Nichola StottNichola Stott is founder and director of SEO and social media agency the media flow, and previously worked as head of UK commercial search partners at Yahoo! 

We’ve been asking Nichola about the role of the PR in SEO, the merging of search and social media, and mobile and local search…

Nichola will also be looking into the future of search in her presentation at Econsultancy’s Future of Digital Marketing event in London on June 15. 

What will you be speaking about at The Future of Digital Marketing event?

It’s a very brief high-level presentation so I probably can’t say much more than the focus, which will be how technology developments facilitate greater personal relevance.

What do you see as the key trends in search at the moment?

Again trends are technology-led, so we’re seeing clear and obvious growth in search visits on mobile, coupled with an increasing contribution to the query mix from local.

How do you see mobile search developing over the next couple of years? How much of an impact will mobile have on SEO?

Search on mobile devices will of course continue to grow, though SEO concerns from a technical perspective are becoming in some ways simpler as smart devices like iPhone, Android etc. offer such a good quality browsing experience that there’s no need to duplicate or replicate your site on a mobile domain or sub-domain.

One site, with different external style sheets is a growing and efficient solution. Focus therefore should be on understanding the motive, intent and personal nature of search on mobile and making sure your content and experience caters to this.

How will the coming together of search and social change the job of the SEO?

It’s a job that continually evolves and SEO professionals are well-used to constant learning.

As always, the search engine goal is to retrieve and rank by machine algorithms, a set of results most relevant to humans but now we’re seeing identity, authority, personal connection and preference data incorporated.

It makes the job more varied and interesting and seems to be leading to a merging of skills and disciplines as there are fewer hard lines between say, an SEO and a social media professional.

How significant are developments such as Google’s +1 button?

Hugely significant for so many reasons. Firstly, this mechanism provides for a peer and personal recommendation element which can cross all other data types and components. Imagining how that data could look engine-side, it could almost be considered another dimension or texture.

Secondly (and along with social circle) it’s the first time we’ve seen an open attempt to deliver resonance, not just relevance or preference.

Currently Google is pretty much dependent on the Twitter fire hose for authority data and the existence of a Google profile for connectivity. As +1 rolls out at page level we should see a sharp increase in Google Profile uptake and therefore more data, more meaning and more development potential.

How useful is social media for SEO?

Prior to Google, search engines used on-page elements and keywords on the page to rank websites. Google provided an infinitely more relevant experience by incorporating link-data as a popularity model (in the PageRank algorithm).

Today we have additional enormous sources of data about person-to-person connections and interactions. It would be ludicrous to imagine this data is ignored.

We have had a few discussions on this blog about the role of the PR in SEO (and linkbuilding in particular), what is your take on this?

It’s a topic that is extremely important to me as I have a strong PR background (prior to working for Yahoo! I spent five years at PR Newswire), and am a real advocate of PR-led link-building campaigns and techniques.

I honestly believe that working in collaborative teams will drive the overall quality of work that both parties provide to mutual clients; not to mention the benefits to end users that can be seen from quality marketing techniques.

I feel so strongly about this that in partnership with Claire Thompson; (an extremely experienced and widely respected PR consultant and founder of WavesPR) we launched SEO PR Training in February of this year.

We offer training to teach SEO professionals about the industry; skills and techniques of PR professionals (and vice versa) but we feel it is important to point out that we’re not suggesting SEOs “have a go” at PR, or PRs “have a go” at SEO but that by understanding more about a closely-related profession we can work together and smarter.

One thing I think that’s really interesting and significant to point out about SEO PR Training is that a lot of our requests for training and consultation have come from extremely large blue-chip organisations who understand and can see the potential synergies between their marketing agencies.

However, they need external assistance and consultation to help inform, mediate  and define processes between them.

Our most recent Search Engine Benchmarking report found a growing interest in local search, (though local search budgets are still low compared to the US). Have you noticed more interest in this from clients?

Absolutely, though I’d say a lot of this is market and device driven. We’re very likely to find many local and independent outlets with a web presence, via social media even if not their own site; which will continue to grow.

I wonder if that might go some way to explaining the non-correlative impact on local search budget? Perhaps local marketing spend is going more towards social media presence which might often be self-managed?

Google is continuing its interest in vertical search, as shown most recently by the launch of Google Advisor – how does this affect SEO, and how can brands respond to the challenge?

I think this is a concern to many affiliate- model websites as Google seeks to deliver more comparative data in-SERP.

Although the impact to brand might not be such of a threat providing your site is well built, informative and marked-up to allow Google to efficiently interpret your rich data. What we might imagine is some impact to search visits on terms at the start of the purchase decision.  

What do data patterns in search tell us about human nature, and how can SEOs adapt to this?

There is something about the intensely private nature of search that reveals a lot about human nature, or perhaps it’s that we perceive the search process to be isolated and private, so there’s very little to no self-censorship.

We might expect that global events and tragic disasters may trigger the largest search spikes, but in fact it is when popular celebrities die.

Whatever we may think about ourselves, our product or our cause; understanding popular culture, desire and motivation is extremely valuable to any marketer.

How has working search-engine side affected your role in SEO? 

I know I’m very fortunate to have had the experience of working for a search engine and I loved every minute of working for Yahoo! On a practical note, in my capacity as head of UK commercial search partnerships I was naturally very close to the business and had high-level access to business metrics and revenues.

That level of insight gives you the insider perspective on the goals of a search engine business and the interplay between the different goal-performance metrics, which shapes an instinct for understanding quickly how and why each algorithmic change may impact those it impacts.