On the latest episode of the Digital Marketing with Bill Hartzer podcast, I spoke with Duane Forrester of Yext about search intent and internal site search.
Here is the full transcript of this episode with special guest Duane Forrester:
Bill Hartzer (00:04):
Hi, this is Bill Hartzer, and this is the digital marketing podcast with Bill Hartzer, for Thursday, July 9th, 2020. And I have the pleasure of having my good friend Duane Forrester here from Yext. We’re talking a little bit about how search intent and site search and a couple of things and answering questions and how search engines generally understand the various questions and queries that we put into them. So welcome, Duane, tell me a little bit about yourself and your background. I know I, you know, I know a little bit about you. I know, Oh gosh, we’ve known each other probably since the early two thousands, but tell by audience a little bit about How long you’ve been in the industry and so forth and, and, and what you do now.
Duane Forrester (00:55):
Awesome. Well, bill first, thanks for having me on the show. It’s a, it’s fantastic catch up with you again. As bill had mentioned, we’ve been friends for almost 20 years now. I my current role, I am vice president of industry insights for Yext. I have a background I built and ran webmaster tools at bang. I ran the SEO program at MSN written a couple of books on conversion optimization and making money online through McGraw Hill used to work in online gambling, worked for Caesars palace all kinds of background in there. Been an SEO for like, I think maybe two, maybe three years longer than I’ve known bill, because that’s how we ended up connecting is the early, early days of everything. And it’s been an amazing industry to be a part of and to see where we’re at today is just, it’s just incredible.
Bill Hartzer (01:53):
Yeah. In fact, you know, it’s, it’s, we’ve come a long way, even the, but you know, even, even if you look at all industries and so forth, the internet is really just so young still. And, and we keep it, you know, everybody keeps on innovating and, you know, in another five years, you know, even will be completely different.
Duane Forrester (02:14):
You and I have been talking about things like augmented reality and virtual reality for over a decade and every year is the year. It will be here, like to the point where we just don’t talk about it anymore because on one level it is here, but it’s not here on a wide level. And every now and then I remember last year we were down in Florida for Pubcon and you were telling me about the new Google maps features that did AR overlays for directions and how, because you were so involved as a local guide, you had been invited in and you were showing it to me. And I was like, finally, this is what we need in mapping, right. Is like, we just need show me the damn arrow. Don’t like, nah, I don’t need anything else. I just need the arrow straight ahead turn.
Duane Forrester (03:04):
Right. And, and that’s it, you know, and, and we’re starting to see the beginning of that, but we’re seeing it in ways, certainly in ways you and I never forecasted. You know, if you look at the advent of digital assistants and you look at smart speakers and all of that stuff, I mean, I’m not gonna lie. I, and I might be the last person who has done, who has done this, but I recently hooked up an Amazon fire stick to my TV. And cause I was just like, I don’t care. I don’t need that. You know, I’ve got the big cable packages, blah, blah, blah, and all of this. And, and now I don’t know how to live my life without this thing. And w all walking the dogs this morning, talking with my wife and I’m like, I actually don’t remember the last time I watched live television, my DVR yes. For programs that I specifically want, but everything else is me consuming all of my favorite content from YouTube. Like, and Lord help my wife, if I can figure out a way to get tech talk up on that thing, because then that will be my, my every evening. We’ll be sitting there watching that. And it’s, it’s just incredible where we’re at today and yet still so much opportunity for businesses across all levels.
Bill Hartzer (04:16):
Sure. So you know, my goal is actually, you know, still, still looking at search and, you know, we have basically, you know, we have the traditional Google search and, and as well as, you know, obviously YouTube search and so forth. And we come back to, you know, the search engines actually have over the years. You know, we, I mean, I remember years ago, we just put in our keywords and the meta keywords, meta tag, and we mentioned it, you know, we were talking about keyword the and so forth, but now it’s totally changed. I mean, now, you know, now the search engines, you know, being in, in Google primarily, you know, really understand a lot more about about us. And they’re, they’re trying to get us to not just putting in a keyword, but encourage us to ask a lot more questions.
