Paul, Ryan and Geoff do a deep dive on the technical SEO element of structured data. Geoff answers how structured data applies to small businesses and how voice search is run on structured data. They talk about how far the SEO industry has come, what to look ahead to, and how you can stay up-to-date on structured data today.
Click to listen to the full episode here.
What You'll Learn in This Episode
- If you optimize your site for the conversation with Google, you will ultimately help the user.
- An introduction to structured data.
- Voice search is run on structured data — and it's the future.
- The best place to start learning about structured data. (hint: it's not schema.org)
Time Stamped Highlights
[1:14] Why and How Huckabuy Got Started
Paul/Ryan: This is going to be a little bit of a technical episode. I would say that the last schema episode we did actually did pretty well. You are really going to get some good information out of this, especially taking advantage of schema and kind of how things are going to change in the SERPs going forward. And really, how to feed the Google beast from a technical side. So really, if you're hitting all these things that we're going to be talking about, you're probably going to be doing pretty well. So let's just dive right into some of these really good questions. So how long have you been at Huckabuy?
Geoff: Man, I think I've been doing it now for about five and a half years. We actually started as an affiliate site. It was like a company. It was an SEO play and it was a bad decision, because time, Google didn't like affiliate sites at all. So, we were totally swimming upstream. It was just a terrible business model in general. But we'd built these like pretty cool SEO, automation technology that people that knew Huckabuy wanted to start licensing. And I honestly didn't even know the value of a recurring revenue business and what a software business really meant. But we pivoted right into this, the software company. We've been doing that for about two and a half years. And, boy, that was a good decision. So, that's what I'm focused on now. I'm the founder and we're a team here in Park City, Utah.
Paul/Ryan: So it sounds like it really just was kind of born out of some great processes and ideas that you had to facilitate that other business. Which is amazing. I mean, how many people have a really good idea that's a part of their daily process, particularly like in SEO, that they never really think about. But it's pretty cool that you're able to capitalize on it like that.
Geoff: Yeah, it was cool. You know, I think after it got going — can't take any credit for the idea because it just sort of became something — what I realized after we pivoted was that there was this huge gap in the SEO world around technical optimization; your conversation technically and directly with Google. The typical providers out there, whether they're agencies or consultants, just were sort of scared of this area and were just not tackling them, which is why I'm so excited to talk to you guys because you guys are totally willing to tackle them.
In my opinion, you know, from my Overstock background, it was such a big site that it was like that was the SEO challenge. That was the real thing we had to do was make this website talk to Google. I still think it's a super important part of SEO, if not the most important. And so there was just this big gap where you could write all the content in the world you wanted, but if you weren't having the right conversation with Google, none of that really mattered. Huckabuy was built to help that conversation.
[4:26] SEO Should be Centered on the User and Other Lies
Geoff: Huckabuy is really facilitating the best possible conversation with Google that you can have, we talk a lot about what Google's perfect world looks like, like what does a website look like if it was built for Google and not for humans? That's really what we try to build our product around.
Paul/Ryan: This is definitely an interesting topic because I think, your average intermediate SEO and maybe beginning SEO is just like, “You got to like do all this stuff for people and not just google. You have to have consideration of the human element,” but it's like this stuff is like literally just for Google. So no one’s looking at this stuff, that's why it's an interesting conversation.
Geoff: I think it's great, just just the name of your podcast, “SEO is Dead and Other Lies,” is so relevant because you do hear that SEO is dead and that you can't do it anymore. Because everything's built for, you know, you got to build everything for humans. And to a certain extent, that's true. But at the end of the day, they're a machine and they're a robot. And if they can't, if the robot can't understand the website, nothing good is going to happen. And so there are some quite complex technical moves that you need to make in order to have the proper conversation. And when you have that proper conversation, the results are pretty incredible. Basically, do what Google says you should do and surprise, surprise, they give you a lot more organic search traffic. So, I love the title of the podcast.
[5:58 ] The Future of SEO: It’s Here to Stay
Ryan: I started maybe like eight years ago, Paul's about decade. And even when I was starting, it was just like, “Well, you know what, this is a pretty cool industry, but it could be wrapping up any day soon already.” I was like, “That sucks for me, I just got started.”
Paul: Yeah, same and I've been here for 10 years.
