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In-depth Q & A with SEO Expert Barry Schwartz

Digital Marketing League Commissioner and Textbroker, CEO Phillip Thune, joins SEO expert, Barry Schwartz, in a lively discussion about the evolution of Search, Google's mobile-first indexing, and much, much, more.


On 23-October-2020, SEO expert Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land along with Textbroker CEO, Phillip Thune, kicked off Textbroker USA’s inaugural Digital Marketing League online conference with a fireside chat. The session covered Barry’s SEO expertise, Google’s mobile-first indexing, and brought in Digital Marketing League attendees for a lively Q&A at the end of the session. The afternoon was powered by Textbroker and friends.

Read the full transcript

[00:00:05.420] – Cody
We are going to start off here with our two presenters that you see on the screen. We have Barry. We have Phillip. We’ll give a brief background on each of them. So, let’s start with Barry. He, like I said, he is probably part of a lot of SEO and digital marketing stuff. But from what I gather, my opinion is he’s probably one of the most prominent and most experienced people when it comes to Google and Google updates. He’s very well-known and respected in search engine optimization.

 

[00:00:40.520] – Cody
Like I said, he’s the CEO of RustyBrick, part of Search Engine Roundtable, and a news editor for Search Engine Land. So, I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with him.

 

[00:00:51.740] – Cody
We are definitely grateful to have him with us. And then he will be joined by Phillip. Phillip Thune, who is not only the commissioner of the Digital Marketing League, he is our CEO here at Textbroker. He’s got 20 plus years of industry experience specializing in SEO and content marketing and content production. Being the CEO of Textbroker makes sense. So, that being said, I will go ahead and turn the time over to him. Structured my screen, and you guys can go ahead.

 

[00:01:29.720] – Barry
I don’t think we hear you. Tough question to start off with.

 

[00:01:37.500] – Phillip
Yeah, there we go. Thanks,Cody. And thanks to Barry for really kicking us off here at the US Digital Marketing League. Cody was mentioning all the different things you do. I’m going to be a guest on your video series on SEO Roundtable. We shot the video, but I don’t think it goes live until next month. In that video, we started with my background, so I’d kind of like to start by turning the tables.

 

[00:02:02.130] – Phillip
How did you get interested in SEO? How did that lead to your current status, as Cody said, as probably the leading authority on Google and SEO, at least among people who don’t work at Google? And I guess also, why did you become so interested?

 

[00:02:15.020]
So, how did I get started? So, I got started in the early, early 2000s or 2001 or so. It was basically a client coming. We built a lot of websites back then, and now we build more software. But we used to build a lot

of websites back then, and the client was like, “How do these search engines work? How do I get to the top of, like, AltaVista and Excite (the old search engines back in the day)?”

 

[00:02:38.340] – Barry
So, I have some questions. I started searching around. I found some online forums, and it was really just a wonderful community. People in the SEO forums back then, the search forums back then, where Massaro was around, then Jim World, this old forum, SEO chat—some of them are no longer around. It was just a really wonderful community of people like really, just passionately tracking what’s going on and changing in search. Obviously, when Google started coming around, and the Google advances, and maybe even more exciting [things], and just the change of how fast things were changing, and search back then, and now even more so—it’s just so interesting to me.

 

[00:03:16.140] – Barry
So, it was really just kind of something that I thought was like, “Oh, this is so exciting. This is so interesting. I want to learn more about how these search engines work.” And it’s pretty much stuck with me. I just started a blog in 2003 covering those changes based on what the search community was talking about. I used it pretty much just to document one of the most interesting conversations going on within the SEO and SEM community, and it just really went from there. I just loved covering it.

 

[00:03:44.580] – Phillip
That’s right. And maybe we could do another session with you on time management because you’re publishing like 10 times a day on Search Engine Roundtable. You’re on Twitter. And all that is, as you said, is in your spare time because you’re running a web development company.

 

[00:03:59.050] – Barry
Yes, I’m very into a specific type of routine and being consistent, so if you have a routine and are consistent, you get a lot of things done in the day.

 

[00:04:10.330] – Barry
I joke that I just got, for this window over here, blinds that go up and down themselves. I don’t know, like IKEA smart blinds. And it does it by itself. If it saves me like 10 seconds of a day of not having to put the blinds up manually and stuff like that. So, every little second you can squeeze out of your day makes a big impact overall, and your whole entire day makes sense.

[00:04:33.190] – Phillip
All right. So, let’s dive into some search topics that can help our audience. I’ll start by saying I hate the universal advice that comes from Google and comes from most experts, which is to ignore Google and just focus on making your site as good as possible for your customers. Of course you should make your site as good as possible, but that advice drives me crazy. And I’ll start with a quick story. In 2004, at a previous company, we ownedscreensavers.com with an “s”. The search term “screen savers.”

[00:05:01.480] – Phillip
We came up second on Google’s organic results behind screensaver.com without an “s”. Both sites offered lots of really cool screen savers, which were much more of a thing back then. So, if you went to their site, you weren’t going to come back to Google and then go to our site or vice versa. Our offerings were very similar, so it annoyed us that screensaver.com ranked above us for the search term “screen savers.” So, we hired an SEO agency for about $10,000.

[00:05:28.000] – Phillip
I honestly don’t know what they did. Could have been Black Hat then. But about a month later, we were ranking first, and screensaver.com was second. The revenue impact from that flip in position was a million dollars a year. So, maybe one of the best returns on investment I’ve seen in my career. Spend $10,000, move up one spot, don’t do anything else and make a million dollars more in revenue, which was almost 100% profit. And today, for really important keywords, like “laptop computer,”“best toys.”

[00:05:55.990] – Phillip
I know one spot might be worth one hundred dollars,a million or more to a big company. Barry, I’m sure you hear these stories like this all the time. What’s your response to that—when someone says they can’t ignore Google? It just has too much of an impact on their business, right?

