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DAVID BAIN: …are all links from widgets a bad thing and how closely do SEOs need to be involved with other marketing activities? All that and more in This Week in Organic, Episode Number 48.
Hello and welcome, I’m David Bain, Content Marketing Director for Authoritas.com and each show I’ll be joined by some knowledgeable, opinionated folks to discuss the latest happenings in anything that impacts organic traffic. And as for you in the live audience, get involved. So there’s a chat on Facebook and YouTube Live and you can always use the good old TWiO hashtag on Twitter. I’ll try to include some of the banter as part of today’s show. But let’s find out more about today’s guests, where they’re from and what’s caught their attention this week. So, starting off with Kevin.
KEVIN INDIG: Thanks David, thanks for having me on, it’s a pleasure. My name’s Kevin Indig, currently Director of SEO here at Dailymotion, and the top that most resonated with me this week is the connection between SEO and other marketing disciplines.
DAVID BAIN: Ah-hah, okay. Yes, I’m looking forward to that one myself, certainly. And we may have a couple of other people joining us as well, but one certainly with us at the moment is Steve.
STEVE MORGAN: Hi, David. Again, thanks for having me. So may name is Steve Morgan, I’m a freelance SEO Consultant based on Cardiff in the UK and the topic that most resonated with me, the same as Kevin, it’s about how SEO ties in with all the other areas of marketing, but I’m also interested in all the moving and shaking in the rankings at the moment, so interested in talking about whether Penguin’s afoot?
DAVID BAIN: Yes, there’s lots of moving and shaking about and no one ever knows, well apart from Google of course, as to why that has happened. The chatter at the moment is that that’s not quite Penguinesque behaviour, but perhaps one of you or perhaps others might think otherwise. So it’s always interesting to hear different perspectives on things. So let’s move on to topic number one and that is at SMX Advance, back in June, Gary Illyes said that Penguin’s next update maybe months away, but when it did happen, this particular black and white creature may continue to run by itself. And then Friday of last week, there appeared to be more of a core algorithm and local pack update, but this wasn’t confirmed as being Penguin, and then on Wednesday of this week, John Mueller said that they were actually working on a Penguin launch announcement. So it’s on the way, but has it arrived or is it going to arrive very soon? So, Steve, shall we go to you first on this one? What are your thoughts on this?
STEVE MORGAN: Wow, okay. So I was at Brighton SEO when I heard the news, so I didn’t really get a proper chance to look at it until Saturday/Sunday. For me I’m not entirely sure, but there’s a few things I’ve noticed. I track rankings for clients daily, one client I’m actually hoping for a Penguin recovery is, I just need a little bit of a drop for it to happen, so I’m wondering it if’s, one theory I’ve got is maybe disavows have been activated a little early, which would make sense because I’m quite brutal when it comes to disavows, I’m very, very strict and I wonder if that’s been actioned, but Penguin hasn’t. So we’ve kind of seen a bit of a drop for those, those bad links have maybe actually been helping him. But then I’ve got another client who’s in a similar sort of boat and we’ve not done any disavow stuff there, the link profile’s completely clean. I’m trying to remember now what…I had a second theory as well, and typically my mind’s gone blank.
DAVID BAIN: Did you get an opportunity to see the replay of Paul Madden’s talk that he did from the mainstage? Because he was talking a lot about how many companies disavowed the wrong domain names and regularly you get the names like www.bbc.co.uk actually in disavow files and he spends half his time apparently reavowing, was the word he used. Have you come across that work before?
STEVE MORGAN: I have, yeah. Probably the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen included in a disavow file when I took over the work from another agency is they disavowed www.bing.com, which was…
DAVID BAIN: Was that Google that did that?
STEVE MORGAN: But, reavowing is a really interesting topic, because it’s not something I’d ever want to do – you get people who thing, ‘Right, I’ve disavowed all the dodgy links, what happens now if I let a few trickle back in?’ It’s not something I’d want to do, but I try and be as strict and prim and proper about these things as you can. But it might still be early days, but it would be interesting to see if people are testing that kind of thing and seeing if there is somebody who says, ‘Hey, I’ve been trying it and getting some good results.’ But, no, I missed Paul’s talk on the day, but I think I’ll check that one out, that sounds interesting. Was it one of the ones that was streamed?
DAVID BAIN: Yes, it was, yeah, so you’ll be able to get that. Just search YouTube for Brighton SEO and we’re the number one video result for that. So that’s a good thing to see.
STEVE MORGAN: Good, SEO in action.
DAVID BAIN: Indeed. And Kevin, so have you got a disavow file list as long as your arm?
