Podcast Description:

Hosts: Robert O'Haver and Matt Weber

Guest: Geoff Atkinson


In this episode, Robert, Matt, and Geoff talk technical SEO. Geoff answers what Google really wants out of your website, and how you can optimize your site for both users and Google. They also go over the importance of page speed, keyword research, and structured data and how using Huckabuy software can increase organic traffic and revenue for any given site — including yours. 

Click here to listen to the full episode.

What You'll Learn in This Episode

Time Stamped Highlights

[5:43] What Does Google Want in a Website?

Robert/Matt: Geoff, get us started here. You talk quite a bit about a website that matches the perfect world for Google. It's a little bit of a contrarian view. Give us a snapshot of what you think Google wants in the perfect website?

Geoff: There's a few things that come to mind. The first would be page speed. So I don't know how long Google has to yell about page speed before people listen, but they care about sites that load very quickly, not just because the user experience is a lot better, but if you think about the time and money they spend waiting for sites to load, they have a lot of selfish reasons to care about page speed. It just makes their life a lot more efficient if they can crawl fast sites. Structured Data is the second thing I put in Google's perfect world. This means Google has this structured format that they can absorb content and information in. Then the other would be just a site that's built in flat HTML. They aren't a fan of stuff like flash and dynamic content, where they have a hard time crawling. I use the example of Wikipedia as sort of their perfect world. It's structured. It's fast. It's flat HTML. Very simple. I think that's a good example of a site that falls into that category. 

They are pretty open and honest about it. And what we do is just listen and try to give them what they're looking for. 

[7:17] The Technical Conversation with Google is as Important as User Experience

Robert/Matt: Well, they say quite a bit often that you know, to them a perfect site is the one that satisfies the user. And you hear them say, in their literature, it's the user. It's the user, it's the user, it's the user. How does that fit in with your point of view that it's the technical conversation between the website and Google that's really driving the ranking?

Geoff: I think there's a ton of inherent things in their algorithm that are already focused on the user. So if you think of the most core component of that being links and anchor text, that's all user-driven, and really good content and really good. Apps and all sorts of stuff will drive those links and so that the algorithm is already quite user-friendly. I do agree with that. They care a lot about natural language and not keyword-stuffing and actually having a good product and a good interaction. So you still have to do that. Because those things will always attract links, they'll attract Google as a result. Those are very important things. 

My point is that without the technical conversation with them, if you're not having a good technical conversation back and forth, a lot of those things become mute points. So, say you have the best site, with really great user experience. But it's a downloadable app and your website's one page and it's totally dynamic and they can't crawl it. You're not going to get the benefit of your full SEO potential. You gotta have that technical conversation and just the ability for them to come in and absorb who you are and what you do. We're much more about facilitating the conversation and making it easier for them to understand. I do think it's still important for the user-focus. But I think there's this sort of technical gap that people don't address because it is so technical. That, you know, can hinder sites from their potential ranking possibilities. And so when we turn on this technology, and Google gets what they want, you know, the floodgates are open for them, especially if they have a great product.

[9:16] Top 3 Biggest Technical Inhibitors of The Average Website

Robert/Matt: Yeah, the technology definitely scares people. I think we have some people listening to the show that are our business owner operators that are trying to get a handle on SEO either to manage a vendor or maybe they're doing a little bit yourself. So the technology thing is probably the thing they put at the bottom of the to do list, because maybe that's not what their skill set lies. But I also think that one of the reasons technology doesn't get its do is because it's not visible. I mean, the things that are the technical inhibitors to ranking aren't things that you see when you look at the website and look at it right. Can you give us your experience? What are the top three biggest technical inhibitors that the average website has that's holding it back?

Geoff: For sure. So first off, I completely agree technology is scary. If you think of your typical marketer, they can deal with all the other channels really makes sense to them. And then they get to SEO and because it's so technology-heavy, it's like they have to put on a different hat. So it is scary, and it's also not visible. 

