3 years ago, Mike emailed me out of the blue, and his email began:
As you know, I’m just starting my journey into SEO and man, there’s a lot to learn out there…
1) Please give me your background and let us know what you do for a living (with links).
First let me say, thanks so much for having me. What do I do for a living? Well, I’m the Senior SEO at SwellPath in Portland, OR. I absolutely love SEO and can’t think of anything I’d rather do. My background is, if you go back really far, in writing and research (History major in college), but more recently, it’s in web development and design.
I really just fell into this whole internet-as-a-profession thing. Shortly after I graduated college with a BA in History, I realized I didn’t really want to do anything in that field. My buddy worked at MySpace in Beverly Hills and hooked me up with an interview, which soon turned into a job. It was in customer support, since I didn’t know jack about web development, but being in customer support afforded me a lot of free time. Ever remember getting hold of a support person at MySpace? Yeah. Me neither.
I ended up making friends with some MySpace developers who sparked my interest in actually building stuff on the web. The encouraged me to install WordPress and start tweaking themes to get my feet wet. As soon as I did, I loved it! Digging into the code and figuring out how the web actually worked fascinated me like nothing I’d ever been exposed to before. When the opportunity came up months later to join a small startup as a web dev helper monkey/content manager/SEO assistant, I jumped on it. The next few years were a whirlwind that included freelancing, moving to Portland from LA, working as an in-house website manager for a yoga studio, finally landing a job at a real web agency, and eventually joining up at SwellPath as a junior search analyst. Now I’m running the SEO department over there and have the honor of speaking at both SMX East and at an SEMpdx event. What a journey!
I hope that wasn’t too long-winded.
2) What is semantic markup, and why should we care?
Semantic markup gets me geeked like no other. The movement for a semantic web centers on taking the relative mess of unorganized data that makes up most web pages and making it easily findable and understandable using common data formats or vocabularies. At the moment, there are various options for semantic markup (schema.org, microformats, RDFa, data-vocabulary.org, GoodRelations, etc.), but my favorite is schema.org. It annoys me a little that there are so many options for semantic markup because there’s this looming possibility, in my mind, where enough disparate vocabularies pop up that it basically negates this entire effort to use common data formats.
Let me rip myself out of the technical aspect, though (it’s a challenge), and explain what that actually means for marketers and webmasters. Semantic markup allows us to make all of our content easily accessible to everything from search engines to web applications. Basically, we can use semantic markup on video content, product reviews and ratings, location and contact information, business/organization details, authorship attributes, recipes, product info, medical conditions, and much more so that it’s super-easy for search engines to understand. This then allows them to take our structured data and do cool things with it, like display these amazing-looking (and CTR-boosting) rich snippets in search results.
3) What are the SEO Benefits of utilizing Google Plus?
The SEO benefits of using Google+ are many (and will only increase in the future). Google realized years ago that they needed to start paying attention to what people were sharing on social, and how they were sharing it, if they wanted to continue to deliver the best content to searchers. Having Google+ as a social network is awesome for that because they now have a direct stream of social data that they can evaluate and use to improve search. When users start +1ing a site, that’s a pretty good indicator of value, and you could really argue that that’s just as good or a better quality indicator than backlinks. Of course, just like links, +1s and shares are going to need to be qualified so that high-authority people have more weight behind their recommendation and spam profiles have little-to-no weight.
So, one of the big SEO benefits of Google+ is the power of a +1. When someone +1s a page, that page is going to rank better in the personal (i.e., logged in) search results of anyone they’re connected to. That can even extend out to second-degree connections in some cases. Considering that a lot of websites these days are getting 10-20% of their organic Google traffic from logged-in users, the potential there is huge. Honestly, based on conversations I’ve been having with non-search marketers, there is still a lot of unrealized opportunity here as well. Getting more and more people on board with Google +1 buttons and spreading awareness about how that impacts sites is a personal goal of mine.
The other big SEO benefit of Google+ is how it’s being used as an identity platform. You know about Google Authorship, of course, but that’s Google’s initiative to link content on the web to actual, verified content creators. With Google Authorship, you link your Google+ profile to all the content you create on the web. The great (creepy?) thing about that is that Google can then track how all the content you’ve created performs in terms of engagement, sharing, and performance in search.
Right now, you get a really great-looking author rich snippet in Google’s search results, but I think that’s just the beginning. There’s good reason to believe that once Google gets authorship information on a large enough scale, they’ll start using it to influence search results by ranking authors and actually promoting content written by people with a higher AuthorRank. I actually just wrote an in-depth post about AuthorRank on SEOmoz.
So, if you’ll permit me, I’m dying to ask you a question. When are PPCAssociates going to get down with Google Authorship? I noticed no one has it set up yet. ;-) (Editor’s note: working on it!)
4) Can you give us succinct definitions of Google Panda & Penguin that non-SEO’s can understand?
Sure thing! Panda and Penguin are two Google projects intended to get spam out of the search results. To build Panda, Google used human quality raters to manually evaluate websites so they could get data about what “quality” really was from a user perspective. Next, they used machine learning to make a scalable version of that quality rating for the entire web. Sites that didn’t meet the new standard of quality got “Panda slapped” and lost tons of visibility in Google’s search results.
Penguin, on the other hand, tried to find patterns in website link profiles (the collection of links pointing to a website) and identify patterns and trends that looked unnatural. Basically, Google was going after aggressive optimization of links and Penguin really brought down the hammer on sites that had lots of links from low-quality websites, lots of links that were built in an unbelievably short period of time, tons of links that all used the exact same anchor text, and so on.
While both Panda and Penguin really helped create better search results and took a huge number of spam sites out of the game, there were still some honest, hardworking people who got caught up in it and just didn’t know any better. That was very unfortunate and was painful to see. I remember a particular case of a furniture store shutting their doors because of Penguin. The SEO community actually tried to help them out, but it turned out to be too late. It was a real bummer.
5) How are social signals being utilized in the Google Search Algorithm and what do you see the future trend for this?
As I mentioned previously, +1s are having an impact in search rankings, and so are Google+ shares. Additionally, tweets certainly seem to get new content indexed quickly that otherwise might be slow to get picked up. There have also been some interesting studies about tweets having a very positive, though time-limited, impact on ranking. The biggest change I see in the future is Google rolling out the impact of Google+ social sharing to all search results, not just logged-in, personalized results. Again, I also think that an authority metric like AuthorRank will be necessary to qualify social signals from Google+, Twitter, and other networks and attribute appropriate weight to them. Think of it this way: if Neil deGrasse Tyson tweets out a link to an astrophysics article, it definitely makes sense for Google to attribute more value to that than if I did it.
6) How can paid search complement a professional SEO effort?
I think that paid and organic go hand-in-hand and always will. When we’re winning in SEO, our site is ranking on the first page of results (and hopefully in the first three spots). We can probably get a decent volume of visitors off of that and they then have the chance to convert, but what if we add in paid search on top of that? That’s twice as many chances to get the click-though, but beyond that, that company now has this really great branding reinforcement by having better search engine results page (SERP) penetration. Let’s say you search for “climbing gear” and let’s also assume you don’t know who REI is (Editor’s note: we buy our outdoor gear from The Clymb). On that search result, you have an organic result, a paid result, and a local result for REI. If that’s your first experience with the brand, that’s a pretty solid signal that “maybe these guys belong here and I should check them out.”
Funny side story: I pulled the term “SERP Penetration” out of the air when talking about this same concept to a client, and now our CEO won’t stop using it. I guess I’m stuck with it.
– Todd Mintz, Sr. Account Manager