Barry Schwartz on the Future of Search

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Barry’s observed something a bit ironic when it comes to Google’s advice to content creators: they want us to write great, in-depth articles for humans, but those humans don’t actually read very much beyond the snippets they’re served up on the search engine results page.

Last week, we had a Google rockstar in the Optily Radio virtual studio. 🤩 Barry Schwartz has been in the search world since the 90s, so he’s seen the evolution of search from its early days to the advancements (and setbacks) that time and sophistication of algorithms have brought.

We also had Randall Glick, Optily’s resident Google Guy and Product Manager, join us to give us some additional insights into how Google has evolved over the years.

Essentially, searching has gotten much easier for the user, but much more difficult for marketers trying to rank.

Here’s a teaser from the episode below and I’ll go into some of the topics we covered after. If you want to skip to the good stuff, then just scroll down to the player at the bottom and have a listen yourself.

Who are Barry and Randall?

Barry Schwartz is a huge name when it comes to most things Google (and Bing Search). Chances are you’ve stumbled across his articles on Search Engine Roundtable (which he founded) or on Search Engine Land, where he’s a News Editor. He also co-founded Rusty Brick, a web service firm based out of New York, with his brother while in high school. So, he’s been in the search game for quite a while now.

If you’re doing any kind of anything on Google (other than just searching), you’ll want to make sure you’re following him on Twitter, where he’s truly on the pulse for all updates, anomalies, and trends in the search world.

Randall Glick is Optily’s go-to guy for anything Search Marketing or Google-specific. He’s our Product Manager and has over 20 years of experience in digital, across businesses big and small. He’s also been teaching SEO, PPC, and general digital marketing tactics at various institutes across Ireland and the US. These include TU Dublin, Boston College, and the Digital Marketing Institute, to name a few.

If you’ve been keeping up with past blog posts, you’ll see us getting the expert scoop from him on all things Google news.

Now that the introductions are done, let’s get into some of the cool topics we chatted about.

What’s up with Federated Learning of Cohorts (FloC)?

Following Google’s big announcement last month about it getting rid of third-party cookies on Chrome, what they’re bringing in to fill that gap is FLoC. It will leverage first-party data across the Google network to put users into groups with others who share similar interests and demographics. So individual data will be anonymized, but advertisers will still retaining fairly granular targeting capabilities.

While there are some in the online privacy world who aren’t too happy with this either, it’s a step towards more anonymity and individual targeting.

Barry also brings up how hard it is to leave a browser once you’ve been using it. Sure, you can just install something other than Chrome and you won’t be sharing as much of your data with Google, but they’re set up as the default search engine on so many devices that it’s harder than you think.

Is the move away from third-party cookies just a ploy for more consolidation of data for platforms like Google that have so much first-party data to work with?

Featured Snippets: love ‘em or not so much?

Barry likes to point out that people don’t read. While content creators are encouraged to produce rich content that is relevant, user-friendly, and geared at humans, Google then goes and selects key snippets to show on their own. These are Featured Snippets that, in a lot of cases, just outright answer people’s questions.

So do how do we feel about Featured Snippets? Short answer: they’re pretty good.

When Google shows your site’s answer as the highlighted answer top result (or 0-position), sure you might not get 100% of people clicking into your site, but you will get visibility. And since Google doesn’t publish the stats for featured snippets (c’mon Google…) we don’t actually know exactly what the impact is.

That being said, content producers definitely tend to get peeved if someone else snags their featured snippet. So, overall it does seem like they do more good than harm (but Google, seriously, give us the Analytics!).

Big blue pineapple chair

No one is searching for this unless they have something really specific in mind. Back in the day, it was easy to rank for terms like this that were super-specific. You’d list out a bunch of permutations of the original term and put them up on your page. Now…not so much.

Just taking into account how many more sites there are to compete with and that site age is a factor in SEO, a new business has to work both harder and smarter than 5-10 years ago for organic results.

Do three-way links fool Google?

Link building is also much more complex than before. Of course, we all know that Google’s SEO algorithm is a mysterious black box that changes regularly, but there are some known elements. Links are a big factor in organic search and it makes sense when you think about it. The more authoritative a site is, the more other sites will link to it to back up their own content.

In the early days, you could buy links to seed your content out and build up a network, but now Google enforces “no-follow” link tags for links that are sponsored. While these don’t count against you, they don’t help you either.

So really, we are still doing “link building” through content, outreach, and guest posting, but it’s much more involved. You really need a robust SEO strategy, precise keyword research, and a lot more time and effort than before.

So will three-way links work? Probably not–Google’s copping on to all our tricks really fast!

Check out the show

There’s a lot more we chatted to Barry and Randall about on Episode 2, so make sure to check out the whole thing and subscribe for future episodes.

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