Canon Europe’s Senior Technical SEO is a popular speaker at Click Consult’s annual Benchmark Search Conference. Omi is passionate about SEO, especially the technical side. I caught up with him to talk about getting the technical vs content balance right, the impact on voice search and the worst technical errors he’s seen in the wild
At Benchmark 2017, Omi described himself as “a practitioner that loves talking about SEO” and found this was certainly true when I interviewed him for our latest on.click podcast. In fact, he had so much to say, insights to offer and anecdotes to tell that we’re bringing you the interview in two separate podcasts.
Here’s a summary of Part 1…
What is technical organic search (SEO)?
“The internet is a technical platform so, from an SEO point of view, all the content in the world won’t help you without correct set up. So, to me, technical SEO is about making sure a website is fit for purpose. If content is king, then technical website is the throne it sits on. Every king needs a castle – and content needs a solid foundation.
“Ask yourself the question: Can Google find your pages? Can Googlebot render and index your pages? – these all need to be considered as part of technical SEO. Page load time, Java script, accessibility, structured data, mobile, indexation, crawling, thin content on pages – these are all technical issues. Content optimisation should then follow.”
What’s your take on the technical vs content debate for SEO?
“Some people think content SEO and content marketing are two separate things. If I was interviewing someone who defined themselves as either ‘a content SEO’, or ‘a technical SEO’, I wouldn’t give them the job! A technically well-optimised site without good content means nothing. Good content that sits on an unoptimised website counts for nothing.
“Here’s an example: last year a company asked me to carry out a technical audit of their website. They wanted to know why their pages weren’t ranking well. When I looked at it, I found almost 500,000 pages of good content, yet only about 20,000 were generating traffic. I then discovered a huge number of orphan pages (a page on a website that’s not linked to by any other page on the site) – out of 150,000 of these, only 3,000 were getting traffic. This showed clear problems with the site structure, even though they had amazing on-page content.
“After we fixed the site structure, the company saw an increase in online visibility of more than 60%. The point of the story? There’s only one ‘SEO’!”
A technically well-optimised site without good content means nothing. Good content that sits on an unoptimised website counts for nothing. If content is king, then technical website is the throne it sits on. Every king needs a castle – and content needs a solid foundation
What’s the biggest make or break factor in SEO?
“Take care of technical optimisation first. Content comes next.
“Every business exists for a reason. You need to know your customers first before you do anything else. Then start thinking about your website, then keyword research, then inbound – then come the sales. The rules aren’t much different from traditional, offline marketing.
“SEO should never live in isolation – but I see this a lot. SEO is not the only thing that will make you successful. SEO should be at the heart of your business, but it’s not the only thing you need to do to be successful online.”
What are your thoughts on the link building aspect of SEO?
“Despite getting a bit of a bad rep, building links is still an important aspect of SEO.
“Google is now using so-called RankBrain (Google’s machine-learning technology) – I’m speculating a little bit here – to apply the same logic as in PPC. Historically, Google never needed backlinks to rank an ad for relevance. Now we’re seeing the same trend in SEO. Links are still important, but not everywhere. I’d recommend people concentrate their attention on customers rather than links. If you’re active on social media, if you engage your audience, people will link back to your site naturally.
“Talking to your target audience – whether via social media or email – is key. Don’t think about just RankBrain or social media or whatever in isolation– you need to take everything into account. It’s all about relevance: if the relevant people don’t come to your site, they won’t convert, so what’s the point?
So what do you think will be the other impacts of RankBrain on SEO?
“It will force us to understand our audience. Everything starts with the end user. Website owners who value traffic over relevance – people whose prioritise visits as a KPI – just don’t understand the importance of having the right people on your site.
“RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm, it learns from users’ behaviour. This has always been Google’s objective: to return the best answer according to user intent. Black hat tactics such as building irrelevant backlinks were side doors that were bad SEO practice. This has always been a challenge for Google, and why they introduced RankBrain.”
Talking to your target audience – whether via social media or email – is key. Don’t think about just RankBrain or social media or whatever in isolation– you need to take everything into account. It’s all about relevance: if the relevant people don’t come to your site, they won’t convert, so what’s the point?
How is voice search changing the SEO landscape?
“On devices like Google Home and Alexa – there’s only one answer, no search engine results pages (SERPs). This will be the answer that the search engine thinks is the most relevant. So we need to start thinking about relevancy now – tomorrow is too late.
“RankBrain, or a version of it, will be the main ranking factor in the future.”
What SEO techniques are people underutilising?
“Lots of SEOs come from marketing rather than technical backgrounds like me. But the internet is a very technical platform. So making sure your website is technically sound is the number one priority for everybody. I see more people who are struggling because their websites are built the wrong way than people struggling because they have bad content.
“I see a lot of good content on line; we all know we need good content. But this content needs to live in a good place. You can have the best content in the world, but if no one can find it there’s literally no point!”
What are the top technical errors you see the most?
“Here’s my biggest bugbear: you should never allow Google to index internal search results (otherwise known as doorway pages).
“Here are some examples.
“Shopstyle.co.uk lost almost 90% of their online visibility because they forgot to tell Google not to index their internal search results. Even when people were discussing it in the media, they were still slow to fix the problem. The way Google sees it, you click on the search result link and you end up in another search engine – the one on the site, which adds no value to the user.
“The second most annoying thing for me is when people build their website on a staging server, then when they move it to a live site (a production server) and forget to remove the code from the staging server. I come across a lot of staging environments indexed online so that both sites are indexed. This is madness!
“Or people noindex the staging server pages, then transfer all the code to the live site and forget to remove the noindex.
“Another example is Reference.com. Over two or three years they lost almost 100% of their online visibility because all of their content is noindexed – they’re literally telling Google not to index it! I looked at this site last year. These are big, famous websites making schoolboy errors.
“Last year History.co.uk migrated their website, but forgot to redirect old pages to the new pages, in many cases using 302 or 301 redirect. Over four or five months they lost almost 80% of their online visibility.
“Another mistake is when people don’t understand how RankBrain is ranking pages: no algorithm is the same for every website. The way the algorithm sees your website may not be the same as it sees my website. It depends on sector and industry – and even your set of keywords. It’s a machine learning system at end of day – it learns what your customers like. For instance, if they like long form articles, Google will recognise that this type of content is the best for this industry.
“I often go online to study the SERPs and when big companies are going down, I want to find out why. We learn from other people’s mistakes, plus Google’s algorithm is constantly changing. What’s affecting other people’s websites now my affect mine tomorrow.”
Want to hear more? Access Part 2 of Omi’s interview here.
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