Bill Hartzer (05:10):
And so we have people also asked, and obviously you put in a keyword home inspector, home inspectors, or, you know, or criminal defense lawyers or whatever the query is. And you get this people also asked that is Alyssa question. Don’t people also ask, you know, how do I hire a, you know, a home inspector or how much does a home inspection cost or, you know, are, or how do, how do I find, how do I find the best criminal defense lawyer? You know, so, so a little bit, you know, the basics for small business, you know, I had earlier I had a a client who, you know, emailed me and said help. Okay, well, we need some more blog posts ideas for this month. And my initial thing is, okay, well, we go back to, you know, last month we kind of did some FAQ questions and, you know, and, and we looked at these people also asked and try to create some content around those, you know, so what is the, you know, self we’ve done that for two or three months, or, you know, I’ve been working on those, those questions.
Bill Hartzer (06:23):
And we feel like we, you know, we’ve answered all the questions is there you know, and we have traditional keyword research, which is actually comes back to you, put it in a Quique, you know, you put a key keyword into, or your topic into something like SEM rush, or, you know, Google keyword planner, and you get back, you know, how many people search for months? You know, it’s basic keyword research, but we get into things like, you know, start these questions and so forth. What kind of is the next step? Is there a, is there another opportunity out there for us to even get more, you know, content ideas, right.
Duane Forrester (07:04):
Yeah. You know, I mean, like, I feel this pain, right, bill, because anytime you’re going to talk about content, you’re immediately staring at a wall. It’s inevitable. Whether the wall is close to you or further away from you is the only part of the equation that you haven’t solved for yet. But you were going to hit that wall. Your keyword research with the state of tools and data sharing today, limited in the envelope is defined. Let’s say it may be larger or maybe smaller, but it’s defined. And eventually you do hit the edge of it. And the question then becomes, how do I make this more three dimensional? You know, so a couple of things, you can be doing one, obviously, you know, and this is old school, a bit arcane, but checking your log files, finding out what people are doing, where they’re coming in, where they’re leaving, what they’re engaging with looking at data around time, engaged on your site and what they are interested in from you.
Duane Forrester (07:57):
And does that match your expertise? So if the person is only interested in a visual inspection of their home then you know, is that what your expertise is in? And I know this firsthand, having just had a visual inspection done of our home because we’re refinancing our mortgage because why not? And so I was stunned when the inspector parked in front of my home and looked at it from across the street, took a couple of photos and was done. And yet I’m looking at that saying, well, you could have come into the backyard and seen the hot tub and the workshop and the outdoor kitchen. And like, like, cause I’m thinking that would add value to my properties assessment, you know? But this is the stuff I don’t know about home inspector. I’m looking at it from my lens as the home owner saying, I want the most value.
Duane Forrester (08:52):
And I’m assuming that means this person is going to put hours of their time into understanding this. What I don’t understand as the average homeowner is that most of this stuff is formulaic our entire neighborhood. My home is one of maybe a hundred of the similar footprint in the neighborhood. And they’ve all been, this is what they were built with when they were built new. All of that is public record. This is when they generally got updated again, public record. So they have everything they need about the property to do their job. But if I don’t know that about you, I’m kind of looking at you as the home inspector saying, well, that’s pretty lazy. That doesn’t feel very good. And so there’s stuff about the work you’re doing that I wouldn’t know. And that is how you can expand. So this specialist knowledge, which to you doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, right?
Duane Forrester (09:42):
Like Bill will you and I talk about SEO. We do not talk about meta-tags and we don’t talk about URL structure and stuff like that because we’ve talked it to death. It’s something that has to be done and dealt with, but we assume that it is being dealt with as a normal part of SEO today. Now we may talk about things like what is structured data? Is it applicable in this case? What are the benefits for the work being done to implement structured data? We may be talking about being secure, being mobile, friendly, being responsive, what all these things look like, the workload behind them. Those are more of the front end conversations in SEO today. And so if you’re the homeowner and you’re the home inspector, the inspector would know here’s how I do my job. And we follow a similar pattern that all inspectors follow.
Duane Forrester (10:31):
And this allows us in the age of coronavirus to not interrupt your space, to respect your distance and still give you a good assessment. Because hand in the air, the assessment we got for our property, I love it. It’s up. I’m happy. So it worked for me, but I don’t know how it worked for me. And if you want that expertise, go ahead and explain what you did that got me to where I’m at. And I’m like, I’m a much happier consumer, which then means I’m going to give you a better review. And you know, that has its own thing. But if you really want to dive into stuff, you really want to understand it. I’m going to recommend something that people often will overlook and is generally regarded as part of a product that still leaves a lot of work doesn’t function very well.
