Brad discusses three trends that are transforming SERPs into winner-take-all markets, where only the best of the best gets seen, clicked, or shared.
He also discusses the implications for SaaS content and approach content in light of the highly competitive atmosphere.
Well. Hello there. Welcome to Codeless radio. My name is Daniel Midson shorts. And today I am joined by Brad Smith, one of our favorite guests. Hello sir.
Thank you. How are we doing?
I’m doing pretty well. I’m going well. I’m not going anywhere right now cause I’m on, on zoom to you. But I am going well in life so thanks for asking. How about you? You’re doing well as well?
I am, yeah. We’re not talking about the self quarantine on the show, but we are in the midst of it and so a little stir crazy. But yeah I bought a treadmill. I might try to walk a marathon.
Oh, there you go. I like that.
It’ll take about nine hours, I calculated. I think if you do it, take breaks and stuff and you walk slowly, it probably would not be that bad. You sit down to lunch, maybe take a nap, drink some coffee.
Yeah. You even have a beer holder on the side.
Now you’re talking. Or a bottle of whiskey holder.
Oh, there you go. Yeah. Wow. You might be crawling to the finish line. Well, cool. We’ll hold you to that in a future episode. I’ll ask you how the treadmill marathon went. So today we’re going to explore a topic which, again you seem to have the provocative topics that sort of push the social norms when it comes to content creation. And this one was tied titled why good enough isn’t, so the idea being that good content isn’t good enough anymore because things have got hyper competitive and you know, there’s a lot of noise out there. And so we really need to up the ante in a lot of respects. So we’re going to explore some of the reasons why good content isn’t good enough anymore. One of the first things that you said in there was this idea that the SERP click through rates today suck. So that’s about as blunt as you can get. And so do you want to talk about that? Why do you believe they suck and what’s causing it?
Yeah, for sure. So there’s always been a heavy distribution between where people click on a search engine result page. So in other words, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of people clicking tends to be in the top few spots. That’s always been the case since the beginning of time. Uh, from the beginning, I was watching a movie recently and they were like, they were yahooing something. That’s how old the movie was. But anyway, the same holds true whether we’re talking about Yahoo, you know, 20 years ago or Google today. The problem is it’s just becoming more skewed. So it’s like the whole middle-class and disappearing, like the middle-class of content and of companies is also disappearing because what’s happening is, uh, for a number of factors that we’ll go into today, um, the vast majority of people who are clicking are clicking on the first, maybe one or two or three organic listings or they’re clicking on more paid ads because there are just more paid ads being shoved onto a search result page.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, and that’s, I think the whole point of this section was that, you know, click through rates for organic content have gone down so much. Half of the reason is because the paid search is just taking over, particularly in Google, you know, the majority of the page these days.
Yup. Yeah. And it’s not always because of their better necessarily, it’s just that there’s more of them is part of it for sure. Yeah. And they’re also more prominently featured as well. So if you think about any basic landing page optimization, if you put a bigger button on the page and put the button higher on the page, the chances or the likelihood of people clicking that button are higher. It’s not rocket science. It’s just Google makes money based on paid ads, not on their organic listings. And so therefore they have an incentive to try and get more and more people to click on their sponsored listings.
Yeah, definitely. And I’ve heard you say this in the past in different interviews and things that you know, a lot of the time it is pay to play today if you want to get to the top of the search engines quickly. Is that still true?
For sure. 100% like, and that’s I anywhere on the internet too. So the idea like 20 years ago or 15 years ago, however long ago, probably because of social media too, everyone was like, oh yeah, marketing is free. And you know, like yeah, social media like it’s not free. Like just cause you’re working like 10 times harder and like investing 10 hours in something doesn’t mean it’s free. There’s just no hard costs associated with that. It’s a soft cost of people or labor or whatever. Today, the dynamics are different and that’s, you don’t have as often new social networks where they’re completely like wide open, Wild West. You can reach 100% of the people who follow you, all that kind of stuff. You have a lot bigger entrenched people who are becoming a lot more insular and are trying to control a lot more of their own stuff and what people can see.
