The Relationship Between Google and the SEO Community
SEO Mythbusting discusses the relationship between Google and the SEO community. You will learn about featured snippets, user testing, and why Google encourages users to submit feedback.
Topics discussed in this episode include:
What does ‘it depends’ depend on?
Introduction to the episode.
Featured snippets, publishers, & Google.
Too little transparency, too much transparency?
Not using Android or Chrome data for ranking.
AMP & the Top Stories Carousel.
More on Google’s communication with the SEO community.
Why doesn’t Martin Splitt want to know about ranking?
‘The best possible website’ & user testing.
What Does “it depends” depend on?
MARTIN SPLITT: It depends, really, is the answer to a lot of things.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: So what’s it depend on?
MARTIN SPLITT: It depends on so many different things. It depends on the question that you’re asking. What it depends on is like the weird meta answer here. It’s like, is this a new side? Is this a side that is literally doing a site move? Is it an actual site move, or are you just changing the URL structure or something? What does your server setup look like? How fast is your website? What is the content looking like? Is there a lot of competition around this piece of content? Is it a duplication of content that is somewhere else? And it depends on so many different things because as you might figure out, the entire process on our site, the entire infrastructure on our site is very large, and vast, and complex.
Introduction to the Episode
Hello, and welcome to another episode of “SEO Mythbusting.” Today with me is Barry Schwartz. You might know him from Twitter and Search Engine Roundtable. Very happy to have you here. Welcome to SEO Mythbusting, and we’re going to talk a little bit about community.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Awesome, thanks for having me in your awesome office.
MARTIN SPLITT: Yeah, all the secret blueprints and stuff.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Don’t tell anybody.
MARTIN SPLITT: They’re not that– so secret anymore. So when I reached out to you to check if you were available to do this, you said you wanted to talk about the relationship between Google and the SEO community. So one thing that does puzzle me a little bit is that we are trying to be as transparent as possible to people, and we are balancing between being transparent and being confusing. But we are oftentimes met with this– I don’t know– the idea that we are withholding truth, or we’re having a different intention than what we are saying we do, which is not the case. Where does that come from?
Featured Snippets, Publishers, and Google
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Well, you have to understand that these are people building out content in order to get traffic to their websites. And in some examples where either you have feature snippets, where the– where these publishers believe you’re taking their content, and putting it on your own website, the Google search results, and people don’t have to click on– from the Google search results to their website because all of– the answer that you answered the [? query ?] are right in that– on the Google search results page. Because of that, people feel like, why am I doing this? Why should I go ahead and write content that I’m getting zero traffic from, which I’m not going to convert on?
MARTIN SPLITT: But– yes. I see that. I see that. I understand that. We hear that a lot, but we already know from studies and from experience reports from the community that you oftentimes get a lot more qualified traffic. You get better traffic to your site from featured snippets.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Well, maybe. I mean, there’s been studies going both ways on that.
MARTIN SPLITT: Fair enough.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: And it would be great if you guys could go ahead and publish your own internal data, or share in Google search console to show what this specific publisher is getting from feature snippets– a little filter, say. Filter my performance reports by feature snippets. And you could see you click-through rate, your impressions, all that data. And I think, if it’s positive, I think the community will be very happy.
MARTIN SPLITT: I’m not so sure about that, because there’s always a little bit off of agenda behind it, and different people have different angles to this. And I think it’s important to understand that fundamentally, if you have content that is really useful for the users, and you add more value around it because your site is full of good content, then I think these can drive a lot of traffic. But I think the complaints might be coming from people where the traffic– the content is maybe not as great, but, I mean, there’s bits and pieces that we can pull out for the user, but the user has no incentive to actually go there. So it’s like–
BARRY SCHWARTZ: I mean, a lot of this stems from– I’m in the US, so I’ve been seeing on the TV a lot of governmental– like the Congress and Senate talking about those studies that were produced by different people in the industry, or outside the industry, even– data providers saying Google’s taking the lion’s share of the clicks, meaning people are going to Google, and Google is sending less and less traffic day by day to publishers. And that’s a trend that scares the SEO webmaster developer and publishing community.
Too Little Transparency, Too Much Transparency?
MARTIN SPLITT: Right, right, but that’s not something that we want to do. I mean, what we want to do is we want to bring people and the content publishers together. That’s literally the fundamental idea of the search engine, and we’re trying our best to make that happen. But we also know that sometimes the intention is not to do more on the publisher side. If the user wants to follow through, that’s great for both of us– for the publisher, for us. But if it’s traffic that doesn’t lead anywhere, if it’s like the zombie traffic, then that’s a tricky one to deal with. But I see where you’re coming from, and I hope that we can get more transparency and visibility to these issues in the hands of developers [INAUDIBLE].
