Here it is: a new episode of our cognitiveSEO Talks – On Search and Traffic, this time with David Harry, one of the most important pioneers in SEO. Before jumping into the nitty-gritty, you need to know that there are 20 years since David is working in the SEO niche.
David Harry spent about five years doing forensic SEO (which is helping people with SEO problems, penalties, and things related to this) and he got to the point where he doesn’t need to pitch to clients to attract them, they come to him for who he is. Aside from being an expert in the field, David is also an authentic guy you’ll surely enjoy listening to.
You probably know David Harry as the founder of the SEO Training Dojo, one of the first and top training environments on the web today. David has a passion for search, information retrieval, and all things marketing. And nobody says it better than himself: he is a Super Uber-duper Search Engine Algorithm Analyst and Web Presence Visibility Optimizer.
I started in 1998, back when we used to sit down do an HTML on napkins and stuff before Google existed. There wasn’t even forms, there were newsgroups and you had a zillion search engines, it was Lycos and HotBot, and all this other stuff.. david harry Search Engine Algorithm Analyst @SEOdojo / seotrainingdojo.com
When he has time, he mentors young SEOs, and in this present interview, he is doing a bit of mentoring for all of us. David is great at sharing his experience (of which he has plenty) and facing so many algorithm changes over the years, so many clients issues and managing a community of SEO professionals, we surely need to keep our ears open on what he has to say.
My version of ethics is simple. If you’re doing something that can put a client’s site at risk and you don’t tell the client that there’s a risk, well, that’s where the ethics come in. david harry Search Engine Algorithm Analyst @SEOdojo / seotrainingdojo.com
Tackled Topics :
David’s experience with forensic SEO and consulting; Black hat SEO and how much of it still goes legit; How to dissect all major Google updates in the course of history; On how SEO teams should work in order to see results and thrive; The rank tracking debate: is it dead or alive? About evergreen and seasonal content; What’s the best way to approach clients in order to win them; On forensic SEO; About Word2Vec and Phrase2Vec patents.
10 Marketing Nuggets:
Forensics SEO is essentially like Sherlock Holmes used to say: “Once you’ve eliminated what it can’t be, whatever remains must be the truth”. It’s a process of figuring things out. 2:28 If you’re gonna say that black-hat is anything against Google’s guidelines, well, that puts most of us in there. 8:10 It’s only the real hardcore technical guys that are really still getting away with blackhat SEO and are still using that. 8:26 Data’s just data; if you can’t analyze the data and if you don’t know the questions to ask the data, you’re screwed. 10:24 Patience is the virtue in the SEO world. 14:31 Many people think content is just about getting links or whatever and no, you gotta remember that Google has algorithms that look at expertise, authority and trust. 24:29 One of the most overlooked metrics for technical SEO stuff is internal link ratios. 25:36 I like the word “attracting links” not “building links”. 33:33 If you’ve got a bunch of content on your site that’s really useless, it’s not getting links, it’s not getting search traffic, get rid of it because you’re eating up crawl budget for other pages that might be more important for your business and for Google. 35:24 Everyone thinks that SEO is just the same process, cookie-cutter page over a page, and so on. 37:09
Razvan: Hello everyone! This is Razvan Gavrilas from cognitiveSEO and today we have David Harry, an old-school SEO. David is a Senior Consultant with Verve Developments, while many of you know him from SEO Training DOJO.
I’ll let David tell you more about him, and we’ll be talking today about old-school SEOs and new-school SEOs and all this stuff. David?
David: Oh, good to be here, brother! Yeah, I’m on my 20th year now; I started in 1998, you know, back when we used to sit down, do an HTML on napkins and stuff before Google existed, you know. There weren’t even forms, there were newsgroups and you had a zillion search engines, it was Lycos and HotBot, and all this other stuff. Today everyone’s just “It’s all Google or nothing, really”, and even Bing kind of doesn’t matter so, yeah.
It’s 20 years in SEO as of this year and spent some time in about five years for forensic SEO, which is kind of helping people with problems, penalties, and things of that nature, but it’s “been there, done that, seen it”.
Tell our listeners about forensic SEO. Many of them probably don’t know the term, so…
David: I think it’s really a kind of a term we made up at the time, you know, but essentially it’s dealing with lost traffic, and it still happens today. A lot of people see losses in traffic and they jump the gun and say “Well, Penguin or Panda” or “We got a penalty” and it could be so many things. What we find a lot of times when we do forensic work is trying to figure things out because it’s often different things, a myriad of things. If you’re not having your developer team keeping changelogs, a developer can go in, your hosting company could make a change to their PHP, they can update PHP, or MySQL, or something, which can affect your site in a way that you didn’t know about.