In terms of like a top-three list, I'd say page speed is probably number one. Page speed is so important and it only will become more important. The other is indexation — just the pure indexability of a site. They don't give you as much insight into how well they are actually absorbing all the content and stuff that you're creating. There are inhibitors there like a lot of JavaScript frameworks — reviews will be powered by JavaScript — and sometimes their JavaScript bot will come by about once every two weeks. So that could be a real lag to you actually getting the benefit of new content. 

So, the first two technical inhibitors are page speed and indexation, and the third is structured data. Structured data is such a fantastic way to communicate with Google. Most sites don't have really great structured data because it is so technically intense. Those would be my top three.

Robert/Matt: Yeah, I'd have to agree with you on the structured data side because I dove in for months learning that stuff. And, you know, wanting to be that early-adopter and learn all there is to know about it and it's not easy. You know, the biggest problem is nowadays I think is everybody uses it almost like a phone. There's an app for this. There's an app for that. They're using plugins, plugins, plugins, and it's all basic stuff. People don't realize how far structured data can go. 

Most people, when they say structured data, they're looking at the business level structured data — name, address, phone number, etc. — but they're really not marking up the content to give it proper context. There's so much more to it, right? I mean, like, so you have an organization, for example, or a local business, and you're marking up services or products and connecting those two. So that, and then obviously, your geolocation and all that good stuff is priceless.

[12:50] How Huckabuy is Aligned with Google’s Crawl Budget

Robert/Matt: We had John Mueller on the show a couple weeks ago, and he gave an interesting context to crawl budget, which I have to confess I was misinterpreting. One of the pieces of information he gave was that crawl budget is a limitation in that if your server can't satisfy the Google bots request and the volume of Google bots request, that's how it's inhibiting your rank. It's not that they dedicate X amount of minutes or X amount of hours to you in a month or a week to be able to crawl your site. It's the fact that your page speed is connected to the amount of information you can serve. And one of the key things you're serving it up to is the Google bot. So you're just not satisfying the Google bots appetite for information about your site. Is that a viewpoint that you're consistent with?

Geoff: Oh, totally. When they come to a site, they're there to download information and put it into their index. And so at a certain point when a site’s slow, and they can't download enough information, yeah, they go another way. So one of our goals is basically to allow them to download information as fast as they possibly can. So they could crawl and index an entire site in no time. It's really, you know, one of our goals. But yeah, I completely agree with that.

[14:08] Sites Are Getting More Complicated and Google Can’t Crawl Them: Enter Huckabuy

Robert/Matt: You know, it kind of feels like with your answer, that we're coming around full-circle on the web, because in the early days of the web, websites were flat HTML, generated by something like the front page, right? Not a lot of server requests went into making up that page. And now it sounds like Geoff, you're saying, we gotta get back to that point, where more of the content that the browser sees is flat HTML, and we have to offload a lot of this server request stuff somewhere else. Is that what you're describing?

Geoff: Yeah, that's exactly what I talked about, like Google's perfect world, that's really what they want. Like if you think about, think like a B2B software site like SAP, and you think about the business requirements put on that site. So say it's hosted in Seattle, and the request comes in from Australia. So that request goes all the way to Seattle, then it goes to the third parties that are on that page, which wherever they're located, their chatbox, their analytics, their tracking, all those things firing, those all have to render. And it all comes back, loads, and sends back this request to Australia. I mean, it can take forever. So yes, we're all about edge delivery, which is a complex technical thing. Edge delivery allows sites to be stored in memory locally, so that no matter whether it's a user, or it's a bot from wherever all the information is ready to go and ready to be crawled and is ready to be absorbed by a user. That's really the future in my opinion. 

