The Secrets of Google’s Algorithm

Joe Williams

by Joe Williams

Posted on Sep 17, 2021

Ever wonder how Google really works and why understanding search is so key to digital marketing?  In this episode host Will Francis chats with SEO expert Joe Williams about the history of Google's algorithms, the importance of relevancy, and how it's evolving to current trends in AI.

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Transcript

[00:00:00]

Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. This episode is a big Q&A, where we explore an area of marketing through a leading industry expert. I'm your host, Will Francis, and today I'll be talking to Joe Williams all about the Google algorithm, how it works, and what we need to know as marketers to improve our chances of ranking in Google's search results pages. Joe's been in SEO for over 15 years, consulting for and training brands, large and small, from "The Guardian," "Cosmopolitan," and Sky, through to growth-stage startups. He says he's on a mission to make SEO easy, fun, and profitable. Welcome back to the podcast, Joe.

[00:00:44]

Joe: Hi, Will. It's good to be here, as always.

[00:00:46]

Will: Good. Yeah, it's great to have you because your episode actually, when we talked about SEO, which is almost two years ago, that's still one of our best performing episodes. It's consistently remains one of the areas that people, I think, are most curious about, most confused by, is search engine optimization, how do I make my website appear in search? So in this episode, I really just wanted to double down and focus specifically on the Google algorithm and just find out from you, what do we know about it? What can we do about that? And how can we prepare for it on an ongoing basis into the future? So I suppose just to sort of set the lay of the land, just describe to me what the algorithm is, what that piece of software that sits in that black box somewhere deep in the bowels of Google's empire, what does that algorithm do, in short?

[00:01:57]

Joe: Sure. So, yeah, just like any computer algorithm, it's made up of lines and lines of code. So we're talking, I would imagine, we're probably entering millions of lines of code. But Google has one main algorithm, and then it has lots of kind of what we call sub-algorithms. So the main algorithm got its name, I believe, in 2013. And it's called Hummingbird. And then, there's lots of sub-algorithms that sit below it that tackle specific issues. So we have PageRank, which is to try and evaluate the reputation of a page. And we have Panda, which is another algorithm, which kind of works out how, you know, whether a page has good quality or lower quality. So, yeah, I guess in terms of algorithms, Google is changing and tweaking them. But, ultimately, what Google really wants to do is to promote the higher quality results and demote the lower quality results.

[00:03:00]

Will: Yeah, because its job is...although this sounds obvious, its job is to be as useful to its users as possible at all costs, and that is its one mission, right, as a company. But I suppose... So, how much do we know? Like, how public are they about how the algorithm works? Is there a documentation for it? Or is a lot of it kind of guesswork and based on independent experiments and research?

[00:03:29]

Joe: Yeah. So, I mean, there's sort of two ways in terms of how Google is open. So, the first is through patents. And these are quite dry, long documents. And it tends to be some algorithms that they may use in the future, they may currently use now. And it's a little bit murky as to try to really understand from them, but it is something that we do read as experts. But the other aspect is Google's quite good at telling you what they're up to with its algorithm, but in a kind of shallow way. So, they will tell you that they have a new update, and occasionally, it will have a name. So, the one that got released...one that got rolled out actually this month is the page experience update. So, we knew about it about 18 months ago that it was coming, but Google actually rolled it out in the beginning of September, and there was quite a lot of information around that. So, Google told us what you needed to do to optimize for that signal. And gave us quite a bit of time as well to get our websites in shape.

[00:04:39]

Will: That's interesting. So, yes, whilst there's not obviously a set of complete and comprehensive instructions for the algorithm, they do have some sort of information out there to help us create...essentially, what they're helping us do is to create the best websites for the users of its search engine, right, so that it can serve up the most useful results. Okay, so I get that. So, how often does it change? Like, how hard is it to keep abreast of?

