TWIO-08: Google needs to improve its SEO – can anyone help?

This is the eighth episode of, ‘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 is whether web design is dead – Twitter’s head of communications is out the door – and Google needs to improve its SEO – can anyone help? Our host, David Bain is joined by Jonny Ross from Jonny Ross Consultancy, Kit Nicols from DeepCrawl, Adam Whittles from Maxus Global, Mark Pack from Blue Rubicon and Chris Bland from Havas Media.

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: Web design is dead. Twitter’s head of communication is out the door. And Google needs to improve its SEO. Can anyone help? Welcome to This Week in Organic, Episode Number Eight.

Broadcasting live from London, welcome to This 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. And as far as you viewer, get involved. We’d love to hear year 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 your right-hand side.

So 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 ladies first, Kit.

KIT NICOLS: Okay, hi. My name’s Kate Nicols. I’m the global account manager here at DeepCrawl and we are a cloud-based web recording designed to identify on-page technical issues in your site’s architecture in order to help inform an SEO strategy. And the story I’m most interested in this week is about Google hiring an SEO manager and what that means for the perception of SEO.

DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. Quite a bit of chat going on in Twitter about that this week. So from my left-hand side of the screen, Adam.

ADAM WHITTLES: Hi David. Thanks for having me.

DAVID BAIN: So tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you do. That’d be great.

ADAM WHITTLES: So my name is Adam Whittles. I’m an SEO director here at Maxus, based in London. We’re a global media agency, part of the GroupM network of agencies. You may have heard of some of our sister agencies, MediaCom, MEC and Mindshare. And the topic that I’m interested in that’s happened this week is the hreflang tag, so Google starting to notify webmasters of errors with the hreflang tags.

DAVID BAIN: That’s right, yeah. Thousands of emails apparently going out about that, so I’ll be interested to hear people’s opinion about that. But moving onto Chris.

CHRIS BLAND : Hi. Yes, so I’m Chris Bland and I’m a client director here at Havas Media. We are another global network agency, slightly smaller than the GroupM that was mentioned before, and the topic I’m keen to speak about today is the web design topic. Apparently web design is dead! I think it brings up a whole host of issues on where we should be focusing efforts on the non-media side, which is often overlooked.

DAVID BAIN: Yes. I’m usually reading articles called ‘SEO is Dead!’ so I guess ‘Web Design is Dead!’ is a little bit novel there. So Jonny next.

DAVID BAIN: Hi everyone. Thanks for having me. Jonny Ross, founder of Jonny Ross Consultancy, digital marketing agency up in Yorkshire, in Leeds. And I am very interested in what Kit said, which is this hire of the SEO manager. Really interesting indeed. But I was also interested in Gabriel Stricker, who’s left as head of communications at Twitter and what that means for Twitter and where Twitter’s going, really. But always glad to be here and I’m happy to talk about anything.

DAVID BAIN: Lovely. And last but not least, Mark.

MARK PACK: Hi. Thanks for having me back. Hopefully that means I was reasonably intelligible last time around! I work here at Blue Rubicon, associate director on the digital team where we’re all quite excited ‘cause last night we won one of these again – Digital Team of the Year second year running at the Corporate Comms Awards. Anyway, that’s my little bit of plugging over. In terms of the stories, I think there’s loads of great stories everyone else has mentioned. I think the one that particular caught my eye was the Pinterest CEO, Ben Silverman, talking about how he wants the site to be seen as a catalogue and not a social network, which I must admit did at first sound just a bit like jargon and so on, but thinking about it more, I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff hidden away in that phraseology.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, absolutely. Quite interesting there. And if I was faster with my finger there, Mark, I would have gone [sound of applause]! Yay!

So let’s move onto the first topic. So who’d have thought it? Google looking for an SEO manager. Somebody to keep pace with all the latest visibility trends and help optimise Google’s blog and strategy. And you need two years’ of experience. So Jonny, you look as if you’re dying to apply for that position!

JONNY ROSS: Well yeah, what does it mean for SEO? I’m lost for words! Why are they putting a job out for an SEO manager to increase organic search? Are they trying to put a message out there that they are trying to be whiter than white and are only ranking their pages very naturally and very organically? Is that what they’re trying to do? Is it a message to try and say, ‘Look, even though we own the system, we’re not going to cheat the system’? I’m a bit confused, to be perfectly honest. Kit, what are your thoughts on this?

KIT NICOLS: Well, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for whoever it is that ends up with the role. It’s going to pretty much guarantee some amazing prospects in the future. Anyone’s going to want someone who’s worked at Google to do their SEO. I don’t envy the person who has to take it on. I mean, I think it’s a really positive change in the SEO industry for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I guess it shows that the company is recognising that SEO is an important and valuable marketing channel. And secondly, it may finally put an end to the ‘SEO is dead’ stories that have been around for years.

DAVID BAIN: It’s certainly an interesting move. I can’t imagine Google doing it even a couple of years ago, perhaps even with Matt Cutts there, so it is quite incredible for them to mention it, but perhaps it’s almost a move towards the direction of saying, ‘SEO is now about site performance and making sure that everything on-site is optimised well.’ Because I think we’re each looking for links there from Google’s perspective, but you never know, you never know!

JONNY ROSS: It’s got to be more about strategic message than actually fulfilling a role, really.

DAVID BAIN: Maybe it’s something that Google’s PR agency are focusing on. I’m not sure, yes.

ADAM WHITTLES: I wouldn’t be surprised if they do have a need for it, and I already know of certain agencies that have done bits and pieces for Google in the past for their SEO and content as well. So I’m a little bit, I guess, less sceptical on that side. I think they do have a need for it and I think it’s good on Google for recognising that they do need some kind of SEO. Okay, they are the main search engine, but they do recognise that they need someone with those skills to help out on the digital marketing side.