And so therefore they’re constantly making your ability to get, you know, in quotes, free distribution less and less and less. So you’re forced to pay. So if you’re trying to rank any piece of content in a half competitive space, guess what? You got to, you got to either pay to promote it socially, you have to pay influencers to talk about it and link to it. You have to pay for link-building like you have to pay. The days of just like going viral for free are unfortunately long gone.
Yeah, definitely. Especially if you want some longevity from, from being viral, you know when you see stuff go viral all the time, it’s forgotten next week. So you know, to get that longevity from it, there is pay to play. So it’s good. I think it’s good to just know that reality early on. And I know when I’ve worked with clients, it’s definitely something I’ve said to them is, you know, ranking quickly requires money. That is basically how it is, you know it’s not gonna happen quickly without that. So yeah, definitely. That’s the first point is that, you know, basically the SERP click through rates suck and okay that’s not a great thing, but you know, it’s good to know that that’s the reality going into it. The second point you made here about why good content isn’t good enough anymore is that content production itself has increased exponentially. So, you know, there’s a ton more out there to compete with.
Yeah. There’s a ton more. Everyone’s creating content in every type of business, every type of industry. Everyone’s creating content where again, 20 years ago it wasn’t the case. People are smarter now too, and they’re savvier and so you have marketers at plumbing companies who are certified by HubSpot and using HubSpot. And like that was never, again, even like five years ago, that wasn’t the case. Like you could, if you were half decent at digital marketing in the plumbing space, you could just kill it and like take over all your local business. Whereas now like everyone’s getting a lot smarter and everyone’s getting pretty sophisticated. So even if you think about outside of marketing or tech or really, really competitive spaces and you look at it more kind of like, I don’t know, normal ones.
The marketers are still smart. They still know what they’re doing, they still know how to hit word counts. They still know the pillar cluster model for content production and they still know how to drive, do lead gen. like they’re, they’re all pretty smart and pretty good. And so you can’t just throw up like some average content anymore and it’s just expected to perform. Kind of like we’re saying, we’re going viral and expecting not to spend any money on it, like average or just good stuff today gives you kind of average mediocre results, if any. It is really becoming a lot harder and more difficult to get results in any field, let alone in life in these hyper competitive marketing tech spaces.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s crazy. I was reading, one of the stats you said in the article was um, I think in 1999, Salesforce was one of the first SaaS companies out there and 20 years later there are over 50,000 SaaS companies and they are notorious for creating content. So that gives you an example just in that space, you know, how much volume of content you’re competing against in whatever space you’re in.
Yup. And then you could drill down in each little kind of sub market there. Like MarTech. Marketing technology, software didn’t even exist 10 years ago. And now there’s over probably 10,000 apps. Like how many social apps are there, how many advertising apps are there? It’s like, it’s insane how many more are created each day. And how much more money is piling into it. And so just for one of these companies to kind of get their head above water, it takes a lot more resources than it used to in terms of getting eyeballs and customers and all that. It’s become easier to launch products from a tech standpoint and cheaper, but it’s become a lot harder on the marketing distribution side.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s great insight. Yeah. So there you go. Content production is another kind of barrier to entry there. That’s just the exponential increase of that. And we’re guilty of it as much as anyone else we’re creating content, which hopefully is getting traction and adding value, but at the same time we’re adding to the pile, you know, so it’s a big trick. It’s a paradox, you know, but what do you do?
You know, you’ve got to eat.
Exactly. You can’t eat content or can you? I don’t know. It may be delicious. So another point they made is that Google is giving all of us less at-bats. So it’s basically not giving us as many shots to even get our content clicked on in the search results. What’s that about?
