Is SEO really evil? A discussion with Andy Kinsey

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld show we talk with Andy Kinsey about the changing face of search engine optimisation.

Skip to the interview (18:36) or this week’s links.

The transcription for this week’s show has been kindly provided by the team at Mailchimp. Awwwards are responsible for Marcus’ joke, but despite that they really are very nice people. Support the show

Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com, the podcast for all those involved in designing and developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul and joining me as always by Marcus. Hello Marcus!

Marcus: Hello Paul, how are you?

Paul: I’m excited.

Marcus: Really?

Paul: Yes. I’ve got a erm…. I just live a crazy weird life. You know I’ve bought this new motorhome?

Marcus: A thing of beauty it is.

Paul: Indeed it is, and I can’t wait to get it and we want to kind of go away for ever and never come home. But that presents certain challenges in my new role, ok?

Marcus: You’ve bought a gadget haven’t you?

Paul: Well maybe, maybe. One of the challenges I have got is that I am doing a lot of video training material these days. Which is really fun, ‘cause I love teaching and enthusing and getting excited and that kind of thing. But my problem is, if you are doing a training video, how can you do that from a motorhome?

Marcus: That would be… I don’t know. My mind is spinning at the moment.

Paul: So I’ve just purchased myself a green screen.

Marcus: Ok.

Paul: You know.. a green screen. So in the back of the motorhome, there is this ‘L’ shape bit, and I am going to set up a—you know I can’t believe I am going to do this, I hope it bloody works—I am going to set up a camera in the hallway, pointing at the ‘L’ shape behind me and I am going to put a green screen behind me and record against that.

Marcus: Ok.

[Laughs]

Marcus: There’s not really an awful lot I can say to that.

Paul: No. I don’t know if it will work or not, but it wasn’t that expensive, the green screen. And I thought I’d give it a go, because that would be really funny if I could get that working. I just love the idea of green screen. It takes me back to my childhood when they first started doing all the kind of blue screen, as it was back then.

Marcus: Yes it was.

Paul: And like… ‘Wow, I’m in space man!’ and that kind of thing.

Marcus: We did blue screen in my pop video days.

Paul: Oh did you really?

Marcus: I can’t remember actually what we did, but I made loads of pop videos. You didn’t know that did you?

Paul: No, I didn’t. We’ve never really talked about that.

Marcus: It was probably about twelve we made in all.

Paul: Wow.

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: And you did some blue screen stuff.

Marcus: Yeah, definitely. One of them had loads of animation in it, and I can’t remember which song it was.

Paul: Right, how…

Marcus: It had cut outs basically. I think it was our very first single actually. That someone had like.. we did a load of kind of normal film stuff in the studio or warehouse or whatever it was. And then they took loads of photographs of us doing that and an animator cut all the photographs out into card and made an animation out of it. But I can’t remember why that would be related to blue screen, but anyway. Lots of kind of cool things like that. I wish I could remember, but I just remember doing blue screen stuff, but it was such a long time ago.

Paul: That is a very long time ago.

Marcus: At least thirty years ago, Paul.

Paul: I mean it’s so good, because I’ve been playing with final cut pro. Which is just a pleasure to use and I’ve been watching tutorials on the green screen and it just looks so good and so easy. So I’m going to give it a go, to see what happens. So I am very excited about that.

Marcus: I am very excited too, Paul.

Paul: Oh? What are you excited about?

Marcus: It’s Friday afternoon and it’s nearly time to stop. Well it won’t be because I have got something to do over the weekend, like I did last weekend, because I am doing two jobs at the moment.

Paul: Why, what? Oh ‘course, yes. Peter’s moved on to greater things. That means you are doing Project Management isn’t it?

Marcus: Yes not only me. Leigh is doing Project Management.

Paul: Oh no! I cannot imagine two worse people to be managing projects.

Marcus: He’s actually quite enjoying it, but that’s because he’s only got one. I’ve got seven.

Paul: You’ve got seven?

Marcus: Yeah. I mean only one big one, one that’s busy. But yeah, I have.

Paul: My word. I don’t know, I mean I tease you, but actually you are quite good at it. You just don’t enjoy it very much do you?

Marcus: Yeah, I just kind of want to swan around.

[Laughs]

Paul: Was it last week I was going on about I’m in shock I am actually having to work for a living?

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: I know. This is all very bad at the moment. Things have calmed down for me a bit now, I am back into the swanning around mode. Playing with green screen.

Marcus: Not for us, but that’s a good thing.

Paul: Yeah. You’ve got loads of stuff coming in?

Marcus: Yeah, well we’ve got loads of stuff we’re finishing and there’s a lot of things that are kicking off, so…. that’s good.

Paul: Good, good, good!

Marcus: It’s not good that we’ve lost somebody that we weren’t expecting to lose though.

Paul: No I know. That always sucks doesn’t it. So we’re never talking to Pete again?

Marcus: No, no. Obviously not. Added to the fact that he’s actually still an employee but he’s got two weeks in South Africa.

Paul: Bastard.

[Laughs]

Marcus: No. Bless him, he was brilliant.

Paul: He is awesome, yes.

Marcus: But we need somebody else. I probably should say that, shouldn’t I? Digital PMs?

Paul: Oh yeah – you trying to hire to replace?

Marcus: We will be, not just yet. But yes, we will be. Definitely.

Paul: So if the right candidate comes along?

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: I am sure we were going to have a conversation about that – you had something interesting to tell me, but it’s probably not a podcast discussion.

Marcus: I did, yes.

Paul: We mustn’t forget to discuss that off air. See this is really boring for people now.

Marcus: It is, yeah.

Paul: I think we probably ought to move on.

Marcus: Yes, what else is there to talk about Paul?

