22 | Kevin Indig: SEO Landing Pages, MicroSites, XML Sitemaps, Twitter and Gutenberg

On today’s episode, we bring back Kevin Indig, VP of Content and SEO at G2.com. Jeff Byer talks to Kevin about microsites, landing pages, SEO, sitemaps, and a couple of Twitter controversies.


Jeff: Welcome to Digital Rage, the podcast about all things internet and the people that make it great. My name is Jeff Byer, and today we are having Kevin Indig back on the show. Kevin did a talk in Minnesota and talked about using microsites instead of landing pages, which stirred my interest. So I wanted to get him back on the show and talk about landing pages and all the good things that he’s doing over at G2.

Jeff: Just quick short announcement. Matt is taking a little bit of a hiatus from the podcast. He’s gotten very busy, and this does take a lot of time and a lot of resources. He’s always going to have this opportunity to come back on the show and either promote, cohost, whatever he wants.

Jeff: But for now, in order to keep the consistency and be posting every week and create a weekly show, I am going to take over all parts of the production. So, the things that might be a little on the sketchy side moving forward that Matt used to take care of is guest-booking and the show notes. So the show notes I will do my best. I’m probably going to have to go with an automated solution for the show notes as a starter and then go back, read through them and have them all transcribed and sent to me. So a lot of outsourcing there, outsourcing the design issues and refilling the queue again.

Jeff: So, what we’re going to do is reach out to all of the guests that are on my list. My list includes Izzie Smith, Lily Ray, Marie Haynes, Bill Slawski, Rand Fishkin. There are quite a few people that I follow that have a ton of questions, people that I interact with on Twitter. I interact with Kevin on Twitter a lot, so he was natural to get on the show and talk about SEO and content marketing, digital marketing.

Jeff: The state of digital marketing is that everything is changing. Google’s AI is getting smarter. Context is a huge factor now. You can’t just go after a keyword and expect to rank for that keyword just by creating a landing page. You need to provide value and context.

Jeff: So, there’s been a lot of great content floating around about context and about understanding semantic search and Google understanding which search results are more relevant for the user’s search intent. And so, we talked to Kevin about that, and Kevin starts every project with no keyword research, and he was kind of hinting that keyword research is almost dead. He didn’t want to go all the way to say that it was completely dead.

Jeff: But what he starts with is the problem that your product is trying to solve and then understand the customer’s journey from when they have that problem to making a decision to choose a problem.

Jeff: So, the top, middle, bottom of the funnel, create an experience, and that’s how the idea of microsites came about. And his time at Atlassian showed that these microsites really do work, and it is a viable option for your content strategy moving forward, especially big sites that have a lot of different content and ideas around them focusing an idea into one bucket, which is what we’re calling a microsite now. Not a separate domain or subdomain but on the actual site taking your main content and building it out into its own mini-experience inside of your whole brand experience.

Jeff: Great conversation and definitely he’s one of the best. He’s our first repeat guest so love having him on. So, before we get to the interview, sorry I’m talking too fast. Before we get to the interview, a couple of things I wanted to bring up. There were a bunch of tweets about MozCon, so MozCon was a couple of weeks ago now. And a lot of people were live-tweeting, especially Lily Ray. I love Lily Ray. She was doing a great job live-tweeting during the event and doing a great job introducing the presenters and the presenters’ topics and things like that.

Jeff: A lot of the content that I found really valuable is that content should include information on contributors. So, this goes to what Marie Haynes and Lily Rae have been talking about for a long time, which is author pages and letting not only Google but the audience know who’s writing the content and what their credentials are.

Jeff: So this is something I’m going to start implementing something for myself, which is everything that I put out there. I will have one page with all of my information, where I’ve been published, where I post, where to follow me, all of my LinkedIn and Twitter and Instagram profiles. Basically just an author-info page.

Jeff: And then along those lines is that brands that post on behalf of the brand and do content marketing as a brand. That brand will need a profile on why this brand has the authority to post about things like this.

Jeff: So, it’s a lot of somehow verifying that you do have the expertise in the subject matter that you’re talking about. So opinion pieces, things like that, it’s not as relevant as what your day-to-day job is and what you post about is going to have to be connected and verifiable through third-party means. And for Google-trusted third party means.

Jeff: So, for a lot of big brands and celebrities and things like that, that’s going to include Wikipedia and IMDB and follower counts and things like that. For us normal people, it’s going to be a little bit more difficult, but the more we’re out there and posting, and the more we’re getting noticed and our content is being interacted with, the better we’re going to do as far as being a trusted resource.

Jeff: And HARO, Help a Reporter Out, is a good way to get started with that. And Marie Haynes mentions this a lot. And HARO is basically just reporters looking for sources on different articles. And so I’ve been a member of HARO for a while now. And I’ve contributed to quite a few articles. Now that I’ve looking to make an author page for myself, I have to hunt all those down, which is going to be a little bit of an issue, but it’ll be fun all the same.