Yeah, forensics is essentially like Sherlock Holmes used to say: “Once you’ve eliminated what it can’t be, whatever remains must be the truth”, and it’s that process of figuring out “Okay, it’s not this, it’s not that, it’s not this. You’ll find it especially when you get larger corporate situations – we have SEO teams and larger development teams: one SEO makes some title changes, and one of the dev guys goes and changes URL on a page or something. You can have an effect of many different things that start to cause a problem. So, in forensic SEO, your job’s to come in and essentially try to establish why there are losses, what has happened there, because everyone usually has that knee-jerk reaction “Oh, I got hit by Panda, I got hit by Penguin”, or something like that. In so many times it’s not. You can’t just assume what made you lose on organic traffic, so you have to kind of take it apart piece by piece and talk to all the people involved and trying to figure out what happened. And, sometimes, Google makes changes. Google makes changes to some query spaces and not to others, right? And that happens. So forensics is essentially that process of being a consultant that comes in to take apart losses and figure out what happened so you can recover them.
Since you’ve been in the space for so many years – you were saying over 20 years – how do you see the changes that Google has been doing lately compared to how proactive they were maybe 7-8 years ago?
David: Yeah. It was about 10 years ago, 2008-2009-2010 area, that’s when we started seeing them hammering hard on links and penalties, and that’s when manual actions came in. And then, around 2011, we started getting the Pandas and the Penguins, and that was a very aggressive period for Google when they were really more aggressive as far as spam detection and spam kind of issues went. Because before that obviously everyone knows you could really spam the heck out of them and it worked, you know. There was, I remember, article directories and all that stuff; you used to be able to beat the heck out of Google with that. And so they had that period 8-10 years ago where they really broke down on that.
Then, around 2013-2016, it was when they started to focus more I guess on their own search quality, right? That’s when you started seeing things like Hummingbird, which is a query classification and how they were dealing with those queries because, in around that time, you had places like eHow, and eHow had like a zillion posts on “How to fix a tire”, “How to change a tire”, “How to replace a tire”. And for this kind of articles that were essentially the same thing, you could rank for each of them because pre-hummingbird Google wasn’t really as intuitive on query classifications, and what Hummingbird and, later on, RankBrain and stuff like that were tending to do with that is lump those things together, start to associate that “auto” means “car”, “car” means “vehicle”, and this and that.
And so, that same example with how to change a tire, how to fix a tire, how to replace the tire, becomes one classification for a query and I think that’s what was a huge change for Google. And that was good for a lot of us because you can write articles and create content that will satisfy multiple queries now, where, sometime in the past, you really couldn’t do that. You had to actually create very specific pages for different queries. So, you know, that evolution, I think, is playing out now still today. And, obviously, you know, you got mobile and you’ve got the mobile first index – that started coming out on February 18, I believe, is when they started doing that this year -, and obviously the HTTPS thing will be fully rolled out by July this year, we’ve had Schema Markup, Google My Business started to evolve even more. It’s an amazing a bunch of changes, you know!
One of my clients, the other day, she was relating some article she’d read on Search Engine Land or somewhere, and she was like “Well, Google keeps your business at least, Dave, because they’re always changing something so you’ve always got work doing on your clients’ sites”.
Razvan: How do you think the black hat community has evolved since 10 years ago – because black hat was used a lot and worked for a lot of people back then – How do you see this community, since you have your own community, the SEO Training DOJO, and have been active in other communities –
How do you see people that did black-hat in the past and that maybe are still doing it?
David: A lot of that went legit.
Razvan: You were forced to enter legit by Google.
David: Yeah, you know, it’s really only the very very good ones that are still out there doing it, meaning the very technically-inclined, the ones that are really good at it. Those sort of cursory borderline black hats that were just kind of using script kiddie stuff, they’ve all gone legit now and they moved into that realm. It’s kind of like link builders, you know: link builders was… you could maybe call that black hat. Again, I’m not a big fan of the whole “hat discussion” because, you know, there’s gray areas and there’s this and that. If you’re gonna say that black hat is anything against Google’s guidelines, well, that puts most of us in there.
Razvan: I wasn’t talking about that, I was talking about people who really do black hat.
