In the first episode of O/SEO/O we cover the following questions:
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Hello everyone, welcome to Opinionated SEO OpinionsTM, I'm your moderator Begüm Kaya, and I'm here with your hosts Tory Gray and Sam Torres. Since it's our first episode, we would like to go on with a little introduction of ourselves. Tory, would you like to go first?
I'm Tory Gray, I run the Gray Dot Company. I've been doing SEO and digital marketing for over 14 years at this point. I've been in internal roles and startups and I've been in the agency side, and I've been in both marketing and product roles. So I like to say that I see things SEO-wise from lots of different sides or different fences, gives me a unique perspective on the world.
Awesome. I'm Sam Torres. I'm the managing partner for The Gray Dot company. I've been in SEO for about 12 years and I come at it from a very code heavy perspective being a former front end engineer. So I'm really gonna be talking about all things code related, emerging technologies and what I like to call “yummy data”.
Exciting! And I am part SEO and part entrepreneur and I would like to say because I started my career, very recently actually in SEO and after my first year at the agency. I decided that I would work for myself, then my paths crossed with these lovely ladies. So I've been spending most of my time with them now and learning lots from them, and Opinionated SEO Opinions is a wonderful opportunity for everyone in the SEO industry to be able to get a second opinion in their questions and daily issues that they come across in SEO.
Answering questions that we are doing that, but we're also giving opinions, and that's specifically why we call it this because a lot of these people submitting questions are brilliant people who have their own perspectives on the world and they're asking what we think. A lot of SEO is an art and not a science and there's not always one specific solution, especially for an individual business, so we want to talk through the intricacies of those answers and how we approach and frame these problems.
We're gonna dig into the "it depends".
Our first question comes from Juliana Turnbull, aka Jo Blogs. Her question is, "How common is index bloat, and why, what is the best, easiest and quickest way to reduce this."
Thanks Begüm. And thanks Juliana - it’s a fabulous question. I would like to broaden the question a little bit to be about both index bloat so I'll reference that specifically and then overall talk about indexation issues because the other common indexation issue is you're not getting enough pages indexed, and it's sort of the same game plan, or approach, regardless of which side of that you land on.
I did a little digging and only put together a depth of research about larger organizations and their websites and found that 16% of valuable pages aren't indexed (https://www.onely.com/blog/ultimate-guide-to-indexing-seo/.) So the opposite problem is relatively common. I wasn't able to find any specific numbers in terms of the index bloat, unfortunately, so I can't answer that specifically, but I can say it is something I come across fairly frequently when I do SEO audits, I'd say a good fourth to a third of the time, I see indexation issues or indexation bloat. So the difference there is that indexation bloat means you have more pages indexed than you have actually good and valuable pages. If you don't have pages indexed, that is a business problem, if those pages are good and valuable for your business and you want them indexed so you can derive business value from them. So in terms of problems around both indexation bloat, and lack of indexation, I see both pretty commonly. I would caveat that by saying, we often see sites that have issues or opportunities, so we might be seeing an outsized proportion of that so that estimate of a third to a fourth might be a little skewed, highly.
So most of what you do and how you want to approach this is understanding how many pages do you have indexed as a whole and are they the right ones. So, the step one to investigating the issue is to see how many pages you literally have indexed, you can use the site protocol search to look in Google, that'll give you an estimate. I prefer to go to Google Search Console and get an actual count from inside your properties account. So you can pretty easily navigate to it and I'm sure we can put up a little card about how you find that, and then it will literally give you a count, then you want to compare that to how many pages do you want to be indexed and how you come up with that number is manually evaluating your site, you could do a site crawl. You could look at your sitemap xml file, which probably has the pages you want indexed most included, and then you're really comparing the delta of those two numbers.
If you're talking, two to three pages difference 10 pages, 90 pages, it might not be that big of a deal. It's generally a bigger deal to be not indexed to the pages that you want to be, because that means, those might be valuable pages that aren't out there in the world, right, but if you have 90 pages over, they are more than you have, it's probably not a huge deal, indexation bloat in my head really starts when you're talking hundreds or 1000s or 10s of 1000s of pages that are indexed, but aren't actually real valid variations and that is what indexation bloat is, and again it is something that I see pretty frequently.
The tools to resolve the indexation bloat, are really around, utilizing your robots txt file, your meta robots file in your canonical file to identify what are the patterns of what are the incorrect URLs that are indexed but should not be find those patterns, and then work to use your tool set to get them de-indexed over time, and monitor that until they're in line with the goal of again having that number about, even by an order of magnitude, so that Google isn't wasting time crawling and indexing pages that aren't valuable to your business, thereby making your site as a whole look thinner and lower quality. Does that make sense? Any other questions for you guys or things I could clarify there?
