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Globalizing UGC Platforms like Twitter & Twitch with Tyler Vickers

Episode Overview

A super star SEO at Twitter and Twitch, Tyler Vickers has a unique perspective when it comes to user-generated content (UGC) platforms. Coming from a creative background, he’s also grounded in the technical SEO aspects of managing large platforms with multiple languages and a wide variety of content. With the real-time nature of UGC platforms, there’s often a huge influx of search demand for a topic that can’t always be anticipated in advance. As the search surfaces that align with real-time content and live news get more sophisticated, what’s Tyler’s advice to SEOs optimizing and internationalizing UGC platforms for growth, while ensuring a great user experience?

Tyler shares his expertise on:

  • What are the foundational building blocks of Google and other search engines that should be applied universally to most international regions?
  • What are the responsibilities of the SEO at a platform like Twitter to ensure user-generated content is framed in a way that is location specific?
  • How can teams create new business opportunities from information and media?
  • What’s the importance of structured data using specific schema and schematic frameworks to deliver information?

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Ben:                             Welcome to Global SEO week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re talking to five superstar SEOs about their strategies for planning, launching and optimizing global properties for organic growth.

Ben:                             Joining us today is Tyler Vickers, who is the SEO manager at Twitch, which is an interactive live streaming platform that is owned by Amazon. Prior to working at Twitch, Tyler also held roles for SEO in large global platforms including Twitter and Yahoo. Today Tyler is going to walk us through his playbook for international expansion for large platforms.

Ben:                             But before we hear from Tyler, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation on how your website content and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.

Ben:                             Okay, here’s my conversation with SEO manager of Twitch, Tyler Vickers. Tyler, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Tyler:                            Thanks very much for having me, Ben.

Ben:                             I’m excited to have you here on the show. I’m excited to hear a little bit about Twitch and your worked with a couple other content platforms. Let’s start off by hearing a little bit about you. Tell me about your background. How did you get into SEO and how did you land a gig doing SEO at a company like Twitch?

Tyler:                            Yeah. I have been doing SEO now for a little over 10 years. I, like many other SEOs, got into it sort of in some ways by accident and kind of fell in love with it after I was president with an opportunity to learn it at my very first job. I come from an editorial background. At my very first company, which was a video and men’s lifestyle company primarily, I was writing blogs and editing video, searching for videos to be able to present our audience.

Tyler:                            Around that time, building up content libraries through exact match query marketing was becoming very popular and I saw it as an opportunity to work with freelance writers. At that time unfortunately when I interviewed for the editor role I was deemed not having quite enough experience so I was offered an opportunity instead to learn the business principles that undergirded that strategy, which was called SEO. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I was excited to start learning it.

Ben:                             It’s interesting to hear that your background was not necessarily I feel like the common background for SEOs. Most of them come from a technical background and they were an engineer that was building websites and then had to figure out how to market them and that’s how they stumbled into SEO, you were actually a writer. How do you think the understanding of the English language helped you learn SEO as you were getting started?

Tyler:                            I think it underscored the importance of distinguishing good content and being able to provide a better understanding of how important on-page content was, even from the outset. I had always love writing and like many writers at that point in time I was a little daunted sometimes by understanding how writers or how viewers or readers actually got to my content that I wrote. I think that when SEO was presented to me as a strategy for getting more eyeballs on the things that you write and create, it was very intriguing initially.

Tyler:                            I didn’t really understand the other business side concepts of it initially, but that concept of being discovered and having this opportunity to be discovered by a large audience was very intriguing and I think that my understanding of hopefully what readers or what viewers wanted underpinned the search for understanding what they wanted and being able to convey that on the page first and foremost, and then learning the other more technical aspects of SEO about how search bots and algorithms understand the pages on which our writing appears was the thing that filled in the those other gaps that gave me my first foundations of SEO knowledge.

Ben:                             It’s interesting to hear that you had a creative background and had learned the technical side, and yet you’ve been able to be a successful SEO without a traditional technical background and you’ve worked for some of the biggest, most notable technical companies in the world, the Yahoo’s a while ago, Twitter more recently, and now Twitch, which is a growing platform. Talk to me about how you were able to learn the technical side of SEO coming from a creative background.

Tyler:                            Sure. First and foremost I will always credit the very understanding and appreciative engineers and product managers that I got to work with along the way for being patient with me as I learned these principles. I think that as many SEOs probably know or anyone who has sort of dabbled in SEO has probably ascertained at different points in time, there are a lot of resources that one can learn coincidentally through your own searching and through some of the larger brands in the space that we know and love, like Moz and Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land, and doing a lot of individual seeking and reading on the principles that undergird a lot of the technical understandings of how websites are built.