David: Yeah, but, you know, a lot of them went legit. You’re talking 10 years ago when Google got really hard on this stuff. I’d say almost about 50% of them went legit; it’s only the real hardcore technical guys that are really still getting away with that and still using that. And it’s there. Again, if you’re doing SEO, not for clients, but you’re doing it for yourself because you’re doing affiliate, making money off affiliate stuff, I guess it’s still there, because Google still has that problem of a lag time, meaning you can churn and burn some sites out there, make some money, and by the time Google catches you you’ve made your money. You know, they penalize that site, you throw it out, go get a bunch more, rinse and repeat. So churn and burn still work like that because it’s still a bit of a lag time of, you know, probably 2-3-4 months and you can still go out there and do that stuff and make some money so it’s just about churning sites over and over and over. So it still exists out there.
Some of these guys went into negative SEO. I mean there’s no lack, you know… Some of the clients that I have, start getting hammered by negative SEO tags with links and stuff like that. It still happens. Of course, Matt Cutts always told me it’s not a thing but okay… It’s a thing!
Razvan: Yeah, I also see with our cognitiveSEO customers, people complaining and showing us data from negative SEO attacks and some of them correlate with rankings drop.
David: Yeah, you gotta be careful and vigilant. One of the things our company still does up to this day and part of our monthly service is monitoring that kind of stuff. If it’s through Majestic, AHREFS, or like you guys, cognitiveSEO,
Razvan: There are a lot of tools, but the best tool is your brain.
David: That’s always the question “What’s the best tool for SEO?” and it’s right here. Because data’s just data; if you can’t analyze the data and if you don’t know the questions to ask the data, then you’re screwed. We had a really neat question that Google didn’t even catch. I got ahold of John Mueller and Danny Sullivan about it and they had gotten into the backend of this site and they started injecting code that was essentially – it was a Pharma, right? Viagra, Cialis, all that kind of stuff – and what it was doing was when Google would come along, it would redirect to this sort of CDN that they had been serving up this Pharma stuff, but if you were a legit user who went to the site, you wouldn’t see it. But it was certainly indexed and everything else. And what they had done was they had hidden the code in PNG files, image files, so when we were forensically looking with our team to the site to try and figure out, you’re seeing such-and-such .PNG, so you’re thinking “Well, that’s not it”, but when we started doing a file comparison on the WordPress theme and stuff like that, we realized these are files that they had hidden the code in the PNGs. And this had been there for six months and this site didn’t get a penalty or nothing, man. Google didn’t have a clue that this was happening. So yeah, there were some pretty inventive stuff still going on out there, and that’s not even negative SEO, that’s just straight-up black hat and they were using piggybacking on this site to get themselves some links.
A lot of our users and readers sometimes ask about personal blogging networks. Do you think they are safe? Is it still worth having them?
Dan: I got it. That’s that teams for me with the whole “SEO ethics thing”, and a lot of people like to say “ethics of SEO is to be white hat”, and this and that. No, my version of ethics is simple. If you’re doing something that can put a client’s site at risk and you don’t tell the client that there’s a risk, well, that’s where the ethics come in. So, PBN’s fell under that. There’s always a risk, you know. People are “Well, mine is undetectable”. Well, it’s undetectable until the day Google finds it and then your client gets penalized and then you screwed something. So, by and large, with our membership, we don’t advise them, no. This goes back to the whole story “is that a client site or is it your own site”. Do whatever you want with your own site, go out and do PBNs, do whatever the heck you want, I really don’t care. Stuff keywords, do redirects, do cloaking, I don’t care, because that’s your site so if something happens you’re the only one who gets hurt.
But when I did forensics, I’d get clients that their SEO had done this kind of stuff, and they’d come to me “I’ve lost my savings, or I mortgaged my house and I’m losing my house, or I can’t send my kids to University now” – that hurts, you know. I used to have a lot of sleepless nights and so I’m very very against anything like that. Be honest with your client, they can’t afford a proper content strategy, tell them, “Hey, we can’t compete, you’re gonna need to find some other way to raise some money to properly do SEO, and have a social strategy aligned with a content strategy, aligned with proper technical on-site SEO etc”.
I don’t believe in PBNs for client sites unless you tell the client “Hey, we can do a PBN but here is the risk. If you get caught, you’re gonna get penalized and it could take you up to 18 months to fully get everything back”. If the client still signs up and says “Hey, go for it!”, then fine, you covered your butt, you advised them of the risk, that’s great. But PBNs in general, no, I don’t use them for any of my clients but my clients tend to be able to afford, they have the budgets in place to do content strategy, plus social and so on to get links and to get you know visibility. So I’m not a PBN guy myself, but my advice generally is it’s very risky because everyone always says “Oh, it’s undetectable!” until the day it gets detected. So, it’s all about that ethics thing and ensuring that you’re not putting a client at risk. And if you are, then make sure they fully understand that risk.