DAVID BAIN: That’s interesting that you’re seeing it fairly positively there. Chris, do you look at it in a similar manner, that it’s quite a progressive move by Google to do this?

CHRIS BLAND: I think it’s one thing to have someone in place who can optimise Google’s web properties so that it appears better, and I’m not sure if that’s necessarily what it indicates. After all, they’re asking for somebody with two years or more experience. Now there are a lot of talented people with two years’ experience, but if you’re Google, you probably want someone with a little bit more than that. So I tend to think what they’re looking for is somebody who’s able to speak to clients or at least talk to the teams who do speak to clients, because obviously there’s a bit of a Chinese wall around the whole organic output from Google saying, ‘You can’t speak to anybody about it.’ However, there have been times when, I mean, I’ve worked at agencies where we have trained their paid search times in organic, so they understood some of the concerns and methods that we were looking at as an SEO agency.

So it’s clear that on their side, on the paid side, because there is such little communication between the two sides of the page internally, they don’t often get to think organically, and I think having somebody internally who can start to maybe progress some of that might be where they’re going.

Obviously there are some bits and bobs, some hygiene factors they probably need to address as well. But I don’t know. I think it’s probably a bit more of a PR stunt, given that it’s been so public as well.

DAVID BAIN: And what about yourself, Mark? Would you say that it’s just a good opportunity for Google to actually start tying their business together and understanding all aspects in terms of the reactions to what they’re doing, that happen to obviously their websites and Google results? Do you see it fairly positively?

MARK PACK: Yeah. There were two things that particularly struck me about the job ad. One was how much of it is management, and I think that’s something that’s often forgotten with SEO in larger organisations, that having the right technical and even semi-creative skills is really important. But if you’re dealing with a larger organisation, the basics of project management coordination et cetera is really key.

And the other thing that struck me was how much the job is focused on their cloud offering, and in a way, part of the job and what we can draw from it is to do with SEO, but the other bit that we can draw from it is that Google is thinking that the cloud offering is really important, and there’s obviously a whole world of competition there as increasingly firms are starting to decide, ‘Well actually, do we want to trust and put resources into our in-house IT team or do we want to trust big multinational?’ And I try and phrase that in a reasonably neutral way. There are obviously good arguments either way.

I know back when I used to be running an email server, I would always trust somebody like Yahoo! as it was in those days, much more than my own ability to keep an email server up and running, and I think there’s lot of interesting dilemmas there.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, trust is an interesting thing. One thing we were talking about last week is the fact that you can’t just rely on a standard click-through rate model from search engine results nowadays because certain domains that are known to that searcher are more likely to get a click as well. So even if you have a generic search result, then if you have someone perhaps like Amazon result five or six (I can’t imagine them being number six – they’re probably number one for most things!), but if they were, then that would get more clicks than your average click rate in that position. So first brand absolutely massive now.

But Google also in relation to this sending out incorrect hreflang implantation notices to webmasters now. So Google needs more help at determining which sites are targeting which countries, maybe. So I guess the question is, ‘Should every website be using hreflang? Is hreflang important and becoming more important than it ever was?’ Adam, would you like to be first at tackling this one.

ADAM WHITTLES: Absolutely. Thanks, David. I guess this is one of those that’s quite close to my heart as well because we’ve been dealing with a lot of clients, certainly on the technical side recently, where hreflang tag has been an issue. You know, certain sites that we are working with, large ecommerce sites, they do implement the hreflang tag, but we have seen in certain countries where incorrect pages are ranking for the wrong region, for the wrong country, specifically we’re seeing a lot of US pages ranking in, for example, the UK market or in other perhaps less important markets as well. And it just shows that the hreflang tag is a powerful signal and a powerful message to Google to ensure that they’re ranking the correct page within the correct region as well.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah. They seem to struggle with a few things like that, and understandably – there are so many web pages out there. I remember when I was doing a launch of a Romanian website for a business a year or so ago and we found it difficult initially to stop the pages appearing within the US search results, and that was actually with the hreflang tag in there as well. So it can be challenging. Chris, do you think hreflang is something that every business needs to be aware of or is it only multinationals with lots of different websites?

CHRIS BLAND: Well I think given the fact that there are so many English-speaking markets and for that matter Spanish-speaking markets, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of duplication. So I think it is something that businesses…we say businesses but you’d hope webmasters or perhaps the SEO person at businesses, because this is a very technical piece that in amongst all of the market knowledge that a client is supposed to hold in their head, this is probably one of the areas that they’re least familiar with.

So I think it certainly is important, as Alan mentioned there. I think it’s a technicality that needs to be observed, one of those hygiene factors I mentioned earlier to make sure things are right. But as you say, you can do everything in your power and still find yourself at fault or misrepresented through Google’s platform. It’s all automated. The manual review process is only for the strictly evil amongst us, so it’s hard really to make it the fault of webmasters in the way that they are, when actually you’d expect there to be so many offsite indicators like perhaps traffic spotters that would be a pretty obvious indication of the sort of traffic that a website ought to be generating. They are using offsite generators for ranking factors, so you’d expect them to be able to use that to determine whether a site is supposed to be ranking well in the US or the UK. So I think it’s again, as with all things Google, there’s an element of practicality and an element of PR to make things look like they are doing the right thing, giving people a chance, but actually probably the fault is theirs for not using the evidence around them.