Paul: Sponsors!

Marcus: Oh right, yeah.

Paul: Gah, just try, Marcus? These people are very loving and wonderful.

Marcus: Yeah, ok.

Paul: Actually they’re now paying—our first sponsor which is Mailchimp who are paying for the transcription—are now actually paying my Sister-in-law, bizarrely. Nothing like a bit of nepotism. She’s now doing the transcription for our podcast, which is really cool actually. So ‘Hello Meg’!

Marcus: That’s me… ‘Hello Meg’

Paul: Yeah.

Marcus: There you go.

Paul: So yeah.

Marcus: Well she will actually hear me say that ‘cause she is doing the transcription. So ‘Hello Meg’. I mean it this time.

[Laughs]

Paul: So um, yes. So she’ll like Mailchimp ‘cause they are paying her wages which is good. So let’s talk about Mailchimp very briefly ‘cause as you know I am a huge Mailchimp fan. I’ve been using them for years. And the great thing is that they offer – you can have a mailing list of up to two thousand people which is a fairly good mailing list I think, for free.

Marcus: Yeah. For nothing at all. I was looking at their pricing when we were talking to Aarron Walter. That’s why. I was thinking, ‘Why was I looking at that?’ Yes, because we were talking to the guy who’s Head of UX or whatever he is there.

Paul: Yeah, that feels really – it’s kind of worked out quite badly really. Because we’ve got Aarron and Fabio both on the show. Both of which work for Mailchimp and Mailchimp are our sponsor. It looks a bit dubious, doesn’t it?

Marcus: Yeah, well I didn’t organise any of it so it doesn’t rub off on me.

Paul: No. But there was no planning, honestly. In fact we got the interviews first and then they offered to pay for the transcription later on. Which is very nice of them. But anyway…

So there is a couple of features that you might not know about Mailchimp that are worth mentioning. Well you won’t Marcus, but I’m talking about intelligent people, which is that they offer a really good work flow scenario. So say for example, Marcus, you wanted to do a course teaching people to play the guitar.

Marcus: Yes, ok, yes.

Paul: Alright?

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: And you decided you would do the course over email as you don’t understand this web thing as it’s a bit complicated for you. Alright?

Marcus: Ok.

Paul: But you wanted to kind of stagger it, so that they have like a lesson a week or whatever. Alright?

What you could do in Mailchimp is create the whole course and the schedule a workflow of these different courses to go out at different times over that period of time, so one every week from the point when somebody signs up.

So you could do all kinds of like automation-y things which is really useful if you want to have that. So for example, another thing you might want to do is send them an email a month after they initially signed up or if you collected their date of birth, you could send an email automatically on their birthday. All of that kind of stuff. Or so long after they last made a purchase, and so it goes on.

Marcus: That’s very useful.

Paul: It is very useful. The other thing that they do which is kind of related to that is also they will send out emails automatically based on a RSS feed. So I could send out an automatic email every time I update my blog for example, which again there is a lot of use cases where that is really useful so definitely worth checking that one out.

They also provide… it’s basically powered by witchcraft this next bit. Because that’s the only way I can possibly understand what they are able to do in terms of, they can provide really quite in-depth insights into the users. I guess by matching the data you gather with things like social network profiles and that kind of stuff and so you can find out which of your subscribers are the most valuable to you for whatever reason. And then you can shoot the rest!

[Laughs]

Marcus: I thought you said ‘malleable’. You said valuable?

Paul: Valuable, not malleable. Evil voice ‘Yes we understand how their minds work and we can twist them to our needs’.

Marcus: Yes, well… right yes. That’s essentially what you meant.

Paul: Well yes, quite possibly.

And they even give you like a little star rating so you can see—cause obviously they collect data about how often people open their emails and that kind of stuff— so you can see actually this person may look great, but they very rarely open an email and that kind of stuff. And they can even do like, weird matching things, so you can say ‘These group of people here, I want more like this group of people’. Right? And so it can find you similar subscribers that you’ve got to a certain group of people.

So it’s all very clever. To be honest I haven’t dug in to half of this stuff because I am a simple man with simple requirements. But I’ll tell you of one piece of functionality—the last thing I’m going to mention— one piece of functionality that they do have which I do make use of is they can work out automatically the best time to send out your emails. Based on time zones and all the other kind of stuff. They work it out for you and will send it at the optimal time which I think is great. So if you want to know more about Mailchimp then you can check them out at Boagworld.com/mailchimp. Please, please check them out. Even if you might not have an immediate need, because you never know what the future might hold and after all then they’re going to want to use us as a sponsor again because we are sending traffic their way and things like that. So. That is the sponsor.

Interview for today.

Marcus: Yeah. Who’s on today?

Paul: It’s my favourite subject in the world!

Marcus: I know who it is!

Paul: We’re talking about SEO!

Marcus: It’s Andy Kinsey.

Paul: Andy Kinsey, yes. So that’s going to be fun because I have a little bit of a reputation with SEO. I wrote an article (which we’ll put a link for in the show notes) on the Smashing magazine website about basically saying ‘Meh, SEO that’s rubbish’. I got into a little bit of trouble over that with the SEO community.

Marcus: Just a bit.

Paul: I then did a load of experiments based on the information that I received from the SEO community in an attempt to prove them wrong. And I did all kind of experiments on Boagworld. It turns out that they’re right.

[Laughs]

Which is embarrassing. And I’ll put a link in the show notes to my admission of guilt. And actually it is really turned me round about SEO and now I use it quite a lot. I use a tool at the moment called SEO ranking (we’ll put a link in the show notes for that as well)—I’m really going to regret all these links—that kind of helps me improve the SEO of my website. And one of my big hang ups with SEO wasn’t really… it was my perception of what SEO was rather than the reality of today. Which is very different to what it used to be in the past.

