Jono Alderson and the future of digital marketing: “We need to think bigger. We need to be audience-centric”

Jono Alderson is a leading figure in the SEO world, a digital strategist, marketing technologist and full-stack developer, with almost 20 years of experience in web development, SEO, Analytics, brand strategy and conversion rate optimization.

Beginning 2018, he joined Yoast, one of the most popular SEO plugins for WordPress around the world, in their quest to make SEO available to everyone. As Special Ops, his job is to improve the quality, accessibility and performance of websites and to solve technical SEO.

Jono says he was doing technical SEO before he’d even heard of SEO. Put him in front of a computer and he can dream in CSS, think in database structures and see in JavaScript. The web is where he can be creative, and practically make anything he can think of.

In 2018, Jono has been named SEO World Champion at SEOktoberfest Conference and Best SEO Specialist by Serpstat. We’re happy he joined us in Bucharest at GPeC SUMMIT to give the Romanian audience a glimpse into the future of digital marketing. Thank you for being a part of the GPeC Community, Jono.

Below you can read the interview he gave us after his keynote speech.

GPeC: So, “Digital Marketing is dead. What’s next?”. Jono, can you sum up the main ideas of your presentation at GPeC SUMMIT?

Jono Alderson: There’s a huge shift in how the web works. People have much higher expectations. Things need to be faster and more like apps: more engaging, more interactive.

Consumer behavior is changing on top of that technology and I think a lot of brands aren’t really reacting to that. They’re not ready for a world where people have higher expectations of their websites.

People have worse experiences with websites. They’re more likely to want to consume content and transact on places like WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook and, maybe that means that our websites are less important. Maybe the way we think about marketing and getting people to your site and getting them to convert, kind of misses the point. And as consumer behavior changes, maybe we need to look outwards rather than inwards.

And there are some really scary implications of that, especially when you think about how machine learning systems and as good assistive devices like Google Home, Amazon Alexa are becoming, to add even more changes to how people behave. And it makes our content and our websites and our little castles less and less relevant, because they’re friction.

Nobody wants to go to a website and look through e-commerce pages. Nobody wants to fill out conversion forms. That’s a dysfunction of an earlier internet and now we’re entering a new age and I don’t think anyone’s really thinking about how that’s gonna work.

GPeC: Karl Gilis mentioned earlier that marketers should develop a customer-centric approach, each step in the business strategy. Is that what you’re saying?

Jono Alderson: Customer centricity is the idea that you target your group of people. I think we need to think bigger. I think we need to be audience centric.

I think we need to be creating content and messaging and things to engage a much wider pool and not just of our customers and the people who get to our websites, but the people who might influence our potential users or customers, or journalists, or the general populace. We need to be building brands and content that’s not just for our tiny little pool of people, but to be much broader.

GPeC: In another interview you mentioned the concept of distance-to-perfect. How do you translate it into business?

Jono Alderson: Distance-to-perfect is the idea that instead of saying how good this needs to be in saying, okay it needs to be 6/10 before we launch it or can we get it 7/10, you say, let’s take a moment and understand what a 10/10 would look like.

What does the perfect version of this look like, and then measure back and go, okay, how far are we away from that. And it radically changes the way that businesses think, because so many parts of business are based on what’s the least we can spend to do as much as we need to get away with. It’s all based on minimum viable effort, minimum viable spend, minimal viable quality. When you start saying “How far away from perfect are we?”, people start to think “Can we get a bit further? Can we produce something better rather than can we do something good enough?”.

GPeC: What are your top approaches for technical SEO?

Jono Alderson quote user expectationJono Alderson: For a long time, the web has been slow, and the mobile web in particular, and now that’s very high on Google’s agenda. They’re really really pushing to educate, to get people to upgrade. They are pioneering new technologies and many many businesses still have slow websites, so number one is: sort out speed and performance! There are thousands of little things you can do. It’s more efficient, more profitable, it converts more users, Google likes it, it’s a win-win.

The second thing for a tech SEO is schema structured markup. We released an update to Yoast SEO recently that generates huge amounts of connected structured data, so it says not just “here’s a page full of text”, but “this is a web page about cats and it was written by John Oh, who worked for this organization, who has these properties” and connects it all so Google can understand that.

Any website, certainly e-commerce, any website that produces targeted tailored content should be using schema markup to help describe what a page is about in a way that Google can understand it and that gets you better search results, higher rankings, more click-through rate, stuff in the SERPs. It’s a no brainer.

GPeC: What’s your take on the link-building approach?

Jono Alderson: I’m really passionately against link building. I think any scenario where you can spend money on getting links, whether that’s by buying them directly or employing an agency, you are essentially buying links and that’s against Google‘s guidelines. Google doesn’t want a world where I can exchange money for links and if that goes through the hands of an agency, that’s still buying links. I think what we should be doing is earning links and having products and services and brands that people link to.

And that might mean that instead of – I don’t know, say I’m a chicken restaurant – instead of going out and creating silly content about chicken and trying to get it in front of journalists, maybe I should train my chefs, maybe I should have a better reputation, maybe I should improve the ingredients, maybe I should do something that’s to the core of the thing that I am and have, the means that people talk about.

GPeC: How to you see the future of voice search?

Jono Alderson: I think voice is a little bit of a distraction. A lot of people focus on how do I rank first for voice search. How do I get featured snippets. I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I think it’s interesting to step back and look at why Google and Amazon are pushing so hard on voice when it’s not.. maybe not quite ready yet. It’s because it’s a huge potential market for them. And increasing the number of searches and changing habits, while we don’t search at the moment, to make people search, is a huge opportunity for them to show more ads and get more whatever.

I think the number one thing for voice and what Google are really pushing is schema markup, and I think, in order to get to a point where voices, the dream we’ve all been sold for voice, Google can’t just crawl the web and extract content. They have to understand entities and their relationships. And to do that, they need structured data on pages.

So, I think, if you’re not already marking up all your content with the kind of rich structured data that says “this is a product and this is its price and it’s available in these countries and here’s all of its properties”, then you’re going to find it harder and harder to turn up in, not just voice search, but normal search.

Google doesn’t want to show a set of ten results in listings. They want rich interactive fluid stuff, and to do that, they need that markup. And then voice is just a layer on top of that, but that’s the interesting bit.

GPeC: Do you have any recommendations for video marketers to make their videos rank better?

Jono Alderson: Video’s not my speciality, but it’s certainly an interesting space. As consumers we spend more and more time consuming content in video format. I think the best thing you can do to learn more about video marketing is go and read everything and listen to all the talks by Phil Nottingham, who is ex-Distilled, really smart guy, currently at Wistia. He knows more about video marketing than we all know about SEO combined.

GPeC: Who should profesional marketers follow online for new trends, tactics and opportunities in the industry?

Jono Alderson: Ooh, a whole bunch of people. There’s a few who really stand outs on Twitter. I like the normal names you’d expect to hear: Rand Fishkin, Wil Reynolds, Avinash Kaushik etc. they come up with new ways of thinking about stuff and spotting opportunities. They’re the first to kind of codify and decide what the new things are.

Check out the entire interview on YouTube. Don’t forget to subscribe to our Youtube Channel to make sure you watch our interviews and video transmissions as soon as they go live.

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