Tyler:                            I learned a lot on the job in and of itself. When I joined Yahoo my initial role was, one, as an editorial SEO so I was … Because again, given my somewhat unique background, I was able to interface directly with the writers who were creating content for some of our well-known subdomains and verticals like Yahoo sports and finance and movies at the time, and in the course of that slowly become more exposed to the technical roles and responsibilities that would come along with the job as I would work together with the editors.

Tyler:                            While I was doing traditional reporting on weekly metrics, ascertaining whether or not individual stories did well, why they did or did not, and really focusing on on-page optimization. I was also presented with opportunities to learn a little bit more about the technical frameworks and problems that we needed to address as a larger company and a larger SEO team that gave me the opportunity to work and learn directly in the trenches, so to speak, on what needed to get changed and how we could affect product changes that were also optimized for search in ways that they hadn’t been before and present those from a business case perspective.

Ben:                             As you’ve worked in some of these large companies, I’m wondering if you see a thread of Yahoo and Twitter and Twitch are all massive, massive websites. They’re also multinational, they’re global websites. Talk to me about some of the learnings that you’ve picked up along the way in terms of managing a large platform with multiple different types of content and multiple different languages.

Tyler:                            Sure. First and foremost, again, I like to always credit those who are my awesome colleagues that I got a chance to work with. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been not only presented with the kinds of problems and opportunities at the scale that we’re talking about when it comes to building an SEO strategy for international brands, but also working with international SEOs. When I was first at Yahoo the SEO team that I got to interface with every day included SEOs from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK, Australia, and I learned … The stuff that I learned from them was immeasurably positive for me as an SEO and also for understanding the scale and subtle varieties yet universal SEO traits and projects that we needed to continue to pursue.

Tyler:                            I think that we learned a lot about hearing … I think one of the things that really underscores my international experience and that I learned from that first job and took it into my experience at Twitter particularly and even in some ways into my current role, is that so many of the principles that we understand as being universal and the foundational building blocks of how Google and other search engines crawl your website, should be applied relatively universally to most regions. But those regions in and of themselves have very different users and very different expectations around how search works, what you can and should not be able to search for for any particular brand or concept and how those actual search results are effected.

Tyler:                            Also, how we as primarily US-based and English-speaking companies can effect and scale the content that we have that is primarily created in English in a way that reaches all audiences in a harmonious sort of way and in a way that meets them in their own language and with their own sort of cultural backgrounds and having a CEOs in those regions that we can learn from and be able to give us the perspective that is unique to their audience is extremely important and powerful.

Ben:                             When you’re working at Yahoo, I understand that you have your local SEOs and they’re helping go through a translation process and they’re making sure that all of your content is appropriate in market. The thing that I think is most interesting about some of your experience in internationalization is that you’ve worked now on a couple of primarily user-generated content platforms that are truly global. Talk to me about the process of localizing content that is user-generated.

Ben:                             Let’s talk about Twitter first. The users are creating content that obviously is for their market. What’s the responsibility of the SEO at a platform like Twitter to make sure that whatever user-generated content is framed in a way that is location specific?

Tyler:                            Yeah, that’s a great question. Our primary purpose from the SEO perspective when it came to internationalization of Twitter was to ensure that we were thinking about the user experience first and foremost from a product perspective and ensuring that we tried to adhere as closely as possible to the rigors of speed and different app and mobile web experiences that proliferated them were very important, especially in non-US regions and emerging markets.

Tyler:                            One of the experiments that I was most proud of in some ways during my time at Twitter was working directly with the product teams on SEO principles in the midst of changes to our mobile web experiences so that they were as consistent as possible from a speed and on-page rendering perspective as they could possibly be, particularly for users in international regions that were accessing Twitter primarily on their phone in a mobile web browser rather than necessarily through the app, which at the time, and I believe still, is the primary use case for our US-based users.

Tyler:                            The principles of how Google Bot and other search engines rendered those pages, balancing my priorities as an SEO with those of the engineers’ and product teams’ insistence on speed luckily were mainly aligned, but the experimentation frameworks that we put in place to actually test that were interestingly complicated from a data science perspective but also really eye-opening from an SEO perspective. The amount of traffic preservation and enhancement and the effects that we could see as we transitioned to a faster page load were very interesting to me and in the process of building that together holistically across these different teams was one of the more satisfying, informative and eye-opening experiences of my SEO career.