DAVID BAIN: I blame Bitly. No, only joking! But no, sites like that, using .li domains, originally for Libya, mean that Google can’t necessarily trust the top-level domains that a website has that are definitely targeting a specific country.

Jonny, do you think hreflang is more important now than it ever has been?

JONNY ROSS: Yeah, I do actually. I agree with what you’ve just said because I was about to say that with the rise of vanity domains, .agency and .photography and .music et cetera, et cetera, I put a vanity Bitly account which ends with a Russian domain, and yeah, I think it’s really important. I think ultimately there’s always going to be mistakes. It could be on both sides. So Google makes mistakes but at the same time, not through sometimes the lack of trying, but developers can end up giving multiple tags or incorrect tags on different pages. So I think it’s both sides of the coin and I think the key think really is to make sure that you use the settings inside Google Webmaster tools as well. And I don’t think you can rely on data either because it’s a vicious circle. If a site’s getting a load of traffic from Russia, does that mean that it should be shown more inside Russia or is it because it’s being shown to the wrong audience in the first place? It’s probably a bad example, Russia – I don’t know why I’m using that one. But no, I think they’re really important, but like with any of these things it’s easy to make mistakes and so it’s really important to have a robust process and to triangulate it by using settings in Google Webmaster tools as well.

DAVID BAIN: Johnny, you’ve got a nice tweet here. Stephanie Ketcher saying, ‘Great to see jrconsultancy on TWIO again.’ You’ve got a fan there.

JONNY ROSS: That’s your Russian alias, is it?


DAVID BAIN: But Kit, you obviously work for Deep Crawl, so obviously you’ve access to a lot of stats there, looking at websites and perhaps seeing that sites are correctly implementing things like hreflang. Do you think there are lots of websites out there that are just doing it wrong?

KIT NICOLS: To be honest, yes. You often come across websites where hreflang is implemented incorrectly and I think this move will give SEOs and webmasters the boost that they may need in order to get hreflang review added into an SEO strategy. I do think it’s a helpful move for the SEO industry or for the search industry. I think that all sites should be aware of the hreflang implementation as to whether every site should start using it. I’m not sure if I would agree with that necessarily. I think it comes down to… There are so many other technical aspects to a site. I’m more than certain there’s going to be a spate of SEOs reviewing their setup following the news. It’s a little bit like the http/https change that happened when so many webmasters kind of went, ‘We have to change to htpps.’ So I think it’s important to do and I think it’s important to get right, but to get right on the right sites.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, so there’s no need to rush into it. Just because you’re getting warnings, it may not necessarily indicate that your website health is in dire need of some action.

KIT NICOLS: I think if you’re getting warnings then you should be focusing on international setup. However, I think the news as a whole is going to cause sites that aren’t getting those warnings to start looking at their setup and I think it’s more important to get it right and take the time than to rush into it.

ADAM WHITTLES: One thing I’d like to add as well. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a professional account with Deep Crawl, auditing hreflang tags could be an absolute pain. I think this move from Google is going to save a lot of time and help a lot of webmasters because if you haven’t tried to audit hreflang tags on thousands of pages, I can tell you now it’s very hard, especially if they’re also added to the sitemap, rather than added on the page. That can also make it a lot more difficult to audit.

DAVID BAIN: And Chris, also in relation to what Google have been up to, you point directly at Google been testing taking hotel bookings. So it’s funny. It sounds like replaced direct booking hotel websites and then Airbnb have come along and started to challenge’s model. So maybe Google are coming along and trouncing all of them. So are Google doing the right thing here? What are your thoughts on that one, Chris?

CHRIS BLAND: Well Google’s been wanting to have a direct play in that space for a long time. The BeatThatQuote acquisition was how many years ago now? Does anyone still remember that? We’re still waiting to see everything come through from that. All of the financial services we’re expecting to come on-stream. We’re seeing insurance offers come through from the States, we’re seeing Google buying insurance players in the States so they can offer quotes, we’re seeing ticket offers in the UK and also we’re seeing now the hotel bookings. So bit by bit, Google is making it pretty clear that it likes to go direct, and all the time it wants to play both sides of this fence, doesn’t it? It wants to go direct and take advertisers’ money. So I’m sure they will find a way of representing advertisers within the Google buying process.

And frankly, if they look at their biggest competition, which is rapidly, I think, becoming Amazon at this point when it comes to the sales process, the way that Amazon is starting to appeal to brands to flesh out their position and promote themselves on the platform itself, it’s no surprise really that Google wants to try and also cut them off at the pass. And I know that tickets and hotels are a long way from what Amazon seems to be booking at the moment, but they’ll be there too, and I think it’s really important that Google tries to head them off at the pass, create a space, create a direct connection and then allow brands to advertise within it. And that will create a really nice opportunity and a new branch, I think, in the future for the organic optimisation, which is the optimisation of the brand positioning platform. So within Amazon and within Google I think that’s a very interesting space.

DAVID BAIN: So Jonny, when you go away and visit long and faraway places like London, do you want to make hotel bookings on Google or are you uncomfortable with doing that?

JONNY ROSS: What freaks me out about Google and hotel bookings is when I book a hotel or book a flight using my Google account and it decides to enter that into my diary, clearly reading my emails and throwing it into my diary, and the default is that it does it. It should be an option for me to turn that on, not turn it off. That’s just what I feel. Has anyone else experienced that yet, by the way?

KIT NICOLS: Yeah, they also put it in Maps as well, if you hover over the map of the hotel and you see the dates.

JONNY ROSS: It’s clever.

CHRIS BLAND: If you ever watch your live streaming before your face on Google Now with all of your packages being declared, delivered and the time it takes you to get to your next meeting and what your blood type is, if you want to be alarmed, that’s the place to go!