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: And that’s why I wanted to get Andy Kinsley on the show as I know a lot of people have got quite an out of date view of SEO as I did. And Andy’s going to shed some light on all of that and give us a sense of what SEO really is in today’s world. Because it’s not just about manipulating search engines. In fact it’s not about manipulating search engines, it’s much more about content and content delivery and that kind of thing. So, Andy is a great guy. We’ll put a link in the show notes to his personal blog which I think is seoandy.com?

Marcus: Yeah, I think so.

Paul: But let’s go into the interview now, so you can hear all the wisdom that he’s got to say on a subject where I am obviously very much lacking.

Interview with Andy Kinsey

Andy Kinsey

Andy was key in changing my attitudes towards the role of SEO.

Paul: Hi Andy, thank you for joining us. It’s really good to have you on the show. Hello.

Andy: Hello, how are you doing?

Paul: I mean, you’ve been on before haven’t you.

Andy: Yes we’ve certainly recorded before.

[Laughs]

Paul: Did it never make it to air? Oh no…

Marcus: How embarrassing is that Paul?

Paul: Well we did have that one series, didn’t we, where we said to people we couldn’t guarantee we could cover them all. And so you must have fallen between the gaps. That’s so sad.

Andy: It’s alright. I am sure I’ve made up for it in a number of blogs on your website.

Paul: Yeah and didn’t you contribute to the Christmas Special as well? No, you didn’t did you.

[Laughs]

Marcus: Stop now, Paul.

Paul: I’m just digging a hole.

Marcus: The only way we can kind of save it – obviously we apologise for you not being in the last series, but we are recording another interview with you now, so obviously it was a mistake on our behalf.

Andy: Don’t worry about it.

Paul: Andy is the… you’ve been listening and involved with Boagworld forever, haven’t you really? We’ve known each other, but we’ve never met?

Andy: Yes we have – at the Digital Project Managers thing a few years ago.

Paul: Yes but other than that we’ve never met. I remember meeting you, because you were so obnoxiously rude to me and I thought ‘I’ve never met this guy before. He’s obviously listened to the podcast because he’s learnt how to treat me.

[Laughs]

Andy: It got me the answers I wanted though.

Paul: So there we go. So we’ve got Andy on the show because Andy you’re a bit of a… you’re just so multitalented aren’t you? You’re a Labour Councillor now? Is that right?

Andy: Yes, that’s right.

Paul: So you’re not on the show to talk about that, we don’t care.

Andy: No, as soon as you start to talk about that near work, it starts to get a bit weird.

Paul: Yeah I bet. It’s like mixing two totally different worlds isn’t it?

Andy: Yeah, it’s like when Marcus starts talking about his music – no one really cares about it.

Paul: Exactly. There we go.

Marcus: I’m getting my coat.

[Laughs]

Paul: But what you’re known for in this regard is SEO Andy, is how you’re referred to aren’t you? So you are an SEO person I feel I can have a civilised conversation with.

Andy: That’s always good.

Paul: Because let’s face it. I haven’t got the best reputation have I with the SEO community.

Andy: No… It was quite funny to watch you basically stab yourself in the back a few times. Was it last year? Certainly before you went ‘I’ve made a mistake’ from the backlash.

Paul: I…I…I, yes. So I famously wrote a post for Smashing magazine where I said SEO was a waste of time and err… yeah. That didn’t go down well.

Marcus: Sorry, can we just go back to the point when Paul had to admit he was wrong?

Paul: I then did a follow up later. I secretly did a little test. I got a huge backlash but that didn’t disturb me to much in the sense that I am used to being told I am wrong. But as long as I kind of know I am right, that’s fine. But the doubts began to creep in as I talked to reasonable people like yourself and a few others.

And so I did a little test on Boagworld. Which I didn’t tell anyone about for about a six month period where I actually worked on the SEO stuff on the website and I did my key word research and I did all the things that you’re supposed to do.

Marcus: You took care of your website properly?

Paul: I actually looked after my website. And do you know what? It actually made a difference. So I’ve had to backpedal a little over this issue, hence you’re now on the show. Because what I think is abundantly obvious about this scenario is that I know nothing about SEO and I need some help.

Andy: Well as the title of your ‘I’m sorry I was wrong’ blog says, perhaps SEO isn’t bad afterall.

Paul: I know there were a lot of people that rallied to my defence and took a very similar view about SEO that I have. And I know that there is a lot of people within the web community that kind of screw up their nose at SEO, so this podcast is an opportunity to address some of those things. And so I’ve got some questions for you that express some of the feelings that I had about SEO and some of the things I’ve learnt about SEO and what other people are feeling.

So let’s kick off by defining what it is that we mean really. Because I think that the view that a lot of people have of SEO is different to the reality of people that do SEO if that makes sense?

So how would you define SEO in today’s reality?

Andy: Ok so let’s start with the basics. SEO isn’t as complex as most people think it is. So the way most people today see SEO and explain it to potential clients or you’ll see it explained on various websites is that search results are based on authority and relevance of a search term so the more relevant and more authority you have, the higher you’ll rank.

Relevance is measured by analysis of a specific page so the words you use, how it reads, the level of detail you use and then how it compares to other pages on your website versus all websites. And then you’ve got authority which in general is said to be down to quality of links, number of links to that given page and the domain. But it’s important to know that there’s two types of authority – page authority and domain authority. Authority can also come through other factors such as domain age, relations to other websites, for example Boagworld and Headscape are two different websites or were two different websites and they are both related to each other so they were lending each other authority basically.

So that’s very simplistically looking at it. There’s a third factor to this which is the technical SEO side and this is the bit that most people who come to me kind of have ignored all the way because they have done the things that you talk about in your SEO—which isn’t bad at all—post.