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Yeah, and maybe that will backfire if you give more transparency. Maybe it will be better for everybody. Who knows?
MARTIN SPLITT: That’s the thing that I find very interesting that you’re saying that because that’s something that we keep experiencing, that when we are trying to be as transparent as possible, that sometimes people are taking us out of context or misrepresenting what we were saying. And then we’re in this weird lose-lose situation. We provide more transparency, we lose. We promote less transparency, we lose. That’s a tricky one to deal with.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: I mean, obviously you know I write about this transparency.
MARTIN SPLITT: Yes.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: And it’s just funny because the more transparent you are, it’s like having you lose– it’s a lose-lose situation. And I’ve been covering this for so long. Sometimes you would– over the history, you’ve pulled back some transparency, and then you’ve increased. And now it’s– I think it’s the highest it’s ever been in the community. I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to it. I mean, I think being as transparent as possible is ultimately going to be the best. Honesty is the best thing you can do without stabbing yourself in the foot.
MARTIN SPLITT: Yeah, yeah. We’re not trying to misdirect you, or we are not lying to you, so how can we make this into a win-win situation? I think we are doubling down on being transparent. It’s definitely the way that we want to go, and we just hope that the community picks that up.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Well, I mean, again, I think what you’re doing today with these videos, what you’ve been doing on the webmaster YouTube channel for a long time, the activity that you and your whole team at the Webmaster Trends team is putting out on Twitter, on the forums, and everywhere– and I think that is what you need to be doing, because otherwise–
MARTIN SPLITT: [INAUDIBLE]
BARRY SCHWARTZ: I mean, it’s just proof. It’s actual proof and truth you’re on the field doing what you need to do.
MARTIN SPLITT: Yeah.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Yeah, even just not so long ago, you held the Google Webmaster conference. And you [INAUDIBLE] go around the world, but you had a big one in Mountain View. And people are Google engineers, sitting there, taking notes, seeing what they could actually learn from the SEO community and the publishing community, and tried to make it– and they’re trying to say that’s an interesting point of view that I didn’t have. You’re taking that feedback. You’re going to– all of Google search console is based on feedback from the community.
MARTIN SPLITT: Absolutely.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: I mean, there’s so many things.
MARTIN SPLITT: I wish more people would use the Submit Feedback button. That is so helpful because if you’re reporting it over Twitter, it doesn’t really go anywhere. If you’re reporting it over our Twitter accounts or talk to us in person, then we’re like, OK, sure. I bring that to the search console team, and they’re like, that’s one opinion out of many opinions that we hear every day. But if you’re using the Submit button– the Submit Feedback button, we actually get quantitative data of what the people want. And that’s actually– I know that we’re not talking back. We can’t answer everyone submitting feedback there, but we are taking this in, and we are trying to make the things happen that we see are important. That’s how the speed report happened.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Yeah, I mean, constantly. It’s amazing how much you push out with search console, and again, it’s not really making you guys a dime. It’s just more about transparency.
MARTIN SPLITT: It’s about transparency, so let’s hope that that gets us all together as one community further in building good stuff for the web.
Not Using Android or Chrome Data for Ranking
BARRY SCHWARTZ: I hope so. And then you have all the people thinking like, hey, oh, you have Chrome. You have Android, and you’re tracking all these users. And you’re saying, hey, why aren’t you using this data for search? It’s a great way to improve search. But then you looked at Direct Hit, which was a big search engine back in the day. And they used click data, and they were manipulated by a bunch of people clicking on results, and so forth.
MARTIN SPLITT: It is very noisy as a data source. It’s so noisy.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: And nobody believes you. Why don’t people believe you?
MARTIN SPLITT: I wish to know this. I don’t understand that either, and I think it’s partly confirmation bias. People like to hear the things that confirm their hypothesis. That’s just psychology. And on the other hand, it is maybe this feeling or perception that we are trying to hide the truth. I mean, conspiracy theories are quite well off these days.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Well, it’s easy for people to think that, of course, because you can’t tell the full truth in all situations because potentially people can manipulate the search results.
MARTIN SPLITT: That’s one thing. The other thing is also just, when I say, no, we’re not using it for ranking, then I mean exactly that. And we might use it for A/B testing of different ways of presenting things in the front end, or we might be using it for I don’t know what. But people tend to only hear the bits they want to hear, and then you get misrepresented, and then we have to clean up that rather than doing other good things for the community.