Yeah. We’re seeing new SERP features. We’re also seeing more blended SERPs where you have like different elements coming into play. Like the instant answers, the featured snippets, the knowledge kind of section on the far right hand side and the uh, blended SERPs, meaning like news articles or long form articles or from like major media, from local listings to video packs, all this shit for lack of better word is happening where it’s not like the good old days where you had like 10 slots on the first page and everyone’s going to pay attention to those 10 slots. So you have more advertisements, more interactive content, more videos, more instant answers. All this other stuff is happening. So, even if there’s 10 listings still on the page, this is one of those reasons why they’re receiving a lot less attention overall.
And so there’s this rise of like zero click SERPs, they call it, where people are getting their answers, they’re Googling something, they’re getting their answer before even clicking into your website. So they literally have no reason to go to your website to actually find the full answer because they’re getting enough of it answered just by literally reading the SERP themselves. Like movie times, any like literally name anything. You Google how to make it Manhattan. And you’ll see, you’ll see Google scraping, stealing, copyrighted information from a website and just literally displaying the entire recipe right on their SERP. So if I’m sitting in the kitchen and I’m being lazy, I’m just going to read the SERP. I’m not going to like click in and find five different Manhattan recipes. I’m just going to choose the first one. And so from a content perspective, uh, you have to keep that in mind cause it’s getting a lot harder to again get eyeballs to your stuff.
Yeah. In the article it said there, there was one study done where it was saying 40% of search results today end without a click. So basically, you know, you type something looking for it and you never actually bother clicking on anything. I actually did that yesterday. I was looking up a synonym for a word cause I’d been writing it too many times in a piece and instead of going to dictionary.com or wherever it used to go, now it just literally in the answer box at the top, it had all the synonyms. I thought, great thank you. That’s all I needed. So I didn’t click anywhere. So yeah, even stuff like that, he’s not, you know, poor dictionary.com is not even getting clicks anymore.
And these are ad based publishers. Publishers for recipes are ad supported businesses. They make 100% of their money or a large portion of it anyway, like 80 plus on ads. And the only way they get paid for ads is if they get eyeballs to that content. And if they aren’t getting eyeballs to that content because Google is flat out stealing it. Yes. That’s probably illegal. Yes, somebody should probably do something about it. Has anyone done anything as of yet? No. So again, if we’re living in reality, like I don’t like it as much or you know more than anyone else, but I don’t have the pockets to go fight Google on this and go bring some antitrust suit against them. And so therefore I need to just accept reality as for what it is and then kind of react accordingly.
Well, we could start an uprise. We can all start using Bing. What do you think about that?
We should. I watched another show or movie recently and they were like, Oh, just Bing it. And I was like who says that? Don’t try to make that a thing.
But it’s funny, I actually use that sometimes. I do a lot of speeches about marketing and I have this one particular tool, can I do where I use that as like just showing brand recognition and I say, you know, what’s a thing you do when you, you know, you need to get some information from the internet, you and everyone says Google it. Right? And so on the screen I have “Bing it” just to show them how wrong it feels and it just cracks them up. But it’s true. It’s just such an omnipotent brand that is there. Is it like 95% of searches go through Google?
It is 100% a monopoly. They’re 100% percent stealing copyrighted information from websites and small businesses and brands. This is why, this is why I always laugh too, when people get all up in arms about things like, Oh, you shouldn’t do this thing that breaks Google’s terms of service and it’s like, Oh really? You’re gonna listen to them? They’re like probably the worst offenders out of all this stuff. I just do what’s in front of me because I’m not the federal government and I’m not and or like Microsoft, I can’t fight directly head on with what these people are doing. I don’t agree with it, but I’m just gonna accept reality and that means I need to change my outlook in terms of how I’m doing content or whatever. To make sure I could still get some, some results at the end of the day.
Yup. Although I can see you sitting in front of Congress like a thousand cameras on you.
Who are you? How did you get in here? Can someone escort him out of here? It’d be great.