We do need to simplify things, especially as we start adding more apps and more plugins to sites, that oftentimes we don't even know who's developed them. We don't know how reliable they are. We don't know how they serve them. And it can pose this huge business risk. Say you have a plugin on your site, but the developer goes on vacation for a month, and doesn't get the bug or the issue. Your site could not be indexed for two months as a result of that. So, yeah, I think simplifying things might start by simplifying things. I don't think that's the way that we work. I don't think we're gonna be like, “Alright, let's go back to flat HTML,” I think we'll come up with solutions, like what I'm trying to come up with that take these complex sites and simplify them, for both users and for visitors. The sites are going to get more and more complex. It's the technologies that simplify those things that I think are gonna be really.

[17:16] Good User Experience Design is Built Around SEO

Robert/Matt: Yeah, I think we're making some designers listening to the show, I think we're making their skin crawl right now. They're saying, “Oh, my gosh,” because look at where we're at. We're in a world right now, where people are advocating for serving up different content to people whether or not they've visited the site before, serving up different content to people based on their geographic location, serving up different content based on what they've put in a cart previously. And all of that takes that server requests back and forth, like you're talking about. You're saying, maybe there's a greater good in serving up a faster site, then all of those back-and-forth personalizations can yield.

Geoff: Yeah, I think something that's really interesting is people don't, when they add, say, JavaScript personalizations. We did a ton of personalization at Overstock and it's a great example. So you'll implement some third-party personalization vendor, and results will go down. And you'd be like, “Why is this?” and it's strictly based on page speed. Never mind what it has, what kind of effect it has on Google and what your SEO is, it has issues with conversion rates just with your users, just interacting with your users. 

We hear this sort of friction between UI/UX and SEO. I find any site that's built really well for SEO, conversion rates go up, they just do. It always happens, conversion rates go up, because you're giving users what they want and what they call things. You're using descriptive navigation. It's easy for a customer to navigate, they know the nomenclature, the site's fast. And even if you pull the SEO channel out of the equation, and look at conversion rates — because SEO usually organically converts really nicely, it's going to raise it regardless — the conversion rate still jumps, because people are getting a fast site that's descriptive and it's talking the way that they talk. So I don't think there is this friction between UI/UX and SEO, I find really good UI/UX actually, is the same thing as SEO. 

When you add in these complicated things, very rarely do people consider the other effects that it might have, especially their relationship to Google. People spend so much time and money on the user experience for humans, but fail to ask, “What's Google’s experience when they come?” That's arguably the most important visitor in my mind. 

Robert/Matt: I mean, that's definitely true. The conversation with Google is important. But if you have a bad user experience, and good SEO, that doesn't mix. You know, I'm saying? You have to win on all fronts.

[19:51] Keyword Research: The Marketing Data Goldmine

Geoff: Yeah, I think just think, looking at demand, you know, I always say start with keyword research. It’s undervalued on all fronts. Understanding the demand that's out there what people are searching for is undervalued in understanding your business. I've seen businesses change just based on keyword research. I mean, Overstock became a home and garden company from electronics and watches, just through keyword research. We figured out that big box retailers that were selling furniture and stuff weren't selling online yet. So we moved into that space and kind of took it over. It can really help a business grow by looking at the demand and then figuring out how to create a product that helps that demand. 

Robert/Matt: Keyword research is so valuable. If you turn the clock back 20 years ago, people would pay thousands of dollars for the type of marketing data that keyword research offers for free.

Geoff: Oh, yeah, companies made hundreds of thousands of dollars off interviewing customers, and it's not even nearly as good. I mean, you'd spend so much money to just try to sit down with customers and interview them. Now you just have the raw facts of what people search for right at your disposal. 

Robert/Matt: It does take a special person that does that keyword research to understand the semantics to the intent for the searcher. You gotta know what you're doing when you're doing it. You can't just go to the table, look for the word with the most volume and go “Eureka.” I want to rank for “cat.” It takes a lot more thought. 

[21:36] Why is There Such Resistance to Page Speed?