AMP & the Top Stories Carousel
BARRY SCHWARTZ: I mean, so one example is with AMP. When you released AMP, there was– when you initially released it, there were people on different sides of the coin– a Google Ads team, a Google Search team, and other teams in the app community, as well, saying different things and communicating different things, which confused the larger community. Some were saying it is a ranking factor. Some were saying it’s not. And AMP, while it is not a ranking factor in the core rankings, the only way to get to that top carousel is to be– AMP– to have AMP pages. And people look at that top carousel and say that’s the top position. If you want to be over here, you don’t need AMP, but if you want to be over here, you need AMP. And to be number one, that’s kind of like a ranking factor.
MARTIN SPLITT: I actually don’t even know if we still do that. I know that the top carousel is an organic feature, but I’m not sure if [? we are ?] still requiring AMP, but–
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Initially.
MARTIN SPLITT: We’ll get it in the description of the video because I don’t know at this point.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Right, but–
MARTIN SPLITT: Initially.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: –initially, when it was launched, that was the only way to get it there. It might not be that way today.
MARTIN SPLITT: Right.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: But initially, when it was first launched, the only way to be in the AMP-in the top stories carousel was to have AMP.
More on Google’s Communication with the SEO Community
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Yeah, I mean, Google always is going to be held to a higher standard, and that gives you guys a lot more responsibility.
MARTIN SPLITT: We understand that yeah.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: And that’s why you guys are producing all that– you have AMP developer conferences all over the world all the time. You have crazy amounts of videos and documentation around that. You’re doing these things. So you obviously are stepping up, and that’s the point of this conversation is this SEO mythbusting. So SEO myth busting session is that you want to make sure that, even though you have all these theories out there, all these myths, or whatever it might be, you’re doing whatever you can, because of the responsibility Google has to kind of give as much information as you possibly can to the SEO committee and the publishing community because of that.
MARTIN SPLITT: Yeah, and we are aware of this responsibility, and we’re taking it very, very seriously. You can also see that by– if you look at when we launched the evergreen Googlebot, we didn’t just throw it out there. We could have just said we’ll test in production and see what happens. We didn’t. We made sure that we are not causing adverse effects to other people first, and that’s what we’re trying to do. And I would love the community to understand that we are not an antagonist. We’re trying to do what we can to bring good qualified traffic to people, and we’re trying to put out as much information as possible. That’s why we are filming videos like this, and that’s why we’re writing all this documentation. And I would love for people to not have these snap moments where they just jump on whatever it is at the time, but be more considerate and trying to understand what’s happening, and getting data for themselves, and thinking for themselves rather than just getting out the pitchforks.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Right, I think people don’t realize there’s real human beings at Google. I know it’s funny. I was having a conversation with Danny Sullivan, who’s the search liaison at Google now. And he was basically saying, yeah, Googlers don’t have skin. We’re robots– because people just talk to Google like they’re a company. And there’s real people there with real feelings. And just because something– you don’t agree with something at Google or whatever, it doesn’t mean you should really just yell your head off at whoever you’re talking to, because people have feelings. And there are real people there.
MARTIN SPLITT: They have feelings. Sometimes I have a bad day, and then when I read certain things on Twitter, I’m like, why am I doing this?
BARRY SCHWARTZ: I apologize for those tweets.
MARTIN SPLITT: It’s fine. It’s not you.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: It’s OK.
MARTIN SPLITT: Mostly. No, it’s fine. That just happens, and we have to deal with that, I guess. That’s part of the deal of working at Google is also the site of where people are just disgruntled and angry. That’s OK. It’s just sometimes when it’s– what I don’t like is when it gets unfair when people are twisting your words and are basically calling you out for things that you didn’t do or didn’t say.That’s a really weird one. And when I get asked a question, I say, no. And people are like, look at the exact wording that he has used. That must have– have a secret hidden meaning. I am literally– I am not sitting there in my computer or at my phone thinking 20 minutes about a sinister way to– I’m not a lawyer. I don’t–
BARRY SCHWARTZ: You have to go through some training, I guess. I don’t know.
MARTIN SPLITT: I mean, I do go through some training, but mostly to make sure that I’m not confusing people.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Right.
Why doesn’t Martin Split want to know about ranking?
MARTIN SPLITT: That’s the biggest risk. It’s not like that we are trying to hide something. It’s more like, especially when I don’t know something, I’d rather say I don’t know.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Right.
MARTIN SPLITT: And that doesn’t mean– and people are like, so you can’t say? It’s like, no, no, no. It’s not that I can’t say. I literally don’t know.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Well, John Mueller said I don’t know, and I asked him about, what does I don’t know mean? He’s like either I can’t say, or I don’t know.
