Growth TL;DR Podcast [EP89]: How Optimizing for Google’s Perfect World Results in More Traffic

Table of Contents

Podcast Description

Guest: Geoff Atkinson
Summary

Google is one of the best channels for growth. But it’s also an ultra competitive channel, one where you’re competing with every other brand in the world. It’s hard to get a competitive edge. And sometimes to get that edge, we forget to pay attention to the fundamentals. for Google, that means the technical elements of SEO.

This episode of the Grow TLDR covers the story behind Huckabuy and how Geoff realized that technical SEO was imperative to a brand’s growth after he facilitated an increase in revenue from zero to $300 million at Overstock.com through their organic search channel. Now Geoff helps large enterprise companies dramatically grow their search traffic by helping them with page speed, structured data and dynamic rendering. The episode also covers the future of SEO and Geoff talks about the importance of structured data for voice search.

“The SEO industry is almost entirely services driven. There’s a lot of agencies and consultants that are giving advice, but they can’t fix the ultimate technical problems.”

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • Huckabuy stays ahead of Google algorithm updates and works with Google to optimize search traffic.
  • Structured data is integral to the future of SEO and companies that don’t utilize it will fall behind as voice search becomes more prominent. 
  • Why big companies trust Huckabuy and why they see results.

Time Stamped Highlights

2:30 SEO Tip: Problems that Huckabuy software products solve 

“Huckabuy treats SEO as a technical problem, where a website’s trying to communicate with a search engine — we fix that gap in the industry.”

Kieran/Scott: Geoff, could you give us a quick introduction to Huckabuy, the problem your company solves and maybe a little bit about your growth?

Geoff: Sure, absolutely. So my background comes from overstock, a big e-commerce company here in the states, and SEO is just a great story there. We took it from a channel of zero to 300 million and really learned sort of on the front lines, what it takes to drive serious SEO growth. And what I identified was that there’s a bit of a gap in the industry. The industry is almost entirely services driven. There’s a lot of agencies and consultants that are giving advice, but can’t fix the ultimate technical problems. And SEO, in my mind is really a technical problem where a website’s trying to communicate with a search engine. And so Huckabuy is designed to fix that gap. So essentially, we can solve all the technical interactions between a website and Google. There’s a few ways that we do it. But ultimately, when Google comes and crawls one of our customers websites, they get the perfect crawl experience — they get all the structured data and all the information they possibly could. Also, the page speed is really fast and they can index it quickly. So that’s the problem that we solve.

A Fully Automated Solution Image

4:49 The top SEO things that are pivotal for a company

“You still have to do those other important things like outreach and write great content. But it’s amazing how hard it is for Google to even understand a lot of these websites no matter how great the content is.”

Kieran/Scott: What are some of the core, top things that you think are pivotal for companies to solve, to be good at SEO from a technology perspective?

Geoff: I have a little bit of an alternative view looking at it. So technically, I think you still have to do those other important things like outreach and great written content. But it’s amazing how hard it is for Google to even understand a lot of these websites no matter how great the content is. So the first piece is just the importance of structured data markup. Structured data markup is really Google’s preferred language to talk to websites. It helps them understand a really complicated website — for example, we are fortunate to have Salesforce as a customer — and structured data ends up being this fabulous mechanism to help Google understand these important sites, like Salesforce. Not only does it help Google understand a site, but then they use it in interesting ways through search results. All those rich enhancements throughout search results are powered by this language.

Also really fast page speed is something Google favors — that’s obviously something that makes it easier for them to crawl all this JavaScript-based content that’s out there. JavaScript is a real pain for them. They can crawl it — they’re the only search engine that can — but they prefer sites that are like Wikipedia with flat HTML and super fast page speed. And so we have a dynamic rendering product as well. Dynamic rendering is basically a way to give them the sort of optimized version of any given site. We’ve talked a lot about how people spend so much time and money on the UI/UX for humans, and then they don’t really think about the UI/UX for a search engine. And so that’s really what Huckabuy focuses on. It’s like, how do we queue up what a site looks like if it were built specifically for Google? We’ve essentially built that with our SEO Cloud product.

7:49 How Huckabuy stays ahead of the curve with Google algorithm updates

“When there’s a Google algorithm update there’s losers, but there’s also winners and we want to be on the side of the winners.”

Google Webmaster Central Blog

Kieran/Scott: How do you navigate around Google’s algorithm updates? 

Geoff: We incorporate Google’s macro trends into our strategy and product — not their really micro algorithm adjustments. But we take their macro trends and basically say, “This isn’t going away. This is where they’re heading.” And we build our product around those macro trends so that in the long run, as our customers experience algorithm updates, they all win. I always say, when there’s an algorithm update there’s losers, but there’s also winners and we want to be on the side of the winners. So we try to be directionally correct towards Google’s macro trends, and then if we do that then our customers are in a good spot.