So to finish up this point, it sounds kind of gloom and doom, right? So far, like you’re talking about, you know poor SERP click throughs, we’re talking about an overabundance of content and the fact we’re not even getting at bats from Google. So there’s a lot of problems here obviously. And these are the reasons why good enough content or just average content, let’s say, it’s not gonna get anywhere anymore. So what is the solution in your mind and you know, obviously it’s a little bit biased coming from your perspective, but what do you believe is the solution?
It’s totally biased. It sounds so stupid when I say it too, but like we can unpack it. You just need better content and better content usually translates them spending more money on content and we review a lot of writers internally.
The most expensive writers aren’t always the best writers. However, there is a bigger correlation between the more expensive writers being among the better or best writers that we’ve seen or reviewed. And it’s like, again, this sounds very stupid, but if I go to an expensive restaurant, the food’s probably going to be really good. If I spend money on Don Julio or Casamigos and not Jose Quervo, it means I’m probably not going to wake up with a headache in the morning. Like it sounds very stupid and trite and biased or whatever. Whatever you want to call it, but it’s also pretty true and that’s if you want to do something better or if you have to do something better because that’s what the market is forcing you to do, that typically means you probably have to pony up the dough a little more because otherwise, again, your options are pretty severely limited outside of that.
Yeah, definitely. And that goes back to something we talked about in the previous episode too. The idea of producing content, not just creating it. You know, if you’re working with a team who are more expensive, they’re going to be producing it ie having a researcher, having a writer, having an editor, having a distributor, whatever, you know, who are a part of a team and that’s going to work way better for you than just having some cheap writer trying to do everything.
Yeah, it’s a perfect point. If you’re a brand and you’re looking at your options, you can either hire someone in house, hire freelancers, hire an agency to produce content. You can hire someone in house. But there’s a lot of problems with that typically. Their output typically sucks. They’re usually fairly limited, but it’s also just one person at the end of the day. And in tech, you’d spend a lot of money on one person and so the same goes with a freelancer. You hire one really good freelancer, you’re going to hit a cap in terms of the volume they can produce. They’re a really good writer on a couple specific topics, but that’s it. You tap out again. With agency it sounds expensive on the surface, but when you peel back the layers, you realize, okay, we have probably five, six people working on an account at any given time.
So like what would that cost to hire internally? A hell of a lot more than what we’re charging. So from a pure content perspective, yes, it looks like we’re charging a lot, but when you throw in, and we’re also using multiple writers who have different skill sets. So one writer might be really good at one topic but not another one. So we’ll bring in a new writer for that account. We’ll have stuff rewritten, we’ll replace writers if we need to, like a lot more flexibility in that sense. But again, you have strategy people, you have product managers, you have account coordinators, you have editors, you have copy edits, you have plagiarism checks, you have like all this stuff coming together. You literally have a team working on one, you know, on one producing content versus versus kind of like the old historical model of like just one or a couple of freelance writers just cranking out 500 words or something.
Yeah, yeah, 100%. So yeah. And it goes back to having that willingness to invest in it if you want to really compete, you know, if you want to stand out from the crowd and you want your brand and your business to get traction, you know, it costs money, it costs time. It’s just how it is these days. And you know, we wish it was like the internet circa 1997. You can just post something and it would rank.
A geocities page.
Good old geo cities, I wasted my youth there.
We just lost all the kids in the crowd.
Exactly. Back in the day when you used to Auto Vista something.
The world’s becoming harder and more competitive and more expensive to just kind of maintain the status quo. But really the other thing is like the results aren’t exponential. So ranking number one gets you 90% more clicks than ranking number five. So it’s not a linear distribution at all. It’s exponentially different between one and five or 10. And so it doesn’t make sense to count your pennies when that’s what you’re talking about. The difference of one versus three is massive. Could mean like 10 X the results. And, and on the other side of the equation, we’ve talked about this before as well, because the world’s still getting harder and more competitive and more expensive, not just in content, but also in getting eyeballs to content on social media or wherever else.