MARTIN SPLITT: So that’s John’s way of doing it.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: That’s John.
MARTIN SPLITT: That’s John’s way of doing it. When I can’t say, I’m like, I can’t really say, or-
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Or maybe I misunderstood what John said.
MARTIN SPLITT: Who knows, right? But basically, I’ll say when I can’t say something because I think that’s just fair to say I can’t say that. For instance, if someone was like, so how do you–how do you rate something for spam? And I’m like, I can’t say that, because if I would give this information away how we are doing spam detection stuff, then spammers could use this information to game the system again.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Right.
MARTIN SPLITT: So I won’t discuss that. I won’t discuss ranking simply because I don’t know much about it, and I deliberately keep it that way.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: So Martin, why don’t you want to know about rankings? I mean, it’s the secret sauce. You could go home. You could just go ahead, and build your own websites, and make so much money on the side.
MARTIN SPLITT: So first things first, I think we should not know about ranking because we are trying to represent the community as much as we can internally as we do externally, as well. The other thing is I’m just really bad at keeping secrets, so that’s why I don’t want to know about the ranking bits and pieces, because if I accidentally blab them, then it’s not very helpful. And also it keeps changing, and there’s so much going on, and we have hundreds of ranking factors. And I don’t think there is that much actionable bits and pieces in there, so I don’t feel like we should be talking about it as much. We should be talking about, what do our users want? What do our users need? How can we better understand it? And how can we better deliver good web experiences? And we have a lot of work to do performance-wise, content strategy-wise, literally just copy writing-wise. There’s so much that we need to look into that I don’t think that that’s a fruitful discussion to have, really.
“The Best Possible Website” & User Testing
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Yeah, but when you tell the community just build the best possible website, they go back and start laughing. Yeah, build the best possible– of course, I think I have the best possible website, but what can I do make it better? Should I add HTTPS? Should they make it 0.5 seconds faster?
MARTIN SPLITT: Fair, fair.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: This specific thing. So I’m like, where are my priorities?
MARTIN SPLITT: Right, so I think priorities is a tricky one because, as I say, we keep changing things a lot. But just basically–
BARRY SCHWARTZ: So just print them on your Google Help docs.
MARTIN SPLITT: I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. But you’re right. There are a few technical things that you can influence and that you should do, like HTTPS, making your website fast. But these stem from, again, thinking user first, and I would see– I would love to see more companies doing user testing. As in trying to understand who are your users, and then actually having a conversation with them, because what I think is the best content for my users might not be what the users think is the best content for them. And that’s a reality that I’ve seen in all the companies I worked at– the ones that did the user tests learned a bunch from just having a five-minute conversation with some of the users.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Yeah, and Google has a product– Google consumer survey feature, I think.
MARTIN SPLITT: [INAUDIBLE]
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Because I remember I got hit by that Panda update once a long, long time ago. And John’s like, why don’t you ask your users what they think of your content? And I’m like OK. So I embedded one of those Google Survey things, and then I published the results, and they liked my content. So Google went in there, changed the algorithm. Me and my website ranked really high [INAUDIBLE].
MARTIN SPLITT: You now know how it all works and– yeah, that’s interesting. I didn’t know that we had that product. That’s a good one.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: Yeah, and it takes literally just a second to embed. I don’t know if it’s exactly called that, but it’s basically a little embed. And then it pops up, rate the site. And then based on how you rate it and what page you’re on, it gives you dynamic information to ask you more questions–
MARTIN SPLITT: Nice.
BARRY SCHWARTZ: –which goes into a Google spreadsheet, which you then use to publish, if you want.
MARTIN SPLITT: That’s awesome. That’s really cool. Awesome. Now, thank you so much for being here, Barry. I think this was a really, really interesting conversation about community, and how Google and the SEO community work together or can work together. And I’d like to thank you all for watching this season two of “SEO Mythbusting,” and listening to us and the other guests talking. And thank you very much. And bye-bye.
SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE] start again.
SPEAKER 1: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MARTIN SPLITT: Why am I doing this?
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE]
MARTIN SPLITT: Every single–
SPEAKER 2: Don’t worry. This happens [INAUDIBLE].
MARTIN SPLITT: –time. It’s worth it. It’s worth it.
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE].
MARTIN SPLITT: It’s me, not you.
SPEAKER 3: Are we breaking up right now? Like, what?
MARTIN SPLITT: Hello, and welcome to “SEO Mythbusters.” Today I have–
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