Jeff: Another topic from MozCon that came up is that Google My Business, which we always refer to as GMB, and in this interview, we’ll refer to it as GMB as well. If you reach out to your customers and ask them how happy they are with your product, if they say yes they’re happy, and you send them to write a Google review, and if they’re not happy you send them somewhere else where they can rant but not publicly or not on a third-party forum, this is a violation of the GMB guidelines, and you could get penalized for that.

Jeff: So this was interesting because we have an episode. I forgot which episode it is, but I’ll put it in the show notes because I’m mentioning it now. But, this was a tactic that one of our interviewees had performed in the past. And that is previously, you wouldn’t think about it. It was common sense that you’d ask your customers if they’re happy, and if you are, you ask them for a review.

Jeff: But now, since it’s against the rules, it is somewhat weighing your reviews towards what you want as the result, you’re influencing it a little bit by filtering them out like that. But for the most part, I still think that in Google My Business or any review site in general, the only way that people are really going to be fired up to write a review is if they’re not happy.

Jeff: So, having good service and a good product, of course, you’re going to have the nefarious one-star trying to bring your rating down. But, for the most part, I think that as long as you’re paying attention to your customers, responding to customer service requests, making sure that people are unhappy are heard and addressed and somehow try and make them happy, that’s always the best policy. More of a business policy than anything else. If you want a good review, a good rating, that’s how you get them is to be a good company and be a good person in general or a good citizen.

Jeff: All right so another controversial few tweets that I addressed, and I talk about this in the interview. So I don’t want to ruin it all. But, one of the tweets that were being sent out during Mozcon was that there are no longer any national SERPs, which is a search engine result page.

Jeff: And so, what that means is I had to do a lot of clarifying, and I was tweeting back and forth with Lily Ray and a few others. And what that basically means is Google’s search engine results pages are no longer … cannot be isolated from geographic influence.

Jeff: So, if you are going to search for anything, anywhere, anytime, your geolocation will have something to do with how that page is displayed. So, we already know that if you’re searching for a local business or a service around you, service near me, something like that, absolutely that’s a given that you’re going to be served a map. The map is going to know your location, and you’re going to see results based on ratings and reviews and things like that.

Jeff: So, it was an interesting discussion, and Kevin and I get into that more in the episode. But it was nice to clarify that. So for a software company that serves everybody, the fact that their GMB listing is based in Minnesota is that going to affect the rankings. And I’m currently running a test on that, and I will publish my results and make sure that everybody who’s involved in the conversation is copied on that.

Jeff: Moz now is promoting their new, local analytics tool. And since local is now a staple of every search results page, it makes sense that analytics will follow suit. So, it’s definitely an interesting tool I want to check out. I stopped using Moz a long time ago because I was getting better data. No tool is perfect. And you can use five different tools and get different numbers on each tool depending on what access they have, what frequency they’re crawling, things like that.

Jeff: So, right now Ahrefs and SEMrush seem to be my go-to for analytics research and reporting. But obviously, analytics, Google Analytics, and Webmaster tools are on the list as well. So Moz I will probably give another chance because of this new inside local analytics tool.

Jeff: And then algorithm updates were happening during MozCon, which was kind of funny. So Marie Haynes was chomping at the bit to get home and do a new version of her podcast and newsletter talking about all the changes that have been happening, all the volatility in surfs for the month of July. And as soon as she gets back home, she gets sick. And finally, she did this week she posted talking about all the volatility.

Jeff: And I think this is the new world we’re living in is that Google is going to be constantly working on their algorithm and making changes that seem major but now it’s almost completely up to the AI and running real-time searches really fast. So I think this is going to be the norm until. I don’t see it normalizing for a while. And I think that Google is also going to build into their algorithm that they like to switch up the results, change things up a little bit.

Jeff: Those are my thoughts on MozCon. We’re going to get into GMB short names and things like that later. But for now, I want to bring in our guest, Kevin Indig.

Jeff: All right today we’re talking to Kevin Indig. Kevin Indig is the VP of SEO and content at G2.com. He’s a mentor for German Accelerator and is the creator of the Tech Bound newsletter. Hey, Kevin, how are you?

Kevin: Good morning. I’m doing well. How are you?

Jeff: Doing well. Thank you. So, what spawned us to have you on the show again was when I saw you were giving a talk in Minnesota about microsites. And this is a topic that I’m very interested in.

Kevin: Right yeah.

Jeff: So my typical approach. I’m dealing with SMBs, so my typical approach to these content strategies, SEO strategies for them is landing pages for their high-value keywords that are relevant, contextual and serve the user. And now microsites is basically that on steroids. How did this idea come to fruition?