[00:06:10.540] – Barry
So, what you were talking about was a long, long time ago. I think a lot of the speakers on this event todaywill have had that experience a long time ago. And we were all making a lot of money in very competitive niches because there was little competition out there. Ranking and manipulating Google back in the old days was super easy. I mean, one of the things I was ranking number one for was H&R Block—for their name—right above them during tax season. They didn’t pay me a dime.

 

[00:06:43.500] – Barry
I don’t know what happened. I just pushed a lot of links which got my site to rank above H&R Block.

 

[00:06:52.320] – Barry
It was very easy back in the early 2000s. Now, back then, it was really about specific types of ranking factors. Links, content, lots of page rank and stuff like that. Today, Google is a little bit more sophisticated. It is a lot associated with making a really great website. So, can you technically make a really great website and totally ignore Google and still rank well? Potentially, yes. But there will always be things that you could go ahead and say, “If I hired SEO, I could squeeze out more traffic and more revenue for my website.” So, I wouldn’t ignore SEO.

 

[00:07:31.200] – Barry
I don’t think Google ever said to ignore how Google gets more qualified content in their search engine, especially when it comes to building out all these like JavaScript frameworks, making sure that content gets in the index. Back in the old days, it was about making sure your CMS platform was search engine-friendly. So, things have changed over the years, but I think it’s more aligned today than it ever was around making the best type of website possible and somewhat ignoring Google.

 

[00:07:56.640] – Phillip
Right, yeah, there’s no doubt that they get better and better at it—basically at foiling the tricks, right. We do a lot more tricks than 10 years ago, 20 years ago. So, they do a better job of that. And so, yeah, a lot of times, I guess you’re only left with, you know, “Hey, let’s just focus on this.” But yeah, no, it always frustrates me because, you know, we hear that from our customers all the time.

 

[00:08:19.350] – Phillip
A lot of the people are using Textbroker. They’re creating content for their audience. But they’ve got one real big eye on Google, and how is that content going to help them rank?

 

[00:08:31.110] – Phillip
I guess, along those same lines, there’s sort of a similar question. You interview lots of SEO experts. And while I note in those interviews, you always say you believe Google when they publicly say something about what their search engine does or doesn’t do, you’ve had a fair number of guests who say they don’t believe Google. For example, Google says user experience is a key ranking factor, meaning did the user get what they wanted when they searched? They clicked on a Google result and got to the results page.

 

[00:08:57.030] – Phillip
And yet, Google says they don’t use the massive data they have from Google Analytics, from the Chrome browser to determine rankings. And that seems strange, right? Because with analytics and the browser, Google can see how many pages on that site you visit, how long you were there, did you buy something?


[00:09:12.090] – Phillip

So, it seems crazy that they would not use all of that data, but they say they don’t. Some leading experts say to you on camera that they think Google is lying. For our audience, how should they think about this? Believe Google? Don’t believe them? You know, what’s the best path to success?

 

[00:09:28.710] – Barry
The truth is it doesn’t matter. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if they’re lying or not. I mean, you know, in terms of what you’re going to do, it doesn’t really matter. I mean, do you trust Google or not? It doesn’t make a difference. What Google’s asking you to do and what you should be doing are exactly the same thing that will improve the conversion on your website, improve your user engagement and make a happier user when they go to your website.

 

[00:09:49.860] – Barry
So, it doesn’t matter if they’re lying. You just don’t make your website fast. You should still make your website [one] that users want to come to, that they want to share, that has a great navigation.

 

[00:10:00.060] – Barry
User experience across, so I don’t think it necessarily matters if they’re lying or not. I just really do believe them that they’re saying, “Hey, we don’t use Google Analytics data for tracking types.” They don’t use that type of user experience data because, I think, they’re really good at figuring out, based off of how they index and crawl and so forth,if that website will be a good user experience. I don’t know how exactly they do that. They have different signals that kind of, I guess, correlate to figure out if a person really engages with the website.

 

[00:10:34.850] – Barry
Maybe it’s the content, maybe it’s the way the page is laid out—stuff like that. But I do believe themwhen they say that they don’t use pogo sticking, they don’t use pogo-sticking rates, they do not use time spent on a page as a ranking factor. I just think, if you do have those good metrics, it often correlates to having other things that are good, like your content is great, your user experience is great and stuff like that. It’s just people [who] will invest more time and money into their pages often also have more resources and money invested in other areas that help with their rankings because you don’t think they’re even measuring.

 

[00:11:13.120] – Phillip
If somebody goes to Google, they click on the first result. They bounce back within five seconds and click on a different result. You don’t even think that’s sort of part of what they’re looking at?

 

[00:11:23.290] – Barry
They said they don’t. They don’t look at that. They say it’s a very, very messy or fuzzy metric. It’s easy to exploit. I know a search engine back in the day called Direct Hit, they used metrics like that. They just hired a bunch of people on Fiverr to just click on stuff and stay there. It’s just very easy to manipulate.

 

[00:11:49.240] – Barry
And they use other methods to, I guess, figure out will this website do well in those areas or not? So, I do believe them because it’s so easy. It used to be so easy to manipulate Google. I don’t think they want to use metrics that are very easy.

 

[00:12:04.670] – Phillip
OK, you know, I think that’s kind of a good segue into what we see. At Textbroker, we’re in a really interesting position, right. We’ve got thousands of clients. We get to see trends in what they’re ordering when it comes to content.

 

[00:12:20.780] – Phillip
Our clients come from every industry. They come from companies tiny to huge, but they pretty much all care about SEO. And we would never give away what one client was doing. But the trends across thousands of clients can be pretty instructive. For example, for the last decade every year, we’ve seen the average number of words our clients want go up.

