Brand Breakout Summit/2020: Building Your Brand Online with SEO

Building a great online experience is more important than ever to succeed at digital marketing. For many companies, building this experience and their online brand to effectively compete, is beyond their budget. Tomorrow’s marketing stack relies on the power of WordPress and its ecosystem to do just that at a fraction of what this would have cost a decade ago. Joost de Valk, Founder & Chief Product Officer, Yoast will explain what this marketing stack is, why it’s so great for SEO, and how everyone, from Disney to the local baker, can use these tools.

Video recording of session

Slides from the session

Joost de Valk, Founder & Chief Product Officer, Yoast discusses: 

  • How to collaborate with Google as more than a search engine to better reach its users 
  • A new marketing stack to make your website performant, competitive and optimized for user experience

You should always be working on the speed of your site because making your site faster is the best way of making it more usable.

Full text transcript


– Hey everyone, my name’s Joost, I’m the founder and chief product officer at Yoast.


And we’re going to talk about SEO and building a brand online in 2020.


Over the last few years, the Web has been changing the world.


And the last few months, the world has been changing the Web even faster.


I would really love to be in a room with you right now, but I’m not, because of all the things that are happening. So because of that, the web is really changing.


We’re doing these things online that we weren’t doing before.


And a lot of that is well, it’s both scary, but it’s also good and it gives us a lot of new opportunities.


The thing is our businesses aren’t changing all that much.


We’re still selling like we are running a brick and mortar store. And we are still behaving a bit like that is the truth that we live in.


We’re trying to do all these new things but we’re still using the logic that we knew from the old world.


The logic of the old scarce world, where we didn’t have that many competitors.


The thing is that today consumers still live in an information scarce world.


People want to know what they should be buying and why they should be buying that and what is the best thing.


And often they don’t have access to all that information.


I still don’t know when I’m buying a car, how much of that is marketing dollars or, and how much of that is actually the metal and the production value.


So organizations built brands and those brands are a proxy for trust.


They are the thing that we trust to do well and the thing that we trust to help us make those decisions.


I want my Coca-Cola, I want my particular type of brand of car in my case, a Volvo, because I trust that brand and because I have a lot of relationship with that.


You compete on that feeling because there is nothing else.


But imagine a world where you don’t need to rely on trust.


Google is racing towards omniscience.


They’re trying to become the Star Trek computer and other search engines are doing the same thing.


Bing for instance, is working really hard on answering questions with a yes or no, something that Google so far has not been able to do.


Although Google has been able to provide these answer boxes, where if you type in a query more and more, you’ll get an answer box that really gives the answer to your question.


They don’t have information scarcity, they have a lot of information on you.


And increasingly they’re using our information to make decisions on the behalf of the user, on what a good fit looks like.


And this is scary if you realize that a large percentage of users is doing their research online before they buy,whether they buy online or offline.


This is research from 2016 and over the last few months, we’ve seen a huge change in this, probably, because people can not go and browse into stores.


They cannot walk around and see what feels good for them.


They need to rely on online research.


So online as whether it is for direct purchase or whether it just, just for the research and they’ll do the purchase offline, online is becoming more and more and more important.


And the thing is in Google’s perspective, quality is becoming quantifiable.


They are able to see whether you fit a particular customer more and more, not just by looking at the text on your page, or by looking at the links to your website.


They can see the interactions, they can track, what everyone is doing.


They have all these sources of information that they can tie together.


And all of that together gives them an idea on how happy people are, how many people search for your brand, how many people search for your brand plus complain, or other words,  how many people search for your brand and all sorts of terms that would indicate that they love you.


They are very good at figuring out whether a brand is a good fit and who works, what works for them and who works for what?


So you have to be a good fit.


When you, you have to be the good mix of cost and quality and reputation and proximity.


If I’m searching for a pizza place and I’m in the Netherlands, it gives no reason for them to give me a pizza place in Austin.


But that might not be true in any other search that you do.