[00:05:14]

Joe: Yeah, so I would say it's...I mean, Google does update its algorithm daily in terms of small updates. So, it might be pushing through one or two updates every day, we're probably having, like, medium-sized updates every few months, which you might notice in terms of your website going up or down, and then we tend to have more major updates, which could be every year, every two years, something like that. But I think that is probably one of the biggest concerns that people have with SEO is SEO changes so often, how do I stay up to date? But the reality is the core principles and what Google really wants users to do isn't really changing that much. You know, as you mentioned before, Google wants useful results, Google wants relevant results, and Google wants reliable results. So, if that's kind of, like, your very high-level strategy, then you're going definitely in the right direction. And in terms of some of these updates, even some of the kind of medium-sized updates, unless you're actually...unless you've got a big problem, maybe your website has got a penalty or it's demoted significantly, that tends to be only more...it's only when that happens that I would really pay attention to the latest update to sort of say, "Okay, something's happened, it's negatively affected our site, let's kind of try and research what's happened and what's changed."

[00:06:42]

So, that's my normal kind of mindset for sort of smaller and medium-sized updates. With some of the bigger updates or the more publicly talked about updates like page experience, maybe you do need to change your strategy a little bit. So, for page experience, it was all about making your website more mobile friendly, and also making your website more mobile fast. So, that's kind of how I would look at it really.

[00:07:09]

Will: That's interesting. I mean, I'm intrigued. So, these tiny updates that might happen most days, what's happening now, what is being updated? What is Google adjusting?

[00:07:22]

Joe: Yeah, I mean, it could be anything really, like we really don't know, but I would almost look at it that Google is doing lots of experiments, and some will be quite general and broad. So, they'll just be, how can we improve the algorithm in a general way, and other times, it will be much more focused on a particular area. So, it could be an industry, it could be a type of markup structure that you could...that maybe you add to your website. So, maybe you've probably seen reviews pop up in Google search results. Google might be focusing on that one area to try and evaluate what's actually a good interaction with a user compared to maybe a less good interaction.

[00:08:10]

Will: Yeah. Okay. So we don't need to worry about those so much. It's about sort of staying to those kind of guiding principles which you talked about. Was it quality, relevant, and reliable?

[00:08:25]

Joe: Yeah, so yes, I think that makes sense. So yeah, quality, relevant, and reliable. You know, we often...the old school SEO, we used to talk about on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO, and it's kind of sort of stayed the same. So, on-page has to do with your content, off-page has always been to do with links, and then technical is the technical stuff. So, what I would maybe add to that is, like, I am kind of changing my school of thought in terms of what words to use, but they pretty much mean the same thing.

[00:08:59]

So, I kind of prefer content now as opposed to on-page. I prefer reputation as opposed to off-page. So, reputation still has to do with links. So building backlinks to your website from another website is gonna build your reputation. But I'm thinking it's extending to contents as well. So, if you haven't got much content on your site, and you're not really a subject matter expert on your topic or your industry, then there's not really much for Google to kind of get its teeth into and for you to build your reputation. And in the past where Google use social proof from other websites to link to your site, it still does do that. We now believe that Google is using social proof from how people interact from the search results to your web page and back. So, if I've typed in holidays to Cornwall, so southwest of England, lots of people are searching for that now in the UK because of the pandemic. But what Google will be doing is it will have an idea of those top 10 listings, and what click-through rate it would expect each one to get. So the highest listed result would get the highest click-through rate, and the lowest would get the lowest. But if there's a result that's maybe seventh, and it's getting a click-through rate similar to say, someone who's fourth or fifth, because it's got a really compelling title tag, meta description, perhaps it's a well-known brand, Google will factor that in.

[00:10:39]

And I think it's using that as kind of starting to build a reputation signal around that. And likewise, that's pre-click. If we think about post-click, well, if the dwell time is, on average, five minutes, so the dwell time is basically a metric of when someone clicks away from Google and then returns to Google. Or perhaps they...

[00:11:04]

Will: Yeah, it is how long they stay on the website that they click through to.

[00:11:07]

Joe: Essentially, yes. So, that dwell time metric is kind of giving Google an idea of how engaged they are on the website, web page for that particular keywords. For some keywords, the dwell time is always gonna be short if you're looking for sports results. Other times, it's gonna be much longer if it's a much more complex query. So, I kind of think with this reputation aspect of SEO, it's all about social proof. You know, it's all about either external source is saying you're credible, or actually, why not look at the users that Google is catering for? And I think that's a growing trend of where Google is heading.

