TWIO-07: Is asking for links still acceptable?

This is the seventh episode of our brand new weekly show, ‘This Week In Organic’, the weekly show that debates the ramifications of the latest SEO and content marketing news.

In this episode, among other things we talk about whether asking for links still acceptable? Have you participated in PDF SEO? And does a standard click-through rate model still work? Our host, David Bain is joined by Richard Foulkes and Gareth Morgan from Liberty MarketingPam Aungst from Pam Ann Marketing and Alan Morte from Three Ventures.

Sign up to watch the next show live over at and share your thoughts on what’s discussed using the hashtag #TWIO on Twitter.


DAVID BAIN: Is asking for links still acceptable? Have you participated in PDF SEO? And does a standard click-through rate model still work? All that and more in This Week in Organic, Episode Number Seven.

Broadcasting live from London, welcome to The Week in Organic, the weekly show that debates the ramifications of the latest SEO and content marketing news. Sign up to watch the next show live at

Hello and welcome. I’m David Bain and each week I’ll be joined by some knowledgeable, opinionated folks to discuss the latest happenings in anything that impacts organic traffic. As for you, dear viewer, get involved – we’d love to hear your opinion too. So just use the hashtag #TWIO on Twitter, and if you’re watching live your thoughts will magically appear in the chat box to my right-hand side.

So let’s find out today’s guests and where they’re from and what’s caught their attention this week. So starting off with Pam.

PAM AUNGST: Hi. Thanks for having me. I’m Pam Aungst of Pam Ann Marketing, all the way from New Jersey, and I am the owner of Pam Ann Marketing. We do a lot of SEO for small businesses here in the States and I was interested by the click-through rate article. Frank Kelly from your company did a very interesting study and I look forward to discussing that.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, great stuff. And also joining us today is Alan.

ALAN MORTE: Hi David, what’s going on? My name in Alan Morte. I am the analytics director at Three Ventures Technology. Three Ventures is a digital marketing agency. It’s my second time on the show so thank for having me.

DAVID BAIN: The first two-timers!

ALAN MORTE: [laughing] I’m also interested the click-through rate article by Frank. I thought that was a pretty good one. In addition, I think that the indexing of more Twitter content is one to talk about. I also think the Meerkat vs. Periscope deal is one to talk about. I don’t think it’s anything in relation to SEO. I think it’s more into data, but I think that all three of those are fairly interesting.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, good stuff. And I’m not sure if we can call them two-timer, but the first two people together participating here in This Week in Organic are Gareth and Richard.

GARETH MORGAN: Breaking boundaries. Hello everyone. My name’s Gareth. I’m the founder of the digital agency called Liberty. We’ve been going for seven years and we do a mixture of SEO, content marketing, social media and pay-per-click. I’m looking forward to talking about…

DAVID BAIN: Okay, we seem to have lost Gareth and Richard there a little bit. So that was interesting. Or maybe they weren’t going to say something so interesting. I’m not sure! I’m sure they’ll be back in a second there. That’s all the fun of live broadcasting. But Alan and Pam, you can still hear me, can’t you?


DAVID BAIN: Okay, that’s good.

ALAN MORTE: Very good.

DAVID BAIN: Good stuff. Okay. I’m seeing Gareth and Richard bounce back in there again.

GARETH MORGAN: How much of that did you get?

DAVID BAIN: We got about… Why don’t you start from the beginning?

GARETH MORGAN: Okay. We spend a ridiculous amount of money on the internet in this building, so this is a bit annoying. My name is Gareth. I’m the founder of a digital agency called Liberty. So to keep it quick, for seven years we’ve done a mixture of SEO, PPC, content marketing and social media. I’m looking forward to talking about the link-building topic and sort of staying on the right side of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. I think that’s an important thing to discuss.

RICHARD FOULKES: I’m Richard Foulkes. I’m one of the digital marketing consultants here. The one that interests me most is the Meerkat and Periscope one. I’m quite into social media, so that’s quite an interesting one.

DAVID BAIN: Great stuff. Okay, well moving onto the first topic, and that’s Google have updated a blog post that initially said, ‘Do not buy, sell, exchange or ask for links that may violate our linking Webmaster Guidelines.’ So subtle change but big change there. Does this mean that asking for links can still be acceptable? So ladies first. Pam, what do you think of that one there?

PAM AUNGST: I was quite amused by the change in how you can’t do it, period, and then you can’t buy, sell or ask for if it doesn’t… So are they saying you can buy and sell and ask for…? It was the semantics of the grammar in the sentence kind of amused me. But I do just think it’s a matter of semantics because they obviously don’t want you to try to acquire a link ever, in any way, shape or form. They want it to be all natural. So I suppose if it meets the guidelines, meaning it’s tagged as ‘no follow’, it’s non-reciprocal, it wasn’t intended to pass page rank, I guess they don’t care if you buy, sell or ask for them. I don’t know. I just think the whole thing was a matter of semantics. Somebody made a big deal of it because of the way it was worded and so they reworded it and when it comes down to it, I think they don’t want you doing any of it.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Alan, do you ask for links ever?

ALAN MORTE: [laughing] For the most part I think that 1) Google made that change more semantic and first of all, Google’s documentation is never, like…sometimes I think junior level people write it. I’ve found numerous errors and issues.

But for the most part I think what Google realises is there are actual quality benefits to doing it sort of outreach and link-building, whether it’s broken link-building, whether it’s finding resource pages for products, those types of things. And obviously if you’re going to use it for malicious intent or you’re a black hacker with really good techniques you’re probably going to get hammered. But I think what Google’s realised is this is an important part of the marketing ecosystem, and building links is not something that’s going away. So if it’s done right, Google’s going to accept it, so it’s by the Webmaster Guidelines.