Robert/Matt: Geoff, you said something interesting. I find it interesting. It's because it's consistent with my experience, about PageSpeed. Why is it taking so long to get businesses and SEOs focused on page speed. It kind of reminds me of when mobile was first coming out and how Google harped about “mobile, mobile, mobile,” and we're now in the same era, where they're preaching page speed everybody's talking about page speed. You can go to any podcast and listen about page speed. And yet, SEOs and business owners, they're not reacting to it. With this message of page speed, there's so much resistance to it. Why do you think that is?

Geoff: It’s because page speed is a technical problem. And it's a very complex technical problem. Your typical CMO is great at managing budgets and figuring out ROI and branding and that sort of thing, but for them to figure out page speed I mean, they have to be a CTO. Your CTO figures out page speed. If it’s something that a CMO is not comfortable with, it’s something that they're just not going to do. It's like the kid that doesn't like math, and has to take math classes through high school, but when he gets to college, he doesn't take any more math classes.

[22:54] The Top Inhibitors of Page Speed

Robert/Matt: On a superficial level, what would you say are the top inhibitors of page speed as you have worked with sites on your platform?

Geoff: There's really two, it's dynamic content — and not even content, just things that are dynamic and coming from JavaScript. The second inhibitor is images. Images are such a big part of the loading process on any site and they're just rarely optimized. People throw them up without really thinking about it. 

Robert/Matt: It seems like there's so much technology to make the optimization of photographs and images easy today — even with WordPress to an extent. I mean, compared to two years ago, you had to do all that stuff yourself, image by image, and now, you can kind of do it on a mass scale.

Geoff: Yeah, but think about the person that's loading the image. So, if you have a designer that's listening to this podcast, they probably get it, but not every designer in the country listens to this podcast, and oftentimes it's a designer, or it's just like a local business owner, that owns their domain and is using, some sort of WordPress or or whatever it happens to be. And they don't know about this stuff. And so it just happens. Whoever ends up loading the content onto the site typically doesn't have an SEO background, never mind a technical SEO background, so it just doesn't happen.

[24:38] How Huckabuy Automates Structured Data

Robert/Matt: When we talk more about structured data, I'm interested to hear, how does your platform automate structured data? Isn't a little bit of structured data, interpretive? Don’t you have to understand what the content is in order to mark it up?

Geoff: Yeah, totally. There are developers overlooking it. It's really about the setup of the structured data by page-type that gets the automation there. Once we know what to look for, the system optimizes itself. But the great part about the automation piece, especially for structured data, is that it's a moving target. Structured Data is changing all the time in terms of what they want — like requirements and so forth. Also, websites are constantly changing. So to have those two variables just taken care of with an automated solution is really helpful.

[25:34] Automate Structured Data to Stay Ahead of Competitors

Robert/Matt: What's an example of that, where a site would have some level of structured markup and something evolved, and your automation caught it and flagged somebody to improve it or improved it itself?

Geoff: Probably the most recent example would be event markup, which is a very heavily used markup. That markup slightly changed. I forget the exact requirement that they asked for, but it became a required field and most companies didn't have it, it didn't really even exist. So we caught that within like an hour, because we're actually using the same structured data repository that Google uses. Which surprise, surprise, actually isn't schema.org, it's the JSON-LD repository. So we actually noticed these things within like an hour or so of them changing it, unless they change in the middle of night. And we'll update 50+ customers all at once. Whereas that mistake would probably hang out there for months on end on your typical site that's doing structured data either internally or is using some sort of plugin to manually update. 

So, that's an example of us being able to get to something really quickly and also our customers get the benefit of that. They get the benefit of actually having that new thing, in this case their event markup, taken and displayed more prominently.

Robert/Matt: So similarly with the recent change on review markup, your platform detected that sooner and was able to incorporate the needed changes faster than someone else who wasn't using some level of automation did. Right? 

Geoff: Yeah, that's taken care of like before the customer, or before anyone, would even notice it, it's taken care of.

Robert/Matt: Wow. Fascinating. And then how do you prove that to your client when it’s so technical? 