Geoff: SEO is not going anywhere. It is a huge part of the world economy — how you talk to Google, what Google does with your site. I mean, how much of the world's economy flows through Google? It's got to be enormous. I don't see it going anywhere, ever, and it's just going to get more and more complicated. As voice search starts expanding more and more and there's going to be something after voice search where you think of something and it searches for it or whatever. Those are all technical challenges that SEO experts will address, meaning technical SEOs and developers.
Paul/Ryan: VR is like gonna be the next thing too. It’s like how we serve up some things and organic information into VR because eventually that's it's gonna go into that space as well.
Paul/Ryan: Definitely. And, augmented reality as it goes into like your brain. I mean, of course it's just gonna be porn for days for everybody, that’s all it will be.
[7:20] Common Technical SEO Mistakes and Misconceptions
Paul/Ryan: I know just from talking to SEOs and working at different places, schema is like a really confusing concept to a lot of people. Probably because I think schema.org is a very confusing website. It's not really user-friendly for the layman, right? There's a lot of information on there. And a lot of people don't really know how to implement these things correctly. So they end up using WordPress and they use some sort of plugin and then it doesn't implement it the way that they want it. But you must see this all the time, because, you know, this is the main aspect of what you're helping people with. But what do you think are some of the things that people get wrong on websites all the time?
Geoff: What Oh, man, that's it. There's so many things people get wrong on websites all the time. Probably the biggest thing that I noticed is just how little thought is given towards how the site responds when a search bot crawls it. You know, I argue that on any given day, the most important visitor is the Googlebot. Then you have sites that don’t have fast page speed. There's tons of reasons why Google wants the best page speed. You know, one is that there is a great reason for it when it comes to the users but they have a very selfish reason for wanting page speed to be fast. Every second that they're waiting for a page to load, they're not crawling and gathering information. And they'll leave. If pages are slow to load or a site is slow to load they'll just leave and take off. And that's not good for either side. It's not good for Google, because they're not getting all the Information, and it’s not good for this company because they're not getting properly indexed.
My experience has been that a site that's designed really well for SEO, converts way better than almost any site you can AB test for users. It's because you're literally giving people what they want. You know, you're architecting the navigation, for example, based on keywords that people are searching for. So, it's easy for them to find what they want using the terms that they use. I think there's this disconnect that SEO is in a battle with the user experience. I actually think that SEO is simply building a site and giving the users what they want. How could that not be a great user experience? I even know this from Overstock, when we do stuff strictly for SEO, conversion rates with jump, they get better. So I think a big issue first is that people don't think about, “what's the bots experience when they come to the site?” And secondly, that optimizing for the user experience and for Google’s experience are different things. And in fact, I think they're quite similar. If you build a site really well for SEO, It's gonna be great for users as well. Yeah.
Paul/Ryan: I mean, I totally agree with you. I I think, you know, Google spends a lot of time building a good experience for humans, right? I mean, it's the search engine that humans go to. Their end result is a positive experience for humans. So in a roundabout way, if you're making a good experience for Google, you're going to give a good experience to people.
Geoff: I completely agree. Yeah, that's what they want, right? They have a single purpose and that's to organize the world's information and serve it up to human beings in the best way possible. A site that serves them well serves users.
[11:03] Site Speed Solution: Dynamic Rendering
Paul/Ryan: One thing about site speed though, like you're saying, a lot of people don't do what Google just tells you to do, right? And I think if, you know, if you were to Google “site speed optimization,” you'd probably get served, you know, something from Rand Fishkin, something from Moz, and then there'd probably be a Neil Patel article in there. Someone took all of those top pages and they tested them for site speed, and none of them were optimized for it.
Geoff: Site speeds is an interesting one. I wouldn't go to Huckabuy right now and test our site speed, although it's getting a lot better. I don't know how much you guys know about dynamic rendering, but there is this huge opportunity. Dynamic rendering is where you can actually make a version of your site just for Google, and they support that now — they're big fans of it, and like, no one's adopting it. The front end is always going to be really difficult, you're going to have tons of dynamic content there and with that page speed can be awful. Google came out and said “Just give us a version that we can handle and crawl and index and understand.” And no one really has listened to this. Fortunately, I have a really smart CTO that picked this up like the day that they announced it. But that's what our whole Huckabuy Cloud product is about. It’s built to give Google that perfect crawl experience in a version of the website and host it in a caching layer making everything instantly available. It's amazing how little people listen to what they want.