What I thought was interesting was they said, ‘Hey, it’s got to meet our Webmaster Guidelines.’ So does that mean that you can sell links as long as it meets their Webmaster Guidelines? [laughing] So that’s interesting in my mind. But for the most part, I know some pretty good link-builders and they do a really good job, and they’re not black hat or anything else. They follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines. And so I have mixed opinions about that.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, I mean obviously Google have changed their opinion through the years a little bit. They’ve changed their algorithm the way that certain percentages of certain things impact rankings, but links are still a significant part of it. They’ve tried to move away from that, they’ve tried at times to introduce elements like social mentions or social links into their algorithm, but at the end of the day those things can be manipulated probably even more than links as well, so it always seems as if they’re trying new things but links are still the core element when it comes to them determining initially whether a website is worthwhile and authoritative in a particular industry.

Gareth and Richard, I saw you giving a tour of your offices there, so thanks for that.

GARETH MORGAN: We’re hunting down the strongest signal right now ‘cause for whatever reason it’s freezing on us. So we didn’t get any of Alan’s response then, sorry.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. Well it wasn’t interesting, don’t worry about it!


DAVID BAIN: Well I hope that everyone can hear you. I’m sure they can because I’m having to just click on your window to show you, rather than go directly to you by Google Hangouts recognising your audio signal. But I think we’re okay here. But in terms of yourselves and links, obviously it’s a challenging subject because links are still important but Google want you to just acquire natural links. They’ve changed the phraseology here as well. Does this impact your opinion on what’s happening in link-building at all, or has it just stayed the same?

GARETH MORGAN: No. I mean, me personally, I’ve got quite a unique view on this because I started off in SEO the best part of fifteen years ago and back then there was no such think as black hat, really. A link farm didn’t exist yet and you didn’t do blog comment spam because there were rarely any blogs. So back then it was kind of taking real-world marketing, doing PR, creating good content. That was how you did it. So I think a lot of these black hat, spammy techniques have developed over the years. A lot of it came from the affiliate world and then over the last between eight and five years, that’s started becoming mainstream. We’d never really gone down that route.

So for us it’s kind of business as usual, but it’s interesting to see the effect that these links have on the industry and interesting to see some of the link profiles that we get brought our way, some of the rubbish that’s in there. So we’re well in-line with Google. We’re sort of in their corner when it comes to trying to clean this up. I think in reality, as long as links are a ranking factor, people are going to do everything they can to get those links. It’s a weird situation. It’s kind of unique in the business world. I don’t know of any other form of marketing where you’ve got these kinds of issues where it’s kind of like, ‘Don’t do these things, but if you do them it’s probably going to work in your benefit.’

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, it’s interesting you talk about cleaning things up there because Richard, do you find that the majority of your focus would be on cleaning things up…

GARETH MORGAN: Gone again.

DAVID BAIN: Well Pam, you can still hear me, can’t you?

PAM AUNGST: Yes! [laughing]

DAVID BAIN: Great stuff. Well Pam, do you spend much time on looking at a client’s whole backlink profile to see where they are in terms of historical links, or is that not something you really focus on yourself?

GARETH MORGAN: Sorry, that, yeah. Sorry, we’re cutting in and out. Sorry. Carry on.


PAM AUNGST: Is it my turn? I don’t know! Okay, thank you. [laughing] Yeah, it’s one of the first things we look at because we deal with a lot of businesses who are pretty serious about their online marketing. So they’re not just starting out. They’re not mom and pops that have a brand new website and they’ve never done anything before. They’ve been down that road before. They’ve probably had an SEO company or consultant or several of them before and they’ve come to us after not having had success or having had success and lost success. So it’s one of the first things that we look at because it could be what’s hurting them at the moment or there could be things in there that we would want to proactively clean up so that it doesn’t hurt them once we start doing everything that we’re doing. We want to make sure it’s not going to come back to bite them. So it is one of the first things that we look at and try to do something proactive, clean up on even if they’re not having an issue.

DAVID BAIN: Right, well talking about lots of spam links all over the place, Sophos have uncovered that there are hundreds and thousands of fake PDFs that rank in Google and those PDFs actually redirect to other web pages. And the PDFs are, of course, the things that search engines see but users don’t, and they also include a link wheel. So lots of dodgy stuff going on there. Are getting PDFs ranked in search results part of anyone’s organic traffic strategy at the moment? Richard and Gareth, can you chime in on that one maybe?

GARETH MORGAN: I don’t think, unless a client’s already got PDFs, we’d never advise a client to go down the PDF route. I think the main reason over the years has been due to usability. So it’s only fairly recently that most mobile devices and things like iPads can open up PDFs successfully, so we’ve kind of always stayed away from them. But I’m not sure if these days it’s becoming more of a mainstream strategy. It’s something that’s sort of eluded us to a degree.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah. I mean, I guess it depends on the industry as well and whether or not a PDF is likely to be a relevant result for that particular industry. Is that something you’ve done at all, Alan?

ALAN MORTE: You know, we have a very large client that did a large amount of PDFs. But at the end of the day that’s more really like a brand piece. You still don’t really get it onto the website because it’s informative content and it’s not something where you can get them into a funnel, or if you do it’s usually a link somewhere throughout the PDF. So it’s really tough, like was previously said. The usability factor, there’s nothing we can track and measure and at the end of the day, really the tablet and mobile devices, that first point of contact, it wasn’t something that they supported, PDFs, so it hasn’t been something that has substance for us.