It really depends.


The problem is that we’ve made up all these marketing stories to overcome our weaknesses.


We we’ve made all these stories, that some things that we do are good, even though in dojo or not.


And we won’t be getting away with that anymore.


Google’s rich experiences are the future and until recently, only SEOs were playing with this.


Only SEOs we’re trying to get all these new rich things and trying to get these new tight and nice results. But everyone should be working on this.


A lot of searches will never reach a website.


This is research from SparkToro, Rand Fishkin the founder of Moz’s new company.


In Q2 of 2019, almost half of all searches did not lead to a click.


People found the answer to their question straight there in the search results.


So 70% of all the users start their product decisions with search, probably a lot higher now.


50% of them never get beyond search.


Do the math.


That’s the large majority of people that will not end up at your store if you don’t take care of all of this.


Google is their destination and Google has all of the data that they need to have.


So we need to stop thinking about Google as a search engine and start thinking about how we can help Google to give the solutions that we have to their users.


So everyone seems to be building huge websites and making those websites bigger and bigger.


And it’s not what Google wants. It’s not what your user wants. Increasingly Google sees your website as friction because your website is slow, it’s full of ads and models and popups.


Why would Google send visitors to your website if it doesn’t need to?


So what you need is a new marketing stack.


So here it is. And we’ll put Google at the bottom because 70% or more is of people that are doing purchases online or offline, Google is influencing them.


This is where your content will be consumed most of the time.


A lot of the time, they won’t even reach your site.


Now for some information, this is more problematic than others.


For instance, for recipes, for the longest time, Google was not able to understand all of this because all of this might make sense to us as a user, but to a search engine this does not make sense.


All these times the design helps us, but it doesn’t help a search engine.


So what do all these things say? How did these things relate to each other?


That is where they invented and needed structured data.


They need that not just because they want to show that nicely to you in a web search result, but because they want to help you do this on other things in their personal assistants.


The answer to this is and the way that it describes a lot of things out there.

[00:08:53.09] is an initiative by all the four major search engines together to describe in a structured way, the world, literally.


Over the last few weeks and months, it’s been changing because of this COVID situation and they’ve added things that they didn’t have before.


You could describe an event before, but this particular markup that we’re looking at right now has an online event addition to it that was only done in the last few weeks, because suddenly all of these events had gone online.


So the question becomes, can your website, your platform, feed their platform?


Can your data feed with schema and structured data, feed them enough that they have all the

information they need?


The thing is, traffic to your site should not be the KPI that you measure this on.


It should be how many people have seen your brand and have interacted with it and where that happens really isn’t all that important.


Now to get this to work well, we need to standardize. And Google has understood that, which is why they love WordPress.


You see, there are thousands of CMSes out there, but there’s only one CMS that has 36% market share.


And then number two has less than 10% of that.


So WordPress is huge. And by changing WordPress, the team at Google can make the web better for everyone.


So their developer relations team, and these are awesome people, Alberto and their team of developers are working hard on making WordPress better.


They’ve worked on lazy loading images and we’ve worked with them recently on XML sitemaps, which are getting ready for one of the next future versions of WordPress, where XML sitemaps will be baked into core, making every site easier to understand for search engines.


So Google is the layer, but then on top of that WordPress is the next logical choice.


More importantly, it is because we have this new block editor where we can do all these things, and these experience we can create, rather than just writing content, we can create more bigger things.


We can build blocks and do all these cool things with it, like build how-to’s and FAQs that they can understand and parse and use properly in the search results.


So the Block editor and the Schema on top of WordPress are what makes it good.


Now I’ll have to say the Block editor and a Schema on top of Drupal will also work for some cases, but it’s just such a tiny group of people.


That’s why Google focuses on WordPress and so do we.


It’s by far the biggest thing out there. And then what we still have is the web, which is slow and messy and very hard for them to crawl as if you have a large site or a host, you’ll see a lot of data that they are they’re grabbing every day.