KEVIN INDIG: I really like what Steve said, because it’s very true. I’m very, very strict when it comes to cleaning up a link profile, which is difficult if you’re responsible for a very big website. But I think it should be part of a good SEOs repertoire and routine to check for harmful links, especially on a larger scale. Now, I think I as well as a lot of other serious SEOs have been schooled by Penguin very well, because when Penguin hits, it hits really hard and in most cases we don’t see a full recovery, if at all. So honestly, if you’re still very concerned about Penguin 4 being a huge issue for you in 2016, then what the hell are you doing? Because we’re not playing around with links anymore or risking anything in 2016, except for maybe, if you’re having a project that you’re experimenting with. So it’s of course difficult to speculate what Penguin 4 will look like and there’s already a lot of speculation going on in our industry, but there are certain things that we can predict in terms of what it will not be. And I think when we look at the past three Penguin updates, there is a certain trend that’s evolving or that’s becoming clear. I don’t want to ramble on about it for too long, but the first Penguin update was clearly targeted at quality, so it targeted low-quality sites, irrelevant sites, keyword anchor texts, all that kind of shenanigans. Penguin 2 was targeted more at spam, all the X-Rumer stuff, all the spammy comments and all these things and then Penguin 3 was just a refresh of those signals. So if you look at where we’re coming from, we might be able to tell a bit where we’re going to. And I think that it’s rather going to be a refinement of those spammy and manipulative tactics, more than a surprising, unforeseen factor.
DAVID BAIN: So big companies that do things the right way don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to Penguin then?
KEVIN INDIG: I honestly wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep. I think if you were an in-house SEO for a company for a longer time and you really know your stuff and you know your data, you either know if you’re in danger or not. I think the amount of companies that are getting hit by Penguin, surprisingly, that have a good SEO in-house or in-house team even should be close to zero.
DAVID BAIN: Okay. Steve, you said you were actually looking forward to Penguin for certainly a client of yours, has that client actually suffered since the last Penguin update?
STEVE MORGAN: Yeah, since I took them over – they had a bit of SEO work done by a couple of previous agencies that was a little heavy-handed on the exact match context front – and I think I came on board around the time of the last refresh, so unfortunately we were just sort of getting things ready when the refresh happened and then he’s just had to wait an extraordinarily long time for things to…and he’s getting frustrated, which is fair enough, especially because, and I feel a bit embarrassed because there was, I can’t remember if it was John Mueller or Gary Illyes who said that they promised pretty much that it would be by the end of last year. I even did a joke blog post on my blog about doing a Penguin sweepstake so people could actually try and guess the date and I was really embarrassed when it was delayed even further. Then I thought I would do it January to March and I’m glad I didn’t, because I’ve have just done it again and again and again and it was a lot of hassle. So he’s had to wait an extraordinarily long time and he’s a small business owner and in his defence he didn’t really know what he was letting himself in for when he hired the previous agencies, which you could say is and isn’t his fault. Maybe he should have been a bit more careful who he chose to work with, but at the same time he should have trusted the agencies to do work that would help him, not necessarily hurt him. So I think he’s obviously starting to lose his patience a little bit, so a Penguin update anytime now, please, would be welcome. Fortunately for him, it’s a local business and he has a couple of other locations and especially for some of the locations he still ranks quite well in the maps. So it’s not like he’s completely suffering and not getting any leads or traffic through SEO in the meantime. It’s a bit of an unusual one, because all other factors aside, he’s stronger than his competitors, but he’s ranking below them and it’s got to be because Penguin is still holding him back.
DAVID BAIN: That’s an important point to note, actually, that there are different algorithms out there, not just the core algorithm depending on where your business is located, perhaps local search could be even more important for you than appearing in the core universal search results.
STEVE MORGAN: That’s true. In a perfect world he’d be ranking in both and he hasn’t considered that, but he has done adverts in the past and considered it, but that could be another option, he could appear three times. But that’s a very good point, so at least he’s had that seen through. I suppose for a business that’s suffering from Penguin that doesn’t have a local aspect to them, then they must really be struggling until the refresh comes along.
DAVID BAIN: I’m afraid I didn’t see your talk at Brighton SEO, but I did, Steve, look through your slides and you gave a very interesting talk on what you do legally if you’re having challenges with a client and I certainly think viewers should check out those slides. It looks like a very interesting talk and I’m sure it went down very well.
STEVE MORGAN: Yes, thank you. I had a bit of a battle with a client last year who decided he didn’t want to pay the last two invoices and interestingly, actually, and I talk about this during the talk and you might see it in the slides, that was also a disavow penalty removal and in that instance one of the reasons they didn’t want to pay is they blamed me for creating the penalty in the first place, even though I’m the one who found it and offered to remove the penalty and lot of the work was clearly time stamped about two/three years before my contract started. So it was a bit of a shocking experience and for a tiny little freelancer like me, it was kind of a terrifying experience as well. So my talk was kind of, I’m not a solicitor, but it was kind of legal advice from my experience, it’s my story and giving advice to SEOs who might be in a similar situation, so interestingly, one of the points I made was I recommended screen-shotting as much as you can and in terms of disavowing and penalty removal screen-shotting things like before the penalty is removed so the message is there, after the penalty has been removed the message that says your penalty has been removed, submitting the disavow file, everything and anything that you can collect as evidence as you go along can be really valuable if something like that happens.
DAVID BAIN: Great, okay. Well I’m sorry I missed it, but I’m sure it was great. Kevin, you mentioned that most SEOs will know whether they are actually likely to be in danger of the Penguin filter coming along. What if you’re in this greyish area and you’re thinking that there are one or two things out there that you’ve done or someone else in your department has done previously, is there anything do you think that you can be doing over the next few days to try and make it less likely to trip you up, or is it too close to happen now. Can you do anything about it now, basically?