JONNY ROSS: But I think to answer your question with regard to the hotels, I think it is the right move for Google. I’m surprised it’s taken this long and it does make perfect business sense for them.

CHRIS BLAND: Well if you look also, Facebook’s just introduced the ‘buy’ button onto lots of posts on Facebook, so they absolutely have to do it. It’s coming down the last platform standing, isn’t it? We’re down to five and they’re all going to have to start slugging it out and there’s a second tier of brands and clients and all that kind of stuff underneath having their secondary battle while these Titans slug it out on top. So they have to be there.


MARK PACK: I think if you’re an intermediary at the moment, as long as you’ve got some other service you can offer, there’s nothing really to be scared of or worried about this. I mean, for example, the last product I bought online – completely unglamorous; a garden hose – and I wanted to just get a couple of reviews, you know, ‘Is it good? Is it not?’ I want to know, ‘Is the product good?’ not ‘Is the firm who makes it and sells it, is their SEO good?’ So ‘Is the product good Do I need to also buy an adaptor or not for the particular type of tap I’m going to want to connect it to?’ No matter how many fantastic, wonderful, immediate, buy direct options there would have been in search results from any engine, that’s never going to answer those slightly more in-depth questions. So as long as you can add some value – it might be reviews, it might be other information, it might be… For example, what does, which I book a lot of my hotel trips through, I just really like the graphical interface they have to allow you to play off dates versus times versus locations versus sort of how grotty or not grotty the hotel is. There’s lots of opportunities to add a little bit of extra value-add. And yeah, the people who don’t really offer any value-add, they’re going to find it tough. But, you know, the problem is they don’t offer value-add.

DAVID BAIN: So that’s happening with Google there, but Twitters communication’s head Gabriel Strucker is out of the door. Twitter appear to have been relatively struggling actually with revenue growth recently and perhaps that’s impacted how they’re perceived. So does Twitter need to change its revenue model or is its communications strategy a bit of an issue or both? Most of us are probably fairly avid tweeters. Are we concerned that Twitter may not have a decent-enough business model and are there issues with the way they do business? Adam again, are you quite a regular tweeter and if so, do you like what Twitter are doing at the moment and do you think they’re going to be struggling moving forward from a business perspective?

ADAM WHITTLES: Just to answer your original question, David, I do go on Twitter occasionally. Probably not as often as I should, but I do certainly use it to find SEO-related information. I think for me, Twitter is very much a quick source, and also keeps me informed of updates that happen really quickly. So I do tend to use it more for that, rather than actually tweeting or, I guess, interacting too much socially. But that’s always been the question about Twitter, is the business model. I think back in the day, as far as I can remember, before they went to this commercial model, I think there have always been question marks as to how feasible their business model is. And I think these kind of questions are really coming to the fore more recently.

DAVID BAIN: Mm. So someone on Twitter at the moment is Jonny Ross tweeting to Stephanie and tweeting other things. So Jonny, you’re an avid tweeter. But are you quite comfortable with what Twitter represent as a company and what kind of things they’re likely to do in the future or do you feel fairly in the dark about that?

JONNY ROSS: I think the interesting thing was about the Twitter and Google thing coming together yet again and where that’s going to go. I am interested in that because I think that could have a major impact on SEO and I don’t think we’ve really seen it in the UK yet. I think that there’s a big move away from Twitter that I’m seeing, and I think the biggest reason I see for that is that there is so much spam on there. I think there’s a big job for Twitter to do to clear a lot of the spam accounts out. I know they’ve tried but they really need to try harder.

And it does concern me about what’s going to be in my feed in the future, as in is it going to be overtaken by too much advertising, by too much sponsored stuff, and is there going to be too much shaping going on, which is what Facebook has done. So I do wonder what the future will be with Twitter, but I think there’s a massive amount of value as well, so it’s a tough one.

DAVID BAIN: Chris, Jonny mentioned the deal between Twitter and Google there. Who out of those two do you think is going to win most out of that particular partnership?

CHRIS BLAND: It’s a good question. They both clearly need to do it, Google because it has so sorely failed with Google+ and Twitter because they so desperately need some scale and some search functionality. I’m a big fan of Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of years, maybe three years. I do love it for the way that ideas are spread and the way you can just see what people are thinking in the moment. I think its value as a news source has been pointed out recently in the blog, so both Twitter and Facebook really. We had a really interesting presentation from Guardian here, talking about the relative traffic they get from different sources, either from Google or from social media, and it looks about 80/20 at the moment, so 80% coming from Facebook and Twitter and 20% coming from Google, which is just amazing. When you see the graph of that switchover over the past few years, the trend now of people finding out about the news and current affairs from social media is huge, and I think Twitter has got an amazing value. What people talk about on Twitter can be so personal. It tends to be the slightly more cerebral or bedfellow brother or sister of Facebook. You don’t get so many cat or dog videos and you do get the revolutions and the rest of it coming through very fast, but I do think it has incredible value at demonstrating upper funnel intent from an advertising perspective. So people talk about what they are about to buy or what life stage they’re at or where they’re going as consumers, and even some of the insights Twitter has shown to us here at Havas has demonstrated their ability to grapple with that insight.

But what they make very poorly available is the ability to be able to buy against it. I want to be able to buy people who are demonstrating behaviour or talking about topics which indicate that they might be about to buy a new car or something. And better than that, I want to be able to use the data from that programmatically so that I can then serve display or up-weight search campaigns against them and generally take that information. It’s some of the best information you’re going to get about a user and I think it’s very hard to access at the moment. It’ll be better than in the third party data sources. So that’s what I’d love to see in terms of the commercial side.

