Bruce, currently president of Bruce Clay, Inc; has operated as an executive with several high-technology businesses, and comes from a long career as a technical executive with leading Silicon Valley firms, and since 1996 in the Internet Business Consulting arena. Bruce holds a BS in Math and Computer Science and also has his MBA from Pepperdine University, has had many articles published, has been a speaker at over 100 sessions including Search Engine Strategies, WebmasterWorld, ad:Tech, Search Marketing Expo Advanced, and many more, and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, PC Week, Wired Magazine, Smart Money, several books, and many other publications. He has also been featured on many podcasts and WebmasterRadio shows, as well as appearing on the NHK TV special “Google’s Deep Impact”. He has personally authored many advanced search engine optimization tools that are available from his company web sites. He has also co-authored the latest Search Engine Optimization All-in-One for Dummies, which is now available for order on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and Borders.com.
Social’s impact on SEO
Eric Enge: Let’s start with a broad question. What are your thoughts on how SEO and social will play together?
Bruce Clay: Social has a broad interpretation based on who you are. To consumers and individuals social is Facebook, and to businesses social is LinkedIn. Overlaying that is the Twitter phenomenon.
When you start thinking about how they interact with SEO, those and other features have totally transformed the concept of SEO and how it fits into Internet marketing. In the beginning, there was SEO and pay-per-click and that was Internet marketing.
Now, everyone is starting to think about redesigning their sites, especially for the social signals and the personalization components Google has brought to the market. Analytics has become more about conversion rate optimization rather than just traffic. So, it really is Internet market optimization and not simply SEO anymore.
Social is different from SEO, but yet it impacts SEO.
There is an overlap. Social is different from SEO, but it impacts SEO and vice versa. I don’t think any of the main six disciplines of Internet marketing are going to be islands anymore. We are going to see social permeate almost everything we think about.
There is a nice video called Social Media Revolution 3 based on the Socialnomics book by Eric Qualman. It includes statistics such as if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest country on the planet. Also, if you look at the followers of the top five people on the web, they have more followers than Chile and many other countries.
Social involvement requires you to pay attention to it on a regular basis. I started using social as a news feed because many of my friends are my colleagues, and they post interesting articles which help my research.
I would imagine in certain societies of the world, social will be almost everything because it’s on a mobile device.
With all these social media platforms, you have to ask, “what is the saturation for college students, people under the age of 18?” They don’t watch TV anymore. We are in a period of speed and ease of finding things that we have never seen before. I think it’s only going to accelerate. Every company has to embrace social right now because two years from now will be too late.
I think in a couple of years, it will be almost impossible to establish a brand.
Search and print media will not help you build a brand the way they did before. If television is the only way you build a brand, you are building a brand for a shrinking audience. We have to understand social is here to stay and we have to embrace it. I think in a couple of years, it will be almost impossible to establish a brand.
There are still things to work out. I don’t know if people are going to respond to Twitter having ads. Also, there are privacy and spam issues. However, at the end of the day, I think half the traffic to a website will be social and half of it will be search marketing.
Eric Enge: Half and half?
Bruce Clay: Yes, when I pay attention to my own behavior I see it shifting. In the past, I would open my computer, boot it up, check my email, open a browser and go to various sites to gather news, read, and do research. Now I open my computer and go to Facebook. Of course, I check my email but, while it’s downloading, I go to Facebook and may not get back to my email for an hour.
I spend more time doing social research and following the industry than going to a site like Search Engine Land and reading their articles.
I have more confidence in my friends than in spammers. When one of my colleagues says this is a good site, I am more willing to go to that site and stay on it. That’s going to have an impact on SEO because if I trust it and like it, I will link to it. People will engage in conversations about it, people will Tweet about it which will lead to a lot of traffic. I think between the traffic and the awareness, it’s good for SEO. Social is here to stay and it’s going to be a big influence.
Eric Enge: There are a few points I want to highlight. First, Twitter has become my RSS feed reader. I find a lot of content I check out from my Twitter stream is from people I know. This tells me what to focus on. I now do that instead of using Google Reader.
The other interesting aspect you mentioned that interacts with SEO is when you see something recommended by your friend you are more likely to go read it and it may also increase your likelihood to link to it.
Bruce Clay: I think the endorsement is even stronger because this is a friend who went out of their way to tell other people about it which strengthens my willingness to link to it.
The Outlook for Facebook
Eric Enge: What’s your perception of the threat Facebook poses to Google?
Bruce Clay: I think Facebook is a problem for Google, and it’s one of the reasons both the +1 buttons and Google+ were created. However, I am not sure if Google+ will upset Facebook. I think Facebook is stable at this point, and Google had no choice but to invent its own social network. Yet, people will be reluctant to trust Google with their personal and friend type data. People gripe about how every two weeks there is a new format or a new bug in the Facebook world, but I don’t see people leaving it.
Some games are leaving due to the bureaucracy of the Facebook world, but people are still on Facebook. I think Facebook has a phenomenal influence on how people do things and how people communicate.
Eric Enge: In May, a Facebook spokesperson commented that the number of Facebook users in the U.S. and Canada dropped and once you reach approximately 50% penetration growth slows or even stops. This suggests if you have 50% penetration with Facebook, there is 50% who aren’t on Facebook.
Those people may be doing other things from a social perspective, certainly, they may be texting. Do you think looking forward we are going to have a situation where you have a lot of people using social, but it’s not everybody so we still have to deal with those other folks?
Facebook has become embedded into the way you connect socially.
Bruce Clay: No, I think people who are not on Facebook are people who do not depend on a computer connection for their day-to-day life and text and email is all they need. They don’t have a website, they don’t care about going to websites, they don’t need to do a lot of research, they are happy to watch television.
The fact that the number of Facebook users dropped indicates there are more social media options now. Is everybody on Skype? No. Does everybody like the idea of a free phone call? Yes. Are there other options? Sure. People flirt around and they try this and they try that.
I think one of the reasons Facebook had a drop is their policy against gaming sites. Many of the games that were the most popular within the Facebook world went off to their own servers. People don’t have to use Facebook anymore to play the games they learned about on Facebook.
I know when I am sitting in my house, all our phones are pinging constantly, and it’s us simply sending messages to each other, but this demonstrates that there are a lot of people socially connected and they are active in the space.
I think Facebook is no longer a fad and is past a MySpace-style splash. Facebook has become embedded into the way you connect socially.
Google searches are also dropping and people are switching to Facebook. There are other people looking at the second largest search property, YouTube. These people may not need Facebook, and YouTube serves their entertainment needs. For academics, there is Wikipedia. There are 2.2 million pages on Wikipedia, and it would take 123 years to read.
Google+ and the +1 buttons
Eric Enge: What about Google+? Is it something you think has a chance of succeeding?
Bruce Clay: I think the obstacle is that people will be reluctant to login and share their information with Google. I don’t like that I have to log in when I click the +1 button. It isn’t about whether I liked the page, it’s about the fact that I don’t want to give away my data. I think that’s going to be the barrier to Google.
We placed the +1 button on our website and there has not been a lot of participation with it. People aren’t going to want to tell Google who they are and what they are looking at because they think that only serves Google.
Eric Enge: Of course, you have to do that with Facebook, you have to be logged in.
Bruce Clay: Yes, but Facebook is not Google. Facebook doesn’t have twenty other businesses that can use your data. If I choose to leave Facebook the only one who has my data is Facebook. With Google, everybody has my data, or at least Google can continue to use my data because I gave it to them. Google is much bigger than Facebook when it comes to the potential use of information about me, at least that’s the perception.
Eric Enge: Google did promote this notion of better privacy as a differentiation. Do you think there is still a problem with privacy because Google has so many different businesses that can use the data?
Bruce Clay: I want to state that I love Google, and they have done more good than harm. However, fear, uncertainty, and doubt are the biggest problems Google faces when getting into social. I don’t think that same level of fear exists on Facebook.
I think Google has the potential to do really great things in the social space; however, I want it to be easier to use and I want to enter it in a fearless fashion instead of a concerned fashion.
Bing’s collaboration with Facebook
Eric Enge: Does Bing plus Facebook have enough behind it to steal some market share? Recently, I interviewed Stefan Weitz from Bing and we talked a lot about Bing’s integration of Facebook data into their search engine.
Stefan painted a vision of doing different and interesting levels of integration. For example, if you were looking for a restaurant in Austin, you could enter this in your search query and it would tell you which of your friends liked the restaurant and, down the road, it might tell you where they are now and offer to book a reservation from the search results.
Essentially, search becomes an aggregating point for these different services and allows you to go to one place and get the whole job done right there. That’s the picture Stefan painted for me. What do you think about this direction Bing is taking with Facebook? Is it enough to increase their market share?
Likes are the new links, a true testimonial.
Bruce Clay: Yes, I think it is a possibility. You have heard me speak in conferences where I said Likes are the new links.
If a friend gives me a testimonial statement, I will consider it to be more valuable than someone who went out and bought some links and, therefore, ranks for things. It’s more trustworthy and personal. I know what their likes are, I respect their likes, and they say they like it.
It’s a true testimonial where links are not. If I have never been there and somebody says “hey, if you really want Thai food this is the best place in the city” and two or three of my friends say that I am all over it. So, I think it’s going to be a significant contributor to a way people make decisions online. Until Google figures it out with their own Google+, I think Bing has an advantage.
There are the microformats that Google is publishing and expert sites like Yelp and Edmunds; however, I don’t think any of them can stand up to a recommendation from people I know. I think Bing is smart to pursue this. Google will also need to pursue it.
Eric Enge: Yes, I agree. I actually published an article recently on the PubCon blog called: “BingBook is a threat”.
Bruce Clay: Remember Netscape?
Eric Enge: I do.
Bruce Clay: Netscape had a 72% market share and was unseated by IE that grew to almost 80% market share, but that is now down to 40% or so due to inroads by Firefox. Now there is Chrome which may put a damper on Bing’s aspirations (note: Chrome is edging up 20% market share).
Google+ will become more accepted because Chrome is going to give Google the ability to establish their own reputation. If people start using Chrome, the login process won’t be such a barrier. I think Google has enough influence and no matter what Bing does it isn’t going to jump by 5%. It’s going to keep it rather dampened because it’s hard to overcome the Google engine.
Eric Enge: People have the comfort of Google being where they search.
Bruce Clay: When I do surveys and ask people where they search, they are searching at Google. Then I ask how many people search at Bing and it’s approximately 5% of the audience. I think more of the world is using Bing. I think they may be easily swayed by the social interaction which could give Bing a fighting chance.
I don’t think Bing is going away, but I think it’s going to float around 14% for a long time. Google’s focus is local. It will dominate the local results area quickly and switch to social as a major part of it. A year later, they will switch from social to news because whoever controls news controls the people. With the combination of social and news, Google has a formidable chance of domination, and Bing will have a bit of a problem. Today, Bing isn’t my go-to engine, and I don’t know if the testimonials will push me over that tipping point.
Eric Enge: You mentioned Chrome. I recently saw data that said it was up to 21% market share?
Bruce Clay: Wouldn’t that be something, to see yet another change. The bigger and more important a platform is, like a browser, the more fickle people are. They want service. They want it to do what they want and they want it done before they even know it’s what they want to do. They want the browser to open fast and go to pages fast. People are becoming less willing to wait.
That’s one of the reasons texting and Twitter works so well. People don’t want to wait and they don’t want to hunt. They want to find, they want the data to come to them in a language they understand, they want it short and concise, and not a thousand words of content.
The way we expect to interact with our world is changing
Eric Enge: What else would you like to add about changing user behavior? Will the role of the browser diminish?
Bruce Clay: Many universities have stopped assigning email addresses to students because text is the way people communicate and socially it is the way people meet. An environment that allows me to communicate from any device, from wherever I am, and send and receive messages directly to people who I have established contact points with, is going to change the behavior of people using browsers.
If I can solve most of my need for information without having to go to a browser and run a search and stay there, I will. You could go into a store and say “hey, everybody which of these two products do you think is the best,” and get answers in minutes. That’s not something you are going to do on a browser.
The kid now does not even watch television anymore because it’s not interactive.
I watched a keynote presenter in Toronto that was talking about her 2-year old son. He knew how to play Angry Birds on an iPad, how to change from screen to screen by moving the finger around, and how to click on the icon to play the game. He walked up to the plasma television and tried to change the screen by sliding his finger on the front of the plasma and got frustrated because it wouldn’t do it. He doesn’t watch television anymore because it’s not interactive.
If we take that to the next level, in five years from now the audience we are dealing with is going to be dependent on that interaction. Websites that are not engaging will be left behind by sites that are engaging. Companies that don’t monitor, adhere, and respond on service level requests in minutes will be considered old-style companies and will be left behind.
Local drycleaners, plumbers, CPAs, and lawyers are either going to respond in minutes to an inquiry that is online or potential customers are going to go elsewhere.
I think this changes the perception of Internet marketing. It impacts the concept of where did the traffic come from, what is their persona, what is their community, what is their intent, and how do I service them.
These factors rewrite everything, and how we rewrite SEO and our pay-per-click ads, and how we engage on ad networks that are social-based within Facebook. Companies that haven’t recently or aren’t currently in a redesign effort of their website will be left behind.
Eric Enge: The way people expect to interact is changing. As you eluded to earlier, you have a need for immediacy and very high levels of interactions. If companies don’t get that, they will be seen as old and behind the times and will not fit in.
Bruce Clay: I think that’s the way the world is going.
Eric Enge: We also have Android. I recently saw data that said Android was now the #1 phone OS in the U.S.
Bruce Clay: I think we are going to see the desktop and mobile operating systems start to merge and see desktops with touch screen monitors where you can slide things.
I think we are going to see the Windows pad, or at least the Chrome pad, come on strong because it’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. I think Apple will keep a share, but I think Android will drive many of the applications in the desktop interfaces. Android is big.
Eric Enge: Thanks Bruce!
Eric Enge leads the Digital Marketing practice for Perficient Digital. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO. Learn More About Eric Enge