The landscape for search engine optimization (SEO) changes constantly, so staying on top of trends is extremely important but not always easy for sustained success.
Today’s guest is Georgios Chasiotis, Managing Director of MINUTTIA, about what to focus on with SEO in 2022. He shares insight into what SEO tactics should be used or are overused, especially when it comes to software as a service (SaaS).
Ben: Hey, Georgios. How's it going?
Georgios: Hello, Ben. Everything is going well here.
Ben: Glad to hear it. We're going to be talking about SEO trends, and how we maybe got to where we are in the SEO world throughout 2021 up to today, and where do you see things going with SEO, particularly, SEO for SaaS marketers going into 2022.
To open things up at a high level, and you can answer this question any way you'd like, how are you feeling about the state of SEO in the SaaS marketing world? What's your general sense or feeling about where things are at right now?
Georgios: First of all, I think that we can all acknowledge the fact that SEO specifically for SaaS companies is not multi-dimensional. It's not complex. Essentially, we're talking about blog posts, in many cases, with information search intent. We are talking about feature pages, assuming that the way people are searching for specific jobs that they need to do has matured and they can essentially describe what they are looking for using a search engine like Google. We are talking about alternative pages and comparison pages, which have been abused. I don't know and I'm not sure how Google is going to see that in the future and whether or not it's going to do something about it.
Just a disclaimer here, we are doing it for our clients as well. My feeling is, exactly, because it has been abused this specific con type, I feel that sooner or later they will do something about it because it's not aligned with the identity of the website, because you're not a review site in order to be able to compare yourself to a competitor, or compare two competitors with each other, or present yourself as an alternative to a specific competitor in your category.
After that abuse, I'm not sure how Google is going to treat those pages in the future and whether or not they're going to do something about it. We have alternative and comparison pages. We also have (in some cases) templates or tools and so on, depending on the category that the SaaS companies add. We are talking about an overall strategy that is not so complex and multi dimensional.
The truth is that, unfortunately, what I see is pretty much all websites are doing what every other website is doing. I feel that, especially when it comes to SaaS, partially the reason may be that it's not multi-dimensional as in other industries and categories. I feel that there is not enough creativity. There is not enough boldness in terms of the things that you try to do from an organic standpoint.
I would say that I really hope that we find more ways moving forward to be more creative about the things that we do when it comes to organic search. Try new things, experiment, and fail a lot of times in the process of discovering new ways of generating interest and demand for our websites.
Ben: All of that was great, but I especially love that last point about just encouraging people to just try new things. I think that you're right. The SaaS, SEO playbook is fairly limited. I think it is right now, at least in terms of how we as SaaS marketers tend to conceive of what's possible. So I think that that's great advice.
Looking back at 2021, just from your perspective, what do you think separated top performers in SEO from companies that have, perhaps, struggled? For companies who are successful with SEO, particularly with SaaS companies, what are the successful companies doing differently from the ones that are coming up short?
Georgios: I think that we can all agree on the fact that 2021 was a year with a lot of changes when it comes to organic search. We had many updates. We have possibly for the first time, Google essentially giving us pointers as to what is important to them when it comes to organic search.
It was a year full of changes. But I really feel that what separates top performance from all the websites and businesses, especially if we're talking about SaaS companies, SaaS companies have struggled when it comes to organic search. Obviously, exceptions apply here. We have seen this with some of our clients as well. We have experienced that.
The fact that websites that didn't do so well this year, most likely had a debt that they had to repay from the past. It may not be something that they did wrong this year, specifically, but exactly, because we had many changes this year, I guess, that the time came that they had to pay.
Once again, exceptions apply because maybe something went wrong with specific websites this year. Something can go wrong. Things can break. But all in all, I would say that a website that did great and had all the technical issues resolved offer the great overall experience in 2020. Just because 2021 was a year of changes, didn't change anything for them. I guess if anything, when someone lost from changes that happened in organic search, they must have benefited from it.
I would say that all in all, I feel—we have seen it, unfortunately, with some of our clients as well as I mentioned—that websites that were "hit" were the ones that had some debt—content, technical, whatever—that they had to repay.
Ben: I think that's great insight. I wonder what your thoughts are on this. If websites that had some type of debt, as you put it, whether that's content decay, an accumulation of technical errors, things that aren't a problem until they are a problem and then they're a huge problem, do you think that that maybe reflects a shift on Google's part toward doing more to reward sites that are trustworthy or maybe sites that just create a better experience?