Kevin: So, it basically started at Atlassian, where I was before G2. And we basically iterated on the format and finally got to it. We have to take a step back. There are many good reasons to have landing pages and blogs and all these other formats that are around. But what if you merge the two? What if you were to combine them and target top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, and bottom of the funnel keywords all in one experience? That’s kind of the question and the point of view that we started at Atlassian. And we created a couple of really successful microsites that turned out to be our cash cow in terms of getting traffic. Some topics like [inaudible 00:15:58], ITSM, DevOps. And these are all really important topics for Atlassian and for Atlassian’s products.

Kevin: So again, we asked ourselves why are these experiences fragmented across a website? If you think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you think of it further, blogs are a format that’s 30 years old. But the web has evolved ever since. So, you want to provide an experience that catches people at the very beginning of the problem and them leads them all the way down to convert.

Jeff: Yeah. And inside the same experience, all the relevant content is in one bucket basically for them to cross-pollinate.

Kevin: It is. And even further, this concept of a microsite that I introduced, I have to explain that this is not the classic microsite that a lot of people have in mind, which lives on a sub-domain and is a one-off for campaigns.

Kevin: The concept that I introduced is much more a maintained, living content hop if you will that lives on the root domain, off in the sub-directory. But has its own experience. This is something that I think is really important and that the brands were successful with this have embraced. To provide customer experiences for different topics that all live on the root domain and are connected to the brand. But they’re almost a bit isolated in themselves.

Jeff: Yeah and so that’s the other part that the word microsite became basically even sometimes on its own domain, something for specific to campaigns. But this is a separate experience within an existing domain within an existing website.

Jeff: So, how would you start this process? Would you create all the funnel keywords and then create an experience from there, or do you try and predict user use cases first?

Kevin: That is a really good question because it plays into something bigger, which is CUIC research and how we create content nowadays. I personally think that we’re a bit [inaudible 00:18:22] keyword research. It doesn’t really fit into how SEO works nowadays.

Kevin: It’s a concept that worked really well when pages were up to four single keywords, but nowadays, pages allude much more to topics and user intent and therefore CUIC research in the classic sense probably isn’t the most helpful anymore.

Kevin: So, the way that I start this is I usually start with the big problem that the product tries to solve. Every product solves at least one big problem. A car solves a problem of mobility for example. You could think that a computer solves the problem off productivity. These are all important topics, right? So to make it a bit more tangible and concrete, at Atlassian, one of the biggest cash cows was Jira, and Jira is a tool to solve project management. So project management would be a topic that I’d start with.

Kevin: Number one is to identify the big problem or one of the big problem that your product solves and start from there. Once you have the problem, you start to think of all the use cases that this problem occurs in, right? And then you go from there.

Kevin: So it is a problem-driven approach to content creation and CUIC research. And of course along the way, you would figure out stuff like search volume and maybe keyword difficulty, and you look at user intent. But it’s not the first thing you start with. And this message is really important for me to bring across, right? A lot of people still go out. They have an idea of what their main keyword is. They throw it into a tool like Ubersuggest, they look at all the variations, they sort out the search volume, and then they go to create content.

Kevin: I don’t think that’s really the best approach anymore.

Jeff: Okay. So starting with the problem that you’re solving and getting into the mind of the user and creating content there. So, from what you’re saying, you could actually do pretty well with an experience without doing any keyword research at all.

Kevin: Pretty much yes. Again, the reality is I still check search volume from stuff. I still look into recommendations from tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush. I don’t disregard that. But, I’m not driven by that either, right? I try to have an empathetic approach to users and really create content for their problems. And that worked really well at Atlassian.

Kevin: Now again, of course, we check, we did some sort of CUIC research at Atlassian. But it’s not how we started. We started with a user approach first. And I thought about what is the problem that we’re trying to solve. What are all the questions that people have? And where do they get stuck? What are the big pain points? We talk to customers and users. We looked at forums like Reddit and Quora. We’re looking at what people are searching for. Hacker news. Of course, depends on your topic a little bit, right?

Kevin: Social media and social networks. So basically looked at platforms that people use to exchange questions and answers and looked at what are the big questions that they’re dealing with and not what keyword has the highest search volume. That’s what I’m really trying to say here in essence. And we even talk to some of our customers, interviewed them. We talked to thought leaders in the space.

Kevin: We did a lot of classic surveys and market research and then created content based on that. And then, somewhere towards the end, we checked the recommendations from tools and search volume.

Jeff: So, more customer and content research first. And the keywords followed after that.

Kevin: Yes sir.

Jeff: Okay. So that would be a great point for anybody, even when you’re first starting your business, you’re going to have a lot of this stuff already nailed out. So you wouldn’t need to bring in SEO research, anything like that until all that is already established.

