Voices of Search
A Searchmetrics Podcast
Episode 9, Guest Alex Scoble

Episode Overview

Position Zero Month. Today, our guest speaker Alex Scoble walks us through optimizing content for both Position Zero and Voice Search.  Alex Scoble is the Chief Marketing Officer for FlightGuru.com.

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Listen to Episode 8, Content Strategies for Position Zero


Alex Scoble, Chief Marketing Officer for FlightGuru.com. Based out of Silicon Valley, Alex specializes in providing brands with the vision & leadership required to increase demand generation & sales funnel optimization.

Episode Transcript

Ben :                            Welcome back to Position Zero Month on the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro. And today we’re going to continue our month-long deep dive into one the of the hottest topics in the ever-changing world of Search Engine Optimization: Position Zero.

Ben :                            But before we get started I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We’re a team of SEOs, content marketers, and data scientists that help enterprise scaled businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions using a mix of software and our expertise.

Ben :                            To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic consultation. A member of our digital services group will advise you on how you can optimize your content, understand what topics you need to cover next, and how to ensure that your writers produce effective posts.

Ben :                            So to schedule you’re free digital diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic

Ben :                            Okay, today, we are joined by Alex Scoble, who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Flight Guru. Which is an online booking engine that specializes in finding the cheapest economy, business, and first class flights. Prior to his role as CMO at Flight Guru, Alex has previously held a variety of SEO and Digital Marketing-centric roles at consumer-focused companies including Move.com, Advertise.com, Boingo Wireless, and my favorite, the Lucky Tacklebox, for all you fishermen out there.

Ben :                            Now we are very excited to welcome Alex to the Voices of Search Podcast, Alex welcome to the show.

Alex :                            Thanks for inviting me, happy to be here.

Ben :                            It’s great to have somebody who not only has a wealth of SEO expertise, but also has some Executive visibility. Talk to me about how you made the transition from focusing on SEO to being a CMO.

Alex :                            It was a long transition. So essentially what happened was that, as my family and I lived in L.A. we decided to move to San Francisco area. We came across a position at Flight Guru and where they needed someone a little bit more centralized to all the marketing arenas. That’s how I ended up where I’m at now.

Ben :                            So I’m assuming that Flight Guru is a very content centric business since they have someone who is an SEO expert as their CMO. Tell me a little bit about the business and why is SEO important to your role?

Alex :                            Yeah so, Flight Guru is heavily content-focused primarily because there are so many different types of destinations you can travel to, from one location to another. And so, the search criteria is infinite. You can be going from LAX to Rome, or from Miami to Paris, and all sorts of other combinations. So content is very essential to what we do.

Ben :                            You’re working in a business that has a variety of possible combinations of flight. Which means, a ton of different pages, and one of the differentiation strategies for you is to put content on to those pages to drive organic search. One of the things that we’ve talked about, so far, in Position Zero Month is that Position Zero is valuable not only because of the placement, but also the amount of real estate it takes up.

Ben :                            I understand for a content-centric business, you know, you’re in flight comparisons, why there’s lots of pages, and why having lots of real estate on search is important. I’m interested to know how you think about voice search and how much of an impact that has on your business.

Ben :                            When you’re looking and thinking about ranking and Position Zero, how much of it is because the real estate it takes up on search, and how much is because it enables you to show up in voice search queries?

Alex :                            I think it’s a little bit of both, right? Because there’s a lot of people trying to find out where they want to travel to and might not have that final destination in mind yet. So having Position Zero, and be able to rank for Position Zero is really key essential. Because it allows people to educate themselves before they make a decision on their final destination.

Alex :                            As far as voice search is concerned. Voice search tends to use Position Zero as the default rear for the answer to the question people are asking. Whether that’s travel related or other industries.

Ben :                            Are you creating content that’s specifically for voice search? Or is everything you’re doing with the intent of showing up to answer a written query?

Alex :                            You know our intention is essentially to create content that’s relevant and helpful toward the searcher, and toward the flier. So everything we do is really meant so that it helps assist the buying position, or the flying position of that particular consumer.

