Neil Patel on the SEO X-Factor

Neil Patel, the co-founder of NP Digital and NYT bestselling author, doesn't mince words. He's made a name for himself as an oracle for all things marketing and digital, and when we interviewed him for our digital forecast series, he was not afraid to tell it like it is.

When we asked Patel about the future of VR/AR, he said "soon, but not yet." And when we quizzed him on how Covid-19 has affected marketing, he was quick to respond with a prediction that the older generation won't be returning to brick and mortar stores. His reasoning is that they've had a taste of the convenience and price-point of online retailers.

Patel knows his stuff on SEO, and thanks to this opportunity to pick his brain, now so do we. From mobile optimization to voice search, here are the key takeaways from our chat about the future of search and content optimization with Neil Patel.

What's next for SEO? 

According to Patel, "SEO used to be: build links, build content and you're good to go." However, a strong SEO X-Factor has since emerged, which is separating the pack. Whereas ticking the boxes might have been good enough before, it's now about branding and brand queries. Patel says "When you leverage social media, content marketing, going live, videos on YouTube, podcasting… what happens is you get your brand out there, which then creates more brand queries and then this indirectly helps your SEO."   

The common denominator to all these digital ventures is content. And Patel agrees wholeheartedly that in regard to SEO, content is still king. Patel says, "Whether it’s video-based content, whether it's audio or whether it's text-based content, content is king. Google will eventually figure out how to rank it all." Essentially, educational and entertaining content that takes into account the user experience is always going to succeed in the market. Nowadays, there's no place for SEO content stuffed with links and keywords. Patel says "The big thing when you're creating content is that you need to think about user experience. Most people think about content as 'How many words do I need and how many keywords can I fit in?' versus 'What do the users want?'"

Patel gives this example: Do you need 2000 words on how to tie a tie? The answer is: not really. You could use a YouTube video or an animated GIF instead. By respecting your customer’s priorities and time, you’re putting them first. 

The world is already mobile-centric — voice-centric is next.

Google introduced mobile indexing in 2019, and by now Google predominantly uses mobile versions of content to index and rank nearly 70% of sites. As such, Patel and many others believe that we're already living in a mobile-centric world. Patel says, "When you think about SEO and content, the big thing that most people aren't taking into account is responsive [mobile] designs, which I would say a lot of people are already doing, but you don't want a mobile website. That's archaic and too much to maintain. Just create one responsive website." 

Patel also notes that page speed is even more critical. "Just because there is 5G now doesn't mean someone's phone is going to load fast… So, you've got to make sure your website loads extremely fast for mobile." 

Not only has the world turned mobile-centric — it's now turning voice-centric. Half of the world's searches are now voice searches. People are turning to products like Siri, Alexa and Google Home to search for answers. And according to Patel, this makes the race quite a bit tighter. A regular search will turn up a whole page of results, but a voice search only turns up one. Whereas companies used to aim to be on page one; now they have to aim to be the one and only. For example, if you’re in the kitchen whipping up spaghetti bolognese and you ask Siri or Alexa for a recipe, it’s only going to give you one, not a list. As Patel puts it, "The winner takes it all." 

The question is: how do you make your digital products compatible with voice search? Patel advises starting with your technology —  various AI and machine learning tools can optimize your digital products for voice search and enable customers to make a purchase with voice commands only. 

Neil Patel's tips for marketers and creators to adapt 

With all these rapid advancements — and the ongoing challenge of the Covid-19 crisis — how can content professionals hope to keep up? For Patel, it comes down to one thing: putting engagement first. Patel says, "Put one thing in front of your mind: engagement. All of these social networks, social platforms, and even search platforms are moving towards engagement… and they're looking at true forms of engagement. Google wants people to be very engaged with the content — reading it versus clicking the back button for the next result. Because that tells [Google] they weren't satisfied." 

So, how do you create engaging content? It comes down to your ability to produce better, more creative content. With so much content created daily, there's no room for average content. Patel says, "creativity is going to be one of the biggest levers in marketing and, in my opinion, more important than the technical aspects because it's easier to get the technical aspects done." Before you race out and create new content, Patel suggests also turning your attention to your old stuff — it's just as important to keep it fresh and updated. 

Lastly, for creatives looking for new channels to drive search queries, Patel suggests leaning into live content. Whether that’s on Instagram Stories, a YouTube Livestream or going live on Facebook, this type of content is growing increasingly popular as audiences want to engage and interact in real-time. For an ecommerce brand, consider going live to showcase your product and answer customer’s questions. It’s really never been easier to create a two-way conversation between you and your customers. 

To hear more from Neil Patel and other experts, subscribe to our digital forecast YouTube channel.

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