[00:11:51]

Will: That's very interesting. There's a few things to pick apart there. So yeah, are you saying that you...so just to reframe that, as you say, traditionally, SEO rests on three pillars, like you said, on-page which is essentially content, off-page which has links back to your website from other websites, and technical which is all the stuff about how your site is put together and meta tags and all that kind of thing. Okay, so you're saying that, actually, this off-page pillar, you're reframing that as a reputational thing. And that is, to some extent, informed by your content because you're right, Google has explicitly talked about EAT, expertise, authority, trustworthiness. They've talked about how they are essentially looking for the highest quality sources of information around the topics that their users are searching for. So, I suppose it's using a bouquet of signals to determine who the most authoritative people are about holidays in Britain, or football, or gadgets, or any of the topics that people are searching for. Right?

[00:13:08]

Joe: Exactly. And if we think about how search engines work, like we always used to say there's three steps. And I think this ties into what we're talking about for reputation. But I think there's a fourth step now. And it's not to say this fourth step didn't exist, I think we just didn't talk about it as much. But search engines, initially, they just crawl the web. They primarily do this from visiting one web page to another, so following links. Then, they index content. So, if the page is useful for its database, it will capture the information and store it in its index. The third stage is ranking. So it's looking at all the signals that search engines use in their algorithms, and then picking the best results for a particular phrase. But the fourth stage is really evaluation. So, it's evaluating, one, how good are results from a manual review? And that's where we've got this... You know, Google has these search-rater guidelines.

[00:14:13]

So you mentioned EAT content. But essentially, I think Google pays around 10,000 people, maybe more external sources, and they have, like, a 200-page book, guideline book to follow. And they're given keywords, and they're given results, and then they have to rate the results based on these criteria. So, two of the criteria that kind of, you know, that are talked about a lot now in SEO are whether the content is EAT. So, does it show high levels of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness? And there's quite a lot of detail into what that actually means. And then, the other one is needs met. So, it's thinking about a keyword, what is the user intent behind a keyword, and did the result actually satisfy on that user intent. And there's the grading between fully met and didn't meet at all. So, for me, if we just look at those two aspects of the quality rater guidelines, what's happening is we're getting people to manually review content. And Google will use that to kind of make its algorithm smarter. It's less interested in those specific results that they've reviewed, but more about what it can learn from those raters and apply it sort of on a wider level.

[00:15:44]

Will: Yeah. That's very interesting. So, this sounds like a real definitive death knell for cheaply produced "SEO content." This kind of stuff that you often see being sold on sites like Fiverr and PeoplePerHour. You know, and there's a whole industry around this, around blog writing and article writing, 1000-word articles that are keyword rich and cover a topic. I mean...

[00:16:20]

Joe: It's interesting that you say that Will because I actually think that's a growing area. And the reason for that is, like, Google is getting smarter by using artificial intelligence. But there's now tools that use...I think it's open-source AI, they're using that technology to create tools that will write content for you. So, for example, probably the most premium that's affordable and it's still quite pricey, one's called Jarvis. So, it used to be called Conversion.ai. It's now called Jarvis.ai. And it's surprisingly good at writing content for you. But I think at the time, maybe like six months ago, Jarvis or some of these AI tools, or the open-source AI, they understood around 10% of the internet relatively well.

[00:17:19]

So, it wouldn't cover all topics, but a lot of topics that were popular, it would cover. Now, I subscribed to Jarvis.ai. I think it's around $100 or $120 a month. And I use it more to come up with good headlines. You know, if I'm stuck in a paragraph, how I could rephrase something. You know, it gives you copywriting formulas, select the AIDA model, attention, interest, desire, action. So I find it for...I use it for inspiration, and I find it helps with accelerating sometimes how long a piece of content will take to write. But I do know that people are using it just to kind of...just to farm out content. And I don't think Google's at the stage where it's quite got its head around how best to combat that style of blog writing, because I do think it's a relatively new thing that people are starting to do.

[00:18:22]

Will: Yeah, but I mean, in my experience, though, if you look at the first page of results, certainly in...let's take our topic about marketing, digital marketing. If you google something like how to put together a social media strategy or something like that, the results that are coming up there are several thousand words long on that first page, most of them. That's just my observation, and particularly the big players like Buffer, and Hootsuite, and Sprout Social, and HubSpot, they're always the same people that come up with those results. They are compiling sometimes 7,000 or 8,000 words as guides, as in-depth resources. I suppose I was under the impression that, yeah, just usefulness wins above everything. But you're saying it's maybe not as simple as that. If you can create enough content, then you can maybe rank for some of those keywords in the gaps or in the shadows? I don't know.

