Michael Collins, Managing Director of TravelMedia.ie, interviewed search marketing specialist: Sante J Achille at TBEX North America, September 2019.
Sante spoke about all things SEO – from SEO trends for 2019 to advanced SEO techniques.
On where his passion for SEO began, Sante said:
“I’ve been in the business, in the web business and the web technology business right from the start. I discovered the web in 1994, while I was working at the European Space Agency, my background as an aerospace engineer. And I was totally blown away by what I saw back then, which was the very primitive version of the commercial web that we know today.
I could see things that were coming, so with my wife Mary, we decided that it would be worth trying it, and well, we’ve been on board ever since. Very, very early, so I did everything, and I know everything about the web, from the underlying transmission technologies, IT, but very early on I caught onto, let’s say I caught the passion of search. So I started, I think, my first web optimization activity was in 97, and from there it’s been a continuous and constant progression towards today!”
Sante asserted the continuing importance of SEO:
“I think SEO is important, it’s important today, and it will always be important. There is a constant debate that comes on every now and again, SEO is dead, long live SEO, et cetera et cetera, but it’s important because as the amount of information grows, the amount of pages increases exponentially, day by day, we need to focus our attention also on making our content findable, and comprehensible, I think those are the two important things that anybody who writes something should understand, because it’s not trivial, to index, to identify, and then to match what you have to offer, what you have to say, to what people are actually looking for.
In that respect, in this respect, SEO is definitely a thing to look at. Looking at things, it’s probably more important because as the amount of information out there is growing so fast, it becomes more and more competitive, every area becomes more and more competitive.
So, the more the search agents understand what you are actually about, what you’re talking about, what products or services you have to offer, the better idea they have of that, the better chance you have at having your product, your service, in front of the right person at the right time.”
Speaking on the topic of AI:
“Looking forward, in the direction where we’re going, there are two buzzwords that are gaining momentum, and that everybody within the next few months or at the most one to two years will have to deal with, and these two words are AI and machine learning.
Now with these things in mind, it becomes important to be in line with what’s happening. So all of this intelligence and machine learning rely heavily on the fact that the information has a common denominator, and has a common way of being transmitted, and the whole underlying concept of enabling all of this machine learning lies in the fact that we provide an additional level, or layer, if you like, of meta information that is highly structured, so that we significantly reduce ambiguity, eliminate uncertainty, and we provide context, which is something that a machine does not understand.
A machine crunches numbers, machines suck, basically, at understanding words, understanding everything that is related to a word. Words that have different meanings, so that’s the real issue of structured data also providing that context that people understand, because the context of a discussion is understood, or the context of an article is understood. Machines don’t understand, machines understand what we tell them, if we do not tell them, they do not understand, which is a big problem when people write, normally, because it’s understood normally, because there is context, and so as people we understand, machines do not understand.”
Sante went on to give an insight into the importance of structured data, specifically in the travel industry:
“For the travel industry, images or video are the workhorse. So they do a lot of work, and they’re fundamental in any aspect of communication for that matter. So with let’s say traditional SEO, you have an alt tag, and in basically around 100 characters, you need to put together so much that it’s basically impossible. So with structured data, we can provide information about the image, technical aspects of the image or the video, the location, where it was actually taken, the person that actually shot it, and because of all of the properties that we can attribute to that, there is a wealth of information that we can communicate and transmit, and make available to a search engine to actually understand everything there is to understand about that video or that image, and serve it to the right person at the right time, because that’s what it’s all about now.
We may certainly head towards an era where we will be able to interact, and machines will understand natural language as we speak it, and as we read it, but there’s certainly an interim period of time, five, maybe 10 years, maybe less, but it also may be more, where we actually need to foster this process. And fostering this process means providing this additional layer of meta information to make it easier for the machines to understand what it is that we are trying to communicate, or offer, provide.”
Speaking on the steps necessary for a small or medium enterprise must take to gain digital presence:
“To start, I think you need a reliable partner, an external, or decide to have somebody in house do this. Not necessarily a programmer, people tend to think that this is a software issue, when in actual fact it isn’t, you do not need to know any code, you do not need to be a programmer to do this. You need some analytical skills, because what you need to do is rethink your digital presence, your digital assets, in terms of what it is exactly about, and try to create a model of your entire website.
Just start experimenting, start working on your homepage, look at the different areas, try to identify little standard procedures that you can use for different segments, different categories within your website, and then start implementing. You’ll make mistakes, everybody does, but that’s the only way to do it, take it step by step.”
Sante spoke about Google’s new image service:
“Google has recently announced at Google I/O 2019 the launch of a new service related to images. What they are saying is that they are going to feature high definition images, and to make it more understandable, they’re asking everybody to provide the images with a JSON-LD file.
This JSON-LD file is then structured data, where we provide additional information about the image. So I think that is a pretty strong signal that we are definitely moving in a world of meta tags on steroids, if you like. And if we do this, my experience shows me that in doing this, Google rewards you with higher quality in traffic. There’s no doubt about that, this doesn’t mean that you’re gonna get more traffic, you’re gonna get more relevant traffic.”
Speaking on implementing structured data, Sante said:
“So, implementing structured data comes at a cost. But there are undoubted benefits that come from this, and one of them is immediate, is the change in the keyword profile. So if the website had some ambiguity issues, where Google wasn’t exactly sure about what the website was, once this is done and it’s done properly, you’ll notice a change in the profile, so there can be an increase in keywords, because Google has suddenly understood what you are actually about, and so will provide more relevant traffic to you on that specific topic.
So comparing traditional SEO, and then adding an additional layer of structured data, this is something that will definitely happen. This does not mean that you will increase your rankings though, there can be cases where, once all of this has happened, that you have actually implemented correctly structured data, you will find that your CTR has gone up, but you may find that your average position on some keywords has gone down, because Google has understood exactly what you are about, but there are other 250 ranking factors that are not working in your favour, and are flavouring perhaps your competition.
So you know exactly where you stand, but at that point then you have to work on other things, on gaining link popularity, or on making, creating better content, because the structured data does not influence what you are saying or how you are saying that.”