We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz! Rand was a keynote speaker at Internet Summit 2015 in Raleigh in November and was kind enough to agree to an interview with our own Sarah Benoit, Lead Instructor of the JB Media Institute. Our Institute students and alums who were able to watch the livestream of the interview got a real treat to hear Rand live from the floor of Internet Summit.

We’re sharing the first of three posts including video and transcript of our conversation with Rand. Sarah and Rand began their chat by addressing potential changes in SEO that could have a major impact on small businesses, including mobile app content becoming indexed by Google, ad blocking, and increasing competition to get your content noticed. We’ll certainly be keeping Rand’s thoughts in mind as we share the newest industry insights and information with our in-person and online Institute students!

Watch the video or read the transcript below to see what Rand had to say about staying on top of your SEO game in 2016.

What’s coming up in 2016?

Sarah: The first question I have is basically around the main [SEO] changes that have happened since 2003-2004. You pointed out in your keynote the biggest changes have come about in the last 3 years, which is definitely true. I appreciated yesterday when you said, “SEO used to be a step one job. It was a simple job.” That job has become a lot more confusing. So I was wondering if you could share a little bit with the students about what you see coming up for 2016 and what are the main changes you think people really need to be thinking about as far as businesses are concerned.

App Content Could Change How We Search… Or Not

Rand: Going forward, I think we’re going to be keeping a close eye on a few things. One is how mobile and apps start changing the search landscape. You know, Google has been talking really big about the inclusion of apps and app content in mobile search results in Android; we’ll see if that ports to other things like the iPhone or Windows devices. I think we’ll also be keeping a careful watch on whether that’s kind of a red herring. Whether it’s “yeah, they show app content but it doesn’t get a lot of clicks, and so it doesn’t show up that often, and even when it does, it’s low click-through percentage. And so it’s not something a lot of businesses need to worry about.” Or, “wow app content is dominating. It’s really driving app installs. It’s changing the face of how we perform searches and how we get answers to our questions.” Either of those could be the case. I could see it going either way, so keep a close tab on that.

Ad Blocking is Taking Off

Second big thing: I think ad blocking is huge. Ad blocking has grown dramatically the last 3 or 4 years. As you probably know, the iPhone/iOS started allowing ad blockers, so now mobile ad blocking is huge. And the more people talk about it, the more people install it and use it. So you’re seeing demographics in the US and in the Western world that have 30, 40 or 50% of these demos installing ad blockers, which means it’s pretty impossible to reach them or track their activity. And then, I think there’s also a frustration that comes out of that, which is organic traffic has always been valuable, but with the rise of retargeting and remarketing, it became even more valuable. Because if someone comes to your site and then they leave, it was like, “Ah, they’re gone.” And then for the last few years, it’s like, “Oh, they’re gone, but not forgotten! I cookied them so I can still target them as they go around the web and follow them around like a lost puppy dog.” That might be going away for a lot of folks, so that’s something we’re watching closely as well.

And Competition is Making Content Marketing Harder

And then I think it’s been talked about a lot this year, but I see it going forward even more of an issue, and that is the signal to noise ratio with content. Content marketing 4 years ago was insanely powerful because you didn’t have to do very much, right? If you put out content, people were hungry for it. There were more platforms than there was content to consume. That’s an overstatement, but it was a Wild West. If you had a saloon, people were coming in. Now there’s a saloon on every corner, so you gotta compete. There’s got to be something special about your bar, about your liquor, about your staff. Something about you that makes you stand out from the crowd. And I think standing out is getting tougher and tougher. We are seeing huge rises in investment of content marketing, with businesses of all kinds adopting it. The frustrating part about that is that consumers don’t have time to read or consume that much more content. Saturation is nearly here. So, demand is underneath supply, and I think it’s going to keep falling, and that’s going to make for a real challenge for businesses.

Sarah: Yeah, I think those are huge challenges. We talked about that a lot because I often tell the students there’s 8 billion people on the planet almost, so you’re not the only one doing what you’re doing.

Rand: And 8 billion new pieces of content every week!

Should We Be Investing In Mobile Web or Mobile Apps?

Sarah: So yeah, standing out is going to be a huge issue. I also think it’s fascinating with the mobile apps too because we’ve seen the number of mobile apps going up. I was recently reading a study that said the amount of hours that any one person can put into apps or the number of apps that they use per month pretty much caps at like 25 or 26. So creating new apps and continuing forward, it’s like, people have a limit.

RF: Absolutely. This is a tough thing when you think about investing in mobile, whether you should be investing in mobile web or in mobile apps. And I would say unless you believe that you can be a market leader in a mobile app or in an app category, you should go mobile web. Because the long tail of web and of web sites and of the ability to draw traffic from all these different sources is insanely powerful and so much easier to develop and to iterate on mobile web than it is as a mobile app. You don’t need to hire a specialized developer, you don’t need to get app store approval every time you want to make changes. Like, you just change your content on your website! So I think businesses of all kinds have to be very careful about when and whether they choose to invest in the app ecosystem.

SB: Yeah, I feel really glad to hear you say that because I’ve actually been preaching that for a long time. I’m like, “think carefully about app development because that’s a big step, and is it really going to produce what you’re looking for?” Especially from a small business perspective.

RF: I have this weird theory. Nobody else seems to believe this, but I sort of feel like apps might be laser discs. The mobile web CAN DO nearly everything, once browsers evolve, that an app can do. It can be location aware, it can send push notifications. You can do it all through a browser. And so I wonder if apps aren’t just a stepping stone to, “oh no wait, now a browser is good enough. We don’t need apps.”


Interested in more of what Rand had to say during our interview? Read his thoughts on choosing the right marketing channels for your business and how business culture has changed in recent years.