Georgios: Experience definitely plays a role. We know that Google, as much as we can know at least from what Google allows us to know, Google rewards trustworthiness. They have their own measuring system when it comes to understanding whether or not a website can be considered as a trustworthy website. I would say that, unfortunately in such cases, when a website for example gets hit from an algorithm update, unless they're very specific and clear, which in most cases there are no such guidelines on Google’s part that this is why this update happened, you can't really know.
Obviously, the point that you made about experience, I think it's often overlooked. In most cases, it's overlooked. We evaluate the experience that users have on our website by using vanity metrics such as bounce rate. By the way, if on a specific page you have a high bounce rate, it's not necessarily a bad thing if the user got what they wanted from that page and then just went back. That's not a bad thing, necessarily.
At the end of day, it's not the only way to measure the success when it comes to user experience, but I would say that, all in all to answer your question, we can't really be sure as to what it is that triggered Google's flags and that eventually led a website to have a loss in organic visibility and traffic. I would say that all of these things matter. The more you optimize, the more you can be sure that I have a defensible strategy over not only this update but any other update that may come in the future.
Ben: I think that's a great answer. As you've mentioned, 2021 was a year of changes. I think if we were going to summarize 2021 in a single word, change is a pretty good word that we could use to describe shifts in the SEO landscape, but much more broadly than that as well.
One thing that I'm curious to get your thoughts on, were there any Covid-related behavior changes that you witnessed whether in the industry, or with your clients, or maybe even just as a general internet user? Were there any behavior changes? When I say behavior changes, I mean on behalf of the public customers, like people using Google.
Was there any widespread change that you saw that might have been related to Covid in 2021 that would have had an impact on SEO? The reason why I ask is because in 2020, lots of people are spending more time on the internet, because more people were spending more time indoors. Still, somewhat the case in 2021, but not to the same extent. I'm just curious if there's anything with that, that you saw really make an impact?
Georgios: That's a very good question. I must say that, like most agencies or businesses, website owners and so on, we have witnessed all these drop when the whole situation with Covid came up back in March 2020. After that, because we are mostly working with SaaS companies, we have seen a growth in some particular categories because we happen to have elearning SaaS, for example. We have seen an even faster and higher growth.
After that, I must say that things have been stagnant for a while. Now, I feel and we see—in many cases, not in all cases—that there is an increase in demand as well. When it comes to what has changed, at least from my point of view when it comes to the users and their behavior, I think that we all can agree on one thing. The fact that if anything, Covid has accelerated, what would have happened either way?
This is more people using the Internet and more people having a very specific opinion on how they want their experience to be. I would say that the biggest change that I personally can see is the fact that throughout that very short timeframe, Internet users and people who search online have reached a level of sophistication when it comes to how they expect their experience to be. It's definitely due to the acceleration that happened in this short timeframe.
I feel that from the point that someone hasn't used Zoom (for example) in the past, now, not only they use Zoom and they can understand the experience, but they have certain expectations from the experience, which in the past could happen if someone was a user of Zoom, for example, for two, three, four years instead of just a few months. I would say that, if anything, users expect a way better user experience. This whole thing has been accelerated due to Covid.
Ben: Absolutely. I have no disagreements there or whatsoever. I think that's a great response. You kind of touched on this a little bit at the start of this conversation when you're talking about comparison pages and why Google might not trust you as a website owner to honestly compare yourself to someone else, because you know who wins those matchups 100% of the time. What are some other formerly taught tactics that used to work in SEO that you think will maybe become less important or less effective in 2022?
Georgios: That's a great question. Many times I asked myself, how is it possible that Google can't catch that? We all know that link building when it comes to organic search works, and works wonders, in some cases. What I don't understand is how is it possible that Google still can’t catch the fact that this link back to a specific page (let’s say) of a SaaS company is from a website that's irrelevant, from a page that's irrelevant, from a passage inside the page that's irrelevant? In many cases with an anchor text, that seems biased or that seems not so naturally placed.
Once again, we all know that link building works and it is a very big part of search of the whole web, but I really do hope that Google gets better and that it can really identify whether or not this placement is biased, and give credit to the links that actually haven't been placed because of an exchange or something like that.
Once again, link building is a very big part of organic search and the way people are discovering new content online, and so on and so forth. I want to believe that Google eventually will become smart enough in order for that not to happen and the websites that truly deserve the credit because they have backlinks that were naturally earned that they will get the credit.
Ben: I would love to see that become a reality as well. I feel like I see a fair amount of somewhat questionable link building going on that might look sketchy for any number of reasons. I'll just ask myself the same thing. How is this still working?