Geoff: Honestly, I don't think we do a great job of that. I mean, they get all sorts of benefits that I don't even think they know about. And that's part of being a startup, right? We spend a lot on development and very little on marketing. And so we don't really do the best in marketing. I mean, like, not just marketing to potential customers, but communicating, just simply communicating to current customers. They get a level of structured data that they definitely don't understand.

[28:45] How Does Structured Data Affect Click-Through Rates?

Robert/Matt: So, realistically, how does having structured data affect click-through rates? Do you have any data on that? Because I don’t think Google really cares how many people go to your site, as long as the user gets their answer.

Geoff: Yeah. So I mean, what I can do is I can give you some facts about what structured data does from a performance perspective that are probably a little bit different than what you've heard, if that would be helpful? 

 The first thing that happens with good structured data is your number of ranking keywords, specifically non-branded, mid-tail terms jumps significantly. I think it has to do with the authoritativeness of structured data. So even if you had a keyword that was somewhere in a meta description, or it was in text somewhere, there just wasn't a strong enough connection for them to consider you. Once it's in structured data, they definitely consider it. 

I'll give you the stats. So we have over 50 customers, they range from, you know, your SAP and Salesforces of the world, to startups — companies all over the board. Our average customer after 12 months of implementing our structured data product, their keywords grow 101% — that's keywords that rank in the top 100 results in Google. That’s 101% growth and they love that because the bread and butter of any great SEO is these mid-tail terms. People are starting to get specific. They're looking for a very specific thing and they can find it. So that's the first thing that happens. 

The second thing that happens is those links start to show up in the top 10 and they get impressions. Our average customer after 12 months, impressions grow, I think 62%. After that, they'll start to get clicks, obviously. Our average customer after 12 months, sees the rise and about 62% in organic search clicks just through structured data. So it moves the needle. 

I always joke about, you know, Matt Cutts, used to say, “Oh, this doesn't do anything for rankings?” It absolutely does. Because it just makes sense. If you think about how much more Google understands about SAP.com when structured data is layered on top of it than they did when it was just HTML, there's just no comparison. All the other things like rich cards and whether or not they're going to show up and click through rates, that stuff changes dynamically based on whether or not they're going to show you. I always consider those things kind of like bonuses, but those are like that, the stats around what it actually does across our customer base. 

Robert/Matt: Yeah, I think that Google is right and what they're saying that isn't a direct, you know, ranking factor, but when raising the click through rate on a particular page, because it's showing rich results, then that's going in itself bring a page up because it's getting the more clicks.  

At the end of day, it is a democracy, right? Google is saying, “If I show this to 100 people and a bunch of them click on it, then they're clearly saying that this is germane to the query that they put in on the page. So therefore, it must be relevant.” So clicks are one of the most important votes you can get. We've done that through several testing.

[36:42] Geoff's Top Most Influential People

Robert/Matt: It is time for who influences the influencer. Why don't you tell us who you follow to stay up-to-date on the industry.

Geoff: I am probably most influenced by our CTO. His name is Chase Mathewson, and he follows Google and what they're up to closer than anyone I've ever witnessed. So, in terms of me getting like information that helps drive decisions and keep up-to-date on the SEO world, he's really the one.  

In terms of generally who I'm influenced by, I was definitely influenced quite heavily by the founder and CEO of Overstock, who was my mentor, former CEO, he's been in the news a lot lately, and he's left, but he was a fantastic mentor. And then I also became friends with Josh James, who was the founder and CEO of Omniture and now is the founder and CEO of Domo, here in Utah, and I am just really inspired by how he can grow a software company. I have an e-commerce background, and a digital marketing background, so the software thing is sort of new to me and I'm learning a lot from him because, although Domo has had ups and downs, his track record is pretty incredible and he’s a really sharp guy.