I used to work at the Guardian and we’d have pages on the Guardian that they’d crawl 80,000 times a day.


Literally every single time, they’d grabbed that page just to make sure that they weren’t missing any changes.


That’s why they’ve introduced, just last week actually, Web Vitals, which is a new way for them to measure how fast your site is.


They’re doing that in all sorts of different ways and they’re increasing how well they do that all the time.


And they’ve now said, hey, we’ve got these three new Web Vitals that we’re going to make very important and we’re going to include them in our ranking as of next year.


So you have some time to prepare. You don’t need to do anything right now if you’re not already working on the speed of your site.


But to be honest, you should always be working on the speed of your site because making your site faster is the best way of making it more usable.


These Web Vitals are very important and they used them in a set of things together that they called page experience that they want to start using as a ranking factor.


So you need great performance and I would be remiss if I didn’t say for good performance, good hosting is important too.


And with that, you get a good UX as well.


Now, what you also need is for your site to be available everywhere.


So you’ve got PWAs which allow your site to be installed like in mobile App, on mobile phones.


And you have to work on accessibility.


Now we’ve been a proponent of that for a long time.


One of our core developers that spends half of his time working on WordPress core does nothing but accessibility for WordPress core.


Everyone should be able to use your website.


If you’re building a website and you’re doing conversion rate optimization and stuff like that, working on your basic accessibility will make it so much easier for large groups of people to use your website properly that it really makes no sense not to fix it.


So PWA is accessibility. You have to be App-like online and offline, works for everyone, everywhere. 


Then Google has another thing on top of that.


It’s called Site Kit.


It’s there new official WordPress plugin,  and it’s getting better and better all the time.


It’s growing like crazy, really growing really fast.


And it helps you grab all the information that Google has on your site, into your site.


So on your dashboard, you can easily see your analytics, your search console data, and all these things that Google has.


If you run AdSense, you can get that information into your dashboard as well.


And you can use that combined to make your website better from within your own website.


Which means, that you don’t need to go out to free four or five different tools to find all the info, it’s all there.


So we have these layers and of course you could try and play all of this in other ecosystems.


The problem is that they all have walled gardens, and it’s always a race to the bottom.


If you we’re going to say, we’ll just sell our product in Amazon and you become too good, the next thing that happens is that Amazon starts to create your product as an Amazon basic and start selling it themselves directly.


You need to build your brand identity, you need to build your own platform and your own store.


You can just say, Hey, we’ll, market on Facebook. I’m fine with you marketing on Facebook, but get those people to your site, get them in your newsletter, own the platforms that you market on.


And honestly, some of these have been around for a while.


Others have been around for ages, a new one might pop up tomorrow and leave Facebook for instance, in the dust and you’d be gone.


So let’s zoom out.


We have Google at the bottom of our pyramid, which drives 70% or more of purchases.


Then we have WordPress, which has an incredible platform advantage right now.


Then we have the Block editor and the Schema stuff that we can do on top of that, that structure our content.


Then we need to work on our performance and make sure that our sites are fast, which is a challenge for everyone all the time, everywhere.


Then we have to work on our PWAs and accessibility and making sure that our site is accessible and App-like and snappy, and I can use everything that I need to use when I could be needing it as a user.


Then we have Site Kit, which does the reporting and the analytics.


And then you’ll notice that there’s the thing on top and you know that I am working for Yoast.


We try and tie all of these together, but to be honest, you’ve seen us already in the stuff I’ve shown you.


Because some of our blocks are in the Block editor.


We’re working with Google on making WordPress better.


We try to be the glue that ties all of these together.


So we used to have an AMP glue plugin, for instance, that tied the Google AMP plugin and the Yoast SEO plugin together.


It’s no longer needed because we’ve been able to work with Google so that both the AMP plugin and our plugin now have to fit the bits where we tie in together and it just works.


I think that this is the best platform out there and all of this, except for the hosting that I’ve mentioned can be free.