We've been told that so many tactics are "dead" for years, and yet they persist. I'm in strong agreement with that. To kind of play off of that questions, too, or to continue that thought, there's something that has really been at the front of my mind when it comes to link building for a long time. I have my own opinions on it, but those opinions are biased just from my own role and experience with it.
What is your opinion on the effectiveness of guest blogging for links? I get tons of outreach from people looking to guest blog, looking for link placements, looking for all this kind of stuff. To be 100% transparent, some of that outreach is legitimate, and some of it seems fairly disingenuous.
Regardless of any of that, we know that Google tells us—I can't remember the name of the document is—search best practice guidelines or whatever; they have a page for it. It tells you not to do this. They tell you not to guest blog just to try to gain links. It’s that or it's something similar to that, too, like reciprocal linking is something it tells you or they advise you not to do.
But as we know, there's a really big gap between what Google tells you what to do or not to do versus sometimes what actually works and you've got a business to run. Business owners and marketers want to do what works. I'm just curious to know, what's your opinion? What are your thoughts on all of that?
Georgios: That's a great question. First of all, let me just say that when it comes to reciprocal linking, we definitely advise against it. Then when it comes to guest blogging for our clients, we would generally advise against it.
If you think about it, someone who wants to add a post on your blog, chances are, they are not going to do the best they can when it comes to how they will create the content. Chances are, it's not going to be according to your standards for your own blog.
Unfortunately, the reason why this happens is because link building is, in most cases, purely transactional. I'll give you this "free content," for example, and I will get a link back to my resources, and so on and so forth. But as I see it nowadays, considering EAT that's important for Google as well, we advise against guest blogging from the perspective of we accept guest posts on our blog, because we feel that on an author level, it's not easy to build [...], for example, as an authority when it comes to marketing topics.
Imagine now, if you have 100 different authors on your blog just because you accept "free content" from people who want to (essentially) get the link back to their own websites or partners' websites, and so on and so forth.
Let's use as an example the legal space. Let's say that you have a blog that discusses legal topics. If you can have popular authorities, for example, to come and write an article on your blog—do not overdo it or abuse this tactic—this person in the eyes of Google—as Google defines authoritativeness, trustworthiness, expertise, and so on and so forth—is most likely an expert. We assume that you will get something from that association, but having someone who, unfortunately, isn't an expertise or an authority in this particular field that your website is all about, I wouldn't say that this is a good tactic to follow.
If we talk about, we want to do guest posting in other websites, I would essentially give you the same advice. Okay, go and do it, but choose only websites that are very close to your capabilities. Do not overdo it because something may not be a problem if not done at scale, but when things are done at scale, this is where things get noticed by Google and bad things can happen.
I would say that choose websites wisely. You can do that. Once again, what we advise nowadays to our clients, stop accepting guest posts. If you really want to build little authorities inside your blog, do that. Accepting guest posts, even though tempting at first, I don't think will help you achieve that.
Ben: I think that makes sense. That's actually really refreshing to hear because I feel like that cuts against the grain of a lot of "conventional wisdom." I will say that that's definitely in line with a lot of my own suspicions on the practice, so I appreciate having your insight there.
The last question I'll throw your way. What are some of the top tactics that you think are going to become more important in 2022? These can be things that no one's really talking about right now. They could be things that are trending or being discussed heavily right now. But really, what I would like to know is from your perspective, what are the things that we need to be prioritizing in the next year?
Georgios: I think that if we take a step back here and think what are the things that most brands and websites compete against each other on Google, we will make a very short list. This short list, probably, the number one will be content. Number two will be links. Most websites, unfortunately, compete on content and links.
This means that this space is saturated. You don't want to compete on content and links. For example, when it comes to AI-generated content, you can't even compete because someone can just get a subscription in an AI-generated content tool and create content at scale. Or when it comes to backlinks, you don't want to compete on backlinks because a brand with deeper pockets can just outrank you at no time.
I would say that it's easy to compete on these things. At the same time, it's extremely difficult for the reasons that I just mentioned, it's really saturated. What we don't talk as much about and maybe it's definitely less saturated is user experience. We don't compete. There is not so much competition when it comes to user experience. When I talk about user experience, once again, I'm not referring to bounce rate, because most people think that user experience is bounce rate.
User experience is not bounce rate. We have to think about first meaningful outcomes when it comes to our website. We have to think about the wow factor. Meaning, can you make people who land on a page on your website feel excited about what they see, what they experience at this given moment?
If you are like me or like most people, you don't get to experience that very often. This is why when I see something that excites me, I take a screenshot of it because it's really rare. I feel that user experience is one of the things that, once again, is not saturated as content and links are. It's maybe not so difficult to compete.