Kevin: Yeah 100%. And then you take all of that, and then you map a journey. You map a user journey, right? You can be super old-school, you can write it down on post-its and put it on the wall. Or you could find some other method, right? There are mind mapping tools. There are all sorts of ways that you can get to the goal.

Kevin: But the tool doesn’t matter as much as thinking about what is the journey that people go through when they have that problem, right? Some of these journeys are three steps long. And others are 30 steps long. It depends on your product and your target market, your audience.

Kevin: But really think about the journey. Try to be empathetic and then create your content along that journey. I think that is what makes people really successful in brands.

Kevin: One example that I recently saw that I was really impressed by is a site called Policy Genius. I think they’re on policygenius.com. And they do that really well. And then I recently read an interview with one of their chief editors I think it was who explained how they took that approach. And I’m happy to send over the link so you can enter the show notes.

Kevin: But they did a really good job in helping people with different use cases. I’m sure there are a couple other sites out there that do this as well.

Jeff: Yeah. They do a very good job in marketing. They do approach it in the right way. This is a great topic for anybody starting out in SEOs that it’s no longer going to be go dominate a keyword because that’s not going to do much if you actually have a business.

Jeff: Because a lot of content marketers are teaching that method, which now doesn’t seem like it’s valid.

Kevin: Yeah. I think we have to detach ourselves from the idea that every page should be optimized for a keyword. I’m saying detached and not throw it in the trash right? I think there are still … it helps you conceptually to think about how to optimize a page. But it doesn’t help you strategically.

Kevin: So strategically, you also see that with Google. They kind of changed and announced last year that they’re going to change their knowledge graph toward embracing these user journeys and anticipating questions that users have. And I think that’s a great example. It’s much more about use cases. It’s less about keywords.

Kevin: And users have evolved. They evolved away from just typing in abstract keywords towards asking Google questions and having real user journeys and experiences with Google. And I think us as SEO and content marketers, we have to embrace that. We have to be a bit more creative because that’s another side problem of this main problem is we’re all trying to create content for the same keywords, and it makes sense to a degree. But how do you differentiate? How do you become creative in your content strategy?

Jeff: Yeah. And following the journey and the content strategy and not going after keywords. Not ignoring keywords but not making them the primary focus like they were two years ago.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jeff: All right. So another post that I saw on Twitter. You refreshed your post about XML sitemaps, which I really enjoy. I always use XML-sitemaps.com. I think they do a great job, especially their free version does pretty much most of what you wanted to do. What was the reason in updating that post?

Kevin: So SEMrush asked me if I could refresh their post, which is previously written I think by another person. But I think it was a bit older and needed an update. I recall a very spicy situation back at Atlassian when I just started. I wanted to get a quick win on the map. And so I realized Atlassian didn’t have an XML sitemap, which in itself is pretty fascinating.

Kevin: But, then I thought hey this is awesome. Quick win. Ran over to the devs. Asked them to turn this on, and I see a mess. And they told me that it’s not possible. And I was pretty stumped by that. Long story short, I eventually crawled the site with a screaming frog and created an XML sitemap from that functionality and uploaded it. And we saw a significant increase in traffic. Now it’s not 2x or 10%. But, I remember seeing a visible spike. I think it’s no surprise that XML sitemaps are important, but that reminded me of these simple things that you tend to forget that have a big impact.

Jeff: Yeah. And John Wheeler just said it’s not a ranking factor. It’s a directory factor. It’s a way to find your stuff.

Kevin: Yeah absolutely.

Jeff: So I think a lot of people took that wrong. But yeah it’s not going to get you to rank better. It’s going to get Google to find your content easier, which is a lot of what structured data is all about, too. It’s like what are you talking about and put it in context and give it a structure.

Kevin: Yeah for sure. People often think that everything is a ranking factor in SEO and no. There are actually three different steps: crawl, render and rank. And XML sitemaps clearly help with the crawl factor. They even help Google find orphan pages.

Kevin: And I remember, I think it was, now I’m butchering the source. But someone from Google mentioned that actually XML sitemaps are the second-most important method to find and crawl URLs. It doesn’t matter how large your site is, you should always have XML sitemaps. You should use the full extent of what they offer.

Kevin: In this post that I wrote, I outlined a couple of advanced tips, not that advanced, but something that is not obvious or that Google doesn’t tell you right away, like structuring your XML sitemaps after subdirectories or after page [inaudible 00:28:41] to get extra visibility.

Kevin: But, it’s the simple thing that scales, especially for a larger size, especially news publishers, big e-commerce stores. They have an extra benefit of that simply because there is so much more for Google to discover and crawl.

