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After Google: Should SEOs Jump Ship?



After Google: Should SEOs Jump Ship?

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

There was a pre-search-engine age. It’s hard to conceive of now, but there was. Even in the early days of search engines, when Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, and Excite still competed for the crown, I can remember web portals. Pages that I’d start at, in the “computer room” at school, to navigate and explore the web not by searching, but by clicking on organized links.

In the beginning, there were web portals. The internet was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.

These were already the death throes of a previous internet age. Search engine dominance, and specifically Google dominance, has been the norm for this kind of journey for decades now. It’s all that many SEOs have ever known.

But what comes next?

People have talked for a long time about existential threats to Google’s dominance, and often, implicitly, by extension, SEO. You’ll have heard the claims that Amazon or YouTube are now preferred engines for certain kinds of search, or that Google is going to struggle against the unique technological advantages of Apple, AI chatbots, the unique regional advantages of Baidu, or the unique format advantages of TikTok. Or maybe you’ve even heard that people prefer to restrict their searches only to Reddit. Even mainstream outlets are suggesting that Google search quality may be in decline.

This post is not about the health of Google search as a product, or about the implications of improving AI products for your SEO strategy right now. (Although, I know of at least one post for this blog being written on that topic!) Instead, this post is about which of these threats, if any, actually stand a chance of unseating Google’s dominance.

In what capacity?

To ask what might take Google’s role, we must first ask what role it is that we’re interested in. Google is many things, and possibly part of the reason Google’s doom is so often predicted is that we’re not always talking about the same specific things.

What exactly is it that search engines as a genre, and then Google, have dominated? Perhaps we might mean:

  • The place you’d start to find a web page on a site you’ve not yet discovered? For example, you might not know yet what the best site is for a given topic.

  • The place you’d start to find a web page on a site you’re already familiar with? Perhaps you’re searching on Google hoping to see a result from Reddit, or from Wikipedia.

  • The place you’d start to answer a given question? So maybe you’d be happy with a non-web result as long as it answered your question.

  • The place you’d start to complete a task? So, again, the best answer might not be a web page at all.

The truth is that the present reality blurs these use cases to the point of it not being useful to separate them. But for Google to be replaced by something that maintains this close alignment, it’d have to be a close peer competitor.

The obvious pretenders

There are two that come to mind, as similarly resourced companies trying similar things via a similar method (a web index): Bing and Apple.

I don’t want to be dismissive of Bing, or of the value of someone — anyone — else maintaining a similar enough competitor to keep Google somewhat honest. Although it’s often mocked in SEO circles, Bing in reality is not so many years behind Google at any given point. But, really, it’s hard to see the events that could lead to Bing supplanting Google at its own game. It’s just too similar for people to make the switch. One possibility based on recent news is for Bing to become less similar, pursuing one of the precise alternatives I’ll cover below – but more on that when we get to it.

Apple, on the other hand, is doing something similar, but with some unique advantages. I must credit my former colleague (and 2023 Mozcon speaker) Tom Anthony who has been very prescient around Apple’s moves in this space, going so far as to backward-engineer Apple search results that weren’t supposed to be publicly available. Apple can do things that Bing can’t, leveraging Apple’s app ecosystem and device integration to provide search results that skip certain steps of a user journey in ways that Google cannot, or will not.

The trouble with Apple as a Google search competitor is obvious, though. The unique advantages, as I said, are to do with apps and hardware. Apple devices are expensive — prohibitively so. (This varies by market – in the US, with the base price of a phone contract being so high, iPhones are more palatable and have a notably higher market share than in Europe, for example. But, that’s a topic for another day – either way…). There is a fairly hard cap on the market share of a search engine that is only superior on high-end devices, and not only that, but ones from a specific brand.

So could Apple take a big chunk out of Google? Yes, it may already quietly have done so with various iOS changes pushing the prevalence of Apple’s own search results. But totally replace Google? Very unlikely.

You can say the same for regional competitors like Baidu, Yandex, or Naver. These may well consistently beat out Google in their own backyards, and perhaps even spread to nearby countries and regions, but it’s hard to see them beating Google in its own backyard(s).

Revolution, not evolution

So what about competitors that replace Google by doing something totally different, to solve the same problems? The reality is that a lot of the problems we solve right now with web search, are not actually well suited to web search. The fact that something like a Google Home will often answer your questions by essentially reading out a featured snippet is a symptom of Google’s dominance, not a symptom of web search being well suited to that use case. Even Google themselves recognize this, and betray that in tools like Google Translate, clocks, calculators, and so on, embedded in SERPs. So who might the more disruptive threats be?