[39:00] Customer Access To SEO Analytics Through Huckabuy

Robert/Matt: Geoff, right before the break, we were talking about a really interesting topic. And that is, how do you prove the value of some of this really cool stuff that your platform is doing? And you were kind of inferring that it's a little bit challenging. And maybe you're reviewing some things that you're doing. Tell us how do you tell the clients who are buying your platform that these incredibly technically important things that you're doing are indeed bringing value at the end of the day? 

Geoff: Yeah, I don't think I do a very good job of it, honestly. I mean, certain people just get it right away. And they're like, “We need this. It's necessary.”

I had this sort of mantra that all the software, all the development efforts we were going to make, were strictly for growth. There's tons of dashboards out there for SEO, there’s rank trackers, and site crawlers and all sorts of stuff. We're not going to do that. We're going to focus on performance-based SEO Software, which I thought was really cool because it was something that was missing, especially when it comes to like the technical side. So that was my mantra. 

It turns out, I was totally wrong. You do need to be able to show people stuff. And so now we're pretty heavily investing in a dashboard that will show a lot of the statistics that have gone away from Google Search Console, we have a lot of crawl stats, and we were actually interacting with Google, on behalf of our customers. We have some really interesting information that I think SEOs will enjoy. 

It was very hard though. Where, say we go live and six months later, they just kind of know us from talking with our SEO analysts, they start to think that we're like an agency and we were like “No, our software's live, and it's doing really well.” So we're trying to get a lot better at sort of visualizing that both for customers and potential customers and I think that'll be a really big step. But it is hard to have a software product that people can't really see. So we're fixing that now. 

Robert/Matt: At the moment is your platform generating any type of routine reports on a specific interval?

Geoff: It does. We actually now have the APIs from Google Search Console, Ahrefs, and our own personal information through Huckabuy Cloud. And so we have a pretty good data set that's visible within the beta  function of our dashboard.

In the past, we've always just done monthly reports. And they're like a PDF that shows ranking, keywords, impressions, clicks, revenue, all those sorts of things. But it's becoming much more interactive, which is great.

[41:30] Time Spent on SEO Reconnaissance is Never Wasted

Robert/Matt: Yeah, Google Data Studio is kind of leading in that area. I'll tell you an experience that I had about two years ago, is we got some guidance from one of my mentors and a person I respect and said, “Why don't you go to your clients and ask them if the 3-4 hours you spend per month in their account generating a report is really valuable to them, or would they rather have that 3-4 hours invested into performance based activities and you stop giving them a report?” So we went to our clients. And we asked them that question. Not surprisingly, everybody said, “Oh, no, I don't need that report, use the time to make my business better.” So we did it. And about 60 days into it, we couldn't handle the phone calls, and our churn rate went way up. So I think that the value of reports sometimes is understated. And it's a connectivity issue, if nothing else, and I think every SEO has to struggle to find the right report at the right time with the right level of information that helps bond the client to the work. In your case, it's with the platform or in our case, it's to an agency or an individual, but the reporting is an important part of the relationship.

Geoff: It really is. Yeah, I'm not surprised that that happened. And it's a great Napoleon line, “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted.” There's so much data around SEO that I think you're right in being very smart about what to show and what actually influences the customer and making this great relationship so that they're making good business decisions. 

My ultimate dream is to actually have Huckabuy be self-optimizing SEO, which I know sounds kind of crazy, but with all the data that we're gathering, ranking changes, changes to the site, changes in structured data, changes in page speed. I think at some point, instead of just giving recommendations, we want that platform to actually make changes on its own, which is kind of scary. But I think it's the future. 

Robert/Matt: That's like the holy grail, but there's so many changes that go on. Yeah, I think the SEO unemployment rate would go up significantly. If you made it true on that. 

Geoff: I know it's scary — this idea is not very welcomed among SEOs, but it's really my goal, at some point is to have a self optimizing platform. We're starting to get there with certain things like metadata and structured data — those will probably be the first two that start getting included in this. Those will be where we kind of get a real good sense to what works and what doesn't. And it just happens. 

We think a lot about like, what would just kind of take-off in terms of performance? I think that's something that could kind of go nuts. 