They’ve looked at their content, they’ve looked at their titles of their posts but they’ve not looked at the technical factors on their website. So this is stuff like the types of redirects they use, the status codes that have come from the server, the use of chronicling links, whether urls are friendly or not, how fast the site loads, how you can improve the usage of your images. For example, loading the right size image for the right device and responsively changing that if the size of device changes or you change from landscape to portrait you might want a different size image, and using the alt text and how you use things like local search and structured data mark-up such as micro-formats to mark up your data to tell search engines that this is a specific thing. And those are the three main sections really.

Paul: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think where I got stuck and to some degree I kind of still feel a bit like this is that the two main factors that decide how your ranking is authority and relevancy. And so both of those issues are essentially content issues. They are about producing quality content that…if you produce quality content that increases the number of people that link to you and that increases your authority. Also if you are producing relevant quality content that is relevant content and so everything is great. My argument in my initial post was essentially ‘Wouldn’t you be better off spending your money on a Content Strategist than an SEO person?’

And to some degree I kind of still feel like that. I feel like the SEO community has been forced to, in my limited understanding because of changes google has made, into essentially becoming more content strategists. And they’ve kind of repositioned themselves in that space and I can’t help thinking, ‘Well wouldn’t you want to just go to a Content Strategist?’ So what am I missing there because I am obviously missing something? Is it simply because an SEO person could provide that third strand to it which is the kind of technical element. But how big a difference do those actually make?

There’s a shit load of questions there!

[Laugh]

Sorry.

Marcus: I’ve lost track.

Paul: Did any of that make any kind of sense?

Andy: It did and it’s a question that comes up time and time again.

Paul: Oh, am I that obvious? I’m sorry.

Andy: You are and can you tell I work with other agencies as well?

[Laughs]

Let’s just take a step back and look at the history of where SEO has been over the past three or four years. So before three or four years ago every website just plodded along. Google little updates didn’t make much difference because it was heavily reliant on what was called ‘page front’ which is the number of links you get which is related to the content, relevance and authority which you’ve just pointed out. However a few years ago that all changed and this is what originally gave SEO quite a bad name a few years ago as an industry. Because a number of—probably millions and millions of—websites got smacked out of ranking positions. Because what they’ve been doing that they’ve been warned about several times not to do it because Google was going to change itself with them to make it more relevant.

So things like keyword stuffing and building millions of links to your website so you basically can manipulate Google search ranking, were all wiped off the board. And they continue to be to this day. And that’s where we are at now. And ninety-nine percent of the people that today that work for SEO know the difference between Black Hat which is what got punished and still gets punished time and time again, versus White Hat which is stuff that we’ve basically been talking about – taking care of your website and building authority links to your website. It’s not about building fifty thousand educational links to your website from Japan for example.

So to come back to your other question which is ‘What are you missing there?’ Is that SEO… because Google is always updating, Bing is always updating, Yahoo is always updating and Yahoo is kind of important at the moment because Firefox has changed its default search engine to Yahoo even though over eighty percent of people have gone back to Google.

Paul: But that was quite shocking, because that had a huge impact didn’t it – well they were saying it was going to have a huge impact.

Andy: It was short term – a short term impact. People who tend to use Firefox are people who know what they are doing and will tend to go to Google.com anyway or use the search bar in the top right hand corner, which I think still remains at Google. So it kind of made a difference for a month or two then after people changed back it didn’t make that much difference at all.

Marcus: Can I just jump in at that point? Knowing that is what I guess would be the difference between an SEO specialist and a Content Strategist? That’s a good example of what you can bring to the table.

Andy: Yes, because the algorithm changes and the whole industry changes—the whole web industry changes every single day—part of an SEO’s job is to keep up with that kind of thing and to know that just round the corner might be another update that’s coming. So the statistics I have got today… so we’re on 12th January? I know we don’t like to do dates for recording…

Paul: Yes, thank you for messing that up! That’s really great, thank you.

[Laughs]

Andy: You can wipe it off.

Paul: No, because that would involve Marcus editing and we know that won’t happen.

Andy: So the statistics I’ve got for the past week or so show that there’s a Google update that’s likely to be happening now or in the next few days. So whether that’s going to be a big or small update who knows? But it could be any number of things.

Paul: Yeah, you’re right. Its being aware of that kind of stuff that’s going on that I guess is the additional value.

Andy: Yeah. And it’s also knowing things like… when we’ve spoken previously we’ve spoken about structured data and you’re in the web industry and you had a lack of knowledge around that area…

Paul: Yeah.

Andy: … not to be blunt about that or…

Paul: No, no, no. That’s fine – that’s the whole point of this season is to highlight the gaps in my knowledge really and to kind of dive into those areas.

Andy: Yeah. And so it’s that gap in your knowledge that we can fill. So my role as an SEO Consultant tends to be to work with agencies like yourself or other Content Strategists, or other Web Developers who are freelancers to bring that extra bit of information into that and a bit of awareness. So one of the biggest things that I do as a Consultant is when someone is considering doing or building their new website I would hopefully be there from day one to say ‘Ok, this is what we have got to consider’. And it’s the same kind of thing that I know you do with Universities who have Information Architecture and whether information actually needs to be on the website in the format it is, or does it needs to be in another format, and how you build blocks around that. But it’s then building in the extra layer so that from day one if they are building a new template for example, that they’ve put in structured data so that it works out of the box and you’re not going to start losing any rankings because when you’re changing between two websites that have been redesigned you’ll inevitably lose rankings. It might only be a week or two, but if you can mitigate that so that you don’t lose rankings for that then that’s the perfect thing in the world. Because you’ll probably find that you’re going to be re-indexed and you’ll rank even better because your website is better than it was.