DAVID BAIN: Right, okay. I mean, I guess there’s two parts to consider here. One is, I guess the majority of PDFs used by marketers online are probably used as some kind of opt-in page, and then they’ve got the PDF behind that. So perhaps there could be an opportunity there to actually build a subtle link towards that PDF and rank it and use it as an extra opportunity to rank on Google.

But obviously the second part of this is that it’s a bit sad that Google are still having significant challenges with cloaked links, cloaked pages, because they’re obviously seeing one thing and users are seeing another thing, and it’s just incredible that fifteen, seventeen years on Google are still having so many issues with that. I mean, Alan, can you see there being any improvement in Google search results at all on these kind of links?

ALAN MORTE: Well Google’s always a little bit reactive and sometimes proactive with search. They’re the leader in machine learning. I’ve said that many times before. So really from a machine learning perspective, if you have one PDF that’s basically sending out to multiple, different URLs, that’s going to be really hard to catch in an algorithm. So I haven’t read the post but you said it was circular, where it could send out to multiple pages, the programming from the PDF. Is that what you said?

DAVID BAIN: Yeah. I think these are automatically generated PDFs with similar content, but also the fact that it’s built as a link wheel, so you’ve got links within PDFs pointing to other PDF documents as well, I would think. And so they’re using it as some form of link pyramid.

ALAN MORTE: Gotcha. I thought you were talking about something a little bit different.

DAVID BAIN: Well it’s cloaking as well, in that the search engines are seeing the PDFs but the user is being immediately redirected to another webpage.

ALAN MORTE: I think it’s something that they’ll pick up on if it goes a little bit mainstream, you know, when it gets into the general search engine land. It just becomes a little bit more popular. I mean, you’re basically the world’s search engine. Long story short. Or at least the leader for now. You can’t tackle everything and I’ve just come to realise that you’re going to have two routes. You’re going to have the people who are ethical and you’re going to have the people who are not ethical and at the end of the day I know what side I’m on. I’m going to be on the ethical side and sure, the unethical side has made a lot of money for the last fifteen years – I’m not going to lie and I know some black hats who have made a fair amount of money – but we like to have a bit of a moral compass and so with things like that we just hope Google fixes them. I don’t have too much of an opinion on it, David, to be frank. I don’t get too much into the PDFs.

DAVID BAIN: You know yourself what’s right, really. It’s still a newish industry. I remember over ten years ago easily ranking different webpages by reciprocal linking and getting links from other sites that were nothing to do with the pages that I had ranking. And you knew that it wasn’t a good experience but it worked and it brought in money for you or your clients at the time. So it kind of was the thing to do at the time. But Google are going in the right direction and broadly they’re delivering high quality content, but it’s just frustrating when they’re not able to do that and you feel that there are other websites ranking before you that perhaps don’t offer that good value to users. Pam, have you got any thoughts on this particular matter?

PAM AUNGST: We don’t focus on PDFs when it comes to SEO because of the usability, really. It used to be that we weren’t really sure how well Google could understand them but with the focus on mobile and usability now, it’s just kind of irrelevant whether they fully understand the content in the PDFs or not – we’re not going to rely on that because it’s not good for mobile users to be presenting content in that format. So kind of off our radar, but not surprised at all that people have found a way to use them to manipulate things, ‘cause that’s what our industry does.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, I know. It’s unfortunate. But hopefully it’s not going to be forever. The company that reported it to Google seem to think that some PDFs were given some kind of additional level of perceived authority in Google’s algorithm. Hopefully that’s not the case, or if it is the case it will be downgraded slightly, but I’m sure this particular situation will resolve itself pretty quickly with some kind of manual action.

But let’s move onto our next subject and that’s Frank Kelly, Analytics SEO’s Data Scientist have been looking at previous click-through rate studies and found that click-through rates vary significantly depending on the size and authority of the website. Also brand and the keyword phrase. So with some of these different variables involved, does assuming a standard click-through rate still work? Gareth and Richard, what are your thoughts on that one?

GARETH MORGAN: I think click-through rate’s going to differ a lot, not just on brand and authority and the keywords used but also on the intent behind the keywords. If someone’s on a mobile device and they’re doing searches for something within a few miles radius of where they are, they’re going to click on a map result, so even if you’re a highly prominent pay-per-click advertiser or you’re the number one normal organic result, you’re probably not going to get much traffic through.

But I also think if people are searching for really commercial terms, if someone’s done their research and they’ve already clicked on organic results and now maybe they’re looking for a specific product to purchase, they’re far more likely to click on an ad than they are an organic result.

So I think a big thing to bear in mind is intent, sort of where that person is on the buying journey, where they are physically, the device they’re using. All of these things have an influence. That’s not to say I’ve got any advice on how the hell you measure that stuff. You’ll probably have more problems than you’ll figure out.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, thank you! That’s what we’re doing here, obviously. Historically, like everyone else, we’ve used a fairly standard click-through rate model, but it’s certainly becoming apparent with so many different devices out there and ways that searches are made and search results are delivered, that there’s not necessarily a standard way of doing it and you’ve got to have a very clever, adaptive model now to hopefully give you better quality information because if you just rely on a standard model, then the quality of your data is going to be quite poor indeed. Alan, what are your thoughts on this one?

ALAN MORTE: You know, click-through rate is to me kind of a BS metric. At the end of the day, it’s a metric that people care about but I tend to look more at the business impact of things. Obviously Gareth made a great point. It’s going to vary by device. It’s going to vary by the brand, on the recognition you have. It’s going to vary by the search intent or the prefix of the keyword. There are multiple sites of keywords for research to product comparison and then actual purchase-related behaviour keywords. So obviously the click-through rate’s going to change across all of those and across all devices.

I think that Frank did a really good job there. I think that this will continue to evolve. But being an analytics guy, I’m more concerned about how you get more sales, more money for our clients. At the end of the day, that’s the metric that really matters.

