Eric Enge is a renowned SEO expert and a thought leader. He is the Founder and CEO of the award- winning digital marketing agency Stone Temple. He is also an author and a public speaker. Erichas spoken at various conferences including Search Marketing Expo, Pubcon, SEMPO and the American Marketing Association.
In 2009, he co-authored The Art of SEO (Theory in Practice) with Rand Fishkin, Jessie Stricchiola and Stephan Spencer. In 2016, Eric was named “Search Personality of the Year 2016” at the US Search Awards and was named the “Search Marketer of the Year 2016” at Search Engine Land’s Landy Awards.
Eric has also been a contributor to many reputable industry blogs such as Moz, Search Engine Land, Convince and Convert and more.
In this interview, Eric Enge talks about his company Stone Temple, SEO in 2018, PWAs, image search, Machine Learning, Google and lot more. Read on.
Kavin Paulson: Hi Eric, thank you so much for your time, we are honored to have you featured in The iMarketing Café. Can you tell us something that we do not know about you?
Eric Enge: In 1984, I was world champion at foosball (aka “table soccer”), and in 1985 I was US National champion as well. That’s a long time ago, but I’m still pretty good at it.
Kavin Paulson: Tell us more about Stone Temple
Eric Enge: Stone Temple is a digital marketing agency that offers SEO, content marketing, and social media services. We have 70 employees, plus 60 contractors that make up the team. Overall, the tea has more than 500 years of digital marketing experience. We serve a wide range of companies, focused primarily on large and medium enterprise accounts, including 11 Fortuner 500 companies.
In addition to the awards listed above, the company was named the Best Large SEO agency by the US Search Awards in 2016, and in 2018 won the Best B2B Interactive Marketing campaign, and Best Use of Video from the Interactive Marketing Awards.
Kavin Paulson: How does Stone Temple differentiate itself from competition?
Eric Enge: We regularly perform in-depth marketing research, which provides unique insight into how things actually work out there. Our research has been covered by media such as the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Techcrunch, ZDNet, CNet, CNBC, and much more.
In terms of our services, we have a commitment to excellence that few can match. Each of our engagements has a multi-tiered team including a senior project lead that also serves as the account manager for the engagement. This means that the person on the phone can answer the great majority of their questions without needing help.
We also have an internal review process that gets executive eyes on every single engagement. One key part of this is regular account reviews. As a result, we’re always feeding in the best of the best insight and thought into each of our engagements.
Kavin Paulson: Stone Temple has bagged some prestigious awards and has been one of the most popular digital marketing agencies in the world. Can you tell us about the journey and the milestones achieved?
Eric Enge: In 2012, we were approximately 12 people in size. Growing 6x in 6 years is very challenging to do in a services company. Some of the key aspects of it all were:
1. We were very stubborn in our hiring process and worked hard to be patient with hiring and bring in the best people available.
2. We focused a lot of energy in building the management team. One of the most important things you can do is hire people that are smarter than you in areas that are not your strong suit.
3. Lots of energy has gone into building processes. Growth is not possible without handling these things well. Organizations face new challenges as they grow, and these tend to hit when you reach around 10 people, again at 25 people, again at 50, and so forth. If you don’t adapt as you pass through these milestones, you will end up facing setbacks until you do.
Kavin Paulson: So, SEO predictions for this year (2018) are out now. What’s your take on them? Which one do you think would be the most important SEO trend of the year?
Eric Enge: What I see happening out there is that Google’s ability to evaluate content relevance and content quality is improving rapidly. We will see more and more evidence of this throughout 2018. Smart digital marketers will double down on investments in content and content experiences, with a major focus on helping users complete the tasks that they are looking to complete.
That’s my formula for winning in 2018 and going forward.
Kavin Paulson: Do you think PWAs are here to stay? How do you think they will impact SEO?
Eric Enge: A lot of people are implementing PWAs, and AMP as well, and getting very strong results. One example of this is a site called Carved that sells wooden phone cases.
They implemented a site as a PWA, but also in AMP (what people in the industry call a PWAMP). To be clear, even their basic desktop pages are coded in AMP. The site is blazingly fast. They did a side by side comparison of this implementation vs. a traditional mobile version of their pages and saw a 77% lift in the conversion of their PWAMP pages over their traditional mobile web pages. That’s pretty impressive.
The part where PWAs help in page speed is that the “Service Worker” piece of it preloads pages that the user may request next, so when the user requests the next page, it may already be on their device. PWAs have other benefits too, such as being easier to develop and maintain than a native Smartphone app.
As for impacting rankings, I don’t see PWAs as doing that. However, SEO should be about a lot more than just driving rankings. You can think of it more broadly as “increasing the amount of revenue received from organic search traffic.” Under that definition, the impact of PWAs on SEO is significant.
