On Friday afternoon at the SEMpdx Engage Conference , a friendly voice came over the mic: “The first part of this talk will be depressing,” Rand Fishkin, Founder of SparkToro and former CEO of MOZ, explained. He then proceeded to discuss some major changes that the SEO & Digital industries are experiencing, and where the opportunities lie as we move into 2020. We’ll distill a few key takeaways from his talk specifically focusing in on the continual reduction of Social Media engagement, the shifting nature of searches on Google and leave you with a few actionable opportunities to overcome these tactical industry changes.

Social Media: Bigger but not better.

Let’s kick it off with social media: everyone’s favorite subject because everyone knows what it is and we all use it. Some love it, some hate it, but are you utilizing it correctly for your brand? It’s pivotal before diving into this to understand that social media platforms want you to stay on their site. Ultimately, they will do whatever it takes to keep you coming back and engaging with content on their platform, because this is what makes them money (even if it means de-prioritizing your content in their algorithm). It’s a simple concept, but often overlooked. If you’re thinking, “But what about my ads? They want my ad money!” they definitely do, but to it is often a secondary priority. Ads can only exist if there’s a large audience, and if the user isn’t coming back to the platform, ads can not and will not exist. Plus, the click through rate and subsequent onsite bounce rate on most ads is abysmal, but that’s another show…

Rival IQ recently published a Facebook Engagement breakdown by industry that Rand discussed in his talk, included below. It got us thinking and we’ll tell you why. Truthfully, we can not think of a many things that we’d sink any amount of time into for a 0.09% engagement rate. Engagement is down across all platforms, and social referrals have continued to decline over the past few years in nearly all industries. This is largely attributed to sites intentionally adjusting the experience to keep traffic on the platform (i.e. Facebook’s shift to prioritize friends and connections over businesses; great for user retention, not so great for companies looking to serve content via Facebook).

**For context, engagement rate is calculated by the amount of interactions (likes, comments, shares, and reactions) divided by total follower count.

Clickless queries and the story of how Google is really, really good at what they do. Maybe too good…

Let’s talk about clickless queries, or searches on Google that resulted in no engagement with SERPs (paid or organic). As mobile devices continue to gain web market share, clickless queries are increasing inline with the growth. In September 2018, 61.5% of mobile searches were clickless. This is a staggering number, and is largely attributed to the evolution of Google’s search engine.

Say you’re a raving fan of cinema and one day you search “best movies of 2018,” as any truly authentic cinema fan would. The results are vastly different now than they were a few years ago. Now you see this:

Perfect, right? It’s by far a better user experience, but behind the scenes it is greatly reducing the likelihood of users clicking through to the actual content producers.

Hold on, it gets worse…

Again, awesome experience for the user: We just browsed all the valuable information that Paste Magazine could give me, but they received absolutely zero of the benefits. This will continue to be a problem for websites as Google continues to get better and better at crawling for content.

In contrast: growth in long tailed queries.

Another big shift in the industry is the growth in long tailed queries. Long tailed queries refer to a search that contains more detail than a typical, generic search. For example a search for fast food could look like “fast food near me,” or for your tech-savvy, intentional, fast food connoisseur, it may look like “best fast food chicken sandwich near me.” Long tailed queries traditionally have a much higher CTR as the search intent is already more specific. It’s interesting to note the growth in clickless and long tailed queries because they seem counterintuitive to grow together, but both are a result of continual improvements Google has made to their algorithm.

Let’s take a pause, this post seems somewhat negative so far. I’ve outlined the diminishing returns on social media, the growth in clickless queries and the increase in long tailed queries. If you’re thinking “shit, now what?” you’re not alone. Rand discussed a few points that not only resonated with our team, but also line up with a few of the wins that we’ve seen internally with our own work.

Hopefully the final third of this will leave you challenging some of the industry norms, and give you the momentum to keep refining and optimizing your marketing tactics as we head towards 2020.

Don’t worry, there’s a bright side.

In our opinion, as Google continues to improve their algorithm, which they will, both of these search patterns will continue to grow. But wait, there’s hope! Long tailed queries typically have a much higher CTR than generic search terms. This presents an incredible opportunity to increase the intentionality of your keyword research, and holistically analyze your rankings by CTR to inform the content on your site. An easy way to get started with this is to sort your Google Search Console data by highest CTR, and identify the keywords with high click through rates weighted by impressions.

Now to address the increase in clickless queries. Pay attention to your meta descriptions, as these will become increasingly more important. Meta descriptions present an opportunity to invite potential customers to click through to your site and engage with your content. Keep them brief, but compelling. Do some up-front research on the keywords most often associated with your organic traffic, and adjust your descriptions to address them.

And finally, the necessary evil, social media. Spend time getting to know your audience and build a following that feels organic and not forced (easier said than done). Social media is a huge opportunity to reinforce your brand value for a very large audience. However, from all the data we have, the social channel typically comes with a much lower engagement rate with onsite content, and conversion rates are almost always lower for social attributed sessions. Social generally has the highest bounce rate across channels, but this too can be addressed. We’ve found A/B testing to be a great way to remedy the underperforming channel by optimizing landing page performance to adapt to the content your social following is looking for, and to keep this traffic engaged on your site. The testing mentality can be applied across your entire marketing ecosystem, and we’d urge anyone in the industry to begin incorporating this a data-driven approach into your day-to-day work.

[Quick sidebar while we’re talking about channel performance: if you’re not trying to grow your email subscribers, it’s time to start. From improved data collection, to higher conversion rates, the email channel is something to invest in. Take steps to grow your subscribers through experiential tests on your site, and begin utilizing your email lists intentionally. These customers have already self-identified with your brand; serve them content that reinforces your value proposition and you’ll see improvement in your KPIs.]

Always be testing.

If there’s one thing to walk away with that applies to everyone no matter the industry: Test it! If you have an idea you believe will drive impact for you company, put it to the test. If it fails, you’ll learn why it’s failing and you’ll be able to make better decisions down the road as you iterate towards the optimal solution.

At Roboboogie, we are firm believers in the power of testing and its ability to drive a large scale impact. If your company has been utilizing the same digital strategies for the past five years, maybe it’s time for a reboot. Testing your SEO and social strategy is an excellent first step. Want to talk more about refreshing your digital strategy? Drop us a line!