Jeff: Yeah and so I read an article, I started running an experiment I put my images into a separate image sitemap. What are the advantages of that?

Kevin: Yeah so for Google it’s just a better or an easier way to find all of the different images. And also crawl images, when they’re being updated or when they’re being changed, which also happens to a fair degree. So you can either, with most of these formats like images or videos, you can either add an extra, separate sitemap. Or you can add extensions to your current sitemap.

Kevin: And you can add more information to help Google understand what the picture and the video is about. So, Google is not yet, probably soon, but not yet in a place where they can actually see what’s in the image. So they rely on factors like the all-text and sometimes links or surrounding text of the image.

Kevin: And XML sitemaps are just another way for Google to understand the context and content of that image. So, all of your rich media, especially when you’re a site like Pinterest or a video platform, you should definitely think about adding those kinds of rich formats to your XML sitemaps.

Jeff: So would you create a separate sitemap for a microsite?

Kevin: That is a good question, and the answer is probably yes. I think it depends on the beta on the size of that microsite. But I often create specific XML sitemaps for subdirectories. Just simply to be able to see if there are any problems with indexing or if there’s anything else weird going on.

Kevin: Any type of content format on a site, whether it’s a blog or a microsite or something else, would be worth to have a separate XML sitemap for it.

Jeff: Okay. And the separate file doesn’t matter as long as you’re clear with telling Google where your content is and what it is.

Kevin: Yeah you can get crazy with XML sitemaps. I think there’s a size limit of 50 megabytes if I recall correctly. But otherwise, other than that, it doesn’t matter much if you have some overlap in between different XML sitemaps. It’s the same kind of logic as with Google search console accounts. You can create console accounts for different subdirectories or subdomains or whatever you want. And that shouldn’t have a detriment as long as all of the URLs return a status quo to a 100. You wouldn’t want to have any redirects or 404 pages in your XML sitemaps. But as long as you keep that standard you can become really creative.

Jeff: Yeah. That’s great. And sitemaps are often overlooked tool that is not ranking, but it is discovery. And it’s the key to discovery I think. It’s one of the first things I do when a site goes live is make sure that the sitemap is submitted to search console and discoverable, no errors and test with a bunch of different tools to-

Kevin: It’s one of the most basic things that are often overlooked. And so, [inaudible 00:32:19] the robots.txt, those two things are one of the first things that I check when a site reaches out to me and has problems or one of the sites that I’m working with has any problems, I always double-check what’s going on there. Also because these two files are analogous.

Kevin: So, that means robots.txt is often used to tell Google what not to crawl. XML sitemaps are used to Google what to crawl. So, if there’s any problem, check those two first and see if there’s a big issue there.

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. All right so I was scrolling through your Twitter feed, and you’ve said something very controversial that I have to bring up. You like the new Twitter, and you like Gutenburg. So, I don’t mind the new Twitter. I think it’s fine. A lot of people were in up arms about it I know. But Gutenburg?

Kevin: Sometimes I say these controversial things and stir the pot. People have strong reactions about that. I stand by my word. I like the new Twitter. I don’t love it. But I think it could have been worse. And, I also like the new Gutenburg. It’s a way to be a bit more creative with their content, especially in terms of layout and experience that is very easy for people to use.

Kevin: I just like you can install a couple of extra blog plug-ins, and you get some really cool functionality there where you can just helps your content stand out a bit more, right? I think a lot of the content looks the same, feels the same, and that kind of content experience can be a differentiator.

Jeff: Yeah. And so for me, from a UI standpoint, it looks like that you’re only allowed to work with one block at a time. But, if you paste in a huge document that you wrote in something else, it properly separates it out. So the UI tells one story, but the functionality is different. And that’s why I don’t like it so much is because there is a disconnect there. You expect it to act differently than it actually does.

Jeff: And that’s basically because we grew up with bad UI like Microsoft Word and Google Docs and stuff like that. So we expect things to be just a flat piece of paper. So it is a new way of thinking, and I understand that I probably need to evolve. But at first glance, taking a fresh blog post and writing it in blocks was a bit of a stretch in my brain to figure out how it would work.

Kevin: It is a transition for sure, absolutely fair point there. I think it’s interesting from a standpoint of … I think about the web evolves. And when you pay attention to Google, I often take the SEO lens of course, right? But when you look at Google, they kind of have a block thinking as well. And I know that they collaborate very closely with WordPress. That’s public knowledge.

Kevin: It’s interesting to see how Google takes little pieces of content and starts to enrich the search results pages more and more. Sidney Crum, who’s an expert on mobile entities calls this fraggles. And it’s basically … the gist of it is Google is just getting better at understanding content to a very deep level and is able to pull different fragments from different sites and combine into something new in the search results pages.