Kavin Paulson: In the recent times, there has been so much talk about Google getting advanced with use of machine learning/AI technology and there are so many discussions happening around on AI/Machine Learning’s impact on SEO, but despite all the hype, Google doesn’t seem to be living up to it, we still see a lot of imperfections in Google’s search results. By when do you think we will be able to see considerable impact of AI/machine learning on Search?
Eric Enge: We’re actually already seeing it, but people are expecting too much of it. As I’ll note in the answer to another one of the questions below, Google has made great strides in being able to evaluate content relevance and content quality.But, it’s far from perfect.
See, what people don’t realize is the inherent limitations of machine learning. It requires a ton of data to be effective.
It’s not something where they can compare five pages that are relevant to a rarely used search query and suddenly have a perfect scoring system for that.
As they get more and more data on things, the impact will grow. For example, for that rarely used query with only five relevant pages, they might have enough data to make a judgment after a decade
So, the impact of this will keep developing over time, but it’s already happening.
Kavin Paulson: What’s your take on Google Lens and the advancement happening in image search?
Eric Enge: Image processing has been a huge area for machine learning for some time, and it’s a very ripe area for it, because there is so much data available.I think that this area will progress pretty rapidly, and I expect to see a lot of activity here.
Kavin Paulson: According to a recent report, Amazon is the most popular starting point for American online shoppers for product search. With the increase in search activities across platforms and devices (some of which have come to the market recently e.g. Home pod), do you think SEOs will take the old advice ‘look beyond Google’ seriously? How do you think this emerging trend will impact the SEO landscape?
Eric Enge: It’s really important to look at more than Google. Not because Google is facing some level of dire threat. They’re not (in the near term at least).
BTW, regarding that report, I’ve heard others suggest that the product search story might be more complex that what was outlined in that story. It’s not something that I have dug into personally, so I’ll leave it at that. And, Amazon SEO is something that makes sense for a lot of businesses to pursue.
I also think that optimizing for personal assistants is an important area, and I’ll discuss that more in the next point.
Kavin Paulson: Where do you see Google five years from now?
Eric Enge: That’s a far-reaching question! It’s always hard to assess what the future will bring. I think one of the big trends to watch is the growth of digital personal assistants. Tools like the Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, and Siri are already quite powerful. What remains to be seen is how much more powerful they can become, and how that will drive additional usage.
A large percentage of people use these digital personal assistants for one thing or another, but the tasks are often quite simple, such as “Call Mom”. Some key things that that are key to the long term success of these platforms are:
1. Can they really manage your calendar and address book in a way that’s easy and intuitive?
2. Can they become a simple and intuitive way to handle “home control”? BTW, Google Assistant, Alexa, and Cortana have functionality for this, but setting them up is far from simple.
3. Will they allow you to seamlessly manage your activities with others (integrate calendars based on permissions, notify people, etc.)
These are just a few areas, but this is a huge battleground that all the major players are pursuing. They’re doing it because if it indeed takes off, the winner in this arena will become the new Google over the next five years. And, of course, if Google is the winner in market share here, then this will be them.
Kavin Paulson: If you could change one thing about Google, What would that be?
Eric Enge: What most people would probably say to this question is “be more transparent”, but that’s extremely difficult for a company like Google that exists in a very competitive market to do. But, there is a flavor of that response that I think they can do, and that is share more data.
Examples of this would include adding to Search Console information on your featured snippets and on queries that come in using voice. I know from talking to Googlers, that there is internal debate about these things, but it would be very, very useful to site owners that know how to make use of it in my opinion.
Kavin Paulson: If you were not an SEO, what would you have been?
Eric Enge: Based on current knowledge, I would be in machine learning. That’s the answer from a technical career perspective. However, from another perspective, my father, and older brother were university professors for their careers.
Kavin Paulson: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Eric Enge: That’s a great question. I love what I’m doing, so I don’t see myself stopping it anytime soon. But, five years is a long time from now, so you never know!
Kavin Paulson: How would you describe yourself in one word?
Eric Enge: Scientist – it’s a mindset that colors how I approach (nearly) everything.
Kavin Paulson: On a lighter note, what would you do if you woke up one morning and found out that you had become Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google?
Eric Enge: I’ll give you three answers to that question:
1. Throw a company wide party!
2. What I’d enjoy most about that is that I would get to learn about all the cool things that they are doing. For example, I’d love to know all the ways that they are actually using machine learning.
3. But, then it would probably sink in what a serious responsibility that is, and I’d start trying to work with my staff to figure out what they were doing and how I could help.
Kavin Paulson: Thank you so much Eric. It was great talking to you.
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