KEVIN INDIG: Right, very good call. Let me refine that statement, what I’m trying to say is every good SEO should know their data. Sometimes it’s a little tricky and I’ve been in that situation before, because prior to working for Dailymotion I was part of Search Metrics and did a lot of their consulting work here in the US and I’m still advising a lot of start-ups and tech companies, not only in the silicon valley, so I think I have a relatively broad overview of the industry and of different constellations and companies and what you’re mentioning is first should you know your data and what if you don’t and that can happen actually if you’re coming brand new to a company and maybe there was no time to get an Olex transfer from the previous SEO or you have no idea what was done before and I’ve even seen companies where different departments other than the SEO department bought links and it led to a couple of penalties and it got really messy and bloody and of course you can sum up that situation as well. So I’m not judging anyone in that position, just saying if you’ve been a long-established SEO in a company, you want to try to figure out if you’re endangered or not. So this is one of the first things that I try to ensure when I join a new environment is are there any company-ending dangers or threats and Penguin can surely be that. We all know how hard it can hit and how devastating it can be for companies, so that’s why I would advise everyone to take your time, do a link audit, try to get as much intel and information as you can about what your current link profile looks like and see if there are any signals for manipulative tactics or anything that might not be intended badly, but looks very bad. And there are a lot of tools that give you a good idea of what your profile looks like, even without investing too much time. So the second part of your question was what can you do right now or might it even be too late? It’s hard to say if it’s too late. It might be, it might be not, but if I was sweating right now, and if I was not sure right now where I am in terms of my link profile, I would do everything to correct that error or to correct that mistake. So take as many tools as possible to gather as much information as possible about your link profile, take the time, take the resources, maybe even hire external resources, go through your link profile and cut off anything that looks really, really bad. I think there are a lot of good guys out there that give you a process of how you can evaluate your link profile, what links to cut for sure, what links might be the grey area and honestly even the links in the grey area, you might really want to consider to cut those off and disavow them. And of course before you disavow, try to manually remove those links, because the threat and the danger after my mind is just too big and the benefit doesn’t outweigh that.
DAVID BAIN: Great thoughts. Well let’s move on to topic number two, which is yesterday Google announced that links that are not naturally placed are considered to be a violation of Google webmaster guidelines and they focused this particular advice on links from widgets, so are all links from widgets a bad idea? You’re nodding away there, Kevin, is that because, yes, that’s what they said, or is that because the whole links from widgets are a bad idea.
KEVIN INDIG: Yes, that’s what they said and I really like your transition from the previous topic to this one. I don’t want to interrupt you here, but I think once again building a strong link profile with widget links should not be part of your 2016 SEO repertoire. Especially when you’re dealing with bigger brands and not your own projects. That being said, I think if you look at the link scheme guidelines from Google, it’s very clear that they look at keyword rich anchor text when it comes to generally links that might be a threat, but especially when it comes to widgets. And I think that it’s a very clear separation, let’s put it that way. I think it’s relatively clear when you include a keyword rich anchor text it might not make sense in this case, or that’s very targeted in terms of very obvious to be a link building tactic. And to be very honest, I haven’t seen a lot of good widgets out there that I would put on my site myself. I also see widgets as a little thing of the past, it’s almost ancient or medieval, because what was the last awesome widget that you put in your site and were like, wow, I need to have that and that provides a clear user value.
DAVID BAIN: I know, it’s a long, long time ago. I remember blogging back in maybe 2007 or so and having things like MyBlogLog if you remember that, and I think they had text links back to the site as well, but it’s been a long time since I even considered the value of actually having a third party widget like that in a blog or in a website.
KEVIN INDIG: Likewise and that doesn’t mean that widget is stupid or it’s bad, but I think the threshold for a high quality widget is very, very high nowadays and looking from an in-house perspective, if I have to allocate and use my budget, I’m not really sure if I would use it to create a crazy widget, unless I have a fantastic idea. That being said, there are still lots of companies out there that use it, something like TripAdvisor that gives away badges that might serve as some of widget if you want to, so there is still some usage of it and Google wouldn’t address it if nobody would use widgets anymore. That being said, I think that widgets are in a very bad neighbourhood of link building tactics, simply because so many spammers use them and simply because they worked so for well for manipulating links in the past. So honestly if you want to build a high quality profile and you want to build a widget then to be on the safe side no follow that stuff or if you really don’t want to no follow it, just include a link to your brand and be on the safe side, don’t jump into that risky water.
DAVID BAIN: So in terms of what is the risky water, obviously a keyword rich, keyword phrase, that isn’t no follow is definitely risky, is a text brand phrase more risky than a link from an image, do you think?
KEVIN INDIG: That’s a very good question and I think yes. That being said, that’s based on pure feeling and experience more than on data. I would love to see an experiment where somebody tries that out on projects that they can burn, and what the difference is. That’s a pure opinion of mine, but I think that the classic keyword rich text in a widget is a relatively high indicator for a problem.
DAVID BAIN: Steve, have you got any projects you can burn?