Kevin: And Gutenburg is interesting because you kind of start to adopt that block thinking, and you can create content better in certain blocks. One of the easiest or simplest representations of that are featured snippets, which are the little answer on top of the search results. You can create a custom or reusable block for that keeps an optim link that I think it’s between 60 and 70 words, has a little headline on top.

Kevin: You can just better at thinking in these formats that have an actual benefit when it comes to SEO and content.

Jeff: Yeah. And I was just listening to Izzy Smith. So Izzy Smith said that in the UK, they don’t have an issue of where the rich snippet text and the rich snippet image are from different locations, but we do.

Kevin: Oh yes we do.

Jeff: A lot of my rich snippet results that I get are we either have the image or have the text but not both. It is Google mashing up content, like you said, and making something new.

Jeff: Here’s something off-topic but wanted to bring it up anyway is how do you think, as digital marketers, we’re going to be impacted by Google adding so many features into the SERP to keep people from clicking through.

Kevin: Not good. I have a very clear standpoint on that. And if you follow me on Twitter, read my stuff, you’ll see that I’m more skeptic toward it. I’m not a prophet calling the death of SEO. But, I do see severe problems with how Google is transforming into an answer machine. And they publicly say that. It is not a secret. It’s not something we have to interpret. Google publicly said that they want to get better at giving users the answers right away.

Kevin: And I think the actions or the changes that we’ve seen in the last 1-2 years are very clearly showing that. So, I think it’s a problem. I have not read the transcript of the most recent earnings call that I think came out yesterday. But I saw a couple of tidbits on social, and I think organic traffic has dipped as in the traffic that people get from Google.

Kevin: At the same time, I think their ad revenue increased by 28%, though I might butcher that number slightly. But, I think that is a very clear result of Google’s new mobile design and of how they give more answers in the search results, which allows them to show more ads, which at the same time is bad news for webmasters.

Jeff: Yeah. And Rand Fishkin has been very vocal about this. It seems like every talk that he’s given in the past year has been how click-throughs are going down and ad revenues for Google are going up.

Kevin: Rightfully so. And the drama of the story is that us as webmasters, SEOs and CART marketers, we have to feed the monster in our self-interest and against our self-interest. We’re basically slowly killing ourselves in that sense. And again, I’m exaggerating a little bit to make the point here.

Kevin: But, we’re in a conflict, and the best solution there is to up your game, invest more into content, keep people on your site, become more of a destination and diversify your traffic to not be too reliant on Google.

Jeff: And okay speaking on that point, is it time for another search player to come out and make search an open platform again?

Kevin: I think yes. I think the more Google becomes its own destination and less of a platform, the more they create and leave a vacuum that has always been filled since the beginning of the internet. But it will probably take a bit of time for a new player to step into that vacuum because first Google has to transition more into a destination and answer engine. They’re in the transition process, but it’s not completed yet.

Kevin: And then there needs to be some sort of a courageous player or founder or whoever to tackle that. Now I know we have DuckDuckGo out there. They recently got way more attention, and I also recall seeing statistics that they send more organic traffic over to sites. And I think they have a very interesting format, right? There’s a lot of stuff to be liked about DuckDuckGo.

Kevin: However, the big problem is I still, and everybody else, still uses Google, and the results are still really, really good, right? The thing is that users, and including myself here, don’t hate Google. The product is not bad. It is fantastic. So the pool of incentives for users to use DuckDuckGo is still a relatively small, whereas webmasters would wish that they had more traffic from DuckDuckGo would come.

Jeff: Right. And so, on the DuckDuckGo conversation, how concerned are you about your online privacy?

Kevin: To be honest, I’m not too concerned. See, I’m from Germany, Jeff, and Germans, Europeans are a bit more sensitive to the whole privacy deal. I do think from a monopoly standpoint point of view, we do have a problem for sure with the big tech companies, but that’s another different conversation.

Kevin: So, for me the primary incentive to use DuckDuckGo is less the privacy concern and much more the concern of a company becoming a monopoly and basically cutting off the content providers from traffic.

Jeff: Yeah. And I want to be out there. I put myself out there. I advertise myself to be out there, so I basically volunteer my information. So, privacy is obviously not a concern for me. It is for some of my customers that don’t even put a credit card online. And so, I understand the issue, and I want to be respectful of that issue. I’m actually kind of forward thinking as far as the privacy concern.

Jeff: And my site right now, I have a no-tracking policy already in place so that when the privacy laws come into effect, I am a good example of if you don’t want cookies or to be tracked at all, I’m giving you this option. And if you accept, then nothing trackable gets installed. The only thing that you’re going to get is a PHP session cookie, which is out of my control.

Kevin: Yeah for sure. We have to be respectful and mindful of people who don’t want to be tracked or who have a problem with this. It’s not enough to say I don’t have a problem with this, so nobody else should have this. There should be some sort of democracy in that sense.