Paul/Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's a great tip about dynamic rendering. I mean, when you really think about the websites that Google really wants, I mean, they want something simple. You look like Wikipedia, right?
Geoff: Yeah! That’s my number one example in sales calls. I say, “What's the perfect website for Google? It's Wikipedia, flat HTML loads super fast, great content, obviously, that's generated by users. That's what they want.”
Paul/Ryan: Yeah, like HTML rich content. Super simple. Super fast.
[13:36] People Aren’t Implementing Dynamic Rendering Because It’s a Technical Problem
Paul/Ryan: If you have the option of doing that, which we all do, I don't know why more people aren't taking advantage of it. I guess it's just a lack of knowledge about it from the industry, probably.
Geoff: I think it's a big technical problem. I don't think it's just because of a lack of knowledge. Maybe it is, maybe people just don't know about it. But I think once you hear about it, it's like, how do we do this? And that's a really big technical problem that fortunately, you know, Huckabuy is set out to solve. And we did, which I think is a really amazing IP that I think everybody should be taking advantage of. But yeah, I think it's a technical problem. Think about it, if you have a WordPress site and you turn into a big software company or whatever, or you have a Shopify site, and you end up becoming this big e-commerce player. The sites get really complicated. And so to take 6-9 months and just say, “All right, we're going to build the perfect version of the site for Google and ignore the human interaction for 6-9 months, or whatever it is, what CMO is going to sign off on that? Who would do that deal, or even think of doing that? It's very rare. So we've provided a solution to solve that. Anybody can get on Huckabuy Cloud and have that perfect interaction with Google in like, three weeks. But it is a big technical hurdle. It's hard to do. And I think that's why we don't see it happening very often.
Paul/Ryan: Yeah, I work in a space with very large websites in the franchise space. And so I was just thinking about like, man, how I would have to explain doing that all in-house, and like the amount of time that it would take from the dev team and everything to our stakeholders, I was like, man, I don't even want to walk in the room with that.
[16:51] Structured Data on WordPress: Should you do it?
Paul/Ryan: Yes. Speaking about WordPress websites, as you know that there's millions if not tens or hundreds of millions of WordPress websites and you know, they've come a long way for SEO and but nowadays and we're talking about it, and especially with your background, you know how bloated it is with code, you know how it's notorious for, you know, load speed and for crawling. If you're planning on making a website that's hundreds of thousands of pages, is it feasible for a company to alter the framework nowadays for structured data crawling?
Geoff: I think my biggest takeaway about WordPress is that it is targeted for non-technical people. And so you can get along way without development, but then there comes a certain point where you have Great engineers, and you have great people that work on the front end. And they're very limited by WordPress. And that's when they ca, kind of take over and take it to the next level where you can have a site like an Overstock, Amazon, eBay or whatever it happens to be. You just can't run a certain point with them.
Then there are obviously, SEO issues with the WordPress site. With Huckabuy, we're on WordPress, but we use our own product, obviously. So we have Huckabuy Cloud and none of those crawl issues are an issue for us because we have that in place.
Paul/Ryan: Okay, so Yoast, and All-In-One ain’t cuttin’ it for all your SEO stuff.
Geoff: Well, that's, yeah, definitely not. I mean, it's a cool tool and it gets you again, it gets you pretty far down the path. If you really care about SEO and you realize that it's a big, important part of your business and it's what drives the top line and all sorts of things, you don't want to be reliant on a plugin that can fail and bloat the code on your site and stuff like that.
One of the things that's shocking to me is I always thought of SEO as like a really core competency at Overstock. So it's like, this is what we're better than our competition at and this is what makes us better. And you think about how many companies are so dependent on SEO and yet they don't consider SEO a core competency or putting money towards it or make hiring developers or whatever a priority. It's kind of mind boggling and so that you do end up with these companies that are very dependent revenue channel through SEO, it could be like 60-75% of like hundreds of millions of dollars, and that they're relying on Yoast plugins to get the job done.
Ryan: I guess it is a little frightening, isn't it?
Paul: It's kind of terrifying, actually.