That's a wonderful answer Tory Thank you. I wonder if you use log files to analyze further.
Sometimes if you need it. So depending on your engineering team and if you have access to log files which is always lovely, sometimes engineers really want to understand why the indexation bloat issue happened in the first place, how did Google find these URLs and why would they be indexed over your primary versions. Log files can be useful in that analysis to understand exactly what URL variations that Google is crawling, at which frequency, relative to the correct variations and you'll often see patterns there that say Google is now, today, crawling these new variations that are incorrect. Or perhaps it's just historical which is another thing that I see a lot, so it might not be actively crawled today, but maybe two years ago, you introduced an accidental bug on your website and that's what created this issue and even though you've resolved that issue, those URL variations are just out there, and Google hasn't done anything with them.
Sounds familiar. Are we ready to go onto our second question?
It comes from Roxana Stingu and she's asking, "We have all been going crazy about schema in the past few years, but besides schema that produces Rich Snippets, how can we get any evidence of all other schema actually being used in search."
That's a good question. And while I do have an opinion, there's definitely no hard evidence or data that we can point to. But I will say for schema and now there are also tons of types within schema.org that aren't actually officially recognized within the Google webmaster guidelines regarding structured data, and we still implement them and a lot of that comes to information that then ends up in the Knowledge Graph. So that's really helpful for making sure that that information or that data is always clean, it's the same. But I've also seen use cases where, once we implemented a specific type, really just all of the crawling our crawl budget all of that seems to be a bit more effective and efficient. And I think a lot of that comes from the fact that schema - There's a lot of options to it but it is a closed language, it is a subset, it is very clearly defined.
So, search engines are able to better understand what you're talking about. So just for an example for local businesses there is a schema type an entity type of like a house painter. So the fact that you're able to declare that this is a house painter, Google now really understands what you're saying because it's in such a finite language set that it's really clear what the meaning is, and so we're even seeing other use cases. A lot of the structured data that came out around the time of a pandemic, a lot of that was used by Google in order to educate users and basically inform on whether people are open, what are their practices. So we definitely see this data used to populate knowledge graphs, and some of the other features that Google powers that maybe don't directly relate to our websites but they're still pulling our information from it. I also love schema, so I'm always gonna say add all the schema. So schema crazy definitely describes me. But I would say those are really the cases where I'm seeing them impact something outside of just features within the SERP.
And we also know that Google can make general use of schema.org structured data to enable Featured Snippets if they are deemed useful in the future. I highly recommend a look at the Viper PDF paper that Google published around 2014 and 15 (https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.com/en//pubs/archive/41894.pdf.) Sometimes we catch the tests being performed by Google to enable a few futures and etc. These kinds of things kind of leave an open door for us to interpret future use of schema, and also as a schema lover, I intend to keep this signals to have some hope about the future and what's yet to come.
And I think schema also just does such a great job of connecting the different content and showing relationships. Begüm, what you actually taught me with the IDS like that was, it's really powerful to show those relationships and how things really marry. I think that's always going to help Google and other search engines better understand what it is we're trying to talk about and who it is that we're trying to answer questions.
Definitely, we're moving towards the entities and web semantics. So, what is there to have more effect than schema. Right. Okay.
Now our third question comes from Catherine Dyer of LendingTree.com, and she asked, "What strategy do you or would you implement to push your page higher up page one of Google."
I feel like this is the question we always get also. What a great question. I'm sure there's lots of conversation to have about this one.
Yeah, it's very much a classic. “It depends” answer, and it depends very specifically on your brand and your competition. So Sam, I'll let you answer your own approach but how I would do this is to do an in depth, competitive analysis and understand where are you relative to the other brands that are ranking for the terms that you want to be able to show up for how good of a job are you doing on core vitals, on E-A-T, on internal linking, on external linking, you know, take all your different typical buckets of SEO and do those audits and compare them side by side for where you are, versus your competitors. Anywhere they're doing something and you're doing kind of zero, I would put at least a minimal effort towards not being a zero on that scale, and then I would really try and focus on anything else where you can look at the internal market makeup of your team and what are you good at, what is your brand good at, what are your unique value propositions. So are there things that you can do that help you stand out, that are brand aligned, that mean you are willing to go the extra mile on item XYZ and do way better than everybody else, that those two things will make sure overall that the equation for SEO, whereas a times b times c times d equals your ranking, you know, relative to everybody else that'll help you make sure nothing's a zero, because everything in that equation would then be terrible. Zero times anything is still zero, but then making sure again that you have something that you're really, really excellent at, and then keep tweaking that and keep monitoring until things improve.