Kevin: And there’s pros and cons to both, obviously. But I like the approach of DuckDuckGo of saying that contextual advertising is probably good enough. There is a lot of merit to that.

Kevin: And to add another interesting standpoint to that conversation, I recently read an article by a professor, whose name I don’t recall at the moment, but who has been doing a lot of research on Google and on search engines and who basically promotes the notion that Google should open up their index as an API and allow other search engines to come up. And I just thought that was a really interesting point.

Kevin: Even in the interest of Google, I think there’s great ways to diversify their business problem in that sense because they’re super reliant on ad revenue.

Kevin: But also because competition tends to make everything better. And so, I think it’s the same for privacy, right? If DuckDuckGo was a bit stronger and people had more choices to use platforms and search engines to respect privacy more, I think that would be a great addition to the web and keeping the web what it is today and not transforming it into something ugly.

Jeff: Yeah. And I don’t want to seem like privacy is a big issue, but I don’t want to seem hypocritical because I still use tracking data to inform decisions and content and interface. So, as digital marketers, we have to look at the data. But, Google’s already started blocking some of the data. Some of the search queries we’re not able to see because Google has deemed it some sort of privacy concern.

Kevin: Oh yes that played that really really smartly over time. They often use the benefit for the user as a gateway to make some pretty drastic changes. The same way with how they promote AMP, which is basically a commoditization of content that they control.

Kevin: Now I know that Google and the AMP organization are separate, and AMP is not owned by Google. But when you look at how they can make this the standard simply by giving more visibility in search and how it aligns with some of their interest, then it doesn’t matter if they’re the same company or not.

Kevin: So, anyway, long story short, I think we can have our cake and eat it, too. We can track users without violating their privacy and provide great experiences for them.

Jeff: Yeah. And, the question is always raised and never answered is that if Google is blocking that info from us, does Google use that info?

Kevin: Yes of course. No, until Congress forces Google to open it up or until they are being more transparent with it. But, it’s the same as how Chrome basically has integrated AdBlocker and how Google then decides what ads to block or what not.

Kevin: So, you just see these bigger shifts and lots of different areas where Google gets more control over the web and over the experience that users have. Users don’t complain because in most cases it makes sense for them. But it also means that Google just becomes more of a monopoly, and we as citizens of the web and as humans and as SEOs and content marketers, we have to join the conversation and figure out together how much of that we want versus how much of that we should not want.

Jeff: Yeah. And, if it’s making our lives easier, then it’ll be easier to forgive once it turns into getting bombarded with things we said into our smart [inaudible 00:47:27]. Then we’ve got an issue.

Jeff: One more thing I wanted to bring up, I know we’re running out time, but MozCon. A lot of people were tweeting about there are no more national SERP’s. So, it was tweeted out of context. So, I went on just to correct people and to say for most queries, not all queries, but for most queries, the national SERP doesn’t exist. That you have to take some of local in mind.

Jeff: How for a company like G2, and a company that is serving as a info-base, specifically for software, a software company, let’s say, an international software company. How would that affect them?

Kevin: Right. So I do agree when we talk about personalization or customization. We’re talking about local user intent. Now, meaning people googling for stuff like sushi near me or car shop, Google shows more local search results because Google deems it more important to show people local instead of something else.

Kevin: Now, I think the reason for people saying that there are no national SERP’s anymore is because the amount of these searches with a local intent are so big. So, there are so many of them.

Kevin: And so for companies like G2, it affects part of our business. It affects the part aside that lists local service providers. And in that sense, yes. We have to adapt the way that we monitor and track results for these specific pitch types.

Kevin: But the majority of our business is still software products that do not have a local user intent, right? But, I think 2019 is the year where everybody should have had local on their radar for 5 or 10 years already. It’s not something new in that sense. But what is new and what I do observe myself as well is that Google deems that more searches have a local intent and shows more local packs in the search results. And I think that’s where a lot of people feel that local is growing. To my opinion, it is just Google shifting more search intent for specific searches to local.

Jeff: Yeah, and so I’ve tweeted out to Lily Ray about this and said that a software company that has a GMB page for their headquarters in Minnesota, and they’re selling software everywhere, because it’s online cloud-based software, are they going to automatically get associated with the center of the country because their headquarters is there?

Kevin: What did she say?

Jeff: She said it’s likely and that it does come into play and because this is along the lines of a national SERP, and I said how could this SERP not be national because it doesn’t matter where it is. For a software company, it doesn’t matter where you are. And she said well if it doesn’t influence the results, it’s going to influence the SERP because local items are going to be thrown in. So it does change the SERP.

Jeff: But how you market to it, how a digital marketer overcomes that, I have no idea. It’s like do you not have a GMB page for a software company?