DAVID BAIN: Right, okay. Pam, do you actually actively look at click-through rates and try to apply models or do you just focus on traffic and ROI for your clients?

PAM AUNGST: Mostly just traffic and ROI, although I’m fascinated by any data study. The word ‘data scientist’ gets me excited by itself! [laughing] I’m no expert myself in statistics but I’m fascinated by them, so I found myself digging into this study more so, just fascinated by the study itself, and I was looking at what he considered to be a large site. It seemed to be based on the number of keywords that the site was ranking for, as opposed to the size of the site, the number of pages, which made me wonder if that was a factor. And then I was reading on Bill [ unclear – 0:23:18.8]’s blog recently about one of the quality score patents and how that determines what’s a quality site and how a quality site gets favoured and how that can have a circular effect on if it’s considered…a quality site is going to get higher rankings, it’s going to get more rankings to be considered a larger site, so I was thinking, ‘Oh, it would be nice to see the data split up into different categories based on that,’ but then there’s 250 other ways you could slice and dice it, whether for certain queries what results come up, whether there’s a local pack, whether there’s a carousel or an answer box. My mind went down a rabbit hole of all of this, simply fascinating and confusing and each study like this is helpful and in a way it’s not because you can do the ‘what ifs’ until…you can keep going with, ‘What if this and that…and if this applies and that applies and that applies…’ It just changes everything.

So when trying to…we don’t do exact estimates, you know, so ‘This keyword has this amount of search volume and if we get you in position one we know that position one has a click-through rate of between this and that.’ We don’t really go there because it is not so straightforward anymore but we do talk in general, ‘What all these studies show is that the higher you are, the more click-throughs you’re going to get and the more traffic you’re going to get so we’re going to do our best to get you up there somewhere.’

DAVID BAIN: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, what you mentioned about quality sites was interesting, the fact that if you search for a generic phrase but you recognise the brand within the search, you’re a lot more likely to click through. And so the bigger you get as a site, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more customers you actually end up getting because people recognise your brand. So I guess it’s a little bit scary for websites starting up. You’ve got to get as big as possible or as recognised as possible within your industry. So maybe there’s a lesson there to actually focus on a particular niche and get really recognised within that and then build your company out further from that.

What about you, Gareth and Richard there? Are you excited by the phrase ‘data scientist’?

GARETH MORGAN: Because there’s one on the call, yes!


GARETH MORGAN: I love them!

DAVID BAIN: So okay, but this particular click-through rate study, obviously it was interesting. It probably shows a little bit of a changing in the guard between being able to predict what’s going to happen and a desktop-based, historical use of the internet to just moving onto multiple devices and multiple ways of doing things really as well, and really having to rely on big data and platforms to deliver the quality of information that you need. I mean, as SEOs, do you still want to use tools like Excel and drill down into information yourself or do you tend to just rely on third party tools to provide what you’re looking for now?

PAM AUNGST: Is that up for anyone to answer?

ALAN MORTE: Go ahead, please.

PAM AUNGST: Oh sorry. Yeah, I love tools and the more that the tool can do the analysis for me, the better. We use Analytics SEO and we’re a big fan of a lot of the reports in there. But like I was saying before, there are so many different factors and in certain cases I might be curious about how one factor’s affecting another and if that one factor’s not part of the tools report that we’re using, then yeah, we’re going to push it out to Excel and slice and dice and put pieces together there. So I guess I would say for investigating a particular thing that we’re curious about and trying to figure out, yeah, we’ll take it out to Excel and do our own.

DAVID BAIN: Alan, you were going to jump in there and say something, weren’t you?

ALAN MORTE: Yes. I mean, I’m a data guy at heart. My answers similar to Pam’s. If platforms can do it, I’m going to use the platforms. I have access to a lot of development power, so typically I’m getting systems integrated and pulling those into custom solutions that we build in-house. I do a lot of work inside of Excel. I mean, if we’re doing anything major you can use things like Tableau, sort of visualisation software, but for the most part I don’t ever think that there’s going to be a one, stand-off platform to do everything. The business needs vary so much by the client. Realistically speaking we have a client that’s so heavily brand based, they don’t care about SEO. I mean, that’s how they roll. [laughing] So you can’t recreate the wheel there. But for clients that aren’t these huge brands and rely heavily upon search and have really good search, you’re getting it right when you’re using platforms and Excel as needed.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, we’ve got a few people tweeting live there. A nice tweet from @idea21 saying ‘We are watching #twio. Really good guys!’ And also saying, ‘@NigelTPacker You should watch this Nigel.’ So it’s good that you’re trying to pull other people into it.

Coming up we’re going to be talking about Google’s indexing of tweets, why telling Twitter your birthday matters and Meerkat’s got a new friend.

But moving onto the next topic, which is back in February, Google was indexing around 0.6% of tweets and a study by Stone Temple shows that they’re now indexing 3.4% of tweets, so that’s a 466% increase. So is Google selling being indexed in its organic search results? Alan, you look like you’re dying to dive in on that one there!

ALAN MORTE: [laughing] First of all, I love Mark Traphagen and Eric Enge. I always see them at conferences. They’re good guys and they’ve got a lot of interesting stuff over there at Stone Temple. Twitter is a public company. Google’s a public company. Twitter has issues with getting users getting traffic to the site and those types of things. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is. Will we ever know? No. They’re more secret than Apple on these types of things. But the reality is either a) Google didn’t have enough data to determine whether or not Twitter results were relevant or b) they drastically increased the amount of time that people either spend on Twitter or reduce the amount of searches or alike searches that people perform when clicking on a Twitter result. So one of the two ways, it’s working. So that’s my take on it.