STEVE MORGAN: Not on the widget front, I’m afraid. But I echo everything that Kevin said there. It’s a funny one, because I feel like if somebody creates something of value, then they should be rewarded accordingly, so I think Google’s treatment of widgets is a little harsh, maybe, and I actually met with a prospective client recently who has a widget that’s like live streaming, a bit like an embedded video and he was asking about this and I said obviously keyword is no go and I was saying at the time, I think this was a few months ago, that I think the rules at the time said no follow, which again I thought was a bit harsh, because if it’s do follow, but it’s a brand or an image, then surely that’s okay? One thing that’s really interesting is I had a client a couple of years ago who was a web developer who specialised in Magento and he just created an extension, a plug-in, and he didn’t have a widget link from it. So it wasn’t like a link got added to the website when people used it, but he still gets an insane number of links from it anyway, just through people – they love it, they share it, so you could argue that you could build it in a way so that you get the link from the widget and yes you could get thousands of links, but then Google may crack down on that, but chances are even if you create something of value, you might still get dozens of links, maybe not hundreds or thousands, so at least it’s still viable in that regard. So it might just be something that people should still consider, if you’ve got the capacity and the resource to build something and you have the time to do it as well, then you might as well. For him it’s done so well that he’s thinking, ‘Can I build something else?’ And even without that sort of link, so adding the cheekier sort of link back to his website through it…
DAVID BAIN: It’s the phraseology like don’t use unnatural links that is scary to people and it’s not definitive, but you can understand why Google can’t be and don’t want to be definitive about saying this is absolutely what you can do and this is what you can’t do, because then people who know the line there. It just wouldn’t work really.
KEVIN INDIG: Google sort of loves to shock everyone and scare everyone. No disrespect, but if you’ve been in the game for a longer time, you know these statements and that’s why I was referring to being schooled when I answered your first question, as being schooled by Penguin right because it’s really bad, it’s throwing out those bombs and it’s really trying to educate the SEO community, which they have done successfully.
DAVID BAIN: Yes. I remember seeing an interview with Rand Fishkin recently and I think he was asked the question, ‘Would you rather…’ I can’t remember specifically, but it was something like, ‘What would you prefer, five big important links or 1,000 lower quality links?’ And I think he chose the 1,000 and most people were surprised about that. You’re nodding away there Kevin, did you hear that particular discussion?
KEVIN INDIG: Yeah, I did and I think…he said it a couple of times, also when I met him privately and whenever I’ve encountered him – he’s a fantastic speaker, by the way, I love to see him and hear his rationality, because he’s also a very smart guy and the way he argues is fantastic. Of course, I think it has not yet been proven that the sheer quality trumps the quantity. Now that being said, it of course depends on what the quantity looks like. If those 1,000 links come from a spammy source, then for sure I think Rand wouldn’t choose those links, but if they’re mediocre or acceptable, they might still provide a stronger signal than five very, very high quality links and I’ve seen that over and over in the various companies that one Wikipedia link does not outweigh 1,000 decent blog links for example, with not such a high authority. I think the authority is very accumulative. That’s been confirmed by the page rank algorithm or the way that page rank works in general.
DAVID BAIN: And perhaps he’s thinking of the future as well, because just because a website is lower authority now, it doesn’t mean that in three years’ time it’s not going to be a significant authority within their industry and the chances are if you get a link from that domain that that’s going to be there in three years’ time when that site builds up that future authority.
KEVIN INDIG: That’s absolutely right and at the same time what is on top of that is the traffic that might come out of these 1,000 things. And once again it is very speculative, I cannot prove that, but I hear from more and more industry experts that traffic might play a bigger and bigger role when it comes to links in the future, so the question above all is do people actually click those links? And the chance of those 1,000 links to be clicked is much higher than the five high quality ones, the chance is higher. There might be scenarios in which this is not the case, but the chances are higher and I think that might become a stronger signal in the future and that’s why people also tend to quantity in those situations.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. Another thing that Rand said when I talked to him fairly recently was that he observed that traffic from his newsletter that he sent to the site and other sites actually had a positive impact on ranking, or appeared to have a positive impact on ranking. So that seemed not conventional from an SEO perspective, certainly. And it would also make you think, going back to our previous topic of widgets, that just focusing on relevant traffic, if you can drive more relevant traffic to your website, perhaps if it’s quality, relevant traffic and that results in good user experience, that could improve your SEO for the longer term as well.
KEVIN INDIG: Yes, absolutely, absolutely and not only SEO. I think we also have to put SEO into a bigger context and it’s ultimately a business-supporting channel or a channel that’s supposed to drive business goals. So the higher the quality of the traffic, the higher the chance of conversion or a lead generation and this is something that links also can provide, depending on where they’ve coming from they might either attract a lot of traffic or a lot of relevant traffic, and I think the relevancy is what people should focus on a little more, and conversions are a very good indicator of a high quality link to my mind.
DAVID BAIN: Great advice. And Steve I see you nodding away there. Is relevant traffic something that you’re focusing on now, rather than actually driving lots of traffic, or attempting to rank for higher volume keyword phrases for your clients?