Kevin: Right. Yeah. It’s definitely something that we need to tackle. It’s also something that provides a bit more opportunity. The local bags have their own … it’s not that they work differently completely from organic search, but they follow a different logic. They’re much more review-driven and driven by the validity of their address and those kind of things.

Kevin: And I know because my mother and my brother both have local businesses themselves, and so we did a bit of work there to “optimize.” And that its own kind of ranking.

Kevin: When you think of search, apart from classic organic search but also in the realms of something like images, videos or maps, people search maps as well and that functionality’s increasing. You can now throw a generic keywords into Google Maps, and that … it’s a lot of search volume going through Google Maps. So you want to be present for that as well.

Kevin: However, it’s a different way to optimize for a search engine because it’s basically a local or geolocation-driven search engine. So, it’s just something that I think provides a lot of opportunity that us as SEOs have to wrap our heads around a little bit and embrace a different way of search.

Jeff: Yeah. And so, I’m following this closely because for the SaaS company that I was telling you about on the last episode, they’re starting to get some attention. They have GMB page for their headquarters in Minnesota. I overcame their problems of one of the employees closing a GMB page for their LA office. So, whenever anybody on this side of the country searched their company, it said permanently closed. So I finally got that figured out, so the only GMB page for them now is their headquarters.

Jeff: But I’m looking at where their users are coming from and trying to gauge whether this is making a difference or not. So, I’ll probably write a report on that once I have enough data to have an opinion one way or the other. Right now, it doesn’t seem like there is.

Kevin: Great, no but good job on helping them out with that. I think it’s super important. Also because I’ve seen anecdotally that Google uses some of the information of the GMB account in organic search. So, especially when it comes to something like brands factors. There seems to be an impact.

Kevin: And one other example is that I see it mostly with is when you have a domain migration or a URL migration, you change your domain or URL, Google sometimes will rewrite your titles for you if you want to or not, and they often use information from the brand that you edit in your GMB account. So, I think there’s another connection there.

Jeff: Yeah. So, GMB, for one of my accounts, they’re using the GMB listing as the verification system for their ads account. And they’ve moved, and that was a huge issue for their ads account.

Kevin: It’s major.

Jeff: Yeah so. All right, so where do you want to send people? What do you have to promote?

Kevin: What I have to promote? Nothing paid because I have a job. That’s a plus for me. But, if I were allowed to send people somewhere, it’s probably going to be my weekly email called Tech Bound. It’s an email where I write a weekly short block article about all things digital marketing with a focus on content marketing and SEO of course. I invite guests for exclusive interviews, and I curate some of the best content that I found that week on the web. It’s a free weekly email, and it’s all-exclusive stuff, so you wouldn’t find it anywhere else. It’s not block articles that I wrote on my site and then copied to the newsletter. It’s all-exclusive stuff that you’ll only find there. So, feel free to check it out. It’s called Tech Bound.

Jeff: Yeah. And the last one was great with the interview from Otho about the backlink story. Yeah, we could do a whole nother episode on backlinks.

Kevin: Thank you.

Jeff: But yeah I loved it, and I loved the five pieces of the week at the bottom. Those were all really great content that I had missed throughout the week. So it’s fun to have you put those together and collect all those pieces and news.

Jeff: So, where you want people to follow you?

Kevin: You can follow me on Twitter. Name is @Kevin_Indig. So you just google my real name, and you’ll find me. Or my site, which is Kevin-indig.com

Jeff: All right. Perfect. Thank you very much, Kevin. Again, this is a great episode and look forward to having you back.

Kevin: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure [inaudible 00:56:05] with you.

Jeff: For show notes and information, go to digitalrage.fm. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @digitalragefm and please give us a rate and review. We sincerely appreciate it.

Kevin Indig’s Links:

Kevin Indig https://www.kevin-indig.com/
Twitter @Kevin_Indig
Subscribe to Tech Bound: https://www.kevin-indig.com/tech-bound/

Other Links:

Cindy Krum @Suzzicks #fraggles
Lily Ray @lilyraynyc
Rand Fishkin @randfish
Izzi Smith @izzionfire
Policy Genius: Refreshing advice: how Policygenius used organic search to boost on-site recirculation by 300%

Host, Web Designer, SEO
About the Author
Jeff Byer has been designing identities and building websites since 1995. He is the CEO and co-founder of Print Fellas LLC, and the President at Byer Company, a division of Jeff Byer Inc, a web design company in Los Angeles. Jeff has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. He is a certified Project Manager by Franklin-Covey and has qualifications in Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML, PHP, JavaScript, MySQL, SEO, Bing Ads, and Google Ads. Jeff Byer is a co-author on 5 US Patents related to content management systems he has created on the internet.

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