Razvan: We all know that in the SEO world, patience is the virtue because it gets harder and harder to make a change on your site or do something and see some kind of results in Google. People want results, customers want results.
Can instant gratification or near-instant gratification coexist with SEO nowadays?
David: Well, I think so. It was Dan’s thesis that once gave me this sort of concept that I now call “the art of war”. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” tells you that when you’re facing a larger, more powerful opponents, you need to go around from the outside and take them down piece by piece. And what that, to me, means in SEO terms, is, now, as you wait for those larger terms, those big money terms to percolate over 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, you have to make your inroads through to longer tail terms, and in other terms where you can compete. So often what you’ll do is when you’re faced with larger competitors that it’s going to take you a while to get those rankings, look for those ones that they’re not targeting, reverse engineer their SEO strategy and look for terms that they aren’t chasing actively or terms that you can actually get to quickly. Or look at video, look at other things, like we’ve been able to …
How can someone identify these gaps? Do you have a methodology that you’re using to identify this kind of stuff?
David: It depends on the market, you know. Again, if you have like… Rank tracking is a funny thing, some SEOs say “Oh, you should rank track” or “rank tracking is dead”, you know, you have those two camps. We still use rank tracking mechanisms and softwares, and tools here, but it’s to actually watch query spaces. So, we’ll load it up with 10 different competitors across different terms and then we can see where the weaknesses are: “OK, this guy is ranking 10th and this guy’s …”. If there’s a bunch of guys that are ranking number 1-5 or something on your head terms, your big money terms, but you look across those 10 competitors that are the core competitors in your hub and you see that none of them are really chasing these terms, that’s a place you can get into affordably. Those are places you can create content and get into. So, literally, a rank tracking tool is about the best place to start with that, because you can see the ones that they’re not chasing. I had monthly reports with a client the other day because it’s the beginning of the month, and I saw this one competitor start bouncing up on a certain term that they apparently didn’t care about until recently. So I can surmise that their SEO team identified this as a place they could go so I said: “Okay, well then, maybe we’ll go look at this term and see how much it’s gonna take to get in there”.
And verticals are another good place too. People look at a query space and if there’s no video Universal they think “Well, no point doing a video”. The problem is everyone thinks that, so we’ve created a video sometimes for a certain keyword, maybe we’re on page 2, ranking 16th or something, and we’ll create a video for that term and boom!, Google just didn’t have a video to put there so all of a sudden, within two weeks, now we’re sitting number 3 with a video Universal because it pops up because there just wasn’t any video to put there before. So, sometimes, you can look at verticals as well, as a good way to get from page 3 up to page 1. So, there are always ways to do that. That kind of holistic approach helps smaller clients that, again, like you’re saying, it’s gonna take you a year to 18 months to get into those big head terms, so you attack from the smaller outside terms where you can and where it’s affordable.
What do you think about the new SEOs that are in the market, that are advising clients or maybe just doing SEO for themselves? How would you compare them to the old SEOs?
David: Well, it’s a lot like you were saying earlier, it’s just the same with clients as it is with SEOs. Is that instant gratification need. There isn’t a lot of patience, with a lot of them younger or newer, I don’t know, age-wise, but newer SEOs have that instant gratification, you know. It’s always like “What’s the new method because PBNs are on the rise again and people are talking.
10-8 years ago, people were like “Oh, forget PBN. It’s scary!”. Now it’s a thing again, you’ve got these people that are coming in and they’re all PBNs, they’re all looking for an angle, they’re looking for a way to cheat the system, they’re all looking for that shortcut, they look for that big red button which also goes back to what we were talking about with tools. They’re always like “What’s the best tool?”. It’s like “No, it’s not about a tool”. In SEO, you have a question that needs to be answered in your head and so, then you seek out the data which comes from tools but you need to start with the hypothesis and you need to start with the question to figure out which tool you need to give you those answers to. You know, sometimes it can be cognitiveSEO, sometimes it could be Majestic, sometimes it could be Google Search Console. But the problem is that everyone thinks that they need some tools to get the job done for them. And that becomes the problem. A lot of young SEOs are like that right now, you know? It’s PBN so what’s the shortcut, what’s the fastest way, what’s… There’s a sense of laziness, you know.