Geoff: Yeah. We talk to huge public companies all the time, and a bunch of them are customers. At Overstock, I had something like 40 people working on SEO, and at least more than half of them were developers. So we invested super heavily. And it was, you know, $300 million of the revenue. So why wouldn't you, you literally can't spend enough compared to any other channel. But you look at Fidelity, for example, we try to talk and get into Fidelity, they don't even have a person to talk to. They don't have a human being to talk to you about SEO, which kind of blows my mind.
[21:36] Quick Adjustments Small Businesses Can Do Today To Increase Click-Through Rates and Even Rankings
Paul: Yeah. So, you know, we work with — I mean, I work with it with a large company, but you know, Ryan's a client basis, so more medium-sized to small businesses. So with that, local is a huge aspect of it. And there's a lot of things that we would always recommend from a structured data standpoint to have on your site. So what are some quick wins that you would give just really for any site out there to implement right away that could see like maybe an increasing increase in click throughs or potentially even increase in rankings?
Geoff: The first step is always just to make sure that the information is available. So say you're a local business, and you have, even if you just have one location, or you have two locations, make sure that there's a page dedicated to that location so that you can display all the information that's necessary for the structured data. You can display reviews, you can display images, all sorts of things like that. That's always kind of the first step I recommend with smaller businesses is to ask, “What is the information that's really important from a structured data perspective?” — which often they don't really dig into. So, you guys would probably help them with this. But what is the information that's sort of critical and that Google really wants? Let's make sure the site’s architected so that we are at least — even if we're just displaying in the HTML — displaying it. And then let's layer the structured data on top of it.
Probably the biggest mistake I see with local businesses is that they don't think to put a page on their site for each location that describes the location and what they're doing. And so that's sort of step one, I think, as to ask, “What would be important for this small business,” “What does Google care about?,” And “Are we displaying it in a way that then we can layer on structured data so that Google, when they come in, are like, ‘Yes, I got it. I got all the information I need about small business?’” Google, their revenue future is dependent on small business. So they're going to do everything they can to enable small businesses to be successful and structured data obviously is speaking their language. So if you layer good structured data, good reviews, all the best practices on a small business, it can take off faster than an enterprise customer can because they are really trying to absorb and display this information. It's really a critical part of their own business model. And so they're behind it.
[24:06] The Future of Small Businesses with Voice Search
Paul/Ryan: Yep. Speaking about local, especially. And since we touched on this a little bit earlier, the voice component, kind of what's your take about the future of voice search and how it applies to some of the local businesses? Do you feel like we're definitely going in that direction in 2019 and beyond? And is there any structured data for voice right now?
Geoff: So Google came out at their last Google io and said that voice is almost completely based on structured data. What's interesting about it is the difference between voice and desktop or mobile, is you don't get back the 10 blue links, you get one answer back. So there's a win or lose situation. You're either number one or you're gone. And it is very dependent on structured data because — this was a great explanation that someone on my team came up with about voice search — if you make a voice search, and you ask any Google device, how to make a margarita, it'll walk you step by step by step through how to make it. But if you ask it, “What's the best customer review software platform,” it's gonna have a hard time if there's no site that's providing structured data. The things that do give you a good answer are all because the industry has caught up to structured data and are doing it. The answers that are being provided are literally when you see a rich card as a result on a search query. All it's doing is reading back to you the rich card.
So right now, what's interesting about voice search is it’s like anything that you know, it's gonna take time to adapt. So people right now feel comfortable doing certain things through voice search, they might be able to be comfortable asking about a movie time or even maybe booking a movie ticket. But what percentage of tickets are being purchased through voice search? probably pretty small. Will it be a lot higher in two years? Absolutely. Well, when will people start feeling comfortable buying insurance through voice search? Pretty much zero today, in two years or in five years, it'll be a percentage. It is not a question of whether or not it's moving that direction. It definitely is. It's just how fast it is moving. And Google is very dependent on structured data, to be able to provide a good experience. So we're trying to really get out ahead of that. And I think customers and sites that have really good structured data are going to start reaping the benefits of that, you know that one answer versus 10 situation. Because in five years, imagine it straight. Voice Search is a really big deal. There's only ones that are going to win. So now all of a sudden like I said, 10 links, it's just one answer back. That's such a big change to the SEO landscape. And we want to be, you know, as far ahead of that as possible. I don't even feel particularly, you know, I'm a tech guy and I don't feel comfortable, I really don't use voice search very much, I do in the office and I kind of force myself to to understand it, but I wouldn't buy a product right here. I'm not there yet. But this younger generation as they get older, it's a thing that is definitely to be reckoned with. And I think like any SEO movement, or any SEO like directionally, you just want to be out ahead of it. And that's, you know, what we're trying to do at Huckabuy, is just be out ahead of what's happening.
