Expert Interview: Markus Duetsch, OWIBA

Analytics laptop

When SEO managers take on a new role, they must take into consideration the size and maturity of the organisation as well as the specific challenges of their industry niche. 

Of course, these challenges can be even greater in heavily regulated, competitive industries such as finance, law, iGaming, and health & wellness. 

To be effective, SEO professionals must be mindful of the opportunities open to them, but also the challenges they may need to navigate. For example, bigger organisations can be less agile and the decision-making process can be time-consuming, whereas smaller and younger organisations often lack resources and digital authority.

In this interview, Markus Duetsch, the SEO manager of OWIBA, gives us insights into how varied the role of an SEO manager in 2022 truly is. Markus provides us with some practical advice on areas that newly appointed (and established) SEO pros may wish to focus on.

Markus also touches upon multiple aspects of SEO including the changing role of content, if artificial intelligence is going to replace qualified copywriters, the importance of E-A-T for medical websites and much more. 

1. How do you feel the role of content is changing in SEO, if at all? Any reasons for your answer?

In 2022 we will see more and more AI-generated content on the web. Last year these tools grew like mushrooms and they advertise high-quality copy. 

The idea of just skipping the copywriters and having website content ready in the blink of an eye is really tempting. But, in my opinion, this dream is too good to be true. 

I made experiments with AI content in the German language and the results were far from “natural” and “high quality”. With the rising importance of E-A-T since 2018, content is no longer just a medium to contain keywords. 

Website copy has become an important tool to showcase knowledge and expertise to users and search engines. Especially in e-commerce, it has the power to counsel users wherever they might have questions or are in need of more information about a specific product. All this is still too individual for machines to create it. However, who knows what the future holds for us?

2. How do you feel the role of SEO is changing in the e-commerce industry? Any SEO tips for companies that sell many products?

I am quite new in the e-commerce sector – hence this is difficult to answer regarding the change. 

Regarding companies that sell many products, I think that crawlability and indexation are the major pain points. 

If you have, for example, 50k products in your shop - your online store will consist of thousands of categories, countless pictures, videos and copies. Together with your faceted navigation, you will end up sending millions of URLs to search engines. 

You will need to find a way to prioritise which URLs you really want to be crawled and indexed. 

My tip is to use the robots directives, meta-tagging and internal no-follows to guide crawlers to the correct locations on your website. Most SEO tools will show warnings regarding internal no-follow link attributes, but if done right they won´t do any harm – they will help a lot.

3. For companies in sectors where potential customers have many questions, what are the key elements of a high-performing SEO strategy in 2022?

This goes in a similar direction to question one. 

Videos, text and images have always been and are the best tools to help users when they have questions. Depending on the industry and niche you will see more or less of one or another of these content types. 

User experience and SEO merge into each other at this point. You need to find out what works best for your product and your users. Do they want to see an infographic, or do they wish to read a FAQ section? 

When I was working for a medical brand, I had great success using a mix of blog posts and an internal encyclopedia (Wiki) that explains all relevant terms around dentistry and teeth correction.

4. What are the biggest challenges of working in competitive niche industries in terms of SEO?

The biggest challenge here is that all niches have their own specific challenges. 

For example, online gambling is still very dependent on link building and struggles a lot with Google core updates. 

Medical websites are heavily influenced by the E-A-T algorithm by Google. Especially new players need to invest in the T for trustworthiness. 

Corporate websites often have issues regarding technical SEO and it is very hard to get changes implemented because all changes go through endless circles of releases and approvals.

5. What are the best tools to use when constructing an SEO strategy for growth in 2022? What advice do you have for marketers who need to measure the performance or reach of their SEO efforts?

There are countless tools out there on the market for SEOs. Every business has its own needs and requirements. Therefore, it is hard to say what “the best tool” is. 

I personally use SEMrush besides Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools Google Analytics and many others. 

My advice to measure SEO growth is to find a way to measure non-branded performance as best as you can. GSC now has the feature to filter for search terms using regular expressions. With this filter, you can get a rough image of your brand vs non-brand performance. 

Why rough? Because Google hides data when using filters in Search Console. And Google hides keyword data in Analytics. So, you will need to find a workaround like segmentation of URLs where you can see the most/least brand/non-brand traffic. 

Even though you might not get the full picture from the Google data, you still can find valuable insights and spot opportunities to grow your business.

6. Do you welcome or worry about new Google updates? Why? Do you predict more will be forthcoming in Q1 2022?

To be frank, I stopped caring too much about Google updates. The pre-announced updates mostly have no or little impact on search or they take too long to finally roll out to measure anything (page experience update and mobile-only index). 

The unconfirmed updates are often more powerful, but you can't prepare for them and you never really know what they targeted. 

So I work on my long-term strategy and improve my websites gradually instead of chasing Google updates. This led me to the best results and the least fluctuations in the past two years.

7. Do larger companies have an easier time when it comes to taking advantage of SEO opportunities, or are there areas where challenger brands have the upper hand?

Yes and no. Big companies and brands usually have some kind of “bonus”. They have old domains with lots of backlinks, they already proved their expertise, etc. But they can be less flexible than young start-ups. 

Like I mentioned before – sometimes changes don´t get implemented or implemented too late due to approval policies in big companies. A smaller and more dynamic company will have less friction by pushing new projects.

8. With Google dynamically rewriting title tags in response to search queries, do you feel SEO experts can/should push back?

That’s very individual. Many SEOs complain about dropping CTR and really strange titles in search. I cannot confirm this from my recent clients. I see only a few title rewrites and they all look decent.

9. Is there such a thing as intrinsically 'linkable' content? Are some brands better positioned than others to organically earn links?

I would say yes. Big brands have a high amount of traffic and therefore a higher probability that some of these users share the brand’s content. 

But theoretically, any piece of content can earn links organically when it meets certain requirements. These can be: high relevance, meeting a trend or hype, providing in-depth information, answering customers’ questions, acting as a reference or citing other contents.

In summary 

Markus is one of the first interviewees in our Expert Interview series to mention artificial intelligence and what impact it could have on the SEO industry and copywriters, in particular. 

However, as Markus stated, the idea of skipping copywriters is “too good to be true”. There is nothing that can replace expert writers, especially when Google is becoming much more sophisticated with identifying experts from specific industries.

Medical, health and wellness niches are partially impacted by Google and its E-A-T guidelines and therefore rely heavily on expert writers. 

In terms of Google updates, for SEO specialists it’s almost part of their everyday job and, although Google updates impact the performance of all websites, almost everyone that works in the industry is prepared for unexpected fluctuations in traffic due to various updates.

Carefully monitoring the performance of websites and being on top of the game with the SEO strategy is the best approach to minimising the negative impact Google updates might have within your niche.

Although having experience in different niches is crucial to positively impact various businesses, the size and age of an organisation play a significant role too. 

As Markus said, big brands have a certain advantage over younger brands due to their reputation within an industry. Yet, younger brands are more agile and can easily experiment with different SEO approaches and projects.

It is without saying that this interview has given us a lot of insight into how SEO managers orientate their strategies within different niches. 

Whether it’s earning links for an online supplements brand, creating authoritative content for a healthcare brand, or building trustworthiness for a young start-up, an SEO manager is faced with different challenges. 

Having an adaptable mindset and years of marketing experience definitely helps an SEO manager to navigate around all those different industries.