A lot of the older SEOs that I know, that have been in the game for 15-20 years, they understand like we, you and I, are talking about that. Some terms are gonna take time and it’s more about the strategy than it is about the immediacy, about that “Let me push a big red button and I’ll get rankings. And, maybe, that’s partially due to how they’re selling their projects, maybe they’re not talking to new clients, not saying “Okay, this is gonna be a bit of a pain process, this is gonna take some time”, maybe they’re overpromising and under delivering and so they’re under this pressure to always deliver because they’re taking off like… I got a client that’s coming in and I’m in the sales process and they think that it’s gonna happen in a month or two and I keep telling them “That’s not” and they’re like “Well, I want to” then you just don’t sell that project, you say “Well, I’m sorry, we can’t do business”. You can’t put yourself under that gun. Qualifying your clients it’s important too.
Razvan: Let’s talk a bit about the importance of content.
How do you see content stepping up the SEO game?
David: Well, I always tell my clients that people type words into Google so Google’s really got this thing for words. It’s like you get to those home pages on an e-commerce site and there are all these big pictures and there’s like one paragraph. Well, unfortunately, you know, Google Images is gonna make you money.
So, yeah, content strategies everything. If it’s, again, like we talked earlier, if it’s part of the strategy of targeting outlier terms and longer tail terms, if it’s part of a strategy of building links – because you want to build viral content or content that’ll be popular and get out there -, if it’s activity like QDF – which is Query Deserves Freshness- to a degree Google looks for activity on the site, in the meaning “I don’t care if it’s an informational site, or an e-commerce site, or a service related site”, stagnant sites that don’t have new content at least every once in a while how is… How is Google supposed to know that someone hasn’t walked away from this website? How many webs that we all know are trying to get rid of bad links – you email some site to say “Can you take this link down?”-, you don’t reply because the person who built it is gone, you know, they’re working at McDonald’s now, they just never took this site down or whatever. So how is Google supposed to know that a site’s not active, that a site’s not still alive and vibrant if there isn’t new content? We look at content in a few ways, obviously, if it’s a service or e-commerce related, new products, new service offerings, then beyond that you’ve got what we call “evergreen content”. So, evergreen is sort of that content that stands the test of time. So, you keep that off your blog, you keep that on a separate section that could be a fake use, that could be a “how to use our product or service” kind of stuff, and then you’ve got a blog and the blog is sort of more opinions, and topical, and news, and things of that sort of everyday stuff, so we tend to always divide content up into those two kinds of groupings (seasonal versus evergreen).
But you always want those, those are very important. And then, for the obvious fact that you need things to go out and get visibility to get Google-even. If you’re building a Facebook account, or Pinterest, or whatever, you still need new things to keep building those followings in the social realm because there is a world beyond Google, you know, you can actually make money doing business on Facebook, and Facebook ads, and things of that nature. So you need stuff to always have out there to be alive and current and vibrant.
Razvan: Yeah, I was about to ask you that – a lot of people, when they talk about content, talk about blog content and, in general, blog content is informational content, it’s not your money page, it’s not where you direct your money keywords…
David: Yeah, but if you look at the Google Raiders guide that’s to come out every year it’s what they call E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trust). These are very core concepts that you really want to go towards with your content. Again, it’s like so many people think content is just about getting links or whatever and no, you gotta remember that Google has algorithms that look at expertise authority and trust, and by showing your expertise and by showing your authority – well, authority is more of how many people start to follow you and share content, but these are things that Google has algorithms for that will benefit your entire site, including your money pages – so it’s not just about “Okay, let’s float this out there, oh, a lot of people see it but do they go to my money pages?”. Well, that doesn’t matter, because if you’re establishing that authority and that expertise with Google, those money pages are gonna get a boost as well with their rankings by a secondary effect.
Okay, but how should people optimize the money pages?
Okay, you increase your E-A-T, you increase the authority of your domain overall with your blog, but there still is optimization to be done regarding the improvement that the rankings for the money keywords.
David: One of the most overlooked metrics for technical SEO stuff is internal link ratios.