STEVE MORGAN: It’s a funny one, because I’m thinking of some of my clients at the moment, we’re trying to go broader with our approach, so for instance, I’m thinking of a client of mine who is a storage unit and storage facility provider, and at first I looked at the very, very, very specific, high level stuff, so just like storage, self-storage, storage units and those kinds of keywords, which are his biggest keywords, admittedly. But now we’re looking at different angles around what do people use storage for? So we’ve done guest blogging opportunities around things like garden furniture storage, student storage, I’m trying to think off the top of my head, but it’s all these semi-related areas, so they’re still all storage related, but it’s almost like having your fingers in lots of different pies, so I suppose that’s actually like a step away from relevancy, or at least it’s semi-related and instead of getting links from necessarily storage blogs, they’re getting links from a student website and a gardening resource and things like that. In a way it’s working, because those resources may not have a storage post on there, so it’s a little bit easier for us to get on there and what have you. So, yeah, it’s a bit of a, I can’t really answer that question with a yes or a no, and I think it’s different for different clients as well. Another client I’m thinking of as well is a tech start-up and it’s sort of like software, for software testers, but he’s trying to establish himself as an authority, not just in software testing, but in everything that’s related. So software development, user experience, agile methodology and all those kinds of things, so in a way it’s kind of more exciting, because it opens up a lot more opportunities and different ways to get content out there in terms of the content marketing guest blogging side of things. But also, admittedly I think the main focus is the main focus, and we’ve always got to rein it back to like what does the company offer, who is their target audience, what’s the purpose of, if people the article and then click through are they actually going to be a customer or a client? So that’s what it boils down to.
DAVID BAIN: It’s proper business thinking rather than just thinking about the keyword phrases that are directly in relation to the business? And it almost relates to our last topic as well, and what other digital marketing opportunities are impacting SEO or should SEOs be aware of as well? Because if you think of something like Facebook advertising, then that’s advertising to people who haven’t necessarily considered the product or service that you offer at the time, but you know that they are the target market and you’re trying to define that as a target market and making them aware of what you do from there, as opposed to actually taking someone who is an active searcher? You’re almost approaching it like that perspective.
STEVE MORGAN: Yes, that’s right and me, personally, I’m a dedicated specialist SEO, but I think it’s a bit cheesy to say, but then – are you familiar with a T shaped marketer model?
DAVID BAIN: Yeah.
STEVE MORGAN: I think Rand Fishkin was the one who coined it, or at least he’s one who did a blog post about it. And I try and be as T shaped as possible, so SEO is my jam, but I’ve got a bit of experience with AdWords, with social pay per click, with social media marketing in general and all the different other areas, and I think even if you can’t necessarily help a client with implementing it, if you can say, ‘Oh, we should do this for the SEO benefit…so we should do this, and by the way it’ll have an added SEO benefit.’ Or that kind of thing, I think that can be really valuable, rather than just being, the risk is being stuck in that silo and just saying, ‘Don’t bother doing that, let’s just do SEO’ and kind of not looking at the bigger picture. So I think actually at one point, and almost to a point where I was shooting myself in the foot, where I had a chat with a client and actually said, ‘You should be doing this for this reason, not for the SEO reason.’ And actually saying they’re not going to be much SEO benefit from whatever the tactic is, I wish I could remember now. So ultimately, even though we’re trying to push one angle on the client, or one channel, it’s all about trying to offer value beyond what we do and sort of say maybe you should or shouldn’t do this, because of this, that and the other, if that makes sense.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. Maybe before we delve any deeper into this and we could probably discuss this one particular topic for a long time, certainly, but let’s just move quickly onto topic number three, which is in a blog article on Tuesday, Google announced that moving forward they are going to be giving webmasters more specific advice about issues like malware, deceptive pages and harmful downloads. So are areas like malware likely to be an increasing problem for SEOs in the future? Shall we stick with Steve then? You had your mouth open, you were just about to say something, weren’t you?
STEVE MORGAN: I guess so. I’m seeing more and more of it, so as long as Google realises that no one ever intends to get malware, I think the difference between widget links and Penguin, to kind of go back to what we were saying earlier, if somebody had an intention, let’s do this for this reason, for a benefit, and just so long as they support webmasters who, if they are affected by malware, show some form of leniency, because no one wants to have malware on their website. No one wants their website hacked. And funnily enough, I actually write for State of Digital, I write a monthly column for them, and they were actually affected by malware a couple of months ago. Barry Adams, who is one of the editors, I think he’s a co-chief now, wrote a blog post all about the experience and if I remember correctly, they weren’t even properly notified by Google or there were some issues with actually being able to clean it up and Google was punishing them…if I remember they were still being punished even after they cleaned it up. So it’s that difficult thing of…I’m all for Google cracking down on it, just so long as they’re lenient on the fact that and they make sure they offer the support and the help to webmasters who are affected, because they are going to get seriously hated and seriously burned if you get lots of the Google help forums people who like saying, ‘I’ve been hit by malware, I’ve tried fixing, you’re still penalising me.’ I think that’s kind of where things could get really messy and ugly.
DAVID BAIN: Kevin, do you hold fairly similar thoughts on this particular topic?