Paul: I mean, taking a step back to this creating relevant authoritative content – I think part of the problem, part of my misunderstanding of search engine optimisation as a discipline and I think part of a lot of other people’s misunderstand, especially amongst the user experience community is the name itself.

I struggled with the idea of talking about optimising websites for search engines. I quite happily admit this is kind of the fanatic dogmatic part of me that goes ‘We shouldn’t be optimising sites for search engines, we should be optimising sites for people’. And I have had incidences in the past admittedly probably from less than reputable SEO companies that the changes that they have made have had a negative impact on the user experience. So for example, we worked with Wiltshire Farm Foods which we talked about before, and they hired an SEO company and they decided that one of the key words that they should target is ‘readymeals’. So they decided, on all the navigation bar which said things like ‘Chicken’, ‘Beef’, ‘Vegetarian’ etc, the different categories, those should all be named ‘Chicken Readymeals’, ‘Beef Readymeals’ etc, etc. Which I guess is keyword stuffing and that had a negative impact on the user experience because it slowed down scan time and all the rest of it. So that’s why I have this innate problem with the idea of optimising for search engines. Is that a fair comment?

Andy: It is and I think one of the… if you go back two years, two or three years to when people were being penalised, I was at search conferences where time and time again we were questioning whether SEO is the right name for what we do. And for a long time the question was up in the air to the extent that I even changed—my website and company name never changed— but I changed to be a Digital Marketing Consultant. Because actually the technical aspect of SEO involves more – is less about search engines and more about the user. And so one of the things that I concentrate on quite heavily is getting the user experience right and conversions. So for the sake of argument, if you’ve got a website that is doing ten conversions a day and you can SEO to the highest degree and it can be number one on Google but you’ll still only get ten conversions a day because of the way the website is because its either slow or no cause to action. I see my role as an SEO to be looking at that and going ‘Actually, we can do more with this’.

So the role of an SEO although strictly by the name is to optimise for search engines, its actually become in the modern day to be looking after the user and to be looking after the business as opposed to just the search engine. Because Google has time and time again run out algorithms that are basically user-centric. So they want you to… the keyword spamming for instance, they quickly took that out because it kills the user experience.

Paul: Yeah.

Andy: And so they want the user to have the best experience so they’ll come back to Google again and again and again. And obviously they want you to click the adverts because that’s how they get paid. So it makes sense to be focused on the user and not the search engine. The search engine will look after itself because you are offering the user the best quality content you can. You’re looking after them on the website and you are getting conversions from it and that’s basically what Google wants. It’s why Google went and bought Omnivore for Google Analytics. It wants to know that the user’s being looked after on the website.

So SEO whilst it’s technically just about search engines it’s actually a much bigger picture. And it’s still why I kind of talk about Digital Marketing and SEO as one entity rather than two entities.

Paul: I mean it’s something that I am encountering a lot recently is that I think we went through a stage where everybody specialised their jobs more and more. I mean ‘I’m an Information Architect’, ‘I’m an SEO Specialist’, ‘I’m a User Interface Designer’, ‘I’m this and that and whatever…’. But I think now there’s a kind of growing realisation as I talk to different digital professionals that you’ve got to think about things very holistically and so you can’t just think I am not just a Search Engine Optimisation Specialist, because I if I just focus on that then we don’t fix the conversion problem and at the end of the day that’s what the client wants. There is no point driving more traffic to your site if it’s not converting as you said a minute ago. And equally I come at the same problem and go ‘I can’t just focus on conversion, I need to be thinking about ‘how do we get people to the site in the first place’. So actually I think it’s about taking a kind of holistic approach to it.

It’s interesting. I guess in the end you have to use the term ‘Search Engine Optimisation Specialist’ because that’s what people are looking for. That’s what they are searching for. So it’s about being almost user-centric almost, in your job title. You can call yourself a Digital Marketer but it that’s not what people are searching for then you need to with what they are.

Ok, next question I’ve got. Talking about Digital Marketing – do you think that the world has changed a little bit? It strikes me that SEO isn’t quite as important as it used to be. Because of the rise of social media, and social media recommendations, how has that kind of peer-to-peer, word-of-mouth recommendation impacted SEO?

Andy: This takes us back to the previous question of what SEO actually is and taking the more holistic view. So the clients I work with I tend to also work with their social media as well. Primarily because they have both got to be the same voice and tone to start with. So if you don’t take a holistic approach, it doesn’t help. However in terms of social media directly you tend to find that between industry to industry and even websites in the same industry, that actually social media can have a vast and different effect. So in web design for example, a lot of referrals of traffic will come through Twitter and Facebook because we’re in a very technical place to be. However things like Mums and Tots probably won’t come through that. You’ll find more and more that Facebook is where they are than the likes of Mumsnet for example. So they’re moving away from forums to social media but they haven’t yet made the move to Twitter which is where you like to live, Paul. So it’s kind of each to their own. And there’s actually a large number of industries that are very specific like a client I work with, Totalpost, they basically do franking machines and ink cartridges for those machines and you probably would find nothing of theirs on social media. They’ve got a social media presence because it’s helpful to have one for authority reasons, but actually none of their traffic really comes from there.

Paul: Actually then, that’s a really good point. It’s helpful to have the social media for authority reasons – that makes me think of Google+. How does Google+… I mean, I religiously post stuff to Google+ because somewhere along the line I got it into my head it was a good idea for SEO purposes. But I do feel I am wasting my life. Am I right? Should I just give up on the whole thing, or is there a value to it?