One name that came up a lot in 2022 is TikTok, and I’d point you to this excellent post by Lidia Infante on this very blog. To sum up her argument, TikTok can take market share from Google, but it can’t replace Google entirely. TikTok is too specialized (in video format and certain topic areas), and the quality assurance is too weak. So, again, we have a competitor that chips away at Google without replacing it.

Then of course, most recently, SEOs of Twitter have been right to point out that for many queries, ChatGPT produces better responses than Google. Take this example, “excel query for extraction the domain name from a url”:

The ChatGPT result above is far more informative and easy to follow. However, like TikTok, this only works for certain things. ChatGPT is not a web search engine:

So you have to be willing to abandon the premise that your result should be a web page. Which, in this context, comes down to: do you trust an answer if you don’t know who wrote it? ChatGPT and similar technologies have access to “knowledge” sourced from the web, like Google, but they don’t cite a source. Indeed, it would be immensely difficult to trace the source of their various claims, some of which seem quite… odd.

Similar to TikTok, then, this is something I might prefer to Google for a specific kind of query. In this particular case, the kind of query that previously took me to StackOverflow. But I’m not going to ask it for mortgage advice.

I noted above that Bing is rumored to be integrating ChatGPT with its own search product. This enlarges the threat to Google in that it makes this technology more accessible, but really, the same qualms apply – there are many, many queries for which this is not helpful. Even if Bing can hybridize these technologies into a “best of both” of traditional web search and NLP, well – that’s already the road Google is going down.

The other challenge with this “ChatAI as search” model is an economic one. Google and Amazon have both already come to the conclusion that the type of queries asked of their personal assistant devices are barely, if at all, economic to run – because of the limited monetization opportunities for purely informational queries. Perhaps my distinction above, about what we mean by replacing Google, is very relevant here – some of our use cases of Google as a search engine are actually just a loss leader for others. As such, perhaps this bundling of disparate uses is necessary.

The King is dea… wait, wait, he’s still breathing

Number of explicit core search queries powered by search engines in the United States as of January 2022 – via Statista

Ultimately, these threats look set to chip away at Google, not replace it. At worst, a broad monopoly will be sliced up and shrunk, and that doesn’t feel like any great evil. For SEOs, we should be aware of these new search engines, and these new “search engines”, and of the risks attached to being locked into the Google ecosystem. But don’t forget the chart above: the original pie is not going anywhere. The Google SEO game is still not a bad game to be playing.

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Is Twitter Still a Thing for Content Marketers in 2023?



Is Twitter Still a Thing for Content Marketers in 2023?

The world survived the first three months of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.

But what are marketers doing now? Did your brand follow the shift Dennis Shiao made for his personal brand? As he recently shared, he switched his primary platform from Twitter to LinkedIn after the 2022 ownership change. (He still uses Twitter but posts less frequently.)

Are those brands that altered their strategy after the new ownership maintaining that plan? What impact do Twitter’s service changes (think Twitter Blue subscriptions) have?

We took those questions to the marketing community. No big surprise? Most still use Twitter. But from there, their responses vary from doing nothing to moving away from the platform.

Lowest points

At the beginning of the Elon era, more than 500 big-name advertisers stopped buying from the platform. Some (like Amazon and Apple) resumed their buys before the end of 2022. Brand accounts’ organic activity seems similar.

In November, Emplifi research found a 26% dip in organic posting behavior by U.S. and Canadian brands the week following a significant spike in the negative sentiment of an Elon tweet. But that drop in posting wasn’t a one-time thing.

Kyle Wong, chief strategy officer at Emplifi, shares a longer analysis of well-known fast-food brands. When comparing December 2021 to December 2022 activity, the brands posted 74% less, and December was the least active month of 2022.

Fast-food brands posted 74% less on @Twitter in December 2022 than they did in December 2021, according to @emplifi_io analysis via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

When Emplifi analyzed brand accounts across industries (2,330 from U.S. and Canada and 6,991 elsewhere in the world), their weekly Twitter activity also fell to low points in November and December. But by the end of the year, their activity was inching up.

“While the percentage of brands posting weekly is on the rise once again, the number is still lower than the consistent posting seen in earlier months,” Kyle says.

Quiet-quitting Twitter

Lacey Reichwald, marketing manager at Aha Media Group, says the company has been quiet-quitting Twitter for two months, simply monitoring and posting the occasional link. “It seems like the turmoil has settled down, but the overall impact of Twitter for brands has not recovered,” she says.