DAVID BAIN: Pam, if you had a swag bag of a $1billion and gave it to Google, do you think you could influence their decision as to whether or not they wanted to increase the quantity of pages on your site that it indexed in a search result by over 400%?

PAM AUNGST: A very interested and unexpected question! I’m always confused by what it is that motivates Google. Sometimes it does seem to be financially driven and other times they just seem to have motivations that I don’t understand at all, so I really don’t know how to answer that.

DAVID BAIN: Oh, absolutely. What about Gareth and Richard? Can I give you $1billion? Or maybe they can’t hear me.

GARETH MORGAN: Are you talking to us, sorry?

DAVID BAIN: Absolutely.

GARETH MORGAN: I’ve got no idea what’s going on with this. It just keeps going.

ALAN MORTE: He wants to give you $1billion, Gareth!

DAVID BAIN: So in terms of topic, we’re focusing on whether or not Google’s search results were influenced naturally or perhaps by Twitter’s deal with Google to actually get a little bit more influence and, I guess, shares within its search results. So it seems like a fairly significant increase in the quantity of tweets that were indexed within Google. So what’s your thoughts on that one then?

RICHARD FOULKES: I think because of the way that we digest information so quickly, a lot of people – especially the younger generation these days – to find out anything new, rather than go to Google, a lot of them actually go to Twitter, find out what’s trending, what news events have happened. If you take certain things that are happening these days, people just go to Twitter to find out what’s happened, as opposed to going to Google. So I think there could be a little bit of a cross-over in the fact that Google’s cottoned onto that, Twitter’s also cottoned onto the fact that they need to drive people to their site a lot more, and it’s a bit of both that they’ve thought, ‘Well there’s an opportunity here to win both ends.’ Indexing tweets is then a way of people finding information and obviously then people don’t have to go straight onto Twitter and find out what’s trending. They can do a bit of both. There’s personally my thoughts on it.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah. I guess the line between organic and paid search is getting ever more blurred and it may well do in the future. I remember back in about 2010, I think it was, Google brought out their Caffeine update because at the time obviously the focus was on old, authoritative webpages that had a significant quantity of links, and Twitter were really making inroads into Google search then because they were delivering the relevant, up-to-date news then and it’s interesting that they’re in bed with Google now to both deliver the same thing. Alan, can you see the lines between paid search and organic search blurring over time?

ALAN MORTE: Yes, but before I get into that one, I have one thing to add onto the Twitter piece. Twitter has a terrible search feature. We talked about this last time we were on. Maybe Google’s seeing something like, ‘Wow, people actually search for tweets, whether it’s media, publishers etc. and we can find people’s tweets,’ and there’s people who are actually spending more time on Google and so that could also be a side effect.

Moving forward, I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again. Google is an advertising company with a search engine, not a search engine company with an advertising platform. Okay? So do things change? Yes. Do people hate change? Yes. Do PPC and organic merge? Hell, no. But do they get really close? Probably. Why? Because just like all these people who have these large publishing sites are working with these companies that are testing their site and doing ad placements with their display, to get that more money, I mean, Google basically has the same concept in mind. I don’t think they’ll be as aggressive but I definitely think that that’s a reality in the future.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah. It’s also down to the users as well because Google have got to continue to deliver a good, trustworthy resource to people using its service and if people don’t use it, hopefully Bing, Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo or whoever will continue to challenge them and deliver decent results themselves and maybe if Google merge advertising and organic search a little bit too closely then perhaps users might slowly drift away. But I guess that’s not likely to happen at any point in the near future. Pam, do you still trust Google to deliver higher quality search results rather than other providers?

PAM AUNGST: [laughing] Yes and no! Yes I do trust them more than other providers but no I don’t trust them overall to do a good job at delivering that. I’m still frustrated with my own personal searching, when I’m searching for something that I want to know, how crappy the results are sometimes, how out of date. Talking about the Caffeine thing they’ve supposedly working on for five years now, this morning I was Googling a couple of things. I forget what it was but I had to go into the search tools and set the results time period to the past week or month or…and they were topics that should have been recognised by Google as having recent happenings associated with them. So no, I don’t really trust them to do a great job overall. But better than the other options that are out there.

And speaking of lines blurred between paid and organic, I don’t know if I would call it lines blurred, but I found it interesting the recent announcement that if you use location extensions in AdWords, your star rating can now show up. So it’s just more of a blending of the strategies of organic and paid, actually, coming literally together which I found interesting.

DAVID BAIN: Right, okay. You never know with Google, though. They might actually include that within their search results this month but next month they were just testing it and they might take it away again. So there’s no point in worrying too much about that there as well. Gareth, Richard, have you got any thoughts yourself about the quality that Google are delivering in general search results at the moment? Are you fairly happy with that?

GARETH MORGAN: I think for me, if you compare it back to pre-Penguin, it’s a revelation. I think people have forgotten how bad the results were about four or five years ago. You do a first-page search for anything in financial services or anything in travel, there were wall-to-wall affiliates with exact-match domains or domains with loads of dashes in them, and I think Google have gone down the right path. They’re giving more preference to brands and sites on the back of merit and the back of good content and good links, ranking them higher. So I don’t have a problem with it. But I know a lot of people are starting to use Bing. I know in America you guys use Bing a lot more than over here. But I can’t get on with that side of things!


PAM AUNGST: I’m not one of those Americans!

DAVID BAIN: Richard, you’re sitting there just observing things. Are you a binger?

RICHARD FOULKES: I’m not a Binger, no. I think particularly in the UK, it’s the older generation, to put it bluntly.

DAVID BAIN: Americans and the older generation, yeah!