8:34 Why big software companies trust Huckabuy and see skyrocketed organic growth

“Because we don’t touch any customer data at all, it’s a very low risk proposition for big companies. We’re just talking to the search bots. And so it’s pretty low-risk with a lot of potential upside.”

Kieran/Scott: One of the things we want to ask about is — as you work with some pretty, big brands like Salesforce, concur and SAP — how do you manage to sell SEO services to those kinds of companies?

Geoff: Our product actually drives the most ROI and growth for these major software sites. Once we got on SAP, the results were insanely good. And their ROI story was just wild. Then we started pursuing these other big enterprise customers. And because we don’t touch any customer data at all, it’s a very low risk proposition for them. So that when we go through, like procurement and security review, we’re not doing anything that’s going to affect their compliance or anything like that. We’re just talking to the search bots, and so it’s pretty low-risk , but with a lot of potential upside. We’ve been fortunate to have a great track record with enterprise and have gotten into some really big companies. And we continue to sort of focus on that because Google struggles to understand these big sites. For example, on sap.com there was a page with over 100 JavaScript tags — Google literally can’t crawl that. So our product makes it way easier for Google to come to SAP and understand what they’re doing. So when Google comes, they’re like, “Finally we get to understand what the site’s all about.” And the results kind of go crazy.

The product works so well on these sites and so that’s kind of our target audience. Although, if you look at our customer base, we have everything from legal, to nonprofit e-commerce, to travel. I mean, it really is anybody that’s looking for increases in organic search. Our customer base is really diverse.

15:53 Geoff tells us what his role as CEO looks like

“We really invested in the product last year and SEO Cloud — it would be a difficult product to duplicate. Now it’s time to shout from the mountaintops.”

Kieran/Scott: I do have a question around like your role and your allocation of time. How do you allocate your time?

Geoff: So for the last year, a lot of my time was spent fundraising, which I think is a really kind of a tough thing for founders. I would say nine months out of 2019, I was primarily focused on raising the seed round and that’s a long time. After we closed that, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I can finally get back to work.” Also, in 2019 I spent a lot of time on sales. Sales is what pays the bills and is what grows the company. Sales and marketing are my primary focus right now. Before, we had never really done any marketing because we had built this really cool product. But we didn’t really have a lot of competition, and we kind of wanted to fly under the radar. Now that we’ve really sort of solidified the technical moat  — we really invested in the product last year and SEO Cloud — it would be a difficult product to duplicate. Now it’s time to shout from the mountaintops and, with my background in marketing, we’re working really hard on SEO right now. We’re also working really hard on our outreach and brand awareness, and so I do a number of podcasts. They’re a great way to increase our visibility and get people knowing about Huckabuy and what we do. 

19:35 How Huckabuy Has Been Able To Develop Such A Brilliant Software Product

“My CTO, Chase Mathewson, probably knows Google better than anybody outside of Google at this point.”

Kieran/Scott: Did you have a co-founder or how did you get the products so technical? How did you manage to get it built? You’re not going to mom and pop stores to get their data and add it — you’re going to, like, SAP and Salesforce. So I imagine your product has to be pretty good.

Geoff: Yeah, so I can’t code at all. I’m a technical marketer, though. I think really good marketers now are basically like good CMOS or good CTOs. You have to think about the technical side of marketing. The first edition of the product was the structured data product. And it was built by a few engineers and it was really lightweight. It really didn’t have enough sort of IP to make it protectable, but that product evolved into something special. And then, about a year and a half ago, I hired a CTO whose name’s Chase Mathewson, and he’s just brilliant — he has a real mind for this stuff. He doesn’t consider himself an SEO expert, but in my opinion, he probably knows Google better than anybody outside of Google at this point. So that’s how we got into a really hard technical product — through him and his team. We’ve invested heavily into product development and we’ve been fortunate to have really great leadership and really great developers that have built what we have now. 

Our product now actually outpaces probably the rest of the company. So the product is way stronger than the awareness. Our customers don’t even understand how powerful our product is — all that they’re getting. So we’re trying to ramp everything up around the product so that it gets its proper recognition and proper use. A CTO can make all the difference in the world, but I don’t have a co-founder. I started out on this journey on my own.

21:51 The Future Of Organic SEO — Voice Search and Rich Results

“At some point, the tides are gonna turn where voice search is actually easier and more useful than searching on a mobile phone.”