KEVIN INDIG: I pretty much agree. I have two thoughts about it in general and the first is I think there are still way too many people who have a WordPress site that has to lock in admin and then a one, two, three, four password or something like that, so what I’m trying to say is it’s fairly easy to hack certain sites, specifically ones that are not protected. And I think it just deludes the internet a little bit, it just prevents good content from rising to the top and creates much more spam. And as we all know Google has been fighting spam from the start and it’s a huge issue for them. So this is one part of the problem and the other part is that I absolutely agree with Steve here, I’ve seen the amount of spam in the years that I’ve been in the industry just rise constantly. It’s a battle out there and it still seems to be very lucrative and when I talk about spam I specifically mean hacking sites, phishing, copyright infringement, all these kind of things and very honestly as a platform with 300 million users, we deal with that as well. There’s a lot of anti-spam fighting here that we do from SEO in partnership with other departments, and one huge problem is people uploading videos with links in the description to harmful pages. And you definitely don’t want to be a source of that kind of content on the internet, right? So I think it’s a problem for SEOs in terms of if you have a small or a big part of your site that provides a lot of user-generated content. As a video platform, our content is 98% user-generated, you have to deal with such problems as well. And it starts with simple comments on your blog and you want to make sure that for the sake of the internet and your business, you don’t want to be seen as a spammy brand that has links to such harmful content and secondly you definitely don’t want to be seen like that by Google, because they want to prevent it. So SEOs should be concerned, SEOs should keep their eyes open and look at their rankings. What are they ranking for? Are there any spammy rankings or rankings that look like copyright infringement and then act on that as quickly as possible.
DAVID BAIN: So SEOs obviously need to be proactive and make sure that the CMS, whatever systems they’re using, are all up-to-date, certainly. The admin log-in is hopefully a different URL than the standard one or the log-in details are not silly simple user name or passwords, all your plug-ins are completely up-to-date. Is there anything else that jumps to mind that an SEO for a site using WordPress should definitely be using as well?
KEVIN INDIG: Yeah, I think the usual suspects, plug-ins like Icosmet can provide a lot of ground noise and then, of course, there are more sophisticated security plug-ins and that will prevent a lot of hacking attempts. Just having a good password, I think it really starts with that and then just having a couple of basic plug-ins. And then on the other side it’s just really a monitoring thing, just being aware of what type of users do you track, what type of users do you have on your platform or on your site? What type of users comment? Make sure that you approve comments before people can post them and then just constantly monitor the activity on your site.
DAVID BAIN: Steve, do the majority of your clients actually use WordPress? And, if so, do they try and manage it themselves? Do they actually have their own hosting and try and do everything themselves, or do you manage that for them? Do they use a specialist WordPress post? How is that done?
STEVE MORGAN: Yes, the majority are WordPress. I don’t offer any sort of web design or WordPress kind of element in what I do, but a lot of them use web designers I know and would use #ReferOn if they’re on that kind of thing…
DAVID BAIN: But in terms of hosting do they actually manage the process themselves, or do they rely on a website designer just to do all that kind of stuff for them?
STEVE MORGAN: I think for most of them they rely on the website designer to do it for them and just to echo what Kevin was saying, it’s something that I try and push clients to make sure the security is up to scratch. One thing, I don’t know if it was mentioned, that might have got missed, is as well as making sure the password is good and making sure you don’t just change in the log-in URL, is just making sure WordPress and the plug-ins are kept up to date and that’s one thing that I often see clients, or even the web designers of the clients, getting a bit behind and now and again I just have to say, ‘Oh, by the way, WordPress have just done this statement…’ In fact I did it the other day, because I think the latest version of WordPress patches previous security vulnerabilities, so I just sent an email to a couple of clients with the web designers cc’d in just saying, ‘Guys, you might want to update asap.’ And then obviously they did, have done or they were going to do it anyway, but I just think it’s one of those things where I don’t want to look like I’m telling on them kind of thing, but at the same time I think it’s one of those things that too important not to just let slide and think, ‘Oh, I’ll let the web designer or the client figure it out themselves’ and then something happens. So if you notice it, it’s worth mentioning it.
DAVID BAIN: Absolutely, and it’s concerning that some website designers maybe treat is at a design and done type game, or perhaps they’re not paid for any kind of on-going service after that. But I think a website designer has to educate their client on the necessity of actually keeping up to date with certain things like that, because there’s no one else, probably, that’s going to be around to help them to do that.
STEVE MORGAN: Yes that’s true. I think a lot of that can just come down to client education. We’ve all come across people who think SEO is a one-off job. They might think having a website created is a one-off job and then when the web designer goes back to them and says, ‘Are you interested in a monthly maintenance retainer?’ They’re like, ‘No, we don’t need that.’ So long as the web designer pushes it and says, ‘Well, actually you should consider it for this reason, that reason, the other reason, one of those being security, on-going updates, taking care of security issues’ then I think obviously that’s an important thing to do. But you can’t always blame the web designer, because it might be that the web designer tried to sell that, and the client was adamant that he didn’t want it and the something happens and it’s not entirely their fault, so it’s just something to be aware of.
DAVID BAIN: That’s fair enough. Shall we wander on to the last topic? First of all many of you know that we broadcast to Brighton SEO Live last week. I hosted discussion panels in between each session, actually, and Steve you mentioned Barry Adams and there was also Bas Van Den Beld involved as well from State of Digital, with the whole State of Digital team involved. So those were great sessions, but we also had, of course, had Greg Gifford speaking on the main stage about Facebook advertising and initially perhaps some people thought, ‘Okay, this is social, what’s this to do with SEO?’ But I think it’s an important discussion to be had that SEO doesn’t sit as a silo and there are many digital activities, there are many conventional marketing activities, that also impact SEO, but I just wanted to put the question out there, what are the most important other digital marketing activities that an SEO absolutely has to be aware of as well? So shall we go to Kevin first on this one? What are your thoughts on this, Kevin?