Andy: So Google+ is very much ‘you get out what you put into it’. So if you spend half your day everyday on Google+ talking with other people on there, commenting on their posts, being part of a community you will get a lot more from it. If you don’t and you just post things to it you will probably find it becomes a ghost town very quickly. It’s kind of the same as, take for example, the Twitter app. So you spend all day on it and you follow lots of people and lots has happened but if you then take the app on android if you are constantly refreshing it and you pull it back down you’ll start to see posts from four or five hours ago and so it becomes a ghost flow of things you’ve already seen and are not really interested in again. So it’s very much ‘you get out what you put in’.

Now the one benefit of Google+ and it’s the reason I’m always telling people to use it is that it’s part of Google. And that means if you post a link to Google+ you probably find it gets indexed much, much quicker than if you leave it to other social media or general link building or hoping that Google is going to come back and index that page. Because you’ve done it on the Google site and therefore it should come back very, very quickly. And from experience, the more you are using Google+ the quicker that tends to be.

Paul: I mean that’s what I pretty much guessed. I mean what you are saying about ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’ that’s true of any social network in a sense. And you have to make your judgements as to where you are going to invest your time, and I can’t help but think that probably the majority of my audience are not on Google+…

Andy: No, but they might be searching on Google.

Paul: Yes… so that’s why I focus on just pushing links to Google+ without necessarily spending a lot of time seeing whether people have replied and responding to it and that kind of stuff. Does that sound sensible?

Andy: It sounds vaguely sensible. You’re kind of using it…. and not really. If you post a link there, the one thing I would say would be to take care of that post. So anything you put there, if you see that someone’s commented in one of your notification bars, go comment back on it or just +1 it, just so that you’ve done something with that. Because the last thing that you want is—and it’s the same with anything—it’s like when…I can’t remember if you still run forums or not?

Paul: Not anymore, no.

Andy: But when you ran forums, people tended to be of the kind of thing ‘Oh I’ll post something and they’ll come back and post on my thing’ but then would rarely post on somewhere else. And so it became a kind of two horse race of ‘Who’s posted? Did Paul come and answer it? No? So I’m not really interested’.

Paul: Right.

Andy: And as with anything, it can drain your time and energy.

Paul: Yeah.

Andy: So as you say, it’s about focusing in the right place. So for you and Boagworld, its clear Twitter works for you very, very well. And that’s likely to be because it’s so embedded in your website. And because you’ve got things like ‘Tweet this quote’ and things like that going on all over the place.

A question for you is ‘How does that compare to say, Facebook? In terms of interaction numbers?’

Paul: Oh, Twitter is far higher. And I do look after Facebook quite a lot. I spend a lot of time checking it, answering stuff when it’s relevant etc but Twitter for me, the big difference is that… it’s a psychological thing isn’t it. I just use Twitter more.

Andy: It’s at your fingertips. It’s easy to use.

Paul: Well, not necessarily, it’s not any easier to use, it’s just my personal preference isn’t it.

Andy: I mean as in…. you have to go to the page to do anything.

Paul: Yes, I hate the Facebook Pages app with a passion.

Andy: I don’t use it.

Paul: Ahh yeah. It just annoys the hell out of me. So yeah, absolutely, I think I am lazy basically which I suspect lots of other people are anyway.

Andy: It tends to be very much of a… every industry finds its piece of social media and will use it.

Paul: Absolutely. Because when I do stuff with – we do a lot of work with the Higher Education section, which you mentioned earlier, and that’s why I invest time in Facebook because I know that’s where they are. And so it’s not like I ignore it. But I just don’t know of anybody that uses Google+.

Andy: So do you find a difference between not so much the quality, but the type of post between the two? So if you post the same question to say Twitter and Facebook, do you find that there is a more in-depth answer on Facebook than on Twitter?

Paul: Slightly more, but only because of the character limitations of Twitter.

Andy: So does that improve the quality of the answer?

Paul: Yes.

Andy: Yes. So the question therefore would be is why, if the quality is higher on Facebook as it probably would be on Google+ why don’t you use those over Twitter which are very momentary?

Paul: Who’s doing this interview?

[Laughs]

No it’s a very good question.

Andy: Difficult question eh, Paul?

Paul: It’s a good question! I think you see, you’ve also got to consider who’s listening, who’s replying? So if I ask a question on Twitter:

Because I’ve got a bigger following on Twitter I get a lot quicker replies which is always good

When I ask a question on Twitter a lot more different perspectives

I know people that I really respect look more at Twitter than they do at Facebook, so I’m more likely to get a reply from people who I value their opinion of.

So it’s a lot more than just character space isn’t it?

Andy: I think what you are saying Paul, that overall, generally, the quality is better from Twitter, even if the actual individual little posts aren’t?

Paul: Yes, it’s better for crowd sourcing for me. But that’s only because I’ve got a large number of followers on Twitter. And I suspect if I took time, whether I could nurture that level of followership on Facebook? I just don’t see the same level of interest. It’s interesting… very interesting.

Andy: It’s the question that I asked in a recent broadpost and I made the argument for Small Data is Big Data which is what you are getting from Twitter is potentially hundreds and thousands of answers but not much detail versus Facebook which is very much a… you might get the same kind of thing but you’ll also get in depth answers which are more specific and more informational to what you need.

So it’s calling on the right source.

Paul: And it’s also dependant as well on what you are trying to do with that social network. Yes, sure, Twitter is great for getting answers to my questions, but my primary aim is to provide value and so I am pushing out content that I think my audience will like and there are pros and cons to both networks in that regards. Facebook tends to encourage to write more than Twitter. Obviously Twitter forces you to be concise. You tend to post more to Twitter and it’s more concise what you’re sharing and so it’s easier for people to digest…. I don’t know.

There are so many nuances to these different platforms aren’t there. And it’s you know, you’ve just got to kind of find your way.