Let me just give you an example here. A couple of months ago, three or four months ago, we applied an optimization to two of our clients' website on their blog. The only thing that we did is that we optimized the above the fold experience. Essentially, we tried to optimize what people see once they land on the page without having to scroll down. In both cases, we have seen great results without implementing any other change up to that point.
We have seen great results both in terms of organic impressions, organic visibility (let's say), and organic clicks. In another case, what we did is that we pushed the important information right in the intro. People could get the answer to what they were looking for right from the intro. Of course, this got us the picture snippet, and so on and so forth. From a guy that was 5000–6000 words long or something like that, giving a great experience to people is, once again, less saturated and definitely overseen. I feel that it's going to play a key role moving forward.
Another thing that I feel is often overlooked and definitely less saturated is brand. Let's say that you compete for some keywords with Amazon. Chances are that if you compete on the first page with a brand like Amazon, you are going to lose that battle because even if they rank in a lower position, chances are that they are going to get the click. Why? Because they have the brand.
Now, can every brand become Amazon? Obviously not. But you can try to become the Amazon of your category. I would say that in general, when it comes to organic search, brand is going to play and should play a role as well.
If you think about it, those two things—the user experience that I mentioned and brand—as I see it at least, are not as saturated once again as content and backlinks. Everyone can play the content and backlinks game. Not everyone can build a brand and not everyone can create a wow moment for their website visitors.
Ben: That is spot on, I think. I'm glad to hear that from your perspective—this is just what this sounds like to me—the brands that succeed and the companies that succeed in 2022, probably companies that are succeeding right now are probably succeeding because they're doing this. They're doing things that you can't copy. There's no skyscraper technique for stealing your brand. A lot of those UX things that you mentioned, like creating a great user experience, takes a lot of work.
I'm really heartened to hear that coming from someone like yourself who works with a lot of clients. You've got your finger on the pulse of these things, from getting to see so many different clients and getting to work on so many different websites. It's very heartening for me to hear that that is the direction we are moving in, and maybe a way from some of these other things that were maybe easier but provide people with less value.
Georgios: Yes. Also, as I mentioned, most brands compete there. Everyone can play, as I mentioned. Especially if you have deep pockets, you can play the link building game. You can start buying links, you can hire an agency, you can build a team in-house, whatever. Everyone can create content. They can create deeper content and they can create content by using content optimization tools. Brands can do that and websites can do that. But not everyone, as I mentioned, can create wow moments for their users.
Just to give an example here. I remember back in the day when I tried for the first time the headline analyzer by CoSchedule, this was a wow moment for me. I was like, okay, that's interesting. I didn't expect that. I didn't see that coming. From that point onwards, the name CoSchedule just stick with me.
I feel that I still remember this experience because I remember how it made me feel. Unfortunately, once again, you don't get to experience that so often. At the same time for brand, as I mentioned previously, brand as I understand it, at least from an organic standpoint, is not your colors, your logo and these things. No. Just to give you an example here, let's say that you're searching for something that has to do with sales and you just happen to see in the search results a result by Gung, which if you ask me, is doing amazing marketing right now. Brand is that, okay, I'm going to click on that result because I have seen those guys and they are doing great things.
I think this can be a differentiator for you and your brand. Obviously, it's not easy, but I think that we have to understand the fact that nowadays, we compete on different levels, and you just have to choose wisely what are these things that you want to compete with other websites when it comes to organic search.
Ben: For sure. Excellent advice all around there. Thanks so much, Georgios, for coming on the show. This has been a fantastic conversation. I feel like I personally got a lot out of this. I'm sure that our listeners will agree. Before I let you go, if people want to find you or your agency online, what are the best places for them to go?
Georgios: If you want to learn more things about our work and what we do, go on at minuttia.com and check us out. If you want to get in touch with me personally, I'm most active on LinkedIn at Georgios Chasiotis. Feel free to reach out. Feel free to get in touch. It was really, really nice talking to you, Ben.
Ben Sailer has over 14 years of experience in the field of marketing. He is considered an expert in inbound marketing through his incredible skills with copywriting, SEO, content strategy, and project management.
Ben is currently an Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic, working to grow WordPress.com as the top managed hosting solution for WordPress websites. WordPress is one of the most powerful website creation tools in the industry.
In this role, he looks to attract customers with content designed to attract qualified leads. Ben plays a critical role in driving the growth and success of a company by attracting and engaging customers through relevant and helpful content and interactions.
Ben works closely with senior management to align the inbound marketing efforts with the overall business objectives. He continuously measures the effectiveness of marketing campaigns to improve them. He is also involved in managing budgets and mentoring the inbound marketing team.