KEVIN INDIG: Sure, thank you. I think you phrased it very elegantly in saying that SEO should not be siloed. That is completely in line with how I see it. SEO is a holistic discipline, it always has been. Maybe not when you were able to put white text on a white background and rank with that, but it very, very quickly transformed to a very holistic discipline where things like layout and design played a role and this is only becoming stronger to my mind. That doesn’t mean the basics of SEO will go away, but what I’m trying to say is the more you understand other and closely related marketing channels and disciplines, they better you are off. I always compare it to a heart surgeon who also has to understand basic metabolism or has to understand how the lung works, who has to have a general understanding of the body in order to be functional. And I think there are a lot of treasures to be harvested from not only understanding other marketing channels and disciplines, but also combining the data as well as possible. And if you master that, you are in a very, very strong position. I think that that’s also part of modern SEO, not only of what people might want to call growth hacking, or other buzzwords that they have for it, but you can learn so much from other channels and become smarter in terms of your SEO. Like simple app statistics will help you to get a better understanding of what people click. Looking at social will help you understand not only what questions people have, but also what language your audience speaks and those things become more and more important, and then eventually things like email marking will support that as well. Conversion optimisation will especially give you a lot of great intel and information about how you want to structure your pages and so on. So I think as you already pointed out, we could go on and on and on and talk for two hours how holistic SEO is and how important it is to combine it other marketing disciplines and Steve referring to the T shaped marketer model as well only supports that. So, yes it absolutely makes sense to have a broad horizon and to be at least on a basic level in terms of knowledge from other channels.
DAVID BAIN: So what about advertising, social advertising, is that something for SEOs to be involved with specifically? We saw news yesterday of LinkedIn’s conversion tracking pixel, Facebook have obviously had their retargeting for quite a while, so we can map the journey between users landing on the website and going back to somewhere like Facebook and then being retargeted again and perhaps initially discovering the business because of a generic keyword phrase and land on the website, but become more comfortable with the brand because of that retargeting or other advertising campaign. So is that something you think that SEOs need to know thoroughly or just an initial broad overview that it exists is enough?
KEVIN INDIG: Yes, absolutely. Very good callout. So yes SEO should have a thorough understanding of that, because traffic attracted by us or organic traffic rarely leads to conversion the first time people visit the page. It of course depends a little bit on the business model and the product and so on, but very often it’s only the first touch point with the brand or with the product, especially if you look at how most sites are set up, which is they have a product and they have a blog to promote their product and that very often is being optimised in terms of SEO. So in terms of how it’s related to ads, of course you don’t have to be a 100% expert in ads as an SEO, but you should have that general user journey understanding that you are already pointing out in order to better understand their monitoring and how users interact with your site. Then of course you also have that brand recognition factor that you already pointed out, which I think becomes stronger and stronger for SEO as well.
DAVID BAIN: Steve, do you find that increasingly you’re talking about other marketing activities to your clients, or do you find that they use other people for different marketing activities?
STEVE MORGAN: Well my clients tend to vary, so I have some larger companies, but I also have some very small businesses local to where I live. And the latter camp, especially, they’ve hired me to help with SEO, maybe a little bit of pay per click, AdWords, but I feel sometimes that anything I can do to help, I will help and not necessarily promise to sort something out for them and then struggle, but at least advise them. So if they’re thinking of doing something, advise them on it and maybe say that there might we some sort of tie-in to SEO. It’s kind of been my approach over the years as well to try and get the client roped in and involved…I think I’m going a bit off-topic now actually, this is another conversation entirely, but try and get them involved in collaborating so that they learn bits about SEO and by association they learn little bits related to it as well. But I think that’s another conversation, maybe for another talk. Another session for another time.
DAVID BAIN: Be back here next week, dear readers! I’m sure we’ll carry it on in some way, certainly. But I love this integration conversation as well, it seemed to start more than ten years ago of just being broad internet marketing as it really was just called back then, not digital, then it seemed to go more specialist, but it seems to be diverging again and then more areas are talking to each other, which is hopefully a positive thing.
STEVE MORGAN: Yeah. I’m reminded of a time…I’ve only had one brief in-house stint and that was at Confused.com, the insurance comparison site, and it was a few years ago and I think back then it was still the case of you had your SEO department, your PR department, you’re advertising department, your content department, and I remember the PR team grabbed me to help on a project, so I did keyword research on it, did a few SEO tweaks and as well as the fact that they did a big PR push for it, it actually ranked really well, so people could then find it at a later date. So that was a really nice example of SEO and PR coming together and two different departments that just did their own thing crossing over. And back then, before that happened, I was really naïve, I’d probably only been doing SEO for about a year and I thought, ‘Why bother with TV advertising? Why bother doing this, that…it’s all about SEO, just invest in SEO.’ But you’ve got to realise as well and I think this has been touched on before, is there are multiple touch points for when somebody might find a brand, so they might see one of Confused.com’s big TV ads in the middle of X Factor or one of those TV shows, and they might remember it for when they do a Google search for car insurance. So, yes, you could say that they came through via SEO, but they also saw the TV ad, they might have heard a radio ad, they might have seen or heard a different ad somewhere else, they might be signing to the email list, so they all kind of go hand-in-hand and all, sort of, work together, so it’s important to realise and remember that all these things can kind of come together and link together, rather than just treating them as separate things, or only doing one thing and not caring about other things. Like only doing SEO and not touching anything else.