Essentially what a terminal link ratio is, you know, I talked to MattCutts one day and we were sort oftalking about this, and he said “Essentially to simplify it”, he said, “when Google looks at this site, the most internally linked page on the site – which is, obviously, the home page (but after that, we think of it as you consider this to be the most important page on your site) – the least internally link side page on your site we consider it to be the least important to you, because (oh, and again, he was trying to simplify it when we were talking) but that’s a very overlooked thing”. There is even a report right into the Google, Search Console that shows you internal links and that’s one of the quick wins; almost every new client we get, that’s one of the first things we do, we look at their page mapping, at their keywords and terms, and then we go and look at the internal link ratios to those pages. And if you don’t wanna stop, you gonna make some changes that may be a footer link or maybe some sidebar links, links within blog posts and stuff like that, that will start to surface it. Again, if you take a PageRank and how that works – which is only one of many metrics but even that works that way because now you’re funneling in, you’re passing more PageRank internally to that page, so that’s going to help lift it up as well. That is one of the more key elements. Obviously, you’re gonna look at your title tags, you’re gonna look at heading tags and things of that nature, but in terms of link ratio, it is something people don’t really look at enough, you know?
Do you still use keyword research and keyword optimization to improve rankings?
David: To a degree, but like I was saying at the beginning, due to the fact that how Google is starting to look at or has been looking at things for quite a while, over focusing on an exact-match kind of keyword isn’t really the issue.
It’s more of a related stuff. I mean, so if I’m looking at the content of that page, I’m looking for an ontology of words, of phrases, of concepts – I always tell the group with the DOJO, the new people that I try to teach is “the concept of Jaguar”. You’ve got a Jaguar the car, you’ve got Jaguar the animal, you got Jaguar the Apple browser, you’ve got Jaguar the football team in America. So, for Google, Jaguar the car you’re gonna see words like “tires” and “engine” and “performance”, and this and that. Jaguar, the animal, you’re gonna see a big cat, and prey and hunting, and tail and claws, and so it’s these other outlier terms that support the core concept of that page. It’s like Google says that “things, not strings”, so things are a lot about what we call “entities” which is a person, place, or thing, and you’re supporting it”. ” I painted the White House. You know, that’s just in a simple phrase but is the White House down the street that your buddy owns, or is the White House and in Washington DC. The rest of the content on that page is going to support and tell Google what that page is about, the concept of that page. So keywords themselves – sure, you’ve got targets that you want to chase, but you also have to look at the other phrases and concepts and the ontology of words that surrounds that content to really flesh it out for Google. And that’s again, another area that a lot of these new SEOs are with their PBNs and all the crap – they don’t understand these things.
So, they’re chasing ghosts, they’re not understanding how a search engine works. And I always joked to my wife that SEO is killing me because imagine being a web developer who doesn’t know HTML. Well, most SEOs have very little knowledge of how a search engine works, they’re out there doing something but they don’t study information retrieval they don’t you know how it works and how it evolved, and once you know that it’s almost intrinsic for a guy like me – you know, I’m from the school of Bill Slawski, I read patents, and I read papers, and I have a high knowledge of information retrieval, so when I do my job I think like that, I see a page like that, I see an infrastructure like that.
Razvan: You know, maybe because we have this keyword research and content assistant tool and, for example, I did an experiment, a few weeks ago, and we improved the rankings of one of the pages on our site, and what’s interesting with every optimization that we do with the tool and we’ve seen our customers do is that the number of impressions in Google Search Console, for example, increases, because you are recommended topically related terms that you did not use in the original content. This is another thing that people are not aware of because you’re targeting, for example, a specific keyword. With that specific keyword there are a multitude of other similar keywords with lower difficulty that you can rank on them and, practically, in my experiment with the optimization and adding the topics and keywords that were recommended there, we increased the number of impressions from 3,000 to over 10,000 and, practically this was done within one hour of content rewriting and re-indexation that we asked from Google Search Console and the impressions and traffic practically jumped in the next day.
David: Now that was the tool that’s you sent me the email about?
David: Okay, I will go play with that after this. Because, yeah, so many people have tried, I remember Moz had their LDA tool and it’s been tried a few times unsuccessfully to find a tool to suggest proper supporting concepts for a page – if someone could pull that up, it’d be gold. So, obviously, you’ve got something that’s working there, so…
Razvan: Yeah, what the tool does is to analyze the top rankings in Google and based on that it find similarities and identifies new opportunities.
David: It looks for correlations of other terms from the top ranking sites?
Razvan: Yeah, yeah.
Razvan: Yeah, we work with lots of semantic algorithms behind it.