 

[00:12:40.430] – Barry
So, in 2013, for example, the average word order on Textbroker was 272. Clients said, “Hey, give me these articles.” When we averaged out the word length, it was 272 words. Last year, it was 577. So, more than double in about a six-year span. This year, it’s up about another 100 words to 677. So, I want to be clear, that’s an average across millions of orders. Some are very short, some are very long. So, I’m not saying the ideal piece of content is 677 words.

 

[00:13:11.690] – Barry
All I’m saying is that clearly smart SEOs are requesting higher and higher word counts each year that goes by. To me, that seems like somewhat of a disconnect, right? Everything I read says our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Then, we have Google telling us 2021 is the year they switch over completely over to mobile-first indexing. I think it’s safe to say most people probably don’t want to read 700, 1,000 and 2,000 words on their phone.

 

[00:09:12.090] – Phillip
So, it seems crazy that they would not use all of that data, but they say they don’t. Some leading experts say to you on camera that they think Google is lying. For our audience, how should they think about this? Believe Google? Don’t believe them? You know, what’s the best path to success?

 

[00:09:28.710] – Barry
The truth is it doesn’t matter. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if they’re lying or not. I mean, you know, in terms of what you’re going to do, it doesn’t really matter. I mean, do you trust Google or not? It doesn’t make a difference. What Google’s asking you to do and what you should be doing are exactly the same thing that will improve the conversion on your website, improve your user engagement and make a happier user when they go to your website.

 

[00:09:49.860] – Barry
So, it doesn’t matter if they’re lying. You just don’t make your website fast. You should still make your website [one] that users want to come to, that they want to share, that has a great navigation.

 

[00:10:00.060] – Barry
User experience across, so I don’t think it necessarily matters if they’re lying or not. I just really do believe them that they’re saying, “Hey, we don’t use Google Analytics data for tracking types.” They don’t use that type of user experience data because, I think, they’re really good at figuring out, based off of how they index and crawl and so forth,if that website will be a good user experience. I don’t know how exactly they do that. They have different signals that kind of, I guess, correlate to figure out if a person really engages with the website.

 

[00:10:34.850] – Barry
Maybe it’s the content, maybe it’s the way the page is laid out—stuff like that. But I do believe themwhen they say that they don’t use pogo sticking, they don’t use pogo-sticking rates, they do not use time spent on a page as a ranking factor. I just think, if you do have those good metrics, it often correlates to having other things that are good, like your content is great, your user experience is great and stuff like that. It’s just people [who] will invest more time and money into their pages often also have more resources and money invested in other areas that help with their rankings because you don’t think they’re even measuring.

 

[00:11:13.120] – Phillip
If somebody goes to Google, they click on the first result. They bounce back within five seconds and click on a different result. You don’t even think that’s sort of part of what they’re looking at?

 

[00:11:23.290] – Barry
They said they don’t. They don’t look at that. They say it’s a very, very messy or fuzzy metric. It’s easy to exploit. I know a search engine back in the day called Direct Hit, they used metrics like that. They just hired a bunch of people on Fiverr to just click on stuff and stay there. It’s just very easy to manipulate.

 

[00:11:49.240] – Barry
And they use other methods to, I guess, figure out will this website do well in those areas or not? So, I do believe them because it’s so easy. It used to be so easy to manipulate Google. I don’t think they want to use metrics that are very easy.

 

[00:12:04.670] – Phillip
OK, you know, I think that’s kind of a good segue into what we see. At Textbroker, we’re in a really interesting position, right. We’ve got thousands of clients. We get to see trends in what they’re ordering when it comes to content.

 

[00:12:20.780] – Phillip
Our clients come from every industry. They come from companies tiny to huge, but they pretty much all care about SEO. And we would never give away what one client was doing. But the trends across thousands of clients can be pretty instructive. For example, for the last decade every year, we’ve seen the average number of words our clients want go up.

 

[00:12:40.430] – Barry
So, in 2013, for example, the average word order on Textbroker was 272. Clients said, “Hey, give me these articles.” When we averaged out the word length, it was 272 words. Last year, it was 577. So, more than double in about a six-year span. This year, it’s up about another 100 words to 677. So, I want to be clear, that’s an average across millions of orders. Some are very short, some are very long. So, I’m not saying the ideal piece of content is 677 words.

 

[00:13:11.690] – Barry
All I’m saying is that clearly smart SEOs are requesting higher and higher word counts each year that goes by. To me, that seems like somewhat of a disconnect, right? Everything I read says our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Then, we have Google telling us 2021 is the year they switch over completely over to mobile-first indexing. I think it’s safe to say most people probably don’t want to read 700, 1,000 and 2,000 words on their phone.

 

[00:13:36.680] – Barry
Maybe can you explain mobile-first indexing? What it means? What our audience should be thinking about? Then comment on why we might be seeing that trend of longer and longer pieces of content despite shorter attention spans and mobile-first index.

 

[00:13:49.310] – Barry
Right. So, I guess explain mobile-first. That’s the most recent thing. Basically, mobile-first indexing started in 2016 where Google said we’re going to start to crawl the web as a smartphone and actually see it. So, instead of you going to www.textbroker.com you would go to on your desktop, on the Chrome browser, on your desktop and look at it there, you would actually go to your mobile phone and see how it renders there.

 

[00:14:22.100] – Barry
And Google said most of the queries [they] are getting were on mobile devices. And that’s just going to grow and grow. We’re going to try to go ahead and make sure we fully understand and represent our search results based on how people are searching, which is mobile. So, Google started that process in 2016, and by March 2021, every website on the web will be only crawled using the mobile and mobile Googlebot, the mobile version Googlebot.

 

[00:14:51.930] – Barry
It doesn’t mean if you have a desktop on your site that is not mobile-friendly that it won’t be indexed. Google will just index it like it would. You’ll see, it’ll be like really small fonts and everything, and that’s how Googlebot will see it. But if you have a mobile version and a desktop version and the content between the two or the schema or structured data, metadata links, navigation, if that stuff is not the same across multiple sites, if you’re not building a responsive website, I guess, or the content is not the same—then Google’s not going to be looking at the desktop version. It’s going to be looking at the mobile version.