Robert/Matt: It's kind of like, well, I hate to use this analogy, but autonomous driving, if you can get them just better than the average driver, then there's a market for it.

[50:37] SEO Advice: Believe it or Leave it

Robert/Matt: All right, Geoff, time for “Believe it or Leave it” one of the more popular parts of Search Talk Live, where we give you three statements we actually did find on the internet from somebody's blog or somebody's article, and we're going to ask you to tell our audience if they should believe it, or if they should leave it. Are you ready? 

Geoff: Sounds good. I'm ready. 

Robert/Matt: Number one, user experience metrics are more important than page speed as a ranking signal. We covered this.

Geoff: Leave it. My advice is to leave it. I think customer experience metrics are very much driven by page speed. So I would focus on the page speed and I don't really trust either UI/UX metrics.

Robert/Matt: Yeah, there's a really, in this article that I found this on was pretty interesting. But again, the author, she was making the point that at the end of the day, the overarching signal to Google is whether or not you satisfied users and that Google measures that through those what we're now calling vanity metrics, on that, and therefore that should be your overdriving, your driving force for SEO. That was her position. 

Geoff: My question on that would be, how would they know? Once they leave Google, how would they know how they interact with the page? So how can it be a ranking metric?

Robert/Matt: Don't they see the Google Analytics data?

Geoff: Oh, you're right. Yep.

Do you think they use that in the algorithm from the Google Analytics data? 

Robert/Matt: Well, that's the big, that's the big mystery. Right? We asked John Mueller, and he told me they don't use it on an individual level. They use it on an aggregate level, which is their answer for everything, right?

Number two, having properly marked up header tags is not required to rank highly on Google?

Geoff: I believe that. I am a bit of a contrarian. I've seen pages rank without proper header tags. Unless you're talking about title tags, but I think you're talking about H1s? I don't think they even care about H1s and H2s anymore. 

Robert/Matt: You know, and they actually, in one of the help documents, they came out recently and did say that with a level of clarity that surprised me. And I think that for me, it was a little bit surprising because I have preached to our folks, that it's the organization of the content that matters, from a user experience or reader. It's like going back into fourth grade and kind of outlining an article and giving it structure. And if you give it structure, then you give people the ability to skim it. And so I did believe that the header tags were kinda like Roman Numeral one of an outline, signaling what the content is about and they do not seem to be bringing any value.

The other thing too, that was really interesting. He says you can use H1s multiple times, right? Yeah, the hierarchy is overstated then. But there are a lot of plugins that make you put in them as a hierarchy in WordPress, for example, when you're creating content, and now they're saying there is no such thing as the hierarchy. 

Geoff: Yeah, I think the H1 and H2 is old school SEO at this point. It's kind of funny, because Google actually moves so fast. We have a market leader and they're just moving so fast. The industry of SEO — not talking about you guys, you guys get it — there is a lot of sort of lagging behind stuff. And H1s and H2s, yeah, that would definitely fall into that category. The reason I think that they don't care about it, is because it's almost like an SEO trick, because no one else really sees it, and so why would they care about it? If it's not visible to the user and they can’t interact with it a ton. Why would they care about it? So they just kind of got rid of it. 

Robert/Matt: It's just been abused and abused kind of like reviews. It's the game, right?

All right, Geoff, number three: A properly marked up page that only the Google bot can see can bring ranking value.

Geoff: I don't totally understand the question. So there is content and there is markup. But there's — what's not there? It's just not visible to a user? 

Robert/Matt: Correct. 

Geoff: Hmm. Well, it's typically not visible to a user. It can't be accessed by a bot. So I would say, if it can't be accessed by a bot, they're not going to find it. Which would make it so that it wouldn't rank. If the user can't get to it, then they can't get to it. Which means it wouldn't probably rank. 