[27:57] Will Voice Search Overtake Mobile and Desktop Search?
Paul/Ryan: Yeah, that kind of leads a little bit into my next question. As you know, we all saw mobile overtake desktop. You know, I remember the server big day when that happened. Do you think that we'll see a time when voice search overtakes mobile or desktop?
Geoff: It might not be in our lifetime, though it probably will. You know that adoption can be slow at first and then it can happen like all at once. So I think a lot of it relies on the adoption of structured data to make the user experience better, where you can get all the information and answers that you want. And the only reason that adoption is low is that there isn't a wonderful experience yet. Right now you don't know if you're going to get the best price and you don't know what the reviews are. I even think about you know, will there that that problem of just one result. Will you be able to say “Next result next result?” Like, how will we search? Because it's a totally different behavior than just typing on a computer? Yeah, I think I think at some point, it's going to become very comfortable and easy for people like myself and you guys to be able to execute most of the things that we do on Google.com through a voice device and get what we want. I don't think it's close to being there yet. But at some point, it's going to get as easy, if not easier, than opening up the computer and typing in a search. And at that point, look out. That's when it switches, right?
That's at least be more volume than being
Paul/Ryan: Yeah, that's definitely an interesting point. I mean, mobile, I think really started to take off when, you know, phones and networks could finally load pages in a timely manner.
[30:33] What Will it Take To Be Number One in Voice Search Results?
Paul/Ryan: Voice search being that there's only one spot and it's pretty much a zero sum game there, what do you think affects the rankings for that? Is it just the number one spot and like organically and then having the correct markup for it?
Geoff: So I think right now, the way it works is that they basically look for the highest domain authority and best page that has structured data, and then they give them the number one response. I think it's very similar to the desktop search and what you get with rich cards, but it reads the rich cards earlier. So it's weighted, more structured data is weighted more. Because otherwise, you know, it's a janky experience, like the Siri experience, they're like, let me Google that. And it just reads like the number one result back. So I think that's kind of how it works now, but I think it's gonna get a lot more complex. It's gonna be its own algorithm, for sure, it already is. And it's going to be dialed like everything Google does. It'll be well tested, and well thought through. And they'll put a ton of money and developers behind it. And they'll try to beat, you know, this is really the window that's open for other search engines to possibly compete. And Google is just not gonna let that happen, in my opinion, but this is a window for them, like Apple, to be able to provide a better voice search feature than the one Google does, but my money is on Google figuring it out.
Paul/Ryan: Yeah, I definitely have a theory. And I think I've mentioned this in other podcasts, hopefully not multiple times, we talked about site speed, probably every fourth or fifth podcast, but right probably only mentioned this just once. But there's definitely going to have to be its own algorithm or AI or logic to really give you that definitive one result, without a doubt, so they have to use different logic. So it has to be the most accurate, you know, when you do a search on anything else, of course, you have 10 results or more 13 with ads or maps and whatnot. So this is like their chance to like, man can't screw this up. So my theory is, especially for locals, is that people definitely do use modifiers like best or top or, you know, something along those lines when searching for local services or maybe even products. So, my theory is local businesses that you know, on Google get reviews, it's basically gonna be like if someone says we What's the best ice cream parlor by me? It's going to go to the maps and basically and look for whoever has the most reviews, best quality and quantity and give that result.
That or they'll go to like a paid format for it.
Geoff: I agree. I think one thing that's interesting to think about too, is it's not just what result they pick. It's what the result looks like. So the result of a voice search, how it comes back to a user will be quite different in the future, then what a Google search response looks like. So you can't just show a map, or you can't just start reading, you want to actually answer the person's question in some valuable way. So I think that's something that they're struggling with and working on is what is a perfect voice result look like in the form of its own result? You know, coming back to the user.