Andy: There are and that’s the main point there. What will work for you? What will work for someone else? LinkedIn works for a great number of people because they use LinkedIn Groups. That also adds quality of traffic. So you’re quality traffic because you are providing informational stuff about web design and things like that, will come from Twitter in general.

Because also that’s where things like Smashing magazine’s audience is likely to be, because it’s that industry. Whereas some people as I say, will be on LinkedIn, like the Health and Safety Industry tends to be on LinkedIn quite heavily.

Paul: Interestingly I get quite good value from LinkedIn. I am investing more and more time in it because, ok, I’ve got lots of Web Designers following me on Twitter but I’m not going to get rich from them.

Andy: That’s not where your business is.

Paul: No, so Twitter is very good for reach, but LinkedIn is good in terms of quality of individuals that I am engaging with. Also, because the other big drawback of Twitter is that it doesn’t in anyway help build a community. Because if you follow me, and Marcus follows me, you two aren’t aware of each other, you are only aware of me. While something like a Facebook page or a LinkedIn group, you are seeing each other, so it kind of encourages a community to build, which I think is the big weakness of Twitter if I am honest.

Andy: Yeah. I think people have tried to solve that one previously and Twitter has closed them down.

[Laughs]

Paul: Yeah. It’s got a very clear idea of what it wants to be, and that’s fine.

Hey, we can’t finish this interview without talking about some of the technical considerations Web Designers should be looking at in terms of SEO because we’ve focused a lot on authority, we’ve focused a lot on relevance, but we haven’t talked a lot about the technical side of things. And I don’t want to kind of get into enormous detail but I’m just interested to know… I imagine much to your frustration, you are often brought in too late in the process? And I imagine that must drive you nuts. When you are brought in too late, what are the horrible things that you are seeing that you just wish ‘If only the Web Designer had paid attention to this from the outset’?

Andy: Taking Web Designer and Web Developer to be the same thing? Usually they’ve not considered the type of things like that are performance related, and that includes responsive web design. Google made it clear last year that it would prefer to have a responsive or adaptive site as opposed to a separate mobile website.

Paul: Oh, ok.

Andy: It’s looking at things like the Navigation, like you said, the readability of it and that comes down to information architecture rather than the Web Developer. But it’s how it’s designed. Is it user friendly? Is it where you would expect it to be? Again it’s looking at, have they put in structured data in there, micro-formats and things like that.

Paul: Do micro-formats really make a difference these days?

Andy: Yeah.

Paul: I feel like they died a death, but they do tune Google rankings, do they?

Andy: They don’t make a difference to your ranking overall I find. You’re local search form, your local search markup will tend to be very helpful because you’ll probably find yourself appearing on a Google map even if you’re not registered with Google Maps. So that’s very useful and in a world where we’re becoming more reliant on tablets and mobile phones for search, that’s incredibly important. So if you search for a specific product you’re just as likely to find a website as you are to saying Asda round the corner has got this in. So locally it works very well, structured it’s just a helping hand to any search engine that’s out there to say ‘this is what this data is’ and this is, for example if it’s a book, this is who the author is, this the title, this is the ISBN number and the blurb and this is my review of it and the number of stars. And what you tend to find is that if you put a review for the number of stars, then that number of stars will appear in your ranking display.

Paul: Yeah, noticed that.

Andy: So it makes you stand out a little bit more. And one of the things that has disappeared recently is Google were doing an Authorship system where it didn’t so much affect your rank as it put your little picture next to something when one of your friends did that search on Google+. They were your friend on Google+, or you were a real authority figure. And that was meant to increase clicks and improve authority but didn’t work.

Paul: Ok, so that’s why they then removed it.

Andy: So they removed it, however the authority link is still there. They’ve not removed the system to say the author of this post is this. And it still works in Google+ to my knowledge. And you can do a search via the user if they have had their author script on that page it would show up. So it’s kind of still there but it’s not in the main search anymore. But your name is ‘written by’ and ‘seen more by’ is still there.

So the other big thing coming back to performance is the speed of the site. That is one of the biggest issues that we come across is that we live in an age of broadband where you can download five hundred meg movie or gig movie in the space of ten minutes. That doesn’t mean everyone is on that speed though.

Paul: I’m not!

[Laugh]

Andy: As you’ve found out, is that even fibre broadband has its doo-dahs and gets cut off. So it’s a case of you make it the best you can. And ok, you’re never going to have the perfect speed. You’re never going to get one hundred on a Google score but as long as you aiming for that and you’re above seventy percent you’re generally doing quite well. And so it’s things like reducing the amount of java scripts on a page that seems to be a Web Developer’s heaven at the moment and reducing the number of images and the amount of CSS you are using and so it comes back to what you were talking about on the podcast three or four years ago of potentially using less CSS or even just compressing the CSS so there’s no spaces in there and things like that.

And also there is stuff to do with the status code which you can’t really tell on the website because [*unintelligible*]…. the redirects. What’s going to happen with that?

Paul: It’s interesting isn’t it. Yeah I think performance is…. Google really are pushing the performance side of things, which I think is really good to see. It’ll be interesting to see how that evolves over the next few years. In fact, let’s be honest I think it will be interesting to see how SEO evolves over the next few years. I think it will be… I think there are all kinds of things that may well be happening.

Andy, thanks so very much for coming on the show – that was brilliant. And I hope it’s kind of dispelled some myths about SEO and everything you’ve been talking about today is eminently sensible. And to be honest, a lot of those things you were talking about in relationship to the technical considerations, are the stuff a good Web Designer or Developer should be doing anyway. They should be caring about user experience, they should be caring about performance etc and so it’s good to know really that Search Engine Optimisation is actually encouraging good practice and providing a business case for good practice because let’s be honest, if you say ‘Oh it will improve SEO’ people will do anything!