Ben:                             For a guy with an English major, you sure do a lot of technical experimentation. It makes sense to me that at a global platform like Twitter you have your user-generated content, and obviously the first thing that you talk about when you’re thinking about localization is how do we keep the site speed high? The basic blocking and tackling of SEO crawl-abilities, site speed. Does Google know what you’re actually trying to say, getting your content to Google. That is all blocking and tackling but there’s a lot of technical stuff that happens there globally that requires a lot of work for an SEO.

Ben:                             I’m interested in hearing how you think about localizing the content for user-generated content. Are you going through and taking each individual tweet and building out the functionality to translate it? How do you think about making sure that Google knows the underlying purpose of a piece of user-generated content so it can be appropriate for multiple different markets?

Tyler:                            That’s a great question too. We mainly focus on ensuring that the localization and translation services that we had that underpinned the metadata for any given tweet or product surface were consistent and localized effectively. The actual content of the tweets and things like that were not something that we necessarily optimized ourselves or I didn’t interface with … We don’t interface with users or tweeters directly when they’re doing that.

Tyler:                            But I would say that the ability, particularly from an SEO and one from a sort of news and editorial-based background, watching, being able to follow our search traffic at a page level and see in real time these swings and trends emerge through the search traffic that was flowing globally and being able to manage that and watch slight variations and tweets emerge above the ones we normally see week to week and being able to map that to events that were happening in the world all, around the world, and all of a sudden be exposed to something that people are searching for in another country that you might never have seen was always fascinating to me.

Tyler:                            Being able to make sure that that experience was consistent for users was definitely number one, but then also the second priority was just determining from an SEO perspective, how does that inform how the product should function? How can that create new business opportunities for us to provide information in a different way to provide media and content from the images that are embedded in a tweet or the video there or how video is propagated in individual tweets. How can those be consistent and understood by search engines, but then also continue to do the main thing we want them to do, which is provide a great user experience, which of course also underpins and reinforces the optimization efforts that we’re doing on the technical side.

Ben:                             Yeah, it’s interesting. First and foremost, making the technical optimization. Second, you’re not necessarily doing a lot of content translation, you’re obviously not interfacing with every tweeter and saying, “Oh, we’re going to port your content over to French now.” But the real time nature of these user-generated platforms means that there is a huge influx of search demand for a topic that you don’t know is going to be interesting or important or popular days or weeks in advance.

Ben:                             I’m assuming that there’s a fair amount of technical optimization that you’re doing to make sure that your crawls are happening nearly in real time because your content is being created in real time. Talk to me about how you think about the nature of real time information, real time user-generated content and how are you making sure that Google keeps an up-to-date picture of your content.

Tyler:                            Yeah. That’s an interesting sort of vanguard of SEO and a concept that I feel like is still in some ways very nascent, despite the fact that we as users of our phones and computers are more and more accustomed to live video or live, real time information being available immediately. Focusing on structured data, at least in my experience, to convey the liveliness or the timeliness of a particular piece of content has been very positive from an SEO perspective and I believe it will continue to be such.

Tyler:                            The actual search surfaces that align with real time content and live news updates I think will continue to get more sophisticated over time and making sure that if you’re working on international presence for your site, particularly one that relies heavily upon breaking news or any kinds of news related spikes in traffic, structured data markup that is timed and termed effectively to convey that to search engines is really important.

Ben:                             Let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing today. I’m interested to hear a little bit about your current role and the difference between the two user-generated content platforms. Twitter is primarily text-based and Twitch is also something that requires some sense of real time interactivity. It’s live video so I’m sure that people are watching the recorded streams, but for the most part people want to be there in real time to experience the product. How does your role different working on a user-generated, text-based platform and a user-generated streaming video platform?

Tyler:                            Sure. They’re very similar in some ways and quite different in others. I would say that they’re similar in the sense that we’re working from a product and platform perspective that is designed to hopefully both reach a much broader audience of new users, but also is very interested in providing a better experience from the SEO perspective to retain returning visitors who might come back to the platform through organic search, so they’re very similar in that sense.

Tyler:                            They’re very different in the sense that the dynamic nature of video and video optimization, particularly for an international audience, is something that’s very much at the forefront of changing natures of the devices that we watch live video on and how the search experience has changed between those devices.

Tