Lior Wiznitzer, Director of SEO & Content at Natural Intelligence, heads the search engine optimization and content strategy across the company’s comparison websites. He has 11 years’ experience in digital marketing and was appointed to his current role in June 2019.
NS: What is one SEO tip you feel every digital marketer should know?
Think about the user. The more you understand your users, their intent, what motivates them—the better you are at actually serving them the content they’re looking for and at getting them to convert.
Once you understand user intent, it’s straightforward: create amazing content. Everyone keeps on saying this, but nowadays it’s much more relevant than ever. In your articles, your content, use real experts with real credentials that understand the field. Make sure your content covers all the relevant information the user needs in order to make a decision—especially if your competitors are [currently] providing more information than you. Keep in mind that content can be delivered in many ways: images, videos, comparison tables, widgets. Make sure you understand what the users are most interested in, what kind of content they’re looking for. A lot of users who type in queries are just looking for a quick video that explains something. Other users would like comparison tables. It’s dependent on the query itself.
Of course, always be unique. I’m not necessarily talking about not duplicating content, but you need to stand out or at least make sure you seem better than your competition—and to make sure your content is relevant and up-to-date.
NS: Is there an inherent contradiction in simultaneously writing for user intent and SEO?
I think this question is no longer relevant. Google became much more semantic after the RankBrain algorithm change [in 2015, which saw machine learning become a component of Google’s search algorithm]. Nowadays, I instruct the team to guide the content to the users. I think these days the search engines are smart enough to understand the SEO value of that. You can always optimize the headers, the meta titles, and make sure that all the technical stuff is working enough in your favor in terms of [SEO] optimization. But the text should be user-oriented and not robot-oriented.
NS: What are the main SEO challenges you think marketers will face in the next 3-5 years?
As I see it, we’re going to face basically 2 main challenges in the future when it comes to Google. We are already seeing the roots of this change.
The first challenge is that Google is shifting from search engine to portal. We see Google getting into more verticals and basically competing for traffic: in flights, hotels, and let’s not forget YouTube—which is the second-biggest search engine. Nowadays, we see Google getting and then competing on search queries with publishers.
In addition, we’re seeing this whole zero-click search phenomenon. In Q1 2019, more than 50% of Google searches ended without a click to a website. This is very alarming. Basically, users are just kept within the search engine results page. You type in a query, you get the result, but you don’t really continue to the website.
NS: Is that because users are stopping at the featured snippets that show up in a box on search engine results pages, such as a company’s phone number or the answer to a question?
Exactly. On one hand, this creates an advantage, because you get more eyes on your brand. On the other hand, they [the users] don’t need to enter the website. This is a big deal. We had an unwritten rule with Google—and they seem to be changing the rules. The deal was: we provided the content, we built websites, and we let Google crawl our websites for free and present that information to users. In return, Google would index our websites and reward the sites with the best content so that users would click onto their site and eventually convert.
“In Q1 2019, more than 50% of Google searches ended without a click to a website… We had an unwritten rule with Google, and they seem to be changing the rules.”
Nowadays, I feel that we keep on feeding the monster. In some cases, the site is just redundant because the user gets all the information they need, very quickly, on the SERP [search engine results page] itself, and doesn’t come to the site. I see this trend becoming much more aggressive as Google tries to compete [against publishers] on [attracting] users. That will be a major challenge for marketers and SEOs: on the one hand, to get the exposure; and on the other to actually get the users onto their website.
The second biggest challenge, which is very much related to the first, is machine learning and AI. We’ll see more personalized results based on the user’s search history and user intent. Algorithm updates are becoming much more frequent, and I think it’s safe to say that machine learning is the next step in search engine evolution. Google will rely much more on machine learning and will learn to segment the users better and segment the queries better. If you search for a term on Google, you’ll get very personalized results based perhaps on your income level or your past searches.
To take an example from Natural Intelligence’s meal deliveries website: Google will recognize if you’re vegetarian and only show you vegetarian results when you search for meal deliveries.
This is going to be a huge challenge because nowadays we’re targeting the same search engine results page for all users. We need to start thinking about segmenting the different searches by user intent. The user will get the answer that is the right answer for him or her. We need to be able to target users and think about search in this context.
NS: As was discussed in a previous Natural Intelligence blog post, Google began implementing mobile-first indexing a couple of years ago. In 2019, how much of your energy goes toward SEO for mobile users?
Nowadays, 3 out of 5 user searches are made by mobile and in some cases—depending on the vertical and type of query—90%-92% of searches are made by mobile. In the last few years, conversion and transactions have become much more mobile-friendly. It has become easier to perform transactions using a mobile form.
To answer your question: it’s almost 100% of our energy. It’s not like we needed to have a major shift in focus or anything like that, because I think we’ve already implemented the mobile SERP approach.
What I would say is that the work with the product and dev teams have become much tighter in the last couple of years and that we are investing more resources to serve users the best possible experience on their mobile devices. In the past, I think SEO was not really at the center when it came to cross-company cooperation and cross-company projects.
When Lior needs SEO inspiration, he goes to:
- SEO by the Sea: A blog that focuses on the analysis of patent filings and whitepapers submitted by Google to try and uncover some of the assumptions and processes behind how search engines work.
- Neil Patel: “One of the best online marketers out there in my opinion. Always fun to read his posts and tweets.”
- The Tim Ferriss Show: Author of the 4-hour workweek. In each episode, Tim deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use.
NS: Before we finish, could you provide an example from your time in SEO where you turned a failure into success?
Let’s start with failure. First of all, I think that in SEO, failure is crucial. If you don’t have failures, it means you aren’t experimenting enough. You basically need to test all the time, to change titles, to update text. Sometimes you will get the boot from Google; you’ll get kicked out of the first SERP or out of the search results altogether. But I think the important thing is that you learn from your mistakes and to take calculated risks while trying things out. Don’t put all your eggs in 1 basket.
I can give 2 examples of rather embarrassing failures. The root of the problem is that there are failures of communication between different departments in big organizations—between different departments and the SEO team.
One example I can think of happened with the migration of rather large websites from WordPress to another CMS [content management system]. Once the project was launched and the site was live, IT forgot to change the no-follow [tag, which tells search engines not to follow a webpage] to follow, because the no-follow had been switched on in the staging environment. This failure was just a matter of not working according to protocol and clear SEO QA, [not] working together with the IT team to make sure every part of the migration worked. This was just one small thing, but it’s kind of embarrassing to launch the project without that—even though it can be fixed in seconds.
The second example is keyword cannibalization. Different departments work on a website. It’s not that uncommon that 2 pages will compete for the same keywords, especially where the content department and SEO department are not fully aligned on the strategy. That’s redundant. You really need to focus your effort [on one page]. Eventually, the other page will disappear from the SERP so there is no point wasting your resources on that one.
What I’m really trying to say is that communication is everything. It’s not enough to have a solid SEO strategy. You need to make sure that everyone involved is aligned with the strategy, and that they understand the risks and the rewards.
NS: And a success story?
In the early days of my SEO career, I did this project for this well-known Israeli fashion brand. Basically we needed to get a lot of backlinks and mentions to the site blog, so we just reached out to Israeli fashion bloggers to ask them if they would like to review the different products that the company had and just basically write about them in their blog. It was a win-win situation where the bloggers got a lot of freebies and a reason to write about something and the brand got around 100 backlinks in one month and social traffic. The site really started climbing up the SERPs very quickly. I thought it was super cool to see how symbiotic the work with the bloggers was and how quickly Google reacted to real brand signals and real authority links, people actually talking about your brand—and how it impacts your search visibility.