[00:19:30]

Joe: Yeah, yeah. No, I would agree what you're saying there. So, in terms of the first part about long-form content, these tools are promoting themselves as being capable of writing books. So, like, how good the quality? It is debatable, but if they are capable of writing 7,000, 8,000 words if they know enough about a topic, now, I don't think they would rank, you know, if Buffer or an authoritative domain use the tool, it would probably stand a chance of ranking quite well. But I think for your average website, you're not gonna...you're unlikely gonna outrank some of these really big brands who have big domain authorities and things like that. But where I do think people are using it, and you kind of...I think you mentioned that at the end there is looking for some of these gaps.

[00:20:23]

So, maybe for some of these longer tail keywords, or maybe where there's industries where people just aren't writing as much content. There's this huge amounts of content about marketing, but there's less amount of content being written about load cells, and load cells... I just did a test scenario that I know a little bit about. And it was able to write content about how load cells, you know, what load cells are, how they work, and things like that. So, again, is that adding value to the internet? That's the big question. And six months ago, I just dismissed AI tools and thought, I didn't like the sound of them. And I just thought they're not gonna be any good. But I think we're getting closer and closer for them to actually being useful. And at the moment, I think they are kind of useful, but, for me, they're just a time saver. They give me some inspiration. And then, it's pretty good at writing headlines. It's better than I am at writing headlines, I would say.

[00:21:25]

Will: Yes, that's right. That's what I'm seeing, is short-form copy is really good at that because it's easy to be trained itself on...there's lots of data for that, lots of dead end, and it's easy to see what works and etc. Whereas I can see why long form would be more challenging, but we are getting there with it. We just have to work with it. It's a tool, it's not doing the job for you. It's a tool to help you produce content faster, I suppose, isn't it?

[00:21:55]

Joe: In terms of Google's algorithm in the last since 2000...really since Hummingbird in 2013. But then, it got ramped up in 2015 with RankBrain. Google is investing a huge amount of energy into satisfying longtail keywords better. So BERT, the MUM update, RankBrain, they're all to address longtail keywords. Now, what Jarvis is doing is it's almost...it's trying to address, you know, these...some of these AI tools are addressing the longtail problem before Google can do it itself, albeit not in a great way.

[00:22:34]

Will: Yeah, no, I get that. And just to clarify, for listeners, what a longtail keyword, that's those more specific keywords of very low volume but very high relevance.

[00:22:45]

Joe: Exactly. And so, RankBrain was the first algorithm that was introduced by Google that was said to use artificial intelligence. And we heard it was to tackle these longtail keywords, which collectively contribute to around 70% of all searches. But individually, they're very, very small searches. So, they're kind of hard to research, to do keyword research, they're hard to write content for unless you just write a lot of volume of content. So, this is the one area that Google knows it's weakest at. It's the hardest thing to solve. And now that it uses artificial intelligence, I think it's getting closer to closing that gap. You know, 2015, we had RankBrain, 2018, we had BERT, which was to do with understanding natural language better and some of the nuances of how people use words within a query.

[00:23:44]

You know, this year, we've got the MUM update, so I believe that's multitask unified model. Not a huge amount of talked about this at the moment. And it's kind of I don't think it's in Google's main algorithm at the moment for most queries, but I think they're starting to test it. But it's really looking at complex queries. So, if someone's got a really complex query, they might Google...they might search eight different keywords. And it might take them an hour and a half or an hour to find exactly what they want. Google would much rather it take two or three searches and only take them 20 minutes. And that's kind of where Google's heading in terms of really trying to satisfy those more specific queries. But it's gonna take time, it's already been six years, I think, since RankBrain. I think we're probably only halfway there at the moment in terms of it's gonna be another six years until Google gets to that level where it is really satisfying these complex queries at highly satisfying level.