I would say it's exactly that, it's doing all your regular kinds of audits that you would do with any kind of discovery, you're just super focused on maybe that one topic or one concept. And I would also take a look at, you know, really looking at your own website, what are the signals that you're presenting as far as how important or how, what's the priority related to that topic. Especially with eCommerce, we find that a lot of clients, a product that they want to rank number one for the generic term, it's like five levels deep and there's not many internal links to it so really at that point, What are the signals that you're sending to Google. Well those signals are saying that this page isn't very important to you. So really just looking at, you know, how are you presenting it as a priority and like Tory said, it's all relative to the rest of the landscape for you. And then I will always say trying to find those opportunities where maybe you can capitalize on SERP features just because then you take up more real estate, which of course taking up more of the SERP is always, always a game changer.
I would also look to clarify my own answer to say that the competitive view is not so you can keep up with the competition and do everything that they're doing. It's really so that you can understand what the landscape is and also understand what they're not doing well, and identify opportunities where you can be different. So the purpose of the competitive analysis is not just to copy Tom, Dick and Harry, it's to understand how you can be substantially better, so always be approaching, what can you do from the lens of your brand and what you do well and how can you stand out and how do you have a unique point of view, or provide unique value to whatever it is that the user is seeking on this particular query.
Learn more about Agile SEO & creating roadmaps for ranking increases.
I'd like to have a tiny follow up question on that though. We were talking about lots of spheres and everything that competitors are doing. Do we have a secret formula that we can see which angle the competitor is getting that ranking with the most?
Not necessarily, I mean, we know where they're ranking today, which is to say, that's Google's best and most current data of what they believe to be true in terms of what they think people are looking for. But there's so many different factors and we don't know how big or small they are relative to the algorithm, and how they're implemented. There have been studies and certain things are certainly more important than others. So title tags count for more than meta descriptions because meta descriptions don't count.
Those sorts of obvious learnings, but there's not specifically a do X, and you will rank higher in search for different fields... so for example, if you are a competitor in a field where almost everyone has really slow site speed, that could be a differentiator for you to turn that around and have substantially faster so that'd be a way to set you apart from the pack. Conversely, if you are just doing a middling job on site speed, and everyone else is great, that means you're behind.
So you also kind of want to measure the delta between, where are you and where are they, and, again, looking at all the different metrics and I like to, you know, outline this in a spreadsheet and say how many links do they have compared to us, how quality are those links compared to us, what are their speed scores compared to us, and like where they're a magnitude of difference? And again align that with your brand. What are you great at as a brand, how do you make your users happy, and compare and see what can you do.
Another thing I'd actually clarify is, you want to understand kind of your place in the world. So we have a client in the E commerce space that wanted to know why they were pretty consistently in you know position three or four. And what they could potentially do to move higher. And one of the things that we found, you know we did link audits they're behind in terms of their competitors, there were some historical heavyweights they were competing against, but their price point was also substantially different relative to everyone else that was ranking. Everyone else had, you know, for this particular product, a tend to, maybe, $75 solution to this problem. They had a premium product that came in at $100 to $200 to $300. So if you think about the world and the budget of the world, it doesn't make sense, often for them to be in position one, because most people can't afford them. Their product is not for the masses. It's the perfect premium solution so it makes more sense for the world for them to be in position three or four versus position one. So, take the broader context of the way into consideration when you understand what's happening here and why and know that you might not move the needle much. No matter what you do in SEO, because that's what you offer.
I think you bring up such a great point of just having to be realistic. So there's a lot of times where these are conversations. Unfortunately we have to have the conversation where clients are like I should be number one, and it's like, well, actually, compared to the rest of the market your product does A B and C. So really just having that realistic conversation with yourself and setting those expectations really across the board that's not just for marketing - i that's really across the entire organization is really key to understanding what your potential is.
Yeah, and I mean you're, how much of that pie, the owner of the industry can do your market share analysis and try and align that to where do you have overlap. So, if you own market share and you're consistently in position for your only big SEO opportunity for you to turn that around. Conversely, if you're player three or four. And you only own 10% of your, your market in the business world, you know, maybe there's opportunity to move ahead and SEO because your competitors aren't doing much work, but if they are doing a lot of work, then it's going to be significantly harder for you to move the needle there. So, what is this building, also impacts SEO, SEO and search rankings should reflect the real world. In most cases.