Paul/Ryan: It’s interesting. Yeah. Because there's so many ways to look at if someone says, this is the best, you know, has thousands of reviews in a perfect 5.0. But it's 10 miles away. But this one is a 4.8, but it's right down the block.
Geoff: When you start thinking about it, it's just like the doors open on who's gonna be the best at it because there's a lot of technical hurdles to figure out.
[34:19] The Wild West Days of SEO
Geoff: Interesting time. It's always been interesting. I don't know about you guys. But I love being part of it. I think it's incredible what's happened since I started at Overstock in 2005, right out of college, and to see what's happened since 2005 to 2019. That's super cool. What's gonna happen from 2019 to 2050? It's gonna be just as interesting. There’s huge technical problems that we're pushing. You know, it's like the Wild West. It's not the Wild West. It's more regulated now, but it's gonna be very interesting to see how we solve these issues.
Paul/Ryan: I was gonna say, you remember the real Wild West in SEO.
Geoff: Yeah, I remember. I mean, you guys know that company Conductor, I hope I'm not throwing them under the bus here — they're actually a great company. But their first business model was they would buy ad space on the top pages like New York Times and Yahoo, with no tracking parameters, and you could just buy links, you could buy a link from the homepage of the New York Times through conductor, and they were like, just printing money. And then that ended abruptly but yeah, it was kind of wild.
The Overstock days were a hell of a run. And I don't know, you really can't almost do that anymore. But it was cool to be a part of.
[36:56] Where to Start When Learning about Structured Data
Paul/Ryan: So you've obviously been to schema.org. So how do you feel about the resources on that site? How is it as a site? I mean, technically, it's a great resource. But do you feel like it's a good place to start if you're new to structure data?
Geoff: I think it's a great place to get the concept, perhaps. I mean, it's so sort of, maybe even not, I don't know, I always point people towards Google's own documentation. One of the things that's interesting about schema is that they don't actually use the schema.org repository, they use the JSON-LD repository, that's a little inside tip.
So schema.org is almost so academic and so technical, that it doesn't take into account any of the real business value of schema. I think Google's documentation around structured data is really the source to get started, because it actually will help you realize the business value of using structured data. Scheme? No, they don't do anything. In fact, it probably turns people off on it, because it's so technical. And unless you're a structured data expert that does this for a living, I think you'd have an incredibly hard time getting started there. I'd point people towards Google's own documentation and trying to figure out what the business value is for someone and start and go from there.
Paul/Ryan: Makes you almost think what the point of schema.org is.
Geoff: Yeah, it's a bit outdated. Now, I mean, if you really want to contribute to structured data — I actually don't call it schema, structured data markup is the official term — I would not use schema.org. So we've actually, with our customers, come up with object types that we would like to introduce. They would never get done through schema.org. It does get done through the JSON-LD organization and they're the ones that really decide what happens and what doesn't. Schema really doesn't impact things that much.
[39:22] Automated Structured Data Plugins
Paul/Ryan: Gotcha. And so, if people want to implement structured data, are there generators out there? Are there any plugins, auto generators, templates that you trust at all? Or is it kind of like you have to do it custom every time?
Geoff: You know, I actually I’m not the best person in the world to ask that question, because we have a competing product. But there are other products. You know, there's the Yoast plugin, and there's the Google structured data helper. They'll get you going. They're not the best solutions, but they'll get you started. And I do encourage — I think the more people that adopt structured data, the more sites that do, the better. It's better for everybody. It's better for Google it’s better for Huckabuy. I'd probably start there.
You do reach a point where you're like, “Oh, man, I really need an expert or a developer that's almost dedicated to this.” And the other aspect of it is that it changes a lot. I say there's two fundamental algorithm changes over the last 10 years that almost every single algorithm update that just doesn't go away. Oneis mobile, every algorithm has gotten more mobile friendly, and then structured data. And usually the enhancements to the structured data are pretty complex. And so if you do use some of those tools, then something changes, it brakes, which is a bad thing. So, but it's a great place to get started. And I encourage people to start to test it out and see what it does. I can give you some statistics.
Just think about the level of detail that Google would understand a site that has good structured data, versus them just crawling the HTML. There's going to be all these new keywords that the site ranks for, there's going to be all sorts of understanding that Google gets by absorbing that information. And that's going to do something to their algorithm. What we've seen is it has a pretty dramatic impact on the overall traffic.