Kieran: Let’s talk about the future of organic search and what you think SEO will look like in the next couple of years up to 10 years. And so if I’m working in search right now, or I’m leading that team, what should I be thinking about?

Geoff: Voice Search is probably the biggest macro trend that’s happening, I think of voice search a lot like what happened with mobile. So at some point, the tides are gonna turn where voice search is actually easier and more useful than searching on a mobile phone. That’s just not the case. Right now, if I want to buy a product at the best price, it’s very hard for me to do that via voice search. So the user experience isn’t there yet. And the same thing happened with mobile. Some things it’s great for now are checking the weather, movie times, sports scores, you know and sort of these quick answers — question and answer. But I think voice search, at some point, is going to make it easier, or be just as good of an experience as searching on your phone or on your computer. And when that happens, the tides are going to turn really quick. 

Voice search is actually completely powered by structured data, which is kind of wild. So we’re really well-positioned for that wave. If you think about when you search for something online, and it immediately answers your question in that box at the top, or it gives you a view of, say, how to make a margarita. And it’ll actually show you the step by step instructions. So that’s actually recipe structured data that’s providing that. What voice search does is it just reads back to you that structured data. So those rich enhancements, that’s basically how their algorithm works now. It takes the highest ranking structured data snippet to any given query, and it just reads back to you that information. So that’s one other problem, is that not everybody’s adopted structured data. So they’re not able to give as much information to Google and the user experience suffers as a result of that. I think adoption of structured data is super important if you want to be ahead of the curve when it comes to voice search.

Mobile is also not going anywhere. People are more comfortable making big decisions on their mobile phone and even investing in software there. You know, people at SAP, they were always like, “Yeah, but no one would look at SAP on their mobile phone.” But it turned out that something like 50% or more of their traffic was mobile. The other thing is, providing immediate answers — those instant gratification answers where you don’t have to leave Google. I heard one thing that’s trending, is that this is actually the first year that people care more about immediacy than they care about the brand. So they’d rather get the answer from whoever, than the answer from who they trust. And so it’s more important how quickly they get the answer, rather than who they get it from. I thought that was kind of a cool trend.

26:41 What It’s Going to Take For Voice Search To Be Broadly Adopted

“When it comes to voice search, it’s actually, in my opinion, one of the only times that other companies really have a chance to compete, because no one’s figured it out completely yet.”

Kieran/Scott: What do you think will be the catalyst for this kind of growth in voice search? I feel like it’s one of those things where we’ve been kind of waiting for it to have an outsized impact on user behavior and the way people search, and it still doesn’t seem like it’s being adopted that broadly. 

Geoff: I think it all comes down to that user experience. You know, it’s similar to the iPhone transition where all of a sudden it was, just as good, if not better. So it’s only a matter of time. It’s actually, in my opinion, one of the first, or the only times that other companies really have a chance to compete, because no one’s figured it out completely yet. You know, you have Siri, you have Alexa, and then you have Google. And they’re all trying to be the best sort of avenue for voice search, but no one has gotten it right enough that it’s the preferred mechanism for getting what you want. It’s a big opportunity for other companies, but I think Google is going to win like they typically do. And they’re going to figure out, you know, like, how do you buy a product at the best price just using voice search or, you know, book, a trip or near sort of more complicated things that people do online, they’re trying to figure out how to get that done via voice. 

I think there’s another dimension, which is the voice to visual. So say you’re at home, and you’ve got your Apple TV or your whatever up, to be able to interact with it and still see stuff. So you’re not just getting answers. Because with voice search, when you search, and it just talks back to you, you don’t get the 10 blue links, you just get one answer. And that’s not an ideal situation for most queries. So, I think voice search when it comes to like, talking to a device that you can visually see — like a television would be the perfect example or just something in your home — that’s probably going to be the first thing that gets better. That will actually get more quickly adopted than just talking to a search engine directly. But yeah, the user experience just isn’t there yet. You know, I don’t really use it. You guys don’t use it, right? It’s just not effortless. So when it gets there, we’ll all use it. I have no doubt.

Q&A From The Episode

Our products translate a website using structured data and SEO Cloud, so that search engines have the perfect crawling experience.

Structured data is relied upon by search engines to understand, contextualize, and index content as accurately and efficiently as possible.

At Huckabuy, we incorporate Google’s macro trends into our strategy and product — this makes it so our customers are always in a good spot when Google makes a big change.

Providing immediate answers is more important now than ever. People want answers quickly, and they want to get answers without ever having to leave the Google Search Results page. Rich cards provide these these answers straight from the results page, and are powered by structured data markup.

Voice search is probably the biggest macro trend that’s happening and as user experience improves it will become more widely used. Voice search is also powered by structured data markup.