Of course you can buy a premium version of our plugin and do other things,  but it can be free.


You can compete for zero.


Which is what we want.


Our mission is SEO for everyone.


We want you to be able to compete, and this gives you that. Good luck. 




– Thinking about staying up with all these trends or applying this stack, it’s a combination of content and technology.


Some organizations have dedicated people or teams thinking about this like SEOs and such, but for those that don’t, how might people think about the types of resources to bring together to make this happen?



– So in many ways, I think what we are trying to do, and actually it’s, it is you and us, literally your combination of your hosting company as in WP engine or whatever you use as your hosting company and us as WordPress the community and Yoast the SEO tool.


We try to take all or most of the tech work out of your way.


So I think you won’t need too many people on tech.


Honestly, in my ideal world, you don’t need a technical SEO person.


And you are just working on making your content better and thinking about how people would use your content and how you can give it to them in that way that they can use it in the most useful matter.


Which doesn’t mean that you never have to understand anything about Google.


You should definitely keep up with what the new trends are, et cetera, but you need to look at, okay, how do I apply this by writing content or creating better content?



– Right, Makes sense. Let’s get some of these other questions here.


If you are an information business and Google is pulling your info to get the answer on their page without a click, is that helpful to you?



– Well, that really depends on what you call an information business.


If there is no value for you and people seeing your brand combined with that information into search results, then that might not necessarily be good for you.


But then the question is why are you there in the first place? What’s your added value?


If your value is bringing information from A to B, then you’re basically doing what Google does and Google is gonna eat you alive.



– Powerful Comment, Yeah. Oh, this is a good one it’s

relevant to a lot of the topics, at Summit this year.


How do you see SEO and your plugin, a plugin named Yoast, if you haven’t guessed, working with headless WordPress?


– Well actually we’ve just done a huge release of Yoast SEO, our 14.O release, which we dubbed indexable.


In which we rebuilt a lot of what we do and in which we built in complete REST API endpoint.


So basically, if you do a REST API request to the core WordPress REST API, you’ll get a blob of the metadata for that particular page that we have created for that page specifically.


So you don’t need to really think about that much.


I think you can just integrate with it.


We’ve been working with some people like the team at Frontity and some others on how they can incorporate that.


It was looking very good. So use the latest version of Yoast SEO, see what you get from the REST API, when you do the requests, use that info and if you have feature requests, we’re all ears.



– Which leads you to the next question maybe, people definitely want to talk to you.


How is Yoast and WordPress responding to the changes Google announced with lighthouse 6.O?



– So Google announced what they call page experience factors as becoming a ranking factor next year.


Honestly for us, every change that Google has announced over just about the last decade has not changed the advice that we give people on how to optimize your site, because what we’ve been doing from the beginning is optimizing for best user experience and that’s what Google is optimizing its results for.


It’s just getting better at evaluating what a good user experience is.


So they’re introducing new factors, they’re saying, “Hey, we’re gonna use these things to measure that, so that you know what to measure best,” but that doesn’t change that the end goal is to have a good website that works well for end users.


So I’m gonna use a nice skating reference, which is weird because I’m from Europe, we don’t do that stuff here, but I loved it when I first heard it.


Is that you skate to where the park is going to be.


You don’t skate to where the park is.


And that’s what we’ve always done in our SEO advice.


So we were not even adapting to it, we’ve always done this.


What I will say is I really like what Google’s doing with the new page experience stuff, because it’s becoming a bit clearer to people what they actually mean when they say that.


And I think that that is good help.


I do think that it’s a good thing for hosts because speed is becoming more relevant yet again, and, well, the good hosts get to show that they’re good.



– Always minding the technical components as well. Well, with that, I think we’re up at time.


I wanna give a big thank you again Joost for joining us, especially this late in the evening, your time.


And for everybody who’s attending, thank you, thank you for all the questions and hope you enjoy the rest of Summit.


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