But I just want to sneak in one other thing about Twitter which I’m desperate for, for any new CEO. I mean, it’s not just the communications lead who’s gone, let’s face it. The CEO has just gone as well. So if they could start to turn their minds to the app as well, which is woefully falling behind in terms of its user interface, its capabilities. It just doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the times and is becoming harder and harder to use, and when people start to (we’ll talk about it a little bit when we talk about UX)…people’s expectations of apps, the bar is raising all the time. So they do need to kind of get back onto that one and start developing. They’ve cut out third part developers, which was mad in my opinion, but they need to get back onto that pretty quickly. So I think communications are the least of their problems.

DAVID BAIN: One man that does very well on Twitter is Mark Pack. Mark, you’ve got over 9,000 followers, but you’ve got a picture of some chocolate on your profile?

MARK PACK: Yes, I always advise clients, ‘Make sure you have the photo of yourself,’ so this is the case when I say, ‘Do as I say, not as I do!’ I think Chris made some really good point there and I was looking at running some Twitter ads for a client earlier today and it’s remarkably cheap to be able to run ads targeted at people who tweet about Newsnight, for example. Now in the public affairs world, that’s a really useful, niche sort of political bubble to influence a community. So to be able to run messages targeted at that very geographically and demographically disparate community but one with a real clear common interest is really powerful, and what surprises me, partly as Chris says, is that Twitter doesn’t offer more other, similar, carefully targeted options. But also, even for those that it does, it charges not very much. So if Twitter’s listening, please cover your ears at this point, but I can easily imagine people being willing to pay even a factor of ten higher costs for those niche targeting opportunities where they do suit what they need at the moment. I struggle to see whether they’re really optimising their financial opportunities from their existing advertising model, and hence I guess we should be reasonable optimistic that they’ll be able to find a model, given that they don’t seem to be really maxing out even on what they’re doing at the moment.

DAVID BAIN: Well coming up we’re going to be talking about the fact that according to its CEO, Pinterest isn’t a social network. So you can now also embed Facebook videos into your website – everyone does it through YouTube now, of course. But Facebook could be a challenger to YouTube. And also it’s now apparently website design that is dead, and not SEO.


First of all we’ve got a few shout-outs. So when you sign up to watch This Week in Organic live, you’re encouraged to socially share the show, and in return we’re going to give you a shout-out. So shout-outs this week to Tim Sylvester, Renilde De Wit and HMG Consulting. So you’ve all been tweeting about the show and encouraging followers to join in, so thank you so much for that, and if you’re watching and want a shout-out next week, then you know what to do.

But moving onto the next topic, which is Pinterest CEO Ben Silverman says that Pinterest isn’t a social network anymore, it’s actually a catalogue of ideas. But is this positioning accurate or is it just to help emphasise maybe Pinterest’s revenue model? Kit, what’s your opinion in this one?

KIT NICOLS: Well I actually kind of agree with this. Thinking about it at first, I also kind of thought, ‘Well no, it’s a social media site,’ but while there is the element of sharing and following and liking different pins, I think Pinterest is much more focused on the content itself that’s being shared, rather than the people that are using it. I had a look at a little bit of data and, for instance, it seems that they drive more web traffic to other sites than Google+ and LinkedIn and YouTube combined. So while they are a social media site and obviously their users are always going to be important, I think it’s the content itself that has a higher priority for them than other social sites.

DAVID BAIN: Adam, are you are regular pinner?

ADAM WHITTLES: I’ll have to admit, David, I don’t use Pinterest at all. My girlfriend, on the other hand, she’s an avid user of Pinterest. It’s gotten to be quite a bit of a joke at home. Whenever she’s on her phone at home, I always say, ‘Are you Pinteresting now?’ And I have to admit, as an outsider looking in, I’m probably not best qualified to answer this ‘cause I’m not a user, but just looking as an outsider, I completely agree with that statement that it’s more of a catalogue. Just looking at the way my girlfriend uses it, for example, it’s just going through images, pictures, just watching through stuff. I know that other people use it for ideas for, perhaps, weddings, decorating their homes. I know a lot of people are just using it more as a catalogue and I guess from my perspective as someone who doesn’t necessarily use it (not as a social network anyway), I would definitely agree that it is really more of a catalogue than anything.

DAVID BAIN: Mark, you look as if you’re dying to get involved in this particular conversation.

MARK PACK: Well I’m a failed pinner, I guess, or Pinterest user – I’m not even quite sure what the terminology is, having played around with it for a while and never really got it to work for myself. But like Kit was saying, at first I just thought the phrase ‘catalogue of interest’ and my heart sunk a bit. But on reflection it is quite a good phrase and I think what Pinterest could try to do is something that nobody has really cracked yet, which is letting people easily collate information from a very disparate range of sources. I mean, Storify is another way of sort of doing that. But just time and again, the different bits of information you want to pull together. Some of it might be web stuff, it might be from a news site, it might be from a news site, it might be a YoutTube clip, it might be a couple of tweets. Very often the stuff we want to pull together into one coherent package of, ‘This is our holiday planning stuff,’ or ‘This is the information about our product,’ or ‘This is the coverage around an event,’ comes from so many different places that I think Pinterest is probably onto a bit of a winner with trying to be that catalogue for us all.

DAVID BAIN: We’ve also got someone tweeting from Deep Crawl. Is that you, Kit, or is that someone else?

KIT NICOLS: It’s probably someone in the office.

DAVID BAIN: Well what about Pinterest? Is it a social network? I shouldn’t call it a social network, sorry. Is that a company that’s caught your eye at all?