Robert/Matt: No, this is a really convoluted, almost like strategy that this author was advocating that you create a page that is flawlessly marked up for the bot, but you don't want to serve that up to the user because it wouldn't read as well or wouldn't have the right as many words in it. But you would link to that page from the page that the bot sees. 

Geoff: This totally dark web. Here's the thing. So say it does get indexed, it does start ranking. And users are going to see it. And if you don't want users seeing it, interacting with it or buying it, it makes it sort of useless. So I don't know why you do it. It's a super dark web. And this is coming from a guy that got Overstock banned for six months from Google.

Yeah, that's my sort of badge of honor in terms of dark SEO. But yeah, I would never do that. That stuff doesn't work anymore.

[57:30] Search Talk Live Tattoo

Robert/Matt: All right. I think it is time for the Search Talk Live tattoo. Geoff, when you think about all the things we've shared with our audience, if you had to leave one piece of really succinct, compelling counsel, that is tattoo-able, what would that be?

Geoff: I would say, “Listen to Google,” those three words.

They're quite open and honest about what they want out of a website and I think us as marketers, don't listen enough. If we just listened to what they want and help them navigate our sites and understand them, it's great for everybody. 

Robert/Matt: So is that with filters or without?

Geoff: Oh, yeah, with filters, I think we get a lot of information from their development community. When they're developers talk, listen. They definitely put a different face on the search engine than is the reality. But if you listen to developers, they're the ones actually implementing the changes and they're quite open and honest. 

Robert/Matt: You know, the reason I love doing the show is because I love hearing the different viewpoints that we get. And a couple weeks ago, we had Joy Hawkins on the show, and if you're not familiar with her, she's a local search expert. And her tattoo was, “Don't listen to what Google says, watch what they do.” And that's been echoed by a couple other people on the show that says, you know, don't listen to what they say, but watch what they do and they describe some variances between what Google says and what they ultimately end up doing. So I love getting different viewpoints on that.

Geoff: I'm your contrarian guest I guess. We find them to be very insightful. 

Matt: But Robert, I'd asked you as someone who's been doing this for a long time: Would you say that Google is clearer today in their communication and directives than they were six years ago?

Robert: I would say, yeah, I think John's doing a better job than what was done. Well, I think it's that. 

Matt: But also, I think that Google was just wrapped in more Mystique six years ago. And I think for me, the turning point was mobile. And they came out and they said, mobile is a ranking factor, period, right in those clear terms, and there was nothing ambiguous about it. And that to me, kind of started this turn where they've now been, greater clarity, even this last communication about review markup, I thought had a high level of clarity to it. Whereas I think six years ago, they might have couched that in terms like, “We're doing some things to improve the quality of signals. And one of the things that you may want to do da da da” there were a lot of maybes, but they came out this time and said, “We're doing this, you should do that.”

Geoff: I think they're clear. I think they're doing a good job of being one. One tidbit I'll tell you about to look into is how they talk about dynamic rendering. It's one facet of technical SEO, that's like completely overlooked. It's what powers our Huckabuy Cloud. And it's something that they're talking a lot about, and I don't think people are listening. So it’s worth looking at how they speak about dynamic rendering. 

Matt/Robert: Geoff, I'd like to probably have you on again and let's talk about because that's a whole other rabbit hole to jump down. But I'd love to talk about it because I mean, there are ways of doing it and there's obviously ways not to do it. 

Geoff: It's their biggest fundamental change since I've been in this business. For them to say that you can crawl an alternate version of the site is like against everything they've stood for for years. 

Robert/Matt: Yeah. So I think it's a big deal, cloaking and all that.

Great stuff. Yeah. Well, Geoff, I want to thank you for being on the show. Again. We've really enjoyed it. Lots of good information and hope we can have you on again sometime.

Geoff: I'd love that. Such a pleasure, Matt. Such a pleasure, Robert. Thank you guys for having me. 

Robert/Geoff: Thanks again for listening to the show. Go to Twitter and ask a question with the hashtag, #SearchTalkLive. Also you can find Geoff on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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