@ahamediagroup quietly quit @Twitter for two months and saw their follower count go up, says Lacey Reichwald via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

She points to their firm’s experience as a potential explanation. Though they haven’t been posting, their follower count has gone up, and many of those new follower accounts don’t seem relevant to their topic or botty. At the same time, Aha Media saw engagement and follows from active accounts in the customer segment drop.

Blue bonus

One change at Twitter has piqued some brands’ interest in the platform, says Dan Gray, CEO of Vendry, a platform for helping companies find agency partners to help them scale.

“Now that getting a blue checkmark is as easy as paying a monthly fee, brands are seeing this as an opportunity to build thought leadership quickly,” he says.

Though it remains to be seen if that strategy is viable in the long term, some companies, particularly those in the SaaS and tech space, are reallocating resources to energize their previously dormant accounts.

Automatic verification for @TwitterBlue subscribers led some brands to renew their interest in the platform, says Dan Gray of Vendry via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

These reenergized accounts also are seeing an increase in followers, though Dan says it’s difficult to tell if it’s an effect of the blue checkmark or their renewed emphasis on content. “Engagement is definitely up, and clients and agencies have both noted the algorithm seems to be favoring their content more,” he says.

New horizon

Faizan Fahim, marketing manager at Breeze, is focused on the future. They’re producing videos for small screens as part of their Twitter strategy. “We are guessing soon Elon Musk is going to turn Twitter into TikTok/YouTube to create more buzz,” he says. “We would get the first moving advantage in our niche.”

He’s not the only one who thinks video is Twitter’s next bet. Bradley Thompson, director of marketing at DigiHype Media and marketing professor at Conestoga College, thinks video content will be the next big thing. Until then, text remains king.

“The approach is the same, which is a focus on creating and sharing high-quality content relevant to the industry,” Bradley says. “Until Twitter comes out with drastically new features, then marketing and managing brands on Twitter will remain the same.

James Coulter, digital marketing director at Sole Strategies, says, “Twitter definitely still has a space in the game. The question is can they keep it, or will they be phased out in favor of a more reliable platform.”

Interestingly given the thoughts of Faizan and Bradley, James sees businesses turning to video as they limit their reliance on Twitter and diversify their social media platforms. They are now willing to invest in the resource-intensive format given the exploding popularity of TikTok, Instagram Reels, and other short-form video content.

“We’ve seen a really big push on getting vendors to help curate video content with the help of staff. Requesting so much media requires building a new (social media) infrastructure, but once the expectations and deliverables are in place, it quickly becomes engrained in the weekly workflow,” James says.

What now

“We are waiting to see what happens before making any strong decisions,” says Baruch Labunski, CEO at Rank Secure. But they aren’t sitting idly by. “We’ve moved a lot of our social media efforts to other platforms while some of these things iron themselves out.”

What is your brand doing with Twitter? Are you stepping up, stepping out, or standing still? I’d love to know. Please share in the comments.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.


Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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45 Free Content Writing Tools to Love [for Writing, Editing & Content Creation]



45 Free Content Writing Tools to Love [for Writing, Editing & Content Creation]

Creating content isn’t always a walk in the park. (In fact, it can sometimes feel more like trying to swim against the current.)

While other parts of business and marketing are becoming increasingly automated, content creation is still a very manual job. (more…)

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How data clean rooms might help keep the internet open



How data clean rooms might help keep the internet open

Are data clean rooms the solution to what IAB CEO David Cohen has called the “slow-motion train wreck” of addressability? Voices at the IAB will tell you that they have a big role to play.

“The issue with addressability is that once cookies go away, and with the loss of identifiers, about 80% of the addressable market will become unknown audiences which is why there is a need for privacy-centric consent and a better consent-value exchange,” said Jeffrey Bustos, VP, measurement, addressability and data at the IAB.

“Everyone’s talking about first-party data, and it is very valuable,” he explained, “but most publishers who don’t have sign-on, they have about 3 to 10% of their readership’s first-party data.” First-party data, from the perspective of advertisers who want to reach relevant and audiences, and publishers who want to offer valuable inventory, just isn’t enough.

Why we care. Two years ago, who was talking about data clean rooms? The surge of interest is recent and significant, according to the IAB. DCRs have the potential, at least, to keep brands in touch with their audiences on the open internet; to maintain viability for publishers’ inventories; and to provide sophisticated measurement capabilities.