ALAN MORTE: And he’s wearing an Apple watch – do you really think he uses Bing?!


DAVID BAIN: Interesting stuff! So moving onto the next subject and that was Twitter wants to capture more personal data. They’ve added birthday balloons to your profile if you’re celebrating a birthday. So is this just a gimmick or is it an important data capture exercise? Pam, are you quite happy to add your birthday to Twitter?

PAM AUNGST: No. When I first read that, my reaction was no reaction because I couldn’t possibly care less but I asked Matt Southern, who works for us, who does a lot of writing in this space, and he pointed out that it’s likely data for advertisers that they’re trying to get, so obviously that makes perfect sense. But personally, I couldn’t care less!

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, I think most people using Twitter will realise that as well, because obviously it’s a different type of audience than Facebook, so they may struggle with that one. I didn’t feel any desire to go in there and put my date of birth in there to get some balloons on my birthday. If they sent me a cheque, possibly I’d do that! So Richard, you’ve got your Apple watch on. Are you a Tweeter and somebody who would be quite comfortable giving your date of birth to Twitter?

RICHARD FOULKES: I guess so. I think it’s just a bit of a gimmick that they’re trying to make it for a wider audience. I can see why people would want to do it. It’s a nice touch. You could show it all to your friends and all that sort of stuff. But I think it’s like the other guys, really. It doesn’t really influence me either way. It’s not going to give me an incentive to do anything different.

GARETH MORGAN: Wouldn’t you get more birthday presents off people who follow you, though?

DAVID BAIN: That’s such a stunning statement to make! So stunning that the screen froze then! Moving onto Alan, are you an avid discloser of your birthday online?

ALAN MORTE: So do you want the answer that’s going to make people happy or the real answer that’s probably going to scare people away?

DAVID BAIN: I’m a bit scared of the real answer if it’s scary but let’s go for that. I’m feeling risky!

ALAN MORTE: Okay. So the real answer is it’s a nice touch but it’s a data point and they are a public company also with an advertising platform. They’re a social media platform. But here’s one of the things you’ve got to realise. Facebook partners with companies like Axiom and Datalogix, which are third party, data augmentation companies. They have been doing things for a very long time since before the internet. We’re talking mailing lists, those types of things. So what happens is that Twitter has your name and Twitter has your email address. And now Twitter has your birthday. They have three pieces of data that they can try to match up to other data providers, other data sets, to get more information about you online. Basically cookie sharing, if you think about it in a way that people can understand. But for the most part, that is what this is for. This is to get additional data into Twitter for advertisers and to bring in third party data to further target you. I mean, if you guys want to be disgusted by how much information people know about you, go into Facebook advertising and go and look at the psychographic targeting that you can do, from Axiom, from Datalogix, from things that Facebook knows about you. They know if you’re looking to buy a home, they know how much money you’re worth, they know whether or not you’re into investment properties, if you’re a frequent internet buyer, they know how many credit cards you have. I mean, the stuff’s scary, so just know that that’s probably what that data point is used for.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one thing that Facebook have done incredibly, gather all that information. It’s not only your personal information, it’s also the relationships that you have with other people on there as well, and Twitter is certainly behind on that one there as well. So Pam, do you have any further thoughts on that kind of quality focus in advertising that Facebook offer? Have you tried that at all and have you tried Twitter advertising and seen the difference between them both?

PAM AUNGST: We do a lot more Facebook advertising than Twitter. It’s just we deal with mostly small businesses and it’s more effective for their budget, but the amount of data that’s available is freaky. It’s really freaky. A lot of people are aware of the fact that if you start talking about something on Facebook and you’re commenting on something about a certain topic…I said the word ‘yoga’ one time and all of a sudden yoga pants ads were all over the place. People are seeming to be aware of that effect, about if you talk about something on Facebook or you like a certain brand page on Facebook you’re going to start to see ads related to that, but what they’re not aware of and what is very real is what Alan was just saying about the amount of data they have about you that has nothing to do with what you do on Facebook. It has everything to do with what you do off Facebook, what else you do in your browser. So we can target ads to people who are about to get divorced because they’ve been researching divorce lawyers and they have not said a word about it on Facebook but Facebook knows that about them, so we can target them with that information, and that kind of thing is freaky and scary for the consumer. It’s a beautiful thing for marketers, though. I kind of love it!

ALAN MORTE: And this isn’t just digital either. It’s print mail too. So when you think about it, they have your name and your email address. If you sign up for a rewards piece or you’re in a retail store and you put it in a point of sales system, they’re able to link up with those companies too. So I’ve seen some pretty targeted print advertising that will just blow your mind. And so there’s a huge collusion between offline and online as well.

DAVID BAIN: Stephanie Ketcher on Twitter saying, ‘Heck yeah, let’s talk psychographic targeting.’ [laughing] I guess the only challenge that Facebook have got is the fact that everyone signs up with a personal email address and maybe they might even have an old email address of people as well. So maybe businesses have a greater challenge with being able to target people because if they try and match their existing email address to Facebook users, it means that it…

[technical sound issue]

DAVID BAIN: What I was just going to say actually was more directed at Alan, and that was that with regards to Facebook, there’s an incredible opportunity for B2C businesses but perhaps not so much so for B2B. Do you think that is likely to change at any point in the future or do you think Facebook is going to continue to have that challenge of being able to deliver targeted ads at the correct B2B consumers?

ALAN MORTE: I think B2B is always going to be a struggle online and the reason is because the bottom end of the market, sure, you can do. Small business owners, medium business owners, they’re Googling, they’re looking for things. But as far as this large enterprise level B2B services, any sort of contracts, yeah, they may find you online. They may find you on Facebook. But you really have to look at the intent of Facebook. Are people going there to be pestered with business ads? Not really. People are going there to talk with family, they’re going there to talk with friends. So you’ve really got to understand the content.