Ben :                            One of the things that came up in one of the earlier conversations this we’ve had this week it was with Sebastian Edgar, who’s one of the technical SEOs on our team, to rank in Position Zero, one of the ways to try to, you know, garner that placement, is to use a lot of format in that content that you are creating. Making tables, comparison charts, things along those lines. To me that seems like a natural fit for the flight comparison industry, but it also seems like something that wouldn’t be great for voice search.

Ben :                            When you’re trying to create content to rank in Position Zero, are you, I guess this is a different way of me asking the same question before, when you think about the formatting of content, that you’re submitting, or you’re publishing on your page, are you trying to format it for Position Zero, or are you trying to build content in a way that it can be used for Position Zero, but also turns into great voice content.

Alex :                            I think our number one objective in general is just to create great content that’s relevant for the topics we’re discussing. For Position Zero, there’s typically rules of thumb where you want to optimize the content, you want to, you know, have paragraph formats, and that’s very concise in answering the question that you feel that you’re answering with the content you’re providing.

Alex :                            So a little bit of both, right? We want to make sure that it’s clear, concise, and ideally it’s formatted in a way that gets picked up for Position Zero as well as for voice search.

Ben :                            Talk to me a little bit about the user experience in voice, and what’s the impact that you’re seeing that have on business. What type of questions are people asking in terms of flight comparisons? Are they booking through voice? Are they doing research? Are they looking for the best destinations? Give me a sense of where you see voice actually being impactful in your business.

Alex :                            I think voice is impactful already in that people are already asking, “When is the best time to fly to Europe?”

Alex :                            “How do I get the cheapest flights during summertime?”

Alex :                            “Where can I find the cheapest flights?”

Alex :                            Right there’s a lot of educational questions people ask when trying to make up their mind on where they want to fly to, and when is the best time to purchase that ticket.

Ben :                            Interesting. So the content is primarily research based, as opposed to really what your core offering is, which is flight comparison and booking.

Alex :                            Well that’s part of the buyers journey, right? So a lot of people want to find out where they want to go first, especially Millennials, where they want to go first, and then from there they decide to comparative shopping, which is obviously what we offer.

Alex :                            So throughout that process, you know, we’re there to help educate them with everything they need.

Ben :                            Talk me through, you mentioned specifically Millennials are interested in doing the research phase first. Why do you say that, and what’s the opposite end of the spectrum? Are people that are older than Millennials, already know where they want to go before they go online?

Alex :                            Well, you know, there’s been a lot of studies about Millennials and the older generations as to, how dedicated or how convinced they are on where they want to fly.

Alex :                            What’s interesting about Millennials is that they are more willing to explore new areas they haven’t been to before, and explore different cities that might be of interest, because their friends or family members have explored it, or have suggested it. So one of the fun things, about what I get to do, is do different types of testing. And showcase these different scenarios to different types of audiences and understand what makes them make that final buying decision.

Ben :                            And in terms of the process for purchasing, and we’ve sort of drawn a delineation between Millennials and older generations, do you find that they are using voice search more, is there a generational shift for voice search? Or is voice search relatively universal at this point?

Alex :                            I think voice search is relatively universal at this point. I think that it just depends on how quickly they adapt and feel comfortable with the answers they are getting, and how relevant the answers they are getting. I think that can be the interesting part of voice search in the next few years is how do those continue to evolve, and are the answers that voice search are giving the audiences relevant to what they are trying to find.

Ben :                            Yeah one of thing that I see as the future of voice search is moving in beyond just the educational piece into modernization and adding more utility into voice search tools. I imagine that’s something that you have a keen eye on.

Ben :                            Do you see voice search getting into, getting past, the research phase, and in sort of, lead generation, and into booking flights? Or, you know, what, sort of is the path of modernization for voice search for you?

Alex :                            In my opinion I do think that voice search is going to be a key part of the future of travel, along with, you know other new industries. I think that it just depends on how quickly it’s adapted and how efficient the answers are.

Alex :                            I think the challenge will be that, there isn’t always going to be one price. It’s hard to get one price for, let’s say, a trip from New York to Paris, right? Cause there’s multiple different types of class types, multiple types of airlines you can take, different times, right, different pathways. So, it’s hard to see that there will always only be one answer. I’m curious to see how it’s going to evolve so you might initiate a search via voice search, but then it gives you an array of solutions to your, or answers, to your questions. Because there’s never one right answer when you’re looking to travel, right? And that’s going to be the hard part with voice search.