How data clean rooms can help. DCRs are a type of privacy-enhancing technology that allows data owners (including brands and publishers) to share customer first-party data in a privacy-compliant way. Clean rooms are secure spaces where first-party data from a number of sources can be resolved to the same customer’s profile while that profile remains anonymized.

In other words, a DCR is a kind of Switzerland — a space where a truce is called on competition while first-party data is enriched without compromising privacy.

“The value of a data clean room is that a publisher is able to collaborate with a brand across both their data sources and the brand is able to understand audience behavior,” said Bestos. For example, a brand selling eye-glasses might know nothing about their customers except basic transactional data — and that they wear glasses. Matching profiles with a publisher’s behavioral data provides enrichment.

“If you’re able to understand behavioral context, you’re able to understand what your customers are reading, what they’re interested in, what their hobbies are,” said Bustos. Armed with those insights, a brand has a better idea of what kind of content they want to advertise against.

The publisher does need to have a certain level of first-party data for the matching to take place, even if it doesn’t have a universal requirement for sign-ins like The New York Times. A publisher may be able to match only a small percentage of the eye-glass vendor’s customers, but if they like reading the sports and arts sections, at least that gives some directional guidance as to what audience the vendor should target.

Dig deeper: Why we care about data clean rooms

What counts as good matching? In its “State of Data 2023” report, which focuses almost exclusively on data clean rooms, concern is expressed that DCR efficacy might be threatened by poor match rates. Average match rates hover around 50% (less for some types of DCR).

Bustos is keen to put this into context. “When you are matching data from a cookie perspective, match rates are usually about 70-ish percent,” he said, so 50% isn’t terrible, although there’s room for improvement.

One obstacle is a persistent lack of interoperability between identity solutions — although it does exist; LiveRamp’s RampID is interoperable, for example, with The Trade Desk’s UID2.

Nevertheless, said Bustos, “it’s incredibly difficult for publishers. They have a bunch of identity pixels firing for all these different things. You don’t know which identity provider to use. Definitely a long road ahead to make sure there’s interoperability.”

Maintaining an open internet. If DCRs can contribute to solving the addressability problem they will also contribute to the challenge of keeping the internet open. Walled gardens like Facebook do have rich troves of first-party and behavioral data; brands can access those audiences, but with very limited visibility into them.

“The reason CTV is a really valuable proposition for advertisers is that you are able to identify the user 1:1 which is really powerful,” Bustos said. “Your standard news or editorial publisher doesn’t have that. I mean, the New York Times has moved to that and it’s been incredibly successful for them.” In order to compete with the walled gardens and streaming services, publishers need to offer some degree of addressability — and without relying on cookies.

But DCRs are a heavy lift. Data maturity is an important qualification for getting the most out of a DCR. The IAB report shows that, of the brands evaluating or using DCRs, over 70% have other data-related technologies like CDPs and DMPs.

“If you want a data clean room,” Bustos explained, “there are a lot of other technological solutions you have to have in place before. You need to make sure you have strong data assets.” He also recommends starting out by asking what you want to achieve, not what technology would be nice to have. “The first question is, what do you want to accomplish? You may not need a DCR. ‘I want to do this,’ then see what tools would get you to that.”

Understand also that implementation is going to require talent. “It is a demanding project in terms of the set-up,” said Bustos, “and there’s been significant growth in consulting companies and agencies helping set up these data clean rooms. You do need a lot of people, so it’s more efficient to hire outside help for the set up, and then just have a maintenance crew in-house.”

Underuse of measurement capabilities. One key finding in the IAB’s research is that DCR users are exploiting the audience matching capabilities much more than realizing the potential for measurement and attribution. “You need very strong data scientists and engineers to build advanced models,” Bustos said.

“A lot of brands that look into this say, ‘I want to be able to do a predictive analysis of my high lifetime value customers that are going to buy in the next 90 days.’ Or ‘I want to be able to measure which channels are driving the most incremental lift.’ It’s very complex analyses they want to do; but they don’t really have a reason as to why. What is the point? Understand your outcome and develop a sequential data strategy.”

Trying to understand incremental lift from your marketing can take a long time, he warned. “But you can easily do a reach and frequency and overlap analysis.” That will identify wasted investment in channels and as a by-product suggest where incremental lift is occurring. “There’s a need for companies to know what they want, identify what the outcome is, and then there are steps that are going to get you there. That’s also going to help to prove out ROI.”

Dig deeper: Failure to get the most out of data clean rooms is costing marketers money

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