 

[00:15:28.200] – Barry
So, if most of your site has anybody watching this, probably your site has moved over already. But if it hasn’t,and Google moves your site over to the mobile version of indexing, and the sites are not the same, your rankings might change. So, that’s a concern that might go up and might go down. If you haven’t moved over yet, there probably are issues within your mobile and desktop site because Google moved over sites that they think would have less of an impact. So, any questions about that as I move on?

 

[00:15:57.990] – Phillip
No, no, that makes sense.

 

[00:15:59.940] – Barry
So, the second part was the fact that…

 

[00:16:03.030] – Phillip
Smart, or at least the people who use Textbroker or who, for the most part, are pretty smart about SEO ordering longer and longer pieces of content despite shorter attention spans. And right, if Google is looking at the mobile version of your site, probably not the best user experience to have 2,000-word articles on that you expect to be read from the phone.

 

[00:16:23.100] – Barry
So, I’m not, OK….So yes, people are ordering longer or ordering longer content forms. People are writing longer content forms for sure. The question is why are people’s attention spans getting less? So, the interesting part about it is they’re not just writing really long content. They’re structuring that content in a really nice way.

 

[00:16:44.100] – Barry
So, the headers, the anchors—it’s very, very bite-size. They have images and stuff like that. So,long-form bite-sized. They’re really making long-form content that can be consumed in bite-sized pieces as you scroll through it, even on mobile. So, on mobile, you see lots of long-form content with the ability to click on those spaces, and it expands like accordions and stuff like that. So, Google says previously, before mobile-first indexing, Google would not index content.

 

[00:17:16.330] – Barry
They are with mobile-first index. So, they know a good user experience on mobile is to have expandable areas because they want long-form content. People want to access, I guess, all the content on one page and see the overview of a specific topic and then to drive down deeper into a specific topic. Which is interesting, which kind of will go into passes and passes indexing later. But, I think, it’s not just about buying, you know, instead of 200 words of content and now buying 5,000 words of content or whatever that increase is. It’s about how you structure that content and making sure that content is structured a really nice way. Users [who] could have low attention spans would just scroll through and read the headlines in those areas.

 

[00:17:58.420] – Phillip
That’s great advice. We definitely see that in the briefings that our clients are giving to our authors. There are a lot of requests for bullet points and making sure there’s a summary at the top. It’s just my, I guess, my view on it is that if you’re in a really competitive space, which we were talking about before, it used to be less competitive. Every year, it’s more competitive. Every year, people are smarter about SEO, trying to do best practices and do what’s in the best interest of their customers. So, to me, it almost seems like it’s a competitive thing. Like how—you know, “I’m new to this space. How am I going to crack into the first page of Google’s results if I just have the same 200, 300 words that everybody else does? There’s no way I’m going to make a difference. Maybe the way I can make a difference is by just being longer, by providing more information about this topic.” Yeah, absolutely. Structured in a in a bite-sized way so people can digest it well.

 

[00:18:59.840] – Phillip
That seems to me kind of my gut feeling, and from what we hear from clients is that’s what’s driving it. It’s more about the competition in this scenario, in the case of a word length as opposed to “Hey, that’s what I think is in the best interest of the person visiting my site.”

 

[00:19:18.050] – Barry
Yeah, I agree.Yeah, people are trying to outdo everybody and step it up, and that’s the way everything works in this world. It’s never enough. It’s always more and more. What can you do that’s more and more? I guess maybe this pandemic is kind of like pushing us back a little bit. In general, this is the lifestyle. In general,“I need a bigger car, I need your house, I need a bigger, you know, more expensive.”

 

[00:19:43.250] – Barry
I don’t think that’s going to change how content is developed and stuff like that. It’s just an overall theme that’s been going on in the world. More money, more money, more this, more that, more food, more everything. But again, to compete, you have to do more and more. Stock prices have to go up and up. You’ve got to do whatever you can to make that happen.

 

[00:20:07.960] – Phillip
Just thinking back on the last 12 months and, like you said, search is a space where things change week to week. If you think back to last year, maybe a little bit longer, what would you say maybe is the biggest change that you’ve seen that people in our audience might not realize is important from a national perspective? Anything you can think of?

 

[00:20:29.860] – Barry
Yeah, I mean, so there’s a lot of changes that have happened over the course of the year and things that are coming. So obviously, the big thing that’s coming that everybody is aware of and we discussed initially was the mobile-first indexing. So, people need to prepare for that. They’ve been preparing since 2016 for that. So, I think, hopefully by now, everybody watching this knows about that. Just keep in mind again, March 2021 is that date for that.

 

[00:20:57.160] – Barry
The other thing is probably like the BERT change was pretty big. SEOs didn’t really take notice to it. Now, Google just recently announced its use for almost 100% of queries. It launched a year ago—10% queries in English languages, and now it’s fully 90% of the queries done. Again, it’s something that we don’t really notice that much in terms of like the biggest changes that SEOs have noticed in the past year.

 

[00:21:22.420] – Barry
It’s probably these core updates. I mean, without a doubt, these core updates affect SEOs more than they affect other people because the SEOs are focused and so forth. And these core updates seem to have really pushed SEOs into saying we need to build sites like you said. They need to have higher-quality content, longer in-depth content that serves that purpose. So, I think SEOs know content is now king. I don’t think anybody would say links are king anymore.

 

[00:21:48.460] – Barry
It’s really about that content and making sure that the content is the best. These core updates, I think, is probably the biggest thing that affects small businesses to really, really large businesses. We haven’t had a core update in almost six months, which is pretty intense. I hope Google does not release one now right before the holiday season, but they may. I don’t know. But I think core updates need to have SEOs’ attention, making sure they read these papers on expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.