[Laughs]

Andy: Its very….[*unintelligible*] SEO is simply about best practice of everything, so best practice about the technical stuff and best practice about your content.

Paul: Yeah.

Andy: If you take either of those legs off then you’re going to fall over and you’re never going to build authority without both of those two legs.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely. Ok thank you very much Andy and hopefully we will get you back on the show one day in the future.

Marcus: Yeah, big thanks Andy!

Andy: No problem.

[Music]

Paul: Ok, so that’s SEO Andy – otherwise known as Andy Kinsey.

So it’s that time of day again. I think… I’m a bit worried about Awwwards.com, our sponsor because they seem to have accidentally sponsored your joke again. I am sure they didn’t mean to.

Marcus: Well this is the third week in a row, isn’t it?

Paul: I know.

Marcus: They are a wonderful bunch this lot.

Paul: The first week you can forgive them, what is it they say? Trick me once, and all of that..? But three weeks in a row, that’s just getting embarrassing now for them, isn’t it?

So yeah. They are lovely and we appreciate them. Check out their website. Boagworld.com/Awwwards. What I love about this website is that they do web design web awards so they’ve got loads of really top notch inspirational web design stuff. So if you’re going through that….’All my websites look the same’ time, as we all do, then check out their website and they’ve got loads of cool stuff.

They also have a really good blog over there with some excellent writers!

[Coughs]

Ahem. That’s the point where you are supposed to ask ‘Who?’ Go on Marcus…

Marcus: I don’t think I am on it?

Paul: Oh shut up, so yeah. They’ve got a really good blog with loads….

Marcus: Who’s on it Paul, who’s on the blog…

Paul: ME! Me, me, me. It’s all about me.

Marcus: Right.

Paul: Alright? So, brilliant blog, definitely check that out.

[Crash]

I just dropped our phone, so I couldn’t hear you.

Marcus: I can still hear you.

Paul: It’s probably a better way to be actually. Anyway, right I’m back.

Ummmm blogs. Yes, they’ve got a really good blog, loads of stuff on there. It’s one I’m subscribed to and I’m very picky about which ones I’m subscribed to. They’ve also got a whole section on resources and tools and that kind of stuff which is really good. There’s loads of bits and bobs which you can download and help you out and they’ve got the kind of cool stuff you’ve come to expect.

They’ve got a new section as well which is great for keeping up to date with what’s going on in the industry and that kind of stuff and they’ve got a job board, so if you’re looking for a career move then it’s definitely worth checking them out for that as well. So that is Boagworld.com/Awwwards. I think this is the last week that they’re sponsoring Marcus’s joke. So if for no other reason for pity, you should visit their website.

Marcus: Yeah, they are very brave people.

Paul: They are. They are. So there we go. So Marcus, make it a good one, because this is the last time they are sponsoring us.

Marcus: Ok, well I’ve got a bit of a problem going through my mind in that I can’t remember which joke I did last week. So I’m going to do a joke and if you say ‘That’s the one you did last week’ I’ll edit it out and I’ve got another one ready.

Paul: But the chances of me remembering what joke you did last week….

Marcus: I don’t think I did…. I really can’t remember which one I did. Anyway, so I’m going to do this one.

This is a Tommy Cooper joke. Does that remind you?

Paul: You’ve done lots of Tommy Cooper jokes over the years ‘cause he’s awesome.

Marcus: Yes. So it’s a nice short one. Here we go.

The back of my anorak leaps up and down and people chuck money at me. It’s my livelihood.

[Laughs]

Quite good isn’t it.

Paul: Yeah, you haven’t done that one before. It’s quite good. I don’t really feel Awwwards got their money’s worth in terms of length, but I do think they got it in quality.

Marcus: Shall I do another one?

Paul: Ok go on then, do another one.

Marcus: This is a bit of a longer joke. Leigh sent me this.

Paul: What do you mean, our Leigh?

Marcus: Yes, our Leigh.

Paul: Right ok.

Marcus: And he said it might even be true.

Paul: That means it’s not, but anyway.

Marcus: It’s not true is it.

Ron Chesner, eighty-nine years of age was stopped by the police around 2am and was asked where he was going at that time of night. He replied

“I’m on my way to a lecture about alcohol abuse and the effects it has on the human body as well as smoking and staying out late”.

The Officer asked,

“Really? Who’s giving a lecture at this time of night?”

And Ron replied,

“That would be my wife.”

[Laughs]

Paul: Now that’s funny. I really like that. I hope that that is true, because if it is the man deserves a medal. I hope the policeman let him off.

Marcus: He only asked him where he was going.

Paul: Yeah, but yeah, that’s true.

Right that’s wonderful.

Oh no – I’ve done the normal thing and have forgotten to make a note of who’s on the next show, I’m so unprofessional.

Marcus: Who’s on the next show, Paul?

Paul: I don’t know yet… I’m just stalling for a little longer…. So I can tell you next week… Ahh, now we’ve already talked about this because Bruce Lawson’s on next week.

Marcus: Ahh yes, yes.

Paul: So Bruce is going to come on and he’s going to talk about HTML and the future of HTML.

HTML has got much more complicated since my day, it all used to be so simple. You had a few tags and that’s it. Now it’s got web components, and all kinds of weird shit that I don’t understand. So Bruce is going to come and sort me out next week so that’s good. So you’re excited about that one Marcus I expect?

Marcus: Yeah absolutely, just because he’s a funny man.

Paul: He is a funny man.

Marcus: That’s true.

Paul: Were you in on that interview?

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: Ahh, ok, cool. Awesome, well thank you very much for listening and we’ll talk to you again next week.

Marcus: Bye!

Paul: Bye!

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