It would be really different if you used remarketing on Facebook, for somebody who has already expressed interest in your products or services. It’s just kind of like a branding piece or an iteration of getting your name in front of them. But as far as a sort of outbound, interruption-type marketing, no. We’ve rarely seen success with it.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, interesting. So retargeting is still a possibility but reaching out for the first time, you’d pick somewhere else to advertise. Maybe LinkedIn. Pam, have you tried LinkedIn advertising or do you tend to focus more on the B2C side of things?

PAM AUNGST: We have a good mix of B2B and B2C, but a lot of B2B industrial, manufacturing-type companies that we work with. And we definitely have tried various things on LinkedIn advertising for them. The beautiful thing about it is you can get super-targeted down to the exact decision-maker that you need to reach at the other organisation, based upon their title and the type or size of the company that they work for. We’ve even got one we’re doing where they’re targeting people who hold specific positions at specific company names. We’re targeting literally an exact person they want to get in front of. The challenge is that the volume is so low. So the targeting, being able to be super-targeted, is awesome, but for these small business going up to these super-targeted people, the audience size is just not very large and so you’re trying to catch those people when they happen to be on LinkedIn and only a certain percentage of your total audience is going to be on when you’re running your ads. So we’ve had a challenge getting enough volume out of it.

One thing that’s worked a little bit better is to run the new format of direct sponsored content on there, as opposed to a straight-up ad. We’ve had a little bit better success in that because then it comes up in the feed, in the stream, instead of along the side and so on. But volume has still been a little bit of a challenge. But that’s definitely the place to be for B2B.

DAVID BAIN: Stephanie Ketcher also saying, ‘Isn’t this why so many of us have different email identities, trying to silo the personal data that we share?’ How many email identities have you got, Alan?

ALAN MORTE: I’ve got two. I’ll save you some time if you don’t want to be trapped, to go download ghostery and go block everything. And it will really help. You know, the biggest thing that you have to understand is any information that you give to a website or an application is all able to be cross-referenced if they are sharing the data. So your email, sure, is a point of reference. But if you have five different emails, the same first name, the same last name, the same birthday and these guys from all these cookies can maybe see that you’re continually going to the same website or that you log into the same Facebook page, do you really think they’re not going to know how many email addresses you have? I mean, if you want your stuff to be blocked, go download ghostery, block your stuff, try to not put in so much personal information into websites, because big data is a buzzword that I hate, but in reality we are just creating so much data and these mathematicians and these data scientists, they’re figuring out ways to figure out who you are. And they’re going to be producing it for marketing.

And the other thing is – and I’m not like an anarchist or somebody who’s anti-government – but any of our government agencies are laughing because this is a dream-come-true for them. Seriously.


ALAN MORTE: Dream-come-true for marketers, dream-come-true for the government.

PAM AUNGST: Can I ask Alan a question?

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, go for it.

PAM AUNGST: A curiosity I have that’s beyond my understanding but you might be aware. How do you think the whole web going https is going to impact the data that those companies can collect on browsing habits?

ALAN MORTE: Https is more or less a method of encrypting web traffic. If you have a cookie and you’re putting in content to a website, this is Web 2.0 where you have dynamic websites, yeah, the https is encrypting what you’re sending to and from those servers, but those companies still have the information about you ‘cause you put it in their website and they have it in their databases. So that’s where all the collusion happens on the backend. Https is just a way to encrypt your web traffic. If you really want to get crazy you can, but let’s talk about something that’s realistic. Quantum computing is going to be here in the next five to ten years and when quantum computing comes around, any encryption that we have is null and void. It gets decrypted like that [clicks fingers]. So if you guys really want to worry about something about https, worry about which country gets the quantum computer first.

PAM AUNGST: Wow, okay!

DAVID BAIN: Stephanie again saying on Twitter, ‘Let me rephrase @AlanMorte it’s not a matter of hiding, but a matter of shaping the data profile you project.’

ALAN MORTE: Ding! Ding, ding, ding!

DAVID BAIN: [laughing] You got a ding, Stephanie! So Gareth, we haven’t heard from you for a little bit. [echo] Maybe that’s why because I’m hearing myself. Is there any way that you could put that headset in?

GARETH MORGAN: Hold on a minute.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, wonderful. If you could possibly try to fix the audio yourself in the meantime, that would be wonderful. So in the meantime, let’s say that Meerkat have made friends with Facebook, a week after Facebook surveyed some of the users using their video viewing habits and opinions on video streaming. So now you can sign in and use Meerkat with your Facebook login. So is it still Periscope versus Meerkat or is it really Twitter versus Facebook? Pam, are you a Periscoper or a Meerkatter or none of the above?

PAM AUNGUST: I’m going to embarrass myself and say this is another one I couldn’t care less about! [laughing] When it comes to social, I pay a lot of attention if it’s going to have some kind of impact on SEO and the only possible way I can see this new trend impacting that is just simply being part of building up your overall presence so that when you do put content out you have a bigger audience, and I just look at it as another tool in the toolbox for that. But I’m afraid I don’t have too much interest in it. I don’t really want to go live broadcasting every little thing that I do. My teenage daughter will probably be very excited to be able to do that, but from a marketing, business and SEO perspective, I haven’t really paid all that much attention.

DAVID BAIN: Alan, Stephanie says, ‘Thanks for the ding!’ I thought I’d pass on that passage. Be a good go-between! But in relation to Periscope and Meerkat, are you interested or concerned by that, Alan, or do you have a similar feeling to Pam, that at the moment you’re not that concerned by either?