KIT NICOLS: I don’t use it at all. It’s not my kind of thing so I don’t myself know very much about it.

DAVID BAIN: What about you, Chris? Has Pinterest perhaps got a better business model than someone like Twitter?

CHRIS BLAND: Look, regardless of what the CEO says, Pinterest is not a catalogue of ideas. It’s a shopping list and it should very rapidly work out how to make itself the best shopping list on the planet, before Amazon and Google work out how to do it better, because that’s the best way I’ve ever seen it being used. It’s the only way I use it. And I know they’re experimenting with ‘buy’ buttons, as is everyone else. They need to hurry up and get there fast because it is the best tool for aggregating the silly thoughts, ideas, and then finding other people who’ve had other silly thoughts and ideas about what you want your room to look like or things that you want to eat on a barbecue or different plants you might want in your garden to places you might want to go on holiday. It is the best place to collect stuff like that, but they are all with an end in sight. And if there are ways to share them and to make them work better… I’ve only ever used it as a mood board professionally, which it is very good at. I like that a lot for a collection of different ideas – there, I can see his point. But frankly, if he wants to generate the revenue that they need as a business, they need to think of themselves as a shopping list and they need to do it pretty fast. That is, I think, the best way of doing it. Thinking of themselves as a social media network is definitely wrong. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to use as many social media networks as there are on the planet right now.

DAVID BAIN: Jonny, I can see you nodding away there when Chris said Pinterest is a shopping list. Obviously you agree with that.

JONNY ROSS: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head and I think it’s crying out for that ‘buy’ button. For me, Pinterest is probably a tool. It’s what we’ve said. It’s a catalogue but it’s a tool to be able to find inspiration for whatever you might be doing. But again, I’m not a big… I preach using Pinterest because I’ve seen it can bring a massive amount of organic traffic and it can really help from an SEO point of view, but I don’t really use it massively myself, and when I’m using it it’s for personal reasons, just to find a mood board type of thing. So yeah, it’s a shopping list.

DAVID BAIN: So moving onto our penultimate topic, you can now embed autoplay Facebook video onto your site. So is Facebook likely to be the main challenger to YouTube when it comes to sharing your video online? Adam, what are your thoughts on that one there?

ADAM WHITTLES: Yeah, I think it’s going to be tough for them. I think YouTube have really cornered the market on that. Obviously as an SEO, our first and foremost is really to host videos yourself on your site, rather than embed YouTube videos. So I think it’s a strange one because I think it will be tough for Facebook. It will be interesting to see how they differentiate themselves from YouTube. Like I said, I think it will be tough for them to kind of overtake YouTube’s dominance in that field.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, it depends how it works, I guess. I haven’t really tried it out. But if it encourages traffic to be driven back to Facebook pages, maybe that could be a win-win because people would be watching more videos from Facebook driven back to Facebook, but then encouraging businesses to build that better community on Facebook pages. Because obviously in the last couple of years organic reach has gone down significantly on pages. A lot of businesses are not using pages so much now and it could possibly be a way to drive traffic back to that, but that’s me just thinking off the top of my head.

ADAM WHITTLES: Absolutely. Then you could counter that with, ‘Well what about the YouTube channel for a business?’ So driving it back to their YouTube channel as well might be more beneficial than perhaps their Facebook page if that’s not working for them.

DAVID BAIN: Jonny, you’ve recorded a few videos on YouTube and do you think you might be tempted to test uploading them to Facebook and embedding them on your site from there instead?

JONNY ROSS: No! [laughing]

DAVID ROSS: Okay, onto something else then!

JONNY ROSS: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think…no. No! I think for the consumer, great. I think Facebook have got to do this. But I can’t see a big take-up.

DAVID BAIN: What about yourself, Kit? I see you nodding away there.

KIT NICOLS: Yeah, I was just going to say that at least for now, YouTube is the primary video-sharing site and Facebook has a very different mission statement, I suppose, so unless the drastically change that and decide that they’re going to take on YouTube, I don’t think… They may be a challenger and they may take some views but I don’t think it’s enough to do anything seriously.

DAVID BAIN: Mark, I know you’ve been interviewed in quite a few different places. Your political blog, I’ve seen you on BBC TV, all these kinds of places. Can you imagine anyone actually taking your video and being more likely to share it because…?

MARK PACK: Oh definitely, and we’ve experimented this a bit with our clients here. And in a way, the key controlling factor Facebook has is the rules of its newsfeed algorithm, and very simply what Facebook does is if the video is natively uploaded to Facebook it gets more prominence and therefore it gets more audience and more opportunity for sharing than if it’s a video on YouTube or Vimeo or anywhere else. So there are many excellent features about YouTube and Vimeo and other video sites, but the key advantage, if the audience you’re wanting to get to is an audience that is in whole or in part on Facebook, is upload the video to Facebook and it will get to more of them.

I mean, just as a very silly little example the other day, during the Liberal Democrat leadership contest (I’m quite involved in the Liberal Democrats), I got so bored with some of the official campaign videos that were coming out, I just sat down at my webcam for 45 seconds, recorded a not-very-good sort of ranting spoof of the standard videos, uploaded it directly to Facebook and it got several hundred views really quickly in a way that, had I uploaded it to YouTube and then linked to it, it would probably, deservedly, sunk without trace.

So I think the Facebook newsfeed algorithm is absolutely crucial and therefore if your audience is on Facebook, I think we’ll see, just as we’re seeing with the more serious examples of our clients, more and more people uploading it direct.

DAVID BAIN: Chris, can you imagine in the next few months, advising clients at all to upload videos on Facebook instead of YouTube?