 

[00:22:20.530] – Barry
Making sure they understand that if the health, medical, your money, your life categories like life insurance and financial services—that they really understand that Google is treating those types of queries in a more conservative fashion and always showing more trustworthy, authoritative and expert-level types of content.

 

[00:22:41.920] – Barry
So, you have to make sure that if you are trying to compete in that space, that your content is above and beyond anything else out there. I mean, if you do searches for COVID and just see what Google is doing to make sure the right information is being served up to the right people—because they’re really, really nervous about providing misinformation around stuff that could really harm people physically, emotionally, financially and so forth. So, those are very, very important areas that if you’re in those spaces, you need to worry about it.

 

[00:23:13.160] – Barry
I know a lot of people in Google back in the day when I called that update “the medic update,” people were like, “It’s not just the health sites.” I’m like, “I know it’s affecting other financial sites in this type of stuff.” Then, all of a sudden YMYL came out, and Google executives are even talking about how they care more. They actually waived different types of signals differently based on it being health-related or medical-related.

 

[00:23:38.100] – Barry
So, again, nobody knew back then what was going on with the medic update. I didn’t even know. I just thought it was just interesting. I just saw what was going on. So, I think that’s very important. If you’re in those spaces, I think it’s going to be expanded to more and more spaces. Again, it doesn’t hurt to have the most authoritative and trustworthy types of content for any space or upcoming thing with page experience update. I think SEOs are going to really be focused on that.

 

[00:24:04.130] – Barry
I don’t think it hurts for them to focus on that. I just don’t think it’s going to be as important and make that much more splash when it goes live. I don’t know when it’s going live. It’s not going to be life relief six months from today because Google said they will give us six months’ notice, and they haven’t given us that six-month notice yet. But I think that will come out at some point. That’s obviously correct vitals.

 

[00:24:24.230] – Barry
That includes page speed. Yes, mobile interstitials, all the stuff we have, plus a little bit more of the core web vital side. Again, stuff that SEO has been doing so far. But I really don’t think it’s going to be that much of a big signal. So, those are the things that I think SEOs need to be concerned about. Then, I think this passage indexing thing, which was announced a week or so ago. They said it can be 7% change in the search results from this—an improvement.

 

[00:24:54.580] – Barry
The question is longform now. I think, is it going to be more focused on what I think is going to be more involved—the long-form content. So, we’re going to need more long-form content that is structured really nicely for Google to rank that long-form content well.

 

[00:25:10.290] – Phillip
I want to ask you about that, but just one reminder: If you—well, I’ve got a few more questions for you, then we’re going to turn it over to the audience. If you’ve got any questions, you can ask Barry anything. Just put your question in the chat, and then Cody will write those down, and he’ll come back on and ask us.

 

[00:25:25.490] – Phillip
Yeah, Barry good segue in terms of passage indexing. I was going to, I was thinking about the questions I wanted to ask you, and I was going to ask you if the era of big changes like Panda and Penguin are over, and then Google announces that passage indexing is coming, and it’s going to impact 7% of all queries, which is a big number. Maybe you can explain passage indexing, given that it has some people confused. Then, do you think there are still some more major advancements coming from Google, changes that could impact kind of 5, 10% of all queries? Or do you think that we’re sort of—Google’s done so much for so long that those kinds of things are few and far between?

 

[00:26:09.950] – Barry
Yes. Yeah. So, passage indexing, which was announced at the Search On 2020 event, I think a week ago Thursday. So, eight days ago. It’s not live yet. It’s going to be live at the end of this year. At some point, Google will tell us what it’s like. I’m sure I’ll read about it. It’s basically going to impact 7% of queries. That’s a big number. If you look back at the percentages that Penguin updated, Penguin impact on first launch was—I think Penguin is about 3% or something like that.

 

[00:26:35.120] – Barry
When it first launched, Panda was like 11-point-something percent, almost 12. I think Penguin impacted SEOs more than Panda because a lot of SEOs were doing link building back then, which is kind of related. So, what passage indexing is has nothing to do with indexing. Just so you know, it’s about ranking. Google said they are going to basically be able to look at a long-form piece of content on a specific topic.Let’s say it’s about how to write content, and you have a long section or piece of content on how to write content, and then you have subsections around how to write content.

 

[00:27:11.480] – Barry
You might write up a section about how to write, how to include images in that content, how to include subheads in that content, and that story or that piece of article could rank well for how to write content. But it also could rank well for how to embed images properly in your content and how to, you know, [do] variations on the subheads. Google will be able to zone in or zoom into a specific passage or passages on a specific page and be able to rank those individual passages better than it was beforehand.

 

[00:27:41.990] – Barry
So, now a single page is technically correct for many, many variations of keywords, which is pretty cool. In addition, it’s going to, I think, that’s going to impact the way people write. We’ll see. I think SEOs will have to test it once it goes live. But I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting to see. I don’t know if this is going to be as big as an impact on the Penguin ones for the industry, or it’s hard to say because BERT had a 10% impact, I think, when they first launched or something like that.

 

[00:28:13.140] – Barry
And we didn’t really notice that impact because it was basically a way of Google understanding how it relates to the content of Google content differently. And this is a similar—Google will be able to understand the content slightly differently and rank that content slightly differently. So, I’m not sure how much SEOs will notice the change. So, I think just two things: How big of an impact does a big Google update impact SEOs and webmasters versus how much it impacts the search results?

 

[00:28:41.670] – Barry
It’s kind of like a weird question to ask because I know Google said all along we were actually told to be like, “Oh, we launched this feature or what?” It was maybe Hummingbird or something, and you guys can even find it. You didn’t write about the fluctuations in the search results or the changes. I was like,“I write about fluctuations every day, so I can say I didn’t write about it.” It was a joke, but in short, what’s big for Google, which were big changes in terms of what Google measures, might be very small for SEOs and webmasters versus what’s big for SEO and webmasters might affect a smaller percentage of all the search results that Google is aware of.