David: As long as you don’t say LSI, I’m happy. Yeah, that’s neat. Again, that’s another concept that I don’t think a lot of people consider or that there’s a lot of tools out there that can accomplish, you know what I mean? And that’s very important. That’s what semantic analysis is all about with Google: they’re looking for certain supporting concepts, and words, and terms, and phrases, that would support that. And this whole RankBrain thing that’s gonna keep flashing out… There was a word-to-vector patent that I did some work on it and a phrase-to-vector pattern. And that’s what it’s doing – it’s like how closely does “blue” relate to “apple” in a vector graph: not very much. But how much does “green” relate to “apple” in a vector graph or “red” relate to “apple” in a vector graph. They’re very close, right? So, that’s part of what RankBrain is doing, it’s looking on a term vector graph on phrases, terms, and words, that are related to a core concept of a query that comes into Google. So, yeah, tools like that are very… again, it’s been tried and not done well, so… Moz tried one and threw that in the garbage within a couple months.
What do you think are the top 3 SEO practices that can destroy a website’s rankings?
David: Well, obviously, link building. I mean, bad link building, and I’m not even a guy who… I don’t even like the term “link building” like many friends of mine, people that are very, very smart, people who still use that term. I like the word “attracting links” not “building links” I like to use a combination of smart content meaning content that’s going to get some visual eyes on it in a combination with everything from social media, followings that you build, to email lists and things like that, that you can build to surface content out to people. I think that is my way of doing things. Obviously, there are other ways to build links that people use, I guess citations and stuff like that’s okay for local. Link buildings is obviously the main danger. And from there, to be honest with you, you can literally… if you put in Google manual actions into Google, you’ll get a list of, I think, eleven different manual actions that Google has. Everyone always thinks of unnatural links, because that’s what we always see, but there’s thin content manual actions. You know, that entire list is a scary list. You can do cloaking by accident, people have done that. There are so many ways you can get in trouble, it’s not funny, but it’s funny that a lot of people just don’t really consider all these different things that Google watches. So really anything in the manual action list from thin content to unnatural links, that kind of stuff, it is probably dangerous. I think the 3 big ones would have to be: links, probably thin content, – and that’s just a few ways, because it’s not only a risk for a penalty, you’re also wasting crawl budget. If you’ve got a bunch of content on your site that’s really useless, it’s not getting links, it’s not getting search traffic, get rid of it because you’re eating up crawl budget for other pages that might be more important for your business and for Google. Just because you got 10,000 pages, it doesn’t mean you have 10,000 pages that are useful, so that could be a waste, so get rid of them. Just throw them in the garbage and redirect that somewhere else (not even redirected because then you’ll have to figure it out again).
What do you think about pruning content?
David: That’s what I’m talking about, yeah. I think that’s a great idea, I really do. It’s a good thing to do it quarterly, if not at least semi-annually. Go through the site and look for stuff that’s not getting traffic, that’s got no links, that has no value. Get rid of it, there’s no point in having it. It’s just taking up crawl budget and other things and it’s not serving a purpose so … And sometimes you can actually take two or three of those pages and put them into one page that might actually be more valuable to Google. You don’t always have to throw in the garbage, sometimes you can say “Okay, well, this is related, this related, this is related, but they’re all kind of thin content, let’s take them all, stick them on one page and see what happens”. Sometimes that approach can work.
Do you think hub pages work? I mean, you take all of these pages that are similar, create another extra page and link it from that as a hub page. What do you think, is this a good strategy?
David: Yeah, I think that could work. You got to monitor it because Google, literally, if you read enough patents and stuff, treats each query space somewhat differently. Like, you know, payday loans are treated differently than a craft page about painting or something. You have to understand you got to be very in tune with your query space, which is going back to the new SEOs thing.
Another thing that’s not understood: everyone thinks that SEO is just the same process, cookie-cutter page over a page, over page. You got to know your query space because some query spaces in this market are gonna be different than this niche, and this niche, and this niche, and that query space. You got to get a little more intimate with your query space and know what’s working and what’s not there. So you can’t just apply the same thing you do, like that’s a problem a lot of SEO agencies: they hire these people and they have this set way of doing things that they apply to every client because big agencies get into that because it’s more efficient. But really, a boutique shop like mine, we’re very more intimate; we look at each client, in each market, in each query differently, you know. So I think that’s a good idea to try. You have to have that toolbox so that when you approach a situation saying “Well, this has worked in the past, let’s go try that” and if it doesn’t work, well, you don’t do it. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t.
How do you usually pitch clients to win them? What do you show them that’s unique, that makes them become your customers?