CHRIS BLAND: Absolutely. Mark is absolutely right. Facebook are on YouTube’s tail. We’re seeing it time and time again. If you post a video to YouTube, you will get a bunch of likes and views according to the traffic that you’ve got on that channel. If you post the same video on Facebook, you will not only get almost double or triple the amount of likes, but you will get maybe ten times the amount of views, because of the ability to share it within the channel. Now that is something that demonstrates the massive difference between Facebook and YouTube, which is that YouTube is not a social network. Yes, there are people who comment and there are comment trolls and there’s all sorts of things going on down there that you probably don’t want to read, but what it really isn’t is a connection between peers who are willingly and positively sharing content between them in a way that they want each other to see. It is just a repository and it’s just that. And that’s fine and I think people getting their heads around the fact that Facebook could be a repository for videos for time in memorial, people do use Facebook for photos, so they probably could get their head around that eventually. But I think just the sheer ability to share videos makes Facebook a very, very tempting medium particularly for brands to use for video, and I think it actually makes YouTube pale a little bit when you look at the effectiveness of the numbers themselves.

I think the only thing I would say on that is that there is a very big difference in the quality of a video view on Facebook as opposed to a video view on YouTube. Because of the way that Facebook autoplays a video, it is very possible for people to be thumbing through their screen and for videos to play and for that to kind of start to register, or even to pause for a minute and maybe they don’t complete. But still I think it is probably fair to say that if someone completes a view on YouTube, they are probably more engaged with you as a content producer or a brand or whoever you happen to be, than if they do so on Facebook. But even that, I could be persuaded otherwise.

The final thing I would say is the Facebook video analytics platform is coming on in leaps and bounds. It is much better than whatever I’ve seen from YouTube and brands need the data to be able to prove what they’re doing and we’re just not getting that data from YouTube. And the YouTube targeting absolutely sucks, and if you start to look at the data that you’re going to be able to get from Facebook and you combine that with some… I mean, if you look at the Atlas network and then you start to think about sharing, there’s basically an ad server that’s tied onto the Facebook data that’s in Facebook, the awesome power of that compared to YouTube really gives them, I think, a chance to take the crown. Perhaps not, as I say, as the default library for video content, but if you want to get seen and you want to get noticed, then I would definitely suggest you don’t discount Facebook.

DAVID BAIN: A lot of great things to think about there, so thanks for those comments. I’m certainly going to be trying Facebook video at some point over the next few weeks because I really like the concept of driving people to a community and you can’t really do that with YouTube. And surely Google is getting a little bit scared in that they really don’t have that social network – that word again! What’s happened with Google+? We can go down that rabbit hole, or perhaps we shouldn’t go down that rabbit hole just now!

In fact, let’s move onto our final topic and that’s we regularly read articles that say SEO is dead but Mashable recently published an article called ‘Website Design is Dead’. So they claim that website design patterns are now mature and that the future isn’t UX. However, the article was originally published by UX Magazine, so perhaps a slight bias there! But are website designers as important as they once were? Mark, what’s your opinion on that one there?

MARK PACK: Normally when you have a post on something like Mashable, there’s a whole load of negative, really slagging-off comments underneath which are just best avoided, but to be honest I think in this case they’ve actually got it pretty much right about the post. Its argument just seems to be quite bizarre. It’s certainly true that people more and more come across and consume content away from particularly the front page of a website and even, to a degree, away from a website, but traffic levels to websites are still absolutely mammoth. The amount of total page views across the websites on the internet each day is absolutely huge, and just because there are lots of templates that people can use, that doesn’t mean design is dead. It’s a bit like saying, ‘There is absolutely no role at all for designing a book. Because hey, they’re book covers, there are loads of templates that you can pick from and there are a few fonts that you can always use,’ and yeah, go into a bookshop, look at a well designed book compared to a badly designed book and you can see the difference a designer makes. So yep, long live designers!

DAVID BAIN: Long live designers, Kit? You agree with that one there?

KIT NICOLS: Yeah, front-end design is something that I can’t comment on much. However, I think it’s the same as with any digital channel. I think that design and UX go hand-in-hand and it’s much like the PPC or social media with SEO, they’re very siloed channels and you’re working in your own little area. It just means the internet’s changing and they’ll find new ways to work together. It’s as simple as that.

DAVID BAIN: Jonny, is it necessary, do you think, for website design and UX to be thought of at the same time or can you just use templates that are available now and improve your UX by testing different templates?

JONNY ROSS: Well, based on templates versus design, I absolutely think design is the way forward. But actually, my take on this is quite different. My take on this is that the amount of mobile traffic and how that’s increasing and we’re not far off the tipping point. It does question where design fits in because on a mobile site, you’re typically reducing as much design as possible and you’re really going for just the usability and the call to action type things. So it’s an interesting debate. I don’t think design is dead in the slightest, but I think how design is being done, I think ultimately websites should be designed for mobile first before desktop, but usability plays a massive part in that.

DAVID BAIN: Chris, is website design dead?

CHRIS BLAND: So I have to admit, this is why I like this topic. It made me think back all those years to when I first started working in digital. Designing websites was what it was called and frankly, the amount of wacky ways that we were trying to make people navigate through some appallingly designed, unique interfaces, which we thought were beautiful, really makes me kind of cringe now. And thank God that CMSes took over and they now kind of run the show because now I don’t have to learn Amazon’s different way or notonthehighstreet’s new interface. I know that there’s going to be a product stream in the middle and there’s going to be a ‘buy’ button on the right-hand size and it’s going to be about this big. I don’t need the hassle of re-learning somebody else’s transaction design process. So thank God that that has all been brushed under the carpet.