Duane Forrester (11:18):
So your site search there’s a lot of value to be found inside your site search. We at JAKKS, we have a pro a product that’s a, a machine learning AI driven site search product. And what we’re finding is we’re finding clients are seeing massive increases in engagement like sub one minute becomes six to seven minutes of engagement when they come through that search box, because instead of the customer coming in and saying, click on Google over to your website. No, that’s not what I want. Go back to Google, go down to another result, give Google all the signals that that first result didn’t satisfy them. So now Google is thinking maybe I shouldn’t rank that as high next time. Instead of all of that, what you get is click on Google, go over to your website and they get totally lost in all of the information you have.
Duane Forrester (12:06):
And even when the website does not have an answer, the backend of the system is popping out what the query was. Now let’s talk about queries for a second. You know, you and I probably suffer from the same thing though. We reduce everything to queer a, to a keywords, and it doesn’t matter what it is. Like I will have entire conversations in my head where it’s only the keywords that are germane to the car, to the conversation. And then when I start talking to someone about it, I feel like it’s taking forever to have the conversation because in my mind, the conversation was six words, the key words. And in reality, the conversation is an entire paragraph of 40 words and sentences and everything. And so I’m wondering if I’m becoming a robot, I think maybe I am. And I’m kind of okay with that, you know?
Duane Forrester (12:56):
But, but the, the reality here is that as, as we grow up, we get, we go through school, we’re taught how to communicate, right? Obviously stumbling around like this. Some people would wonder if I was taught how to communicate, but we learn how to speak. We learn how to write. We learn how to ask questions, how to form them, what they mean, the syntax, the vocalizations, all of that. And we translate that when we type into a keyword box and now with smart speakers and digital assistants, we are talking more of our questions. And Google is seeing that and being a, seeing that an Amazon sees that, and everyone sees that. And when you go to those tools, like, you know, people also ask.com or whatever, they will show you, you know, how do I tie a bow tie? And it’s a full question, just minus the question, Mark at the end, cause we don’t need that.
Duane Forrester (13:44):
You understand that question by the word owl. And yet that entire phrase is there not tie a bow tie because it’s illustrative of the fact, the intent that the customer has, that they wish to learn how to do this. So when you understand this and you are able to answer that question, you become the authority for that business. And so when that person comes in to your search experience and they ask that question, most searches today are still a direct lookup. If you don’t have a perfect match on the phrase, then they come back with a mishmash of random stuff that’s related and it’s not a good fit consumer still bounces away from that. But if you’ve got a good system and you’re able to directly answer a question you know, a great example is bill is you know I’m looking for an energy efficient fridge and Dwayne is looking for an energy efficient refrigerator.
Duane Forrester (14:39):
The site search system should know that’s the exact same question. There is no difference. It’s all one. And there is one answer, and this is the answer. How you structure the answer page entirely up to you. You know, you embed stuff on the page. You can give a link to click on whatever you think works best. I know what works best in my testing, but again, it’s up to the business to make their own call on it. But there’s a lot of value in there. I can’t name the name of the company. But if, if I did say bill you’d know who it was, you’d know the person I’m talking to. I had a conversation with them last year and we talked about site search just in general terms. And he told me that he had to hire somebody to run as SEO program because he took over site search as a kind of stretch goal what the year before.
Duane Forrester (15:25):
And he found $7 million in incremental revenue for his business, just in the queries that were put into the search box. Now, to be clear, that does not mean that he had answers for those questions. It meant that the queries that people were entering that were not being answered by this company were worth $7 million a year in incremental revenue. So they said, well, let’s answer all the questions and see what happens. They got rankings for hundreds of new keywords that they had never thought of things that never came up in their keyword research areas that were kind of tangential or secondary to what the topic was suddenly became the third largest driver of new pipeline acquisition for their product. And they were like, we never would have thought of this. You know? So there’s, there’s a lot of value in there. I’ve seen it firsthand people entering data in the systems that we manage and what, like, I’m looking at it saying, I don’t understand what the point of this query is, but I wasn’t taking a large enough view.
Duane Forrester (16:35):
You know, a great example. The state of New Jersey has a COVID-19 website and my company power stat system, the answers behind it, and people were asking about fishing licenses. And if it was safe to go fishing and these kinds of questions, and we were scratching our heads, we were like, what? This is all about COVID. This is about like, not getting sick and staying safe and all of this, right? Like what are you talking about fishing? Well, we didn’t realize was the week prior, the week following when we saw the query start the official efficiencies and was supposed to open in the state. And so people wanted to know, could they get licenses? And if they didn’t have a license, would there be a grace period because they couldn’t go to the store to get a license and, and all of these different things, you know, is it safe to be on the Lake with COVID and all of this?