David: I don’t really have that problem because of my standing and where I’ve been in the industry all my stuff comes referral. Whoever comes to my doors, I get to just Come in and go “All right! Here’s what I’m charging you, give me some money!”. But I do mentor a lot of guys, and what I try to teach the guys that I’ve mentor, the younger ones, is to be sincere, don’t try to oversell, don’t try to promise the the world, be brutally honest, say “Okay, this is the way it is”. We were talking about qualifying clients earlier, and I know it’s the urge for a lot of young guys. They need to make money and they don’t have a lot of clients and not high-paying clients and they get desperate and that’s often become the problem – you take on that client because you need to pay the bills, and they become that pain in the butt that destroys your life because you know they’re eating up all your time. But I think to qualify good clients, you need to be honest, you need to feel them out as much as they’re feeling you out. You can’t approach a new prospective client being desperate; it’s just a recipe for disaster. So I think for young guys or people I mentor, I try to be honest. I had a guy the other day – I, literally, with the guys I mentor, when they’re doing sales calls, I will go in on Skype with them and pretend I work with them and stuff, just to help them and listen and show them (and I do it for free) – so this one got the other days like “Well, what do you think, Dave? I charged him a couple hundo”, and I’m like “I don’t know, what do you mean? Do you know anything about the client, or his budget, or his keywords”, and he’s like “Nope!”. He wanted to price it before he knew anything. Well, I was “What are you doing? Know what you’re looking at here”. It’s that process of where you meet them. It’s one of their expectations. Managing their expectations is everything. What are they looking to get? Because some people’s expectations could be visibility, and building authority in their space, some is, obviously, making money, some could be what we call primary and secondary conversion points – you might have a primary conversion point of selling shoes, but your secondary conversion point might be building an email list – so you never know till you’re in there and showing that interest in a client is a huge step. Being able to go in there and… like you run your tools or something and get a few reports before you go into that sales call, so it looks like you care about them, you didn’t just walk in and go “All right, what do you want?”. You went in with some stuff that you ran through cognitiveSEO and said: “Okay, well, I looked at your site before we had the sales call and I saw this, I saw that I saw this”. Show that actual interest in them, in their business. And from there it’s really just “Are you gonna be able to work with this person?”. I let someone go the other day that, you know, the first meeting we had was a little bit aggressive and I was like “Nah, this is not gonna work”, so I emailed him back and said I don’t think we’ll be able to work together. Because if there isn’t even some sort of personal connection (I think for me at least) and you are just doing it for the money and, to me, I need that sort of passion to really want to see them succeed.
Razvan: Okay. Let’s end this call with a question about Google:
Where do you think is Google heading to and what’s the future search and what should webmasters be prepared for?
David: Well, I think a lot of the things will stay relatively the same and they always have, from optimizing content, and PageRank, and title tags, and all that kind of stuff. Even mobile’s become kind of intuitive for people that were used to mobile, I guess, in 2008-2009, when that really started to crawl in. I think voice search is gonna be the real challenge now; it’s something we’ve had a lot of internal discussions on at the DOJO and we’ve had some hangouts on it. It’s an interesting area to start to try and get your head around this because voice search will obviously be the way someday. What they call “conversational search” as well, – which is kind of tied into it – and that has all its beginnings and Hummingbird and things like that. So, yeah, I think this is gonna be one of the harder ones to get our heads around; it’s “How do you optimize for voice search” and things of that nature. They have what’s called Google Actions as well and Google actions are little querying voice or the little devices in the home that Google has now. You can actually go out and play with these you know I know Eric Enge, the guy at Stone Temple, have done a lot of work with it that I’ve been talking with them about. So you can actually, at this moment, go out and program into Google various actions related to your company and your entity and things so that when people… “What does Stone Temple think about title tags?” and it’ll come back and tell you invoice and everything, and Google Assistant will come back and talk to you. The Google assisted, the Google Voice, all that kind of stuff and, obviously, a harder line on the local and mobile and things of that nature. This is really gonna be a tough area I think for a lot of SEOs because they seem to have enough problems just figuring out homicide SEO, nevermind search. We have so many SEO that just through links to it, PBN, this and that. So I think this will weed out a lot of people over the next 10 years, so I think that’s one of the more challenging areas that people need, at least, at this point start to get their heads around is the voice search and how that affects everything.
Razvan: Okay. Thank you very much for joining us today and looking forward to hearing more from you in the future.
David: Yeah, anytime, at any time feel free to hit me up.