 

[00:29:19.730] – Barry
I mean, do you think there’s things—can you see things that are coming where you can have that big [an impact]? I mean, I feel like—when’s the last time—was it BERT? When was the last time that Google had a change that was so big it was kind of close to the 10% mark in terms of change in queries?

 

[00:29:38.760] – Barry
I guess it was BERT. But the core updates are felt a lot stronger than BERT was felt. So, all these core updates really have, really get the SEO community buzzing like crazy. The forums light up, Twitter lights up, Facebook lights up. It’s insane when these core updates happen. So, yeah, I mean, it’s hard to say. I mean, Google never gives me percentages anymore on these core updates. They just give me, they used to give updates on Panda and Penguin. But when they announce stuff like this, you know, like a mobile-first indexing change, is big for Google.

 

[00:30:10.440] – Barry
It’s a big infrastructure change in terms of how Google indexes. It’s big for them. Page speed is a specific thing that they announced, but they say it’s small—it’s going to affect the results of a very small way. So, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Well, I think another big update will be released at some point 100%. It’s constantly making updates. Core updates—we’re due one soon. So, yeah, that will happen. I don’t think we’ll see Google stop doing it unless they get out of search.

 

[00:30:40.530] – Phillip
We were talking last week, and I asked, is there something, if you could, if you were in charge of Google, is there something you feel like they are not doing, some obvious hole where you’re like, “If they could somehow achieve this, that would make search a lot better”?

 

[00:30:57.810] – Barry
Yes. So, one of my pet peeves is that when people write articles that are timely that they don’t put dates on it. I can’t stand it. Or they change the dates. You see this a lot where Google publishers, even larger publishers, will update the dates constantly so that Google will get better as new top stories carousel. And then you read something that looks like it’s new, but you’re not sure if it’s new and has no date on it. You don’t know. You kind of figure out if it’s new or not. That’s my pet peeve. I wish Google will have some type of, if the story deserves to have a date on it and it doesn’t, kind of ding it a little bit, or at least Google telling us what the date would be because Google probably knows approximately when it was published.

 

[00:31:38.620] – Phillip
Got it. Just one, one or two more things, and then we’re going to turn it over to the audience. So again, I see some questions coming in, which is great. Feel free to ask anything. Other things in the news, and I think this will be in the news for a while, right, is Google and antitrust. So, is Google a monopoly? And if they are, you know, does that impact them even if there’s the lawsuit itself? Does it impact them? Just the fact that you get sued—sometimes a company kind of changes its practices or thinks about things differently. You know, I think for our audience, or for SEOs in general, the one thing that frustrates them and there’s nothing they can do is that Google’s, you know, clearly over time been trying to provide the answer to your question on Google. So, making it so that people don’t necessarily have to click on any of the links and go to a different website. And so, I think it’s hard to argue that that’s a, you know, that’s a pretty good user experience. But, if you’re in the SEO game and all you’re trying and thinking about is how do you get traffic to your website.

 

[00:32:46.950] – Phillip
It can be very frustrating to you. I know it’s pure speculation because it’s still early days here, but do you see Google thinking about that differently as a result of this or anything else? You think that might kind of give them pause because of this?

 

[00:33:01.510] – Barry
So, I think it’s going to force them to, I think, yeah, there will be changes. I don’t know if they’ll be changes around how features work. For, say, initially when Google launched featured snippets, I had a meeting with a bunch of people, and the head of search back then. And I’m like, “You’re late.” I probably didn’t say [it] in a respectful way, but basically saying, like, you’re ripping off content from these publishers that even linking to that. Just back then, there was no link even—it was just like a snippet, and it wasn’t even a link to the site.

 

[00:33:32.560] – Barry
And the guy’s like,“We are focused on answering the question that our searchers are asking us. That’s our goal, to make sure searchers are getting the answers they want.” Like, OK, but you’re getting it from here. Whatever. Anyway, the multiple variations. I think it’s done in a nice way now where the link is pretty big. People, I think, nowadays, webmasters and SEOs nowadays do want to be in the featured snippet spot. They’d rather be there than not be two listings down or a few listings down.

 

[00:34:00.250] – Barry
So, I think for the most part, I think SEOs are OK with that. And I think that’s part of the argument that they made to the Department of Justice saying features send traffic. I wish Google would actually show us that traffic. They don’t give us a way to actually see that search console. It’s easy for them to add a feature snippet filter. They know they’re tracking it. They’re just not passing that data to us. I hope they will.

 

[00:34:24.340] Barry
They haven’t. I think they’re hiding something there. So, we’ll see. But I do think you’ll see changes based on the Department of Justice. This is probably the biggest, single biggest, maybe, probably, there will be today and throughout their probably future history, the biggest lawsuit they ever will have to deal with. So, I do suspect there will be changes that have to be made. It happened in Europe already where the European courts have issued the required changes for Google, and they made those changes.

 

[00:34:53.230] – Barry
The US has been very, very lax about it over the years. I think rightfully so. I think it’s very easy for—not very easy, but I think Google came out of nowhere, built a search engine—they didn’t have the operating system, they didn’t have the mobile phone android, they didn’t have the computers, Chromebooks, didn’t even have a browser, Internet Explorer or whatever. Now they have all that. But when they first launched and overtook AltaVista, Yahoo!

 

[00:35:20.610] Barry
All these search engines back in the day, they didn’t have any of that. Microsoft launched, made Bing the default browser on their browsers, on their Microsoft Windows environment, and they still did not really compete. So, I think they do have a point when it comes to is it possible for people to compete in that space if they could provide a better user experience, search experience? But I think it’s much harder these days because Google is so far ahead of the game than anybody else. So, I think we’ll see changes. I don’t know if those changes, forcing those changes are correct. I’m not a lawyer, but I do think we’ll see changes.