That's why I believe SEO is not only a digital part of the sphere, it's also something like business development and everything and completely, completely aligned with your brand strategy. Thank you.
And our final fourth question is coming from Isaline Margot. She asks, "What are your recommendations for tackling complexity?"
I have thoughts on this Sam, do you want to kick off?
Like an elephant. One bite at a time. I'm just kidding.
Okay so from my perspective, there's mostly complexities to different stages and I tackled them in slightly different ways. There's complexity at the beginning of a project, when you're overwhelmed by all the many things to do, how to prioritize it per se or you frankly, there's just so many things going on. It can be overwhelming to understand what do you want to start with first. And really it's an issue of how do you frame the problem in the first place so there's a solution there.
And then the other situation is really: “Okay now I've done all the analysis, I've got a lot of things I know I want to do. So how do you prioritize amongst those many options. So for the first scenario, how I try and approach the big picture problem is to try and think of that problem as a math equation. In, think of your SAT tests where a times b divided by c plus a equals, you know, your solution. And if you can say what are all the different elements, then you can do your homework to go seek the answers to each of those elements and form your equation, and for me that helps me, approach it methodically and make sure I'm considering, because I've taken the time to consider what all the elements are and then once I put them all together, then I can see the bigger picture, and that helps me understand how to approach it.
And then the second version: when you just have a bunch of different work and you want to prioritize it I just take a very engineering process. Typical agile approach where in your understanding what's the size of the, what's the size of the opportunity, what's the size of the fixed what's the LOE, and how you know you can use t shirt sizing for some of those things she might need to get very specific in terms of what you think the return is on a particular change in SEO that can be a challenge, obviously, because sometimes it's a collective change and not a specific change that moves the needle. But, generally, that's how I like to approach it what's the level of effort versus what do we think is the high level of return on this thing, and try and balance those things out for quick wins, and making sure you're focusing on urgent and important.
It's also really useful to prove your point to other stakeholders and implement the necessary thing that comes in the list first.
And I think one thing about the equation, it always needs to be built in mind of like what, what is your ultimate goal. So what is the goal of your website, which of course I feel like that's a conversation we have all the time but it's really interesting. Once you're kind of getting in the weeds and you're seeing all these different things that you could fix. Sometimes you have to remind yourself of where is that Northstar, and what are you going after, and then really asking that question, you know, if something's going to take, you know, two hours versus 20 hours but the two hours isn't really going to help, but the 20 hours is for your overall goal, then at that point you have to almost buckle down and do the 20 hour work. So really just always keeping that Northstar compass of, what are you ultimately going after. And that, that will help a lot with really identifying your priorities.
Yeah, love that. And I would add an additional one which is when you're trying to evaluate you know feature a versus feature b. Instead of trying to frame it from like, what do we think is the return on this, one way to approach it is to give yourself a range of okay if I implemented this change, maybe we can expect a 3 to 5% change based on this, and then you spend your time doing math trying to figure out okay well given x many of people that lands on this page if I improve the click through rate for example by this three to 5% What's my return versus your other feature. So if you're focused less. If you're less focused on the, what will this SEO feature return and try and use just use general ranges and really focus on what problem in the customer funnel, am I solving, and does that ultimately get more people through the funnel that can help me approach, a better answer because sometimes opening up the top of the funnel, really means that there's more people in those steps. Could you have it what stages and where you want to tweak that lever will change from business to business, obviously, so that's often the math you want to do versus the trying to put a magical number on Will this change in 30% traffic and that means what for the business right because that is harder for SEO because one change on one site that moved 15% that move 75% on another on a website and zero on another. It's relative to your competitors.
Always. I guess that wraps up this episode.
This episode of Opinionated SEO Opinions. Hope everyone's enjoyed. I think we'll be doing more of these, I believe we will be tackling fun questions around subdomains next time.
And for those who submitted questions we could not fit all of them for this first episode so we definitely will be tackling them in later ones. Also if you still have questions, please do not hesitate to submit them. We definitely have opinions, and we want to share.
You can submit your questions if you have questions to thegray.company/ask-seo-questions and we'll make sure there's a link for you to find to be able to click on to submit those, so if you have additional opinions you want to share or questions or things you want perspective on please do reach out, we're very excited to hear from you.
Tune in next time people.