Ben :                            I think that, that’s the interesting part specifically in your line of business. Where right now when I think of voice search, I think of commands like, “Tell me what the weather’s like.” Or the example that you used is, you know, “Tell me what’s the best time to fly to Europe.”

Alex :                            Right.

Ben :                            And out of those conversations with your voice enabled device, the natural follow up is, “Would you like to research buying a ticket, yes or no? Okay, would you like to fly in a certain class, or which direction, which route, what time of day would you like to go to?”

Ben :                            That it comes out with, “Great! Here’s the best option, would you like to book?”

Ben :                            I think there is a conversation to have with a voice assistant that we’re not at yet, that becomes transactional after people have done their research. Are there any fields that you see where this type of experience is already happening? Or is this on your radar? Or is it purely about lead generation and education?

Alex :                            I think right now voice search is all, is mostly, about answering the, you know, the W’s, right? Like, why is something green, you know? What is the answer to X, right? And, you know, how is this done? A lot of do-it-yourselves, a lot of how-to guides, a lot of quick answers that you’re, you know, you’re pondering while you’re driving, or when you’re with friends and trying get that quick answer to understand what it is.

Alex :                            I think with time it’s going to evolve. I’m not quite sure how that’s going to transpire, essentially, what the, you know, the results of it. But I think overall, it’s, you know, it’s in its infancy and it can go either way. So I think that industries like the travel industry, and other industries that are, you know, can take advantage of this new pathway, are going to really be able to shape it in the next coming decade.

Alex :                            I think it just depends on how much, how involved they are with the whole process. And how much input they get back.

Ben :                            Talk to me about how you think about prioritization between Position Zero rankings, optimizing for voice search, and what sort of investment is that as a channel, related to some of the other things that you’re investing.

Alex :                            Well I think content is really essential for any company. And I think that Position Zero and, you know, potentially taking these feature snippets and trying to shape the content for these quick answers that are, people are asking about, whether it’s travel, whether it’s other industries are really key because it helps educate them, makes them feel comfortable with either your product, or the industry they are looking to invest in, right? Or purchase in.

Alex :                            And so, the more content that you have, that allows you to, essentially educate that audience, or that future buyer the better it is for the brand itself, and for the trust factor.

Ben :                            Sure. Tell me do you have any tactical recommendations for other SEOs that are listening, in terms of, how they can think about taking their content, optimizing it for Position Zero, and specifically keeping an eye on making it so it’s usable for voice search.

Alex :                            I think simple is better, right? So keeping things simple. Short paragraphs that answer the question, that if you have the question in mind that you want to rank for, put that question in there, make the answer very simple, you know, lists tend to help. And then from there just, you know, making sure that it’s relevant for, for the searcher, and for the person looking for that information.

Ben :                            How do you figure out what is relevant, or basically what the queries are that you’re looking to optimize when you’re thinking about, you know, Position Zero, voice search, these, sort of, short featured snippets?

Alex :                            Well you can use different tools to see what different keywords have a Position Zero. But then, essentially what you can do is, you know, just think like a buyer, right? Go online and start researching, seeing what comes up, and understand what, what the context needs to be, and then from there create the content that answers those questions as simply as possible.

Ben :                            Okay, so, a lot of what you’re talking about, you know, keeping your content simple, answer the questions, think like a buyer. Those sound very logical and it doesn’t seem like there are specific tactics related to voice search that are not the same as what would be, you know, using featured snippets, using, you know, rich content, formatting your content the right way, things that we’ve talked about on Position Zero already.

Ben :                            As the CMO of a company, and also somebody that has a great SEO background, what I’m curious about is how do you prioritize voice search? Like, is this something that you’re looking at as, “We have to nail this now. It’s a huge part of our business.” Is this something that’s future looking, and you keep an eye on? Is it something that you don’t even think about?

Alex :                            You know, it’s something that’s definitely on the radar, and it’s something that we’re exploring as it’s becoming more and more prominent in industry, right? I don’t think it’s something that’s actually well-defined quite yet in the travel space because there are so many options for travel, right?