[00:24:53]

Will: God, it's fascinating, isn't it? It's clear when you talk about it in that way. It's clear that they're solving some of the...if not the most impenetrable computing problems of the day. I mean, these are...you know, they're trying to really crack some seriously hard stuff here, aren't they? This is not something that you just knock together on a weekend. They're 20 something years in and still trying to crack serving up the right result when we want it, you know.

[00:25:27]

Joe: Exactly, and like, when we think of Google, we think of it returning results, returning web pages. But we've already started to see these direct answers. So Google, rather than show a web page, it will show an extract of a web page or occasionally with a Knowledge Graph, it will just bring back its own result. It's natural to think that at some stage, Google might...you might ask Google a question, and Google asks you a question back to kind of refine your search and actually skips out some of the steps that it might take to answer a question. I would not be surprised within a few years if there's a little bit of ping pong between Google and the search app before we actually get to the results. So, who knows?

[00:26:13]

Will: Hello, a quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars and case studies to toolkits and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing. Head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com/aheadofthegame, sign up for free. Now back to the podcast.

[00:26:35]

Where this might leave listeners is right. Okay, so what content should I be creating? Because when I tell people this kind of stuff on the courses that I run, I think people get a bit scared, people get a bit kind of daunted because it sounds like they've got to go away and create this kind of rich and deep body of knowledge content. And that doesn't sound easy. Whether or not you use AI assistance, it's still not easy. So, how can people kind of tackle it in a way that feels easier to face? What would be the first step, do you think?

[00:27:18]

Joe: Yeah, well, I think before looking at the first step, I would...just to kind of reassure some people, I think it depends on your industry. So, if you're in quite a niche industry, and it's not very competitive, I think where Google was a few years ago, five years ago, is still gonna be relevant for you now. If you're in a more sophisticated and more competitive industry, then you probably do need to fast forward, or you might need to fast forward your thinking a little bit. But, I guess, to break it down really, really simple, you know, the first thing to do is to think about what products and services you sell, who your target audience is, and most people have a good idea what product pages they need, or what services pages they need.

[00:28:06]

So, I would just start with those first. So it may be if you're in digital marketing, maybe you offer SEO, PPC, social media, let's just say those three for now. But it's important that you have a page on each of those topics. So, if someone types in social media services in Cornwall, for example, they're gonna wanna see a page on that so it satisfies that intent. If you've got a bigger website, so maybe you've got a couple of 100 pages, then again, I think it just comes down to prioritizing things. So, start off with your transactional content, make sure that it's optimized, but where we're talking about where Google's sort of moving with some of these longer tail keywords, quite often we're transitioning away from transactional content into informational content, and sometimes informational content with a transactional element to it.

[00:29:05]

Will: Transactional meaning product pages, right?

[00:29:07]

Joe: Yeah. transactional meaning product pages, and obviously informational. If you think of a marketing funnel, right at the bottom are buyers and they are searching with keywords, which are transactional, and then above that, it tends to be more informative. And they might be...

[00:29:24]

Will: Yeah, people, aren't...people are in the earlier phases people are just researching in a later funnel. People are just like, "I need a car brush," and they just Google it and buy it.

[00:29:36]

Joe: Exactly. So, yeah. And it could be what is SEO? That's at the top of the funnel. Do I need SEO for my website? Might be one level down. What makes a good SEO expert? Might be a level down again. And then, it might be SEO Services Cornwall might be at the bottom of the funnel. So one thing to add in here, which I haven't mentioned is, in 2012, so a year before Hummingbird, and these were kind of built with the same intention. So, Hummingbird was built to be more powerful, and it was the backbone of this artificial intelligence. But before that, we had the Knowledge Graph. And you've probably seen the results, sometimes you'll see...you'll type in a celebrity, and it will say other people's...well not other people search, but you'll see the little pictures of similar celebrities in that field.

[00:30:31]

Will: Yeah, you get a kind of card on the right-hand side, and you get all the stuff like films have been in or things like that.