Duane Forrester (17:20):
And suddenly it became a system where it was, Oh, wait, we had all of these queries. Then they had hundreds of questions. And within 24 hours, the content team had spun up answers because out of the hundreds of queries, a lot of them are duplicates. So they were able to whittle it on down. I think it was like 60 or 80 new pieces of content they created and they answered all the questions. And then suddenly everybody was super happy because they had clarity on it. They had the answer to the question. And so services like that, just your internal site search. If you do nothing else on your website, give that box more square footage on your webpage, give it a chance to capture that. Because like I mentioned, even if you don’t know the answer for it, even if your results are kind of bad, you’ll see the queries and you’ll know exactly what the answer questions around.
Duane Forrester (18:05):
And you can use that wherever you want a dedicated page to it, if it’s a strong enough draw. And then on that page, maybe it’s, here’s my answer, whatever the form of the answer is, it could be a, you record a video answering a question, pump out a transcript from that proofread, rewrite it, edit it, put that out as your long form content, create a bullet point list of the top of the page. And now you’ve got a resource page for that element, or it could just be that it’s a paragraph that resides on another page, whatever that’s up to you, but getting around that wall, that’s, that’s what the site search engagement can really help you with. Yeah. I mean,
Bill Hartzer (18:43):
Find also, you know, just by even just looking at those queries that there may even be, there could be potentially additional services that people are looking for that may that, you know, you have not thought of, or kind of a spinoff of your current you know, current service or products. They could be looking for certain products in a certain color or a certain size that you didn’t even know that people are,
Duane Forrester (19:15):
It could be, it could be anything. It could be that in your area when people are looking for doing home inspections, I live in Southern California. So it’s completely common to not only get a home inspection done, but to get an HPAC inspection done. And so you may not have that expertise. You might not have that, that the the accreditation for it, but that doesn’t stop you from approaching another company and partnering with them and saying, let’s do lead sharing on this. So when somebody comes to me for a home inspection, I recommend you for HPAC. And if this works out well, you could run common billing on it. So when they book the appointment for the home inspection, they’re also booking the appointment for HPAC. At the same time, we booked the appointments. Whenever it doesn’t matter, right? You manage your business, how you need to, but it’s about that attachment to more leads, more pipeline, more revenue.
Duane Forrester (20:11):
And you know, to your point, bill, I could easily see if we take this you know, when you start spreading it around to two different industries, I could easily see companies saying, wow, there’s a lot of people who are looking for my product, but are also looking for this product. I need to stock that product, or I do this service, but it turns out that this service, a lot of people feel is complimentary or at the very least they do the same thing at the same time, you know? And so I should start offering that service, right? It’s like I go in for an oil change. All I do is oil changes who knew at the same time everybody wanted their air filter changed. Now I offer air filter as well. Like it, all of these options become available for your business. And it’s, it’s a huge opportunity because then it’s not just about, you know, like, can we write content? You know what, one of my keywords that I’m gonna write content around, it’s about truly uncovering the intent of customers. And when you have that, you know exactly how to position your product in front of them. And that’s what the search engines are actually looking for too. So suddenly you become a better answer for them as well as for consumers.
Bill Hartzer (21:17):
Yeah. And actually, you know, it is another option. So, you know, we talked about this dwell time and w what, one of the important things is people do a search at Google, or, you know, are being, they do the search and they hit your site. And if there is no site search, if they can’t search for your site, they probably will hit that back button and go back to the search engine. So there’s another way of just giving that more time for them and the, you know, the more pages and the more, the longer they spend on, you know, on your site versus somebody else’s site is actually ideal.
Duane Forrester (21:53):
Absolutely. I mean, think of it this way. You walk into a new store. It’s not possible when you walk through the door to immediately catalog and comprehend everything you’re seeing in that store. It’s a new store. It’s going to take you time, probably four or five visits to discover everything that’s available to you in that new store. And if the first time you walk into that store, the very first thing you see is a counter in front of you and a blank wall behind it with a doorway. And it doesn’t occur to you, or nobody tells you to go behind the counter and through the door to see the stock that we have. You may walk out thinking, well, there’s nothing in that store for me. That’s what it’s like. When you hit a website in a lot of cases, you hit the page and go, that’s not what I want.