DAVID BAIN: I love PR as an example, actually, because it’s a very traditional marketing department, but it certainly has been involved in more of an SEO conversation recently. And I think when PR was mentioned, Kevin I saw you nodding away there as well. Do you think it’s possible for PRs and SEOs to actually understand each other most of the time?
KEVIN INDIG: Yeah, I think sometimes too well, especially when PR is being used for link building, which I why I was nodding, I was laughing because I had an incident. It was a couple of years ago, when I was consulting a client and the SEO department, they invested a lot in internal education and making other departments aware of SEO and how important it is, and the PR department got so fired up that they started including all these links in their outreach and they started to reach out to all these unserious sources and we very quickly had to interfere here and make them aware of the dangers that come with that. But I think in general, it’s more of a luxurious problem to have, other departments tweeting about SEO. I think you’re usually dealing with the reverse. So, absolutely, PR and SEO can go very, very well hand-in-hand and work together and so can a lot of other marketing channels as well. You mentioned the complete picture that I really like and that’s something I’ve tried to point out before, is to understand your customers and your traffic best. I always have that persona in mind that helps me to really understand what kind of people come to my site and convert, and what kind of people I want to talk to in terms of SEO and that’s a picture you can complete by gathering the intel from other channels as well.
DAVID BAIN: It’s great to enthuse other departments about SEO, but as you alluded to, just a little SEO knowledge can be very dangerous sometimes, in the wrong hands.
KEVIN INDIG: Yes, certainly.
DAVID BAIN: I reckon that takes us up towards the end of this show. So probably just about time for a single takeaway from our guests, so shall we go back to Steve first? So what would be your takeaway in terms of what we’ve discussed today and obviously just remind everyone of your contact details.
STEVE MORGAN: Oh, related to today? I’ve got two windows and I’m just reminding myself of the topics we talked about. Oh, I’ll go back to the point I made about widgets, so yes, maybe, be careful with widgets and make sure the term is branded and maybe do include, if you have a widget that is embedded and includes a link back to your website, maybe make sure it’s no follow. It sucks, but it’s better than nothing, but don’t forget that if you’re creating widgets, people might link to you anyway. So even it’s a no follow link or included with the widget or you don’t even include a link with the widget, it’s probably going to get you links anyway. So if you have the time and the resource and the potential to create things like that, then go for it and it’s often a tip I recommend for, depending on what kind of client I’m working with, so if I’m working with a web development agency or a software development company, I say if you’ve got times where your staff have got some time, then maybe they can create something of value for somebody and one client I worked with had a graphic designer who had a lot of free time. So I said, ‘Get them creating lots of free resources, like free, cool, illustrations and make the most about that resource. Use that.’ And I think they really took that on board. I think they utilised the poor guy for lots of infographics, but it’s just one of those things, like try and think of every opportunity and any sort of strength internally that you have and make the most of it if you can, because it may be a good driver for link building.
DAVID BAIN: Lovely. And just remind viewers where they can get hold of you.
STEVE MORGAN: Oh, yeah, of course. So Steve Morgan and I’m a freelance SEO. I’m on Twitter, @steviephil and I’ve got a blog which is www.seono.co.uk and my freelance website is www.morganonlinemarketing.co.uk. Thank you, David.
DAVID BAIN: Great, thank you for joining us, Steve. And also with us is Kevin, so Kevin what are your final thoughts for today?
KEVIN INDIG: Sure, really thinking about the biggest takeaway, there is one thing that comes to mind that was touched by all the four points that we have, which was Penguin, malware, widgets and the holisticness of SEO and that is know your stuff. Know your stuff in terms of be aware of your data, be aware of your users, be aware of your links, all that kind of stuff. I think that’s the underlying takeaway that comes out with all four touchpoints. Where can people find me? Kevin Indig on Twitter or on LinkedIn and for everything else you can just Google my name and everything should pop up. Thanks for having me on, David. It was a real pleasure talking to you guys.
DAVID BAIN: It was great having you both on. Thanks so much. There were a couple of people who couldn’t quite get on, but it was a great conversation anyway. So I’m David Bain, Content Marketing Director here at Authoritas.com, the data science driven SEO and content marketing platform for agencies and enterprises. Now, if you’re watching this show as a recording, remember to watch the next episode live. Head over to www.thisweekinorganic.com and be part of the live audience for the next show, but for those of you watching live, we also have an audio podcast of previous shows. So again, sign up there at www.thisweekinorganic.com and you’ll receive the podcast links from there too. But until we meet again, have a fabulous weekend and thank you all for joining us. Adios and thanks again Kevin and Steve, great to have you both on.