That’s not to say that design is not important. I do think that interface design is important and that comes back to what Jonny was saying, I think, around the mobile side as well. Particularly as mobile comes on board, functionality rather than design is absolutely key. Amazon puts absolute priority on the speed at which transactions can occur. Obviously prices and range and all of that. (Range is, well, just everything – that’s a given!) But the fact is, you have to make it as quick as possible for somebody to ]buy that thing or you’re toast. So any kind of extraneous, interesting design is going to get in the way of that process.

And I think what’s worse than that now is that people expect that degree of UX importance to be applied to all sorts of different sectors now. So people expect their bank to function as fast as Amazon does. People expect a retail site to be as quick as Gmail. And as obvious to use. And that is the design problem that we face right now, which is UX issue again. So I’m afraid I actually agree with this title. It is all down to user-centred design. We have to be putting that first and website design, I’m afraid, died a long time ago.

DAVID BAIN: Mm. There are some beautiful templates about now. Things like lead pages and Unbounce can give you just beautiful template websites. But if everyone starts using that, then perhaps the user gets a little bit blind and samey about everything, so perhaps shaking it up a little bit can be a good experiment, at least for an A-B split test.

I remember years ago salt and vinegar crisps used to be blue. Now they’re green. They changed with cheese and onion. What was that all about, you know?


DAVID BAIN: Are you not as upset about this as I am?

ADAM WHITTLES: Maybe not so much about the crisps but certainly about the other things. I have to admit I’m pretty biased about this. My whole avenue into SEO originated from web design, so I originated as one of those evil web designers, I guess. But I completely agree with the vast majority of what Mark and Kit and Jonny and Chris were saying, but for me, web design is still important. It’s just evolved. Now you have to think it’s not just about web design. You do have to think about the UX, you do have to think about the SEO as well. I think if you go down the route of saying web design is dead just because there are lots of amazing templates are available, you could argue the same for SEO. There are a vast majority of plug-ins for WordPress now that you install that do your SEO for you. So by that count you could say that SEO is dead there. I know we’ve all heard that term already. But I think for me, yeah, I agree with the vast majority of everyone there that web design, it’s not dead, it’s evolving, just as SEO has been evolving.

DAVID BAIN: Yes, it’s an attention-grabbing headline but it obviously provokes some interesting discussion, I guess.

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

MARK PACK: Ooh, one takeaway. I think if you think about the different answers and discussions we’ve been having, it shows just how important it is not to be narrowly focused on one skill. There’s a lot of virtue in being really expert at one particular area, but to do almost any of those niches well, you have to know a lot about other areas as well, so I guess that’s the key takeaway. If you want to find out more about me and my colleagues at work, we’re at or as you mentioned, you can find me on Twitter at @markpack, complete with pictures of chocolate!

DAVID BAIN: Lovely! And Kit, what would be your takeaway and where can people find out more about you?

KIT NICOLS: I think my takeaway would be to spend some time on Pinterest! With regards to finding out more about the tools I work for, you can just go to or you can follow us on Twitter, which is just @DeepCrawl. And for myself it’s very simple and it’s @KitNicols.

DAVID BAIN: Lovely. And we’ve also got Everon IT Support tweeting ‘Really enjoyed this week’s #TWIO. Lots of great debate about social media, YouTube and Pinterest. See you next week!’ So yeah, thanks for that tweet there. But let’s move onto Jonny.

JONNY ROSS: So two key takeaways. First of all apply for the SEO manager’s job at Google! Secondly, if you’re going to design a website today or moving forward, then design for mobile first. If you’re looking for me then I’m on Twitter @jrconsultancy or Really good talking to you all and thank you for having me.

DAVID BAIN: Lovely. Thank you, Jonny. And Chris, what would be your takeaway and where can people find out more about you?

CHRIS BLAND: David, thank you very much for having me. It’s been a long time since I’ve really kind of got my head around SEO so thank you for giving me the chance to do that. I think my takeaway is to go away and just start getting myself up-to-speed again. I think Adam’s revealed that I know very little about hreflang and I need to get back in there under the hood and start remembering all of those technical things that once upon a time I think I did know. But if anyone wants to contact me afterwards, professionally I’m at HMG Consulting UK and personally I tweet under the handle of @ChrisBlandUK. Thanks for having me.

DAVID BAIN: Thank you. And you’ve provided a lot of great value in lots of areas, so nothing bad there at all, Chris!

CHRIS BLAND: My pleasure.

DAVID BAIN: And Adam, what is your final takeaway and where can people get hold of you?

ADAM WHITTLES: Thanks again, David. That was a very good intro from Chris because my takeaway is actually to go and check your hreflang tag messages in the webmaster tool. I think that now that Google are making it a little bit easier with the notifications, I think it’s definitely time to maybe audit the hreflang tags on your site.

DAVID BAIN: Great stuff. Kit nodding away there saying, ‘We can help with that as wel!’

ADAM WHITTLES: Absolutely. And also if you want to find out a bit more about the company I work for, Maxus, you can check out our website at Alternatively I have my own website at and you can find me on Twitter at @AdamWhittles. Unfortunately no chocolate bars.

DAVID BAIN: Lovely. Well all those links that everyone mentioned will be mentioned in the show notes there, where this post will be published.

I’m David Bain, Head of Growth here at and you can also 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. So head over to and sign up to watch the next show in real-time.

But for those of you watching live, we’ve also got a video podcast on iTunes, so go directly to the show where it’s at And remember to continue sharing your thoughts sharing the hashtag #TWIO on Twitter. Until next time, have a fantabulous weekend and thank you all for joining us. Adios. Cheers everyone. Thanks for being a part of it.

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