s consider one example: Say, your new client is a celebrity-worth site that has seen a traffic drop because Google’s featured snippets basically answer all of its target questions / queries. What should they do?

Rethink their business model. Seriously, if your entire business model requires free traffic from Google that could disappear overnight with an update like Featured Snippets, then you had a product feature, not a product.

I look at it this way: At one point, some people made a lot of quick money from publishing flashlight apps for their phones. Then one day, Apple added it to their interface, then boom, time to move on. Everyone loves Capitalism until it happens to them.

One of the more critical aspects of a business plan is a SWAT analysis. In this day and age, everyone should be asking themselves, “How easy is it for someone to replicate what I’m doing?” in the Threats section because that someone could be Google.

Q5 One of my favorite points in your article was “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” How to fix that? In other words, how to build an SEO strategy that seizes all the opportunities and remains on top of all Google’s innovations?

I always catch a lot of heat for this – To me, modern SEO is a repackaged collection of marketing, website design, and public relations tactics that any self-respecting company should be doing anyway, even if search engines didn’t exist.

I’m not saying “SEO is dead” or anything so trite. I’m saying if you have a website and you’re not developing content for your target audience on a properly built website and obtaining links from other relevant websites, then why bother having a website?

I think the next evolution of SEO is putting the work back in the hands of the experts. Most SEOs are great at the tech side of things, but crap copywriters or publicists. It’s time for those roles to catch up to the modern definition of their job.

Does that mean a copywriter needs to learn the intricacies of the HREFLANG tag? Of course not. I’m saying a copywriter writes for their target audience, and these days, that audience uses search engines.

I’m already seeing this happening with my Enterprise-level clients (usually with my help), and it may take a decade or more before it trickles down to the smaller businesses. SEO won’t die, but eventually, it will stop being a specialty.

Some SEOs get angry when I say that, and it’s understandable – it means the end of their job as they know it today. The good news, it’s not going to happen overnight.

Q6 What are your favorite SEO tools?

Day-to-day, my team at @AmplitudeAgency, uses @Semrush for most tasks. For content research, I use a mix of tools, including @GoogleAds Keyword Planner and @AnswerThePublic.

When we consult for our Enterprise clients, we recommend the more extensive tools, but honestly, the whole SEO tool marketplace needs an overhaul. The day an SEO tool reorganizes its features based on organization roles, I’ll recommend it all day.

Our previous Google’s SEO chats:

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