 

[00:35:58.170] – Phillip
Right. Now I think one of the obvious questions is, OK, maybe Google, if you just think about the search engine, not all those other things, maybe Google is kind of in a monopoly there. But what’s the alternative? Right. You’ve got you’ve got Bing, which has a decent share, I think, because some people probably just default into using their browser. But yet, is this, again, it’s early days, I guess it’s hard to say, but how much do you think about Bing? Because maybe this is an opening for Bing to get more share to pay Apple even more than Google pays them for that sort of premium space on the iPhone. How often do you think about Bing? Or what do you think about Bing? Do you think from an SEO perspective, you know, should people be giving much thought to that? Or is it mostly just keep thinking about Google, given it’s a 90% kind of share?

 

[00:36:52.590] – Barry
If you look at your analytics, it’s mostly Google. So, I think you have some amount of resources that you have on your team and your SEO team overall. Where are you going to put those resources, the resources to where it matters the most? We’re going to give you the best bang for your buck. Now, Bing has great tools. Bing Webmaster Tools is amazing. Every SEO should be using it, not just for ranking Bing, but also regular Google. Those tools are great and give you great data.

 

[00:37:19.470] – Barry
If you master Google, focus on Bing for sure. If you have time, focus on Bing. I don’t know if Bing’s market share will increase based off of this. I just don’t know. But we’ll keep an eye on it, and it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a long, long process. So, it’s not like one day you wake up and be like, “Oh my God, Bing has 80% share. I need to switch everything over to Bing quick.”And they were pretty much the same. They’re not as good at crawling and indexing as Google. There are issues, but I think that could be a huge leap. You’re not going to wake up tomorrow and say, “Oh my gosh, Bing is everything now.” Got it?

 

[00:37:52.530] – Barry
Got it. Alright, we’re going to turn back to Cody for some questions before we do that, Barry, you’re constantly updating people, telling them what Google’s doing and what they should be worried about. What’s the best way to follow you? Is it Twitter? Is it Search Roundtable? Give people kind of the ways I like people to follow you. I’m very active on Twitter.

 

[00:38:12.690] – Barry
So, @rustybrick on Twitter. If that’s too much activity, just go to the Roundtable or Search Engine Land and definitely subscribe to our YouTube channel. It’s also YouTube/rustybrick. I produce two videos a week, one with personalities like you and the other video on Friday recapping all the SEO news in about a 10 or so minute video. So, if you don’t have time to read all the things every day, listen to it or to watch, you just listen to it.

 

[00:38:38.700] – Barry
It’s a great way to catch up very quickly on what happened in the SEO world. Got it.

 

[00:38:44.170] – Phillip
All right, thank you. So, Cody, we’re going to bring you back. I’m going to get up for a second because the sun is on my eyes. But Cody has been looking at the questions that all of you have been asking. And kick us off. Great.

 

[00:38:58.240] – Cody
So, first of all, I think I speak for the audience and say that a lot of great information was provided, and it sparked a lot of questions. So, Barry, you can obviously read them, but I’ll ask them to you. Just sit there, and we’ll just start at the top.

 

[00:39:12.160] – Cody
And so, the first one says, “Barry, thanks for your time. What do you envision for the future in terms of websites, for other ways to publish, distribute and consume content, i.e. PWAs, native apps, augmented reality?” Yeah.

 

[00:39:26.480] – Barry
So, we went through this native app component back in the early iPhone app days. Maybe it was like 10 years ago. Apps are going to take over the world, websites are going out. That didn’t really happen. That came out. That’s going to take over the world, and websites seem to go out of business, and you’re not going to really need SEO and search engines because it’s going to be, you know, an app store, and you just search the app store.

 

[00:39:47.860] – Barry
The PWA store—not happening. Augmented reality—I don’t know. That’s not really happening. I think websites are here to stay. Yes, they have to be mobile-friendly. You can do really cool stuff with PWAs. You could do really cool stuff with push notifications. Websites could definitely be more happy. But yeah, if there is a future in the future, it’s probably still the website.

 

[00:40:12.230] – Cody
So, Shane asks, “If you have a health-related website, does the update rank any higher if they link to official doctors, LinkedIn pages or sites, or can you just rely on content quality?”

 

[00:40:27.410] – Barry
That’s a good question. So, initially, Google said, “Yeah, if you want us to trust your website, make sure the citations are there and make sure we know who the people are writing the content.” Don’t hope that the doctor’s right. How do we know if there’s a doctor who is writing it? Maybe the doctor profile linking to a doctor LinkedIn profile. I don’t know if that’s going to make a difference, but you should definitely have the author’s profile on the website citing those references, citing their qualifications, looking to the US to make a difference.

 

[00:40:55.880] – Barry
I doubt it. I don’t think it makes a difference. Google said,“No, EDUs don’t make a difference. The dot orgs don’t make a difference.” But I think most importantly, content quality. I think the content quality of the articles, that content that that person produces, as well as the content quality of the bios showing they have certain certifications, maybe a photo of them in a white jacket, stuff like that have that. I don’t know exactly. But it’s good. It’s interesting. The taste test.

 

[00:41:23.570] – Cody
Awesome. All right. So, the next one says, “Hello, thanks for the nice presentation. Will the number of backlinks versus the quality of backlinks lose importance in the future?”

 

[00:41:35.900] – Barry
So, I mean, number of backlinks mattered very early, the early days, like early 2000s, and became the quality of those backlinks—more high-quality backlinks versus less low-quality backlinks. And I think that’s not going to change. I think backlinks are still very important. I think it’s always about high quality.

 

[00:41:56.450]  Cody
Great. So, Robert is launching a new site. “What are the three lowest hanging pieces of fruit to consider and site design from an SEO aspect of my company? And I have never invested anything—time, energy or cash.”