Duane Forrester (22:35):
For whatever reason, you were in the mood with your coffee on Saturday morning to read. And what popped up was a video. Now, meanwhile, your wife and kids and dogs are all still asleep in bed. It’s five 30 in the morning. You don’t want the volume up waking people up. So you’re like no video back wool. That moment of time you spent, they’re not consuming. Everything is all the judgment that Google needs to say. You know what? That’s not a good answer. And so then the next time that page may not rank as high. Now, again, this isn’t a one off thing. It happens over, you know, dozens, tens, hundreds, thousands, millions of instances, but you’re not the only one encountering that at any given time. So it could easily happen to businesses that they get, they get caught up in this. And, and so having that site search option, that’s huge.
Duane Forrester (23:24):
I mean, personally, I’m, I am such a fan of it that I’m saying it needs to be side to side across the top of your website. Nice big box. And when you talk to people, whether it’s designers or UX, or you know, ESCOs, everyone’s fighting for all the pixels. Everyone’s like, you know, faster load times and shorter this, and then don’t put this below the fold, and now we have mobile and all of this, and I’m telling you sticky still matters. And having a good onsite search experience, not just where it’s positioned and how large it is now easy, it is to type something in and hit go. But the answers it brings back that really is what will change your fortunes. And it’s, it’s it’s, it’s big. I can tell you that, right? I mean, this is essentially what the search engines are doing and, you know, on one level you gotta ask yourself, like, why would I keep giving my customers over to Google to have them answer questions about me from a third party when I can just capture them and answer everything for them on my website. And then they bookmark me and they never leave me. That feels a lot better to me as a business owner.
Bill Hartzer (24:30):
Yeah. I mean, it is, it is certainly is fairly easy to implement. There is there’s already a site search function, you know, in, in, in WordPress and a lot of sites. Obviously, you know, you can talk, you know, look at like a Yext option that, you know, that Yext has. But yeah, there are you know, first, I guess that I know a lot of sites who use use WordPress and it’s fairly easy to implement. There are plugins and so forth, but there’s also just a basic functionality that kind of like a widget that you can add a sidebar or some, you know, footer or a header or whatever.
Duane Forrester (25:10):
So Step One, get yourself some site search, like, cause of far too many businesses don’t have it. They, they, or they have it, but they bury it in their option menu as a icon that someone has to take multiple steps to discover and then open up, you know, I hate to break it to you, but nobody loves you that much, that they’re going to put that much effort into discovering where it is, make it easy, big spot, right at the top. Everybody’s used to the open field that Google and being had. Everyone understands this. Facebook has it across the top. It’s the top of Amazon. Don’t reinvent that wheel. Just put it across the top and make it easy and identifiable. And then from there, you can start looking at, okay, am I running a Chevy or am I running a, a Cadillac here? Like the options are up to you.
Duane Forrester (25:58):
And ultimately when you start getting into that higher end, we’re talking about machine learning, we’re talking about building your knowledge graph. We’re talking about AI powered. It knows the answer. It learns from questions and then suggests content along the way, the entry level for these things will be just pure database lookup, but it doesn’t stop you from creating a knowledge graph, identifying all your products and services, all of the attributes about them, mapping all of the possible ways to ask questions about those and mapping each one of those variations of questions to that answer to make a trigger. It’s a bunch of work, but you can do it. And then suddenly you’ll start seeing value coming out of that, because if nothing else, just the reporting that you get back when people enter the queries, even if it does not work that alone can start shedding light on areas where content creation starts to flourish. So it’s a beautiful cycle once you get it up and running. Yep.
Bill Hartzer (26:59):
Right. I’m just about a time for this afternoon. So how do we get in touch? Obviously, you’re, you know, we’re for Yext. So it’s Y E X t.com, but also how do we get in touch with you?
Duane Forrester (27:14):
I am pretty much everywhere. You know, you can type me into a search engine and I’ll be on the first page. You can hit me at Duane Forrester on Twitter. I’m available on LinkedIn. Folks can find me on Facebook. I’ve got Instagram up and running. Like, you know, I’m available anywhere and if you’re a reasonable human, I’m going to connect with you. No question.
Bill Hartzer (27:35):
Sure. Sounds great. That’s good. Duane, this has been the digital marketing podcast. I’m with bill Hart, sir. And my special guest Duane Forrester this afternoon. Thanks again, Duane. And we’ll see you online. Thanks.
Duane Forrester (27:50):
Thanks. Thanks guys.