[00:30:38]

Joe: Yeah. And I think Google sort of announced that as we're focusing on things, not strings. So, it's trying to understand the connection of quite well-known topics or entities and how they relate to each other. So, Google's been quite busy doing that for a number of years. So, in 2018, Google announced that it was using a thing called its topic layer. And the topic layer was a little bit like Knowledge Graph. But rather than looking to try and understand known entities that were well known, it was looking for much lesser-known entities. So, it was looking at smaller topics and even subtopics within those topics. And what does this have in common with what we talked about before? Well, really, this is the longtail, these are the more specific queries that people are searching for. They account for 70% of all searches. And if we think about it, when it comes to Google ads, where Google makes its money, it's not from the longtail at the moment. It's much more from the more known keywords, the transactional keywords. And Google is just kind of letting SEO capture all these longtail keywords and not necessarily doing a great job at it. But I think there's a reason why Google is focusing on the longtail. One, it wants to provide better results. But I'm pretty sure there's an e-commerce reason or a financial reason that Google is doing this. The better it understands the smaller topics, the better it can serve its advertisers. So, it's kind of...it's a big area for Google at the moment and in the future, too.

[00:32:13]

Will: Yeah, that's interesting, isn't it? I think just thinking about ads, and the interplay between ads and organic. You know, people regularly asked me in my lectures whether buying ads in any way affects organic search results. And I always tell them no. Is that right?

[00:32:32]

Joe: Yeah, no. I get asked that question quite a bit as well. And my answer is no. And you will hear of some instances where people will say, "Well, we were spending a huge amount on Google and then all of a sudden, we stopped and our SEO just dropped." And it's hard to sort of say that it's completely unrelated when you hear a story like that, but I think there's causation and correlation. But generally speaking, I think, if it was correlated, we would know about it. There would be a lot of proof. There'll be a lot of tests. SEOs are always testing. They're blogging about all their experiments. And they wanna prove Google wrong on things like this. But it's not something I've really read at all. Or there's any proof that by spending more on Google, you'll do better on SEO. You could argue that if you spend more on Google, you've got a better understanding of keywords. Because Google tries to hide some of the search volumes for SEO, whereas you can get that from Google ads. So, you'll probably...you might be a little bit of an advantage if you are spending money on Google ads, but only if you use that information in the insights. You won't rank higher just by spending more on Google ads.

[00:33:47]

Will: Yeah, it's not directly affecting your organic rankings. I mean, I agree. I tell people no. And the way I frame it is it would be catastrophic for their business model if it came out that you could influence organic search results. It would compromise the integrity of the whole product. And they built that reputation for being an incredibly high quality technology product over the last 20 years. Why would they...there would be no good reason for them to jeopardize that reputation, jeopardize that trust that we have in Google. So, yeah, they would be stupid to do anything else but keep those two things completely separate. It would tank their business.

[00:34:31]

Okay, so we've talked a bit about content. I think I've got a good handle on content. And also, you've talked about technical which quite a lot of that has been addressed in this month's updates. And in general, recent updates in Google, right, as Google has further prioritized the user experience of websites. In terms of off-page or reputation as you call it, which is building back backlinks, I just wanna dig into that a bit. So, what are the most valuable backlinks that someone can get for their website?

[00:35:10]

Joe: Yeah, yeah, good question. So, I guess, firstly, backlinks can either be earned, which is kind of in the spirit of what Google wants, or you can kind of manipulate someone to link to you. Sometimes you might even pay someone to link to you, which is against Google's guidelines. So I guess a valuable backlink would be at least one that Google thinks is authentic. And hopefully, it would be authentic. But it would...one, it should be relevant to your industry. And it's not to say that a backlink that isn't relevant won't pass on benefit. But if we're talking about the most...the best backlinks for you, you'd want some relevancy so...

[00:35:52]

Will: So that matters, does it? So, if my website is about...kind of my website is about technology and marketing. If I get links from a load of football websites, is that not as valuable as the same amount of links from a similarly or authoritative technology in marketing websites?

[00:36:10]

Joe: Yeah, no. So, the like-for-like, you would definitely choose the more relevant ones. So, essentially, I would say, one is relevancy that we're looking for, how relevant is the page that's linking to you? And how relevant is the domain? So what are their expertise? If it's just the page that's relevant, so it could be a football site, but they're talking about marketing, perhaps, then there's a little bit of relevancy there. But if it's actually from a another marketer that's quite well known and reputable, then you're getting the domain relevancy and domain reputation. And then, I think if we're thinking about this from a real purist perspective, what you would probably say is, if we actually got traffic from that website and that web page, would that be the type of traffic we would want for our business? Like, would there be any benefit beyond just the link? And if you can say yes, then that's kind of like ticking the box that it's probably is a good backlink. But, I guess, to summarize, there's the domain reputation side of things, the BBC is very authoritative from a domain perspective, and I'd love to have a backlink from the BBC. But the equivalent of the BBC in my SEO world might be Search Engine Land, a very authoritative search engine news website.