ALAN MORTE: For social it’s all about users and retention. So obviously Facebook thought they were either a) some benefits to users or b) some benefit to retention with Meerkat. Probably a plan to make money off it in the future. But for the most part, digital advertisers, they can’t get too hot-to-trot about these types of things. So what we need to be good at is having a high frequency of testing things so when new stuff comes out… With Meerkat we’re able to work at it from a digital marketing perspective, to test and measure and if it’s something that doesn’t do well for you, move onto the next thing. But I think that that’s the more important lesson here, as a digital marketer. Figure out what works, figure out what doesn’t, do a reasonable amount of things at one time and just continually have an iteration of trying to find new places to market and find what works. I think that’s all this is.

DAVID BAIN: That’s great advice because it’s so easy to view something new coming along as something shiny and interesting and something that’s going to change the way you do business but if it’s not likely to be an active part of what you’re doing, then what’s the point in jumping on there? But if it is, test and learn to begin with and see what kind of impact it has on your business and move on from there. Gareth and Richard, have you tried Periscope and Meerkat? Much opinion on that one?

GARETH MORGAN: Before we answer that, can you hear us?

DAVID BAIN: I can hear you but I can also hear myself, so I’m going to shut up for thirty seconds and let you talk.

GARETH MORGAN: Okay. You first.

RICHARD FOULKES: I’ve only had dealings with Periscope, mainly. I know Meerkat’s making a lot of noise and then I think Twitter shook them up because they had Periscope on board, so the fact that there was a conflict of interest there. But I like Periscope. I haven’t really investigated Meerkat too much, but they sound quite interesting. Definitely the celebrities are making it more widely known as well, and that’s an interesting thing for social, that celebrities get hold of these things and they tend to explode a bit more. But I think Periscope is probably the one that interests me the most. I like the fact that you can see what services are doing, live in their world a little bit. That’s quite an interesting concept. I don’t know. I don’t know about Meerkat. I’ve not explored that one too much, so I’ll have to give that one a go as well.

GARETH MORGAN: I think for me as well, Twitter’s more instant. Twitter’s more of a platform for instant gratification, whereas Facebook’s probably more of a community thing and more of an archive. So seeing as Periscope is live streaming, for me it seems to be the more natural platform for it.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, great. If you could possibly mute again, that would be great. Wonderful. So it’s interesting. I haven’t tried Meerkat. I’ve tried Periscope, done a few broadcasts, built up a few followers, but obviously you have to have a significant social footprint in other places and drive people towards periscope from there, and unless you have that, then it’s going to take a while to build up a big following there. So test and learn.

But that takes us to the end of this week’s show. So time for a single takeaway and some sharing of ‘find out more’ details from our guests. So starting off with Pam.

PAM AUNGST: Oh, a single takeaway from the entire discussion? Well I think…I don’t know! [laughing] I was totally caught off-guard. I am just always most fascinated by the data parts of the conversation, so I know it wasn’t on the original agenda, but the discussion that occurred about tracking personal information is something that people might be a little more aware of than they are. Actually, one of my followers has tweeted on the hashtag asking to repeat the tool that was mentioned, ‘cause that’s a good takeaway. What was it? Ghostery?

ALAN MORTE: Ghostery. If you download it, it’s a Chrome plug-in. So if you’re not using Chrome, get Chrome! [laughing] But it shows up as a little ghost and then it has a little icon under it and it tells you how many trackers or tags are on the page. So if you enable that, you go to msn, you can see a ridiculous amount of 70 tags that they have and how many people they’re sharing data with. It’ll blow your mind.

PAM AUNGST: Well that’s a great takeaway. I’m looking forward to checking that out.

DAVID BAIN: Great stuff. Okay, so Pam, where can people find out more about you and what you do?

PAM AUNGST: That would be at or any social media, @PamAnnMarketing, Facebook et cetera. And like I said, we just have a lot of small businesses with organic SEO and paid search. We’re really focused on search engines. Social ads too but we’re focused on search engines, whether it be organic or paid. We don’t really do other services other than that. We’re laser-focused.

DAVID BAIN: Wonderful. Okay, and Gareth and Richard, what are your thoughts on perhaps one takeaway and where can people find out more about you and what you do?

GARETH MORGAN: I would take away check your internet connection before getting involved in webinars! You can find out more about us at Anyone got any questions on this stuff, we’d love to help.

DAVID BAIN: Great, okay. And Alan?

ALAN MORTE: Yes, I’m Alan Morte. The takeaway here, I don’t know if there’s a single one. I’m more of an analytical person, so I like to think about everything, but for the most part, the Twitter being more heavily shown in the search results I think is something I’m going to watch because us tech people judge our self-worth by our Twitter following and so I’ll definitely be interested in that! But for the most parts, you can find me on Twitter at @AlanMorte and you can also reach us at We are pretty heavily involved in strategy, marketing, design and analytics online.

DAVID BAIN: And at the moment Alan has a value of 5,625! Great stuff!

ALAN MORTE: Oh, and by the way, if anyone’s going to MozCon, come and say hi to me. Tweet me. I’ll be there tomorrow through Wednesday night.

DAVID BAIN: Great. Okay, well make sure you do that.

I’m David Bain, Head of Growth at and you catch me interviewing online marketing gurus over at Now if you’re watching this show as a recording, remember to watch the next show live. Head over to and sign up to watch the next show in real-time. And for those of you watching live and tweeting live, we’re also broadcast as a video podcast on iTunes, so go directly to the show there at and remember to continue sharing your thoughts using the hashtag #TWIO on Twitter. But until then, have a great weekend. Thank you all for joining us and adios. Cheers everyone. Thanks for being part of it.

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