So if you’re cheaping out on the actual asset, on the content, that money doesn’t just like go back to your pocket. It has to go into higher ad spend, a higher per click or per lead budget. And so you’re not saving any money, you’re just pushing it over to spend it somewhere else. It’s like a weird kind of cognitive dissonance or something, but that people have, or marketers have where it’s like you don’t, you’re not saving money by doing it that way. If anything, it’s going to waste more money.
Yeah. Yeah. So true. It’s like putting the cheap gas in your car, you know, it’s going to get to you eventually.
The money needs to get spent one way or another. If you do the cheap content, you have to spend on Facebook ads to get people back to your site. Otherwise, you’re not getting anyone back to your site. So your results are zero or you have to spend the money somewhere. And why I’m in favor of spending the money on the asset, on the content, on the SEO side of it. It’s because you’re going to see that increase in value over time. Whereas on Facebook you’re already on Facebook ads, especially like social ads, you’re literally guaranteed to get a worse ROI over time because it’s only going to become more skewed and there’s only going to be more people putting money in it and the way advertising markets work. And same with Google PPC, the costs for personal injury law firm in plug in your big city. It’s like a hundred bucks a click right now.
Maybe a couple of years ago it was like 50 bucks a click, guess where it’s going to be five years from now? It’s not going to get cheaper. Like I guarantee you that. It’s going to get a hell of a lot more expensive. And so that’s what people don’t understand with advertising. Yes, it helps today and it helps tomorrow. But over the long term, especially in digital ad spaces, the ROI only gets worse over time. It never gets better. And SEO is completely the opposite. It starts off really terrible. It takes a long time. It kind of sucks, but eventually it’s worth it. And it far outstrips anything you see on the ad side. So true. Yeah.
Well that’s, that’s exactly right. You’re just preaching to the choir here. But yeah, hopefully everybody who’s listening to this gets the perspective too, that trying to just waste the money or hoard the money or whatever you’re trying to do. You know, if you’re spending it on ads or you’re trying to cheapen out on your content or even cut corners on your content, doing crappy versions of the articles or whatever, it’s going to come back to bite you in terms of no results. For sure.
I’m glad you agree with me Daniel. It makes me feel better.
No, I disagree. Just do crappy content and see what it gets you and you’ll be fine. You’ll be ranking in no time on page 49. Well. Thank you. So as always, pleasure to have you here. I love your perspective on things and look forward to hearing from you again in a new episode.
Thank you. Can’t wait.
How changes in SERPs are decreasing click through rates. (10:16)
And so there’s this rise of like zero click SERPs, they call it, where people are getting their answers, they’re Googling something, they’re getting their answer before even clicking into your website. So they literally have no reason to go to your website to actually find the full answer because they’re getting enough of it answered just by literally reading the SERP themselves.
Think ranking on page one is similar in all spots? Clicks tell a different story. (18:36)
The world’s becoming harder and more competitive and more expensive to just kind of maintain the status quo. But really the other thing is like the results aren’t exponential. So ranking number one gets you 90% more clicks than ranking number five. So it’s not a linear distribution at all. It’s exponentially different between one and five or 10. And so it doesn’t make sense to count your pennies when that’s what you’re talking about. The difference between one versus three is massive. It could mean like 10 X the results.
Why prioritizing ads over content hurts your brand in the long term. (21:06)
Social ad costs are not going to get cheaper. Like I guarantee you that. It’s going to get a hell of a lot more expensive. And so that’s what people don’t understand with advertising. Yes, it helps today and it helps tomorrow. But over the long term, especially in digital ad spaces, the ROI only gets worse over time. It never gets better. And SEO is completely the opposite. It starts off really terrible. It takes a long time. It kind of sucks, but eventually it’s worth it. And it far outstrips anything you see on the ad side.