[00:37:30]

So if I got a link from them, it'd be very authoritative. Not as much as the BBC, but very authoritative and very relevant as well. But it doesn't mean that you always have to go for these big backlinks, particularly if you're not in a super competitive industry, even just smaller, authoritative websites that hopefully have some relevancy. And I think it's just more of a case of getting good at small amounts. You obviously don't want spammy links, but even if they're not super authoritative, but you're getting maybe one backlink a month for a smaller website, that's better progress, and you're getting better at the act of getting backlinks.

[00:38:13]

Will: Yes. So, we really should be sort of setting an objective for an ongoing objective to keep the backlinks growing over time month on month for those to be from relevant sites? And so, what are some typical ways that that people generate those just as an aside?

[00:38:35]

Joe: Yeah, I mean, again, maybe a really natural way would be by creating content that attracts backlinks. So, if you've got some, you know, we mentioned Buffer before, they've got some good guide information like Ultimate Guide to Facebook ads or something like that. They sort of earn backlinks...

[00:38:54]

Will: Because that'll just get linked to because it was useful. And so people will cite it when they're writing content.

[00:38:59]

Joe: And that's Google. That's what Google would tell you to do is to produce valuable content that people wanna like, share, and link too. Sometime, you know, but at the same time, if you have content, even if it's good, it might not get found by the people you want to link to it. And that means that you've got to promote the contents a little bit. So, if you've written this really good guide, who are the influencers in your industry? And can you get under their radar? And it really...like any kind of relationship, it helps if you can kind of do a little bit of pre-outreach. So, before you're ready to say, "Hey, I got this guide, do you wanna link to it?" Maybe you've interacted on them on social media a few times, left a comment or two on their blog over a period of a few months, and you're being more strategic in trying to build that relationship. You know, I'm going to...I'm speaking at Brighton SEO in a couple of days. And you do build...you build connection in your network. So, just by going to events where there's other influencers or people you wanna mingle with, then there's more likelihood that they will know who you are and potentially linked to you in the future. So, there is sometimes an offline benefit to building backlinks as well.

[00:40:18]

Will: Yeah. And what about what do we know about social media links? You know, how...do we know much about how they affect SEO? So, links from tweets, Facebook posts, Pinterest, stuff like that?

[00:40:30]

Joe: Yeah, as a general rule, and this isn't hard and fast. But as a general rule, you don't tend to get much SEO benefit from the link itself on a social media profile, so somewhere like Twitter or Facebook, that type of thing. Often, the links are no followed, which is just a technical part added to the link, meaning it wouldn't pass reputation. But that's kind of only surface level, social media massively helps SEO in terms of getting backlinks because you're potentially getting the right eyeballs looking at your content. And I remember back five or six years ago, I looked at the last 20 backlinks that we got to our website, and I think I'd worked out that 11 of them would come from Twitter, indirectly from Twitter. So, it was... Or at least I thought they had. So it was people that followed me on Twitter, would see that I posted my latest blog post, they would have read it. And at some stage later in the future, they would have then linked to my site. So, I would sort of say social media is powerful for SEO, but it's more about connecting you to the right audience who potentially can link to you.

[00:41:47]

Will: That's a very good point. And again, surely Google would be, you know, it wouldn't be a good move on their part to consider links from tweets in the same way it considers links from the BBC, because that would just be far too easy system to game. You know, if once people found that out, they'd be writing bots to spit out billions of links all over social media, right? So, it just wouldn't work. But you're right, like you say, it's about indirectly reaching the right people with really good quality content, because they're the people that are most likely to actually create genuine earned backlinks when they write about it or cite your work later down the line.

[00:42:32]

Okay, cool. So Joe, you've just done a webinar about SEO for the DMI, tell us more about what you covered there. And also, about this five-day SEO challenge that you're inviting us to take part in on your own website.