Alex :                            There isn’t just one way to get to Rome, right? People live in different cities. They have different requirements. They have different budgets, and so that’s why it’s important to understand what voice search is, the capabilities and see if you can kind of grow with that, because, and the truth of the matter is, in the travel world, you don’t really, you don’t really know where voice search is going quite yet. But I think that if you provide proper input and follow it along and then test, we’ll be able to leverage it the most we can.

Ben :                            I think of voice search from a marketing perspective very much like an awareness building strategy. Where it’s something that you know as a marketer you need to do right? You need a high impression level. You need to stay in front of your customers. You need to keep your face in front of them frequently over a long period of time. And voice search is one of those ways that is developing in the companies that, you know, sort of win this early stage, that land grab, of like, “We understand what people are looking for.” How to be in Position Zero, how to make a great voice search experience.

Ben :                            As Google, and Amazon, and Apple, start adding on capabilities, like there are going to be some people that have already sort of started to win the voice search game, when it can be monetized. And I feel like what you’re saying is we’re not there yet in terms of monetization, in terms of conversion, but we’re still trying to get ahead of the voice search game. Is that fair?

Alex :                            Yeah, that’s fair. I mean, look, you know, voice search is a new, it’s new. Right? It’s going to be continuing evolving, you have all these different types of the Google Assistants, and all these other services that allow searches to be done, you know, through your phone and while on the road, without having to use, you know, a computer, or even sometimes really look through your phone and other devices.

Alex :                            And as things evolve, so will the results that voice search offers, and so will the different variety of options that you can select from. If travel was simpler, I think that I could tell you a right answer, say, “Okay this is how you do it right.”

Alex :                            But because it’s so complicated and the needs of these travelers are so diverse it’s very difficult to be able to say this is how you’re going to have to do it, to be able to monetize and be successful.

Ben :                            Yeah.

Alex :                            I think that, number one factor to a lot of this in any company, is that you have to establish trust. Once you establish that trust whether it’s through content, or whether it’s through, you know, educating the audience that is looking into your brand and your services.

Alex :                            Then from there, you can always count that you’ll be able to monetize them eventually, because they have a trust. They trust your brand, they trust your services, they trust your pricing, and then from there, you know, from there you’re doing the right thing from the start. Once you establish those basic foundations with a potential customer, then I think that lifetime value will increase and I think that you don’t have to worry so much about monetization, because it will happen automatically.

Ben :                            Yeah, and I, just thinking about your line of business, and the status of voice search now, I understand the, sort of, educational piece, and like I had mentioned that’s to me, an awareness builder.

Ben :                            I do think that, you know, I personally look forward to the day where instead of having to hop onto a website and do a search for a specific flight, you can just, you know, “Hey Alexa, something.” And say, “Here are my criteria for my search. Give me the best option.” And punt it to my phone. Or just buy the ticket outright.

Ben :                            I think that would be a great match for travel. It’s more of a conversation about what makes sense for you as opposed to doing a bunch of manual searches. So I’m optimistic about voice search and travel, personally.

Alex :                            As am I! I think it’s a great avenue and I think that it’s only going to get more interesting as the years come by.

Ben :                            Great. Okay. Any last words or direction for the SEOs listening to this podcast? About ranking for Position Zero, voice search, anything else that you think is relevant?

Alex :                            No, I think people, I mean, there’s enough content on it, about it online now. I think people get the gist of it. I think it’s always about staying relevant and keeping it simple.

Ben :                            Okay. Great. Well I appreciate the time and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Alex Scoble, the CMO of Flight Guru.

Ben :                            We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Alex. You can find a link to his bio in our show notes. And if you have any general marketing questions or if you want to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact info in our show notes, or you can tweet me @benjshap. That’s B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

Ben :                            If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary session with our digital strategies team.

Ben :                            If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the “subscribe” button in your podcast app.

Ben :                            Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this show and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave a review in the Apple I-tunes store, or wherever you listen to your podcast.

Ben :                            Okay. That’s it for today. Thanks again to Alex Scoble, from Flight Guru for joining us. And until next time, the answers are always in the data.