 

[00:42:10.520] – Barry
And so that depends on taking a quick look at the site. If your site has tons of pages and no title tags and they just say homepage, changing your title tags will make a huge difference. If you have a JavaScript website, and some of these in Google cannot see any of the pages, that makes a difference to make a search engine friendly if you have no index and you’re blocking Google, which will have a massive change. So, it really depends on where the website is right now versus what you need to do. Sometimes, it’s just really about amplifying it and getting shares and links to the site and stuff like that. It really depends on a site-by-site basis.

 

[00:42:49.710] – Cody
And kind of just to, I guess, piggyback onto that is, I guess, to push people over to you again. If you don’t have a lot of money to invest in right now but you do have the time and energy, I would highly recommend reading what various posts or what other SEOs posts because that’s a great way to get these answers of what you need to be doing. There’s a lot of great information out there. Just make sure it comes from a reputable source. But you think that’s a good thing to do. And then Cassandra, who is actually part of our team, she asks, “How will mobile-first affect social media content creators?”

 

[00:43:28.970] – Barry
I don’t think it will.I’m not sure how it would. I’m not sure if she could explain that in more detail than that. I don’t think it will affect how they act.

 

[00:43:40.220] – Cody
The next question says, “If higher word count really works so well for SEO, why are so many articles with less than the average word count for that or this particular topic ranking above the longer pieces? Many of these articles are posted on webpages that have poor design and poor blog structure.”

 

[00:43:56.690] – Barry
Right. So sometimes just answering the question, having a shorter, more direct answer works well. I write in a shorter form, not necessarily because I think it might rank better, more because I think I want to get to the point right away and not take out my readers’ time by writing all this fluff around everything. I write a specific question, answer to a specific question, to how many links, to Google crawlers do to the webpage.

 

[00:44:29.180] – Barry
Wait till you see these YouTube videos. We’re going to talk about this. All right. And then they start talking about stuff, and they keep listening. We’re going to tell you what’s going to happen. I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen. I can tell you how to do it and then eventually do it. I think getting to the point of it is very useful. Like you said, it’s longer—short attention spans. I’m very interested to see how passive indexing might change the answer to your question.

 

[00:44:52.550] – Barry
So, I think right now, yeah, short forms often do well, not always have some type of query an area, but I wonder how passage indexing will change all that. So, to be determined by passage index single digits. Frank asks, “Are there any benefits to posting your content on other blogs and linking back to your original content on your website?”

 

[00:45:22.900]
Maybe. I personally like to post my original content on my sites and not on like medium and other third-party websites, although sometimes, if your website just doesn’t rank well, you might want to be like, “All right, I get the exposure for my brand and the companyI just posted on. That ranks well and gets that exposure.” So, they want to contribute to the space, the search engine land, because they want to get more exposure.

 

[00:45:48.010] – Barry
That’s a great way of doing it. Not necessarily—you don’t want to contribute to third-party websites for getting links back to your site because I wouldn’t focus on that. And that’s a whole thing around blogging and doing that and maybe its guidelines, but focus on building your content on really well-built websites because it would drive exposure to you, increase your authoritativeness in the area, your expertise level in your area and help your brand overall. I wouldn’t necessarily worry about anything else there. Just do it for the exposure, really.

 

[00:46:23.460] – Cody
OK, and Frank also has a couple follow-up questions. I’ll read them both to you so you can kind of get a grasp on what he’s asking. But he says, “Are some blogs better than others? Or is it more about domain authority? I mean, the reason I’m asking is I found software that can post an article in 2,000 WordPress blogs overnight.”

 

[00:46:46.640] – Barry
So,are blogs better than others—or ask the question—yeah, are some better than others, or is it more about domain authority? Domain authority is not a Google metric. DA has no impact on Google’s rankings. Just tries to measure and figure out what Google might, you know, how Google might rank your website. It’s again, it’s a Moz metric, so don’t worry about that.Ignore it. It’s not an important metric. What is better than others? I don’t think, I think, it’s hard. The whole question is a little bit confusing to me, that if you understand, you want to explain in a different way, are some blogs better than others?

 

[00:47:27.740] – Barry
I mean, if you want to be on a blog that if you’re in an area, if I say you’re an expert in, I don’t know, building 20 trucks, and there’s one authoritative space on that, like there’s one blogger and it was really, really into—it makes YouTube videos,is well-known—you want to be on that person’s channel. You want to be in that person’s area. So, be in the area that somebody who’s an authority, authoritative personality in that area, somebody who is an expert in the area—you want to be there.

 

[00:47:56.780] – Barry

If you don’t have your own place to do that and you do it up slowly, takes years and years to build up your name. Also, you can contribute to that other person’s stuff. So, again, if you’re an SEO and you want to build up your authority, searching your lands, a great place to do that because searching online has that authority, right? It’s not necessarily about surgery, and the VA deal with surgery.

 

[00:48:24.520] – Cody
OK, I think, I guess, the last question you kind of answered already, but this is DA’s scam. So, I mean, you said I wouldn’t worry about DA. I don’t think they’re running a scam.

 

[00:48:37.250] – Barry
No, I mean, it’s a metric of the link-building tool. And all these tools have their own metrics. Tons of different tools have their own metrics to measure how Google might see a link or term and how authoritative a page is. It’s just one that’s not Google’s metric. It’s not a scam. It’s just people think, for some reason, they sell links for DA and stuff. It has nothing to do with Google as Google doesn’t look at DA. They don’t have a feed for Moz.

 

[00:49:03.490] – Barry
Looking at Moz API, I’m going to rank this page better because it doesn’t work that way. It’s just a way of Moz trying to figure out and backwards in near how well Google might see and how Google might rank a page.

 

[00:49:15.820] – Barry
Perfect. And Jim brings up a good point—Jim Boykin from Internet Marketing Ninjas—and he’s going to be a presenter later on. He said he’ll dive a little bit deeper into this. So, if you’re interested about DA and links, be sure to stick around. He’s got some great information there.

 


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