[00:42:49]

Joe: So I'll be talking about how you can identify quick win keywords. Now, there are keywords that you're likely gonna be ranking for perhaps you didn't know. And so, there's tools that you can use, things like Google Search Console is a tool, but I mentioned quite a few other tools in the webinar. And I'll be looking at quite a few little different things, sometimes some quirky things you can do to get a good quick win. And I'm actually creating a five-day challenge myself. But yeah, it'll be tribeseo.com/challenge. And it's just one task every day for five days. It starts off by working out what are your quick win or your easier to lift keywords, that's day one. The second day will be around really knuckling down on keyword research from a user-intent perspective. And then, we talk about how to make your content relevant, not just from a keyword perspective, but actually fulfilling in what the user wants.

[00:43:54]

We talk a little bit about how you can interlink your pages, so they are gonna get a boost, and how you can improve your click-through rates and things like that. There's lots of things that we'll be covering. But yeah, I do, you know, part of what we've talked about today is a little bit heavy with Google's algorithms and creating all this content. And people often say SEO is a marathon. It's not a sprint. But I actually think sometimes it is better to have that sprint mindset initially. It's not to say that SEO doesn't take time because it does. But if I was working on a client, or started work with a client, the first thing I would be looking at would be quick wins. Because once you get momentum of SEO, that's how you keep building momentum and making more and more progress.

[00:44:44]

Will: Yes, that's great. Well, I think I'll need to join that challenge myself. It sounds great. It sounds like we all need. A lot of it actually just is the reality of getting round to it, getting round to just tackling those first small tasks, you know, Like you say, not worrying too much about the big marathon, but just starting something, starting small, and getting that momentum moving. So yeah, we'll definitely check that out and the webinar, too. Well, thanks so much, Joe. That's great. That's really interesting insight into the Google algorithm, how it works. And my last question, I suppose, before you go is, where do you think it's headed? What do you think the future holds for the Google algorithm?

[00:45:29]

Joe: Yeah, I mean, I think we're sort of building on some of the things we talked about earlier, really, but I mean, Google's just trying to get smarter. It's trying to satisfy the user-intent keywords better. So, it's about producing useful content. And the area that Google is focusing on is the less known topics. So some of these smaller topics, these longer tail keywords. So, that would be one area in terms of where Google is Google is heading. I kind of feel that Google needs to come back to address some of the spam issues. So, when we looked at Penguin and Panda, it was addressing people buying links or writing thin content. And I think Google kind of felt like it had done its job there. And it could no focus on AI and rewarding quality content. But the truth is, you can still buy links, and you can still write content that isn't super high quality. And it does sometimes pass Google's test.

[00:46:32]

So, I think Google will be circling back on that. I suspect they know it's not at the standard it should be. So yeah, I would say it is about creating useful content, maybe go a little bit broader in terms of your content strategy. If you are looking at informational keywords, they should hopefully complement some of the transactional keywords. So, you don't just wanna write about anything. You wanna write about something that will potentially help your business. But yeah, I think it's quite an exciting time. There's lots of things and ways Google could go with artificial intelligence. So yeah, I would say, AI useful content. And obviously, with this page experience updates, Google is saying mobile is important. In 2018, we had the rollout of mobile index first. We had the mobile PageSpeed update, also in 2018. So, Google at the moment is kind of obsessing with mobile, and artificial intelligence, I would say.

[00:47:36]

Will: Well, thanks so much, Joe. That's all really good info. Where can people find you online if they want to connect with you?

[00:47:44]

Joe: Yeah, sure. Well, the website is tribeseo.com/challenge if you wanna do the challenge. I'm on Twitter, JoeTheSeo, so @joetheseo. My username on LinkedIn is Joseph Williams, and those are probably the two best places.

[00:48:03]

Will: Great, we'll be sure to do that. Thanks again. And hope to chat to you again soon. Cheers.

[00:48:11]

If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com .Thanks for listening.

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Joe Williams
Joe Williams

Joe Williams teaches search engine optimization at Tribe SEO. He holds a degree in Computing Informatics, and he’s been an SEO for over 15 years. He’s consulted and trained many large blue-chip companies including The Guardian, Cosmopolitan and Sky. He's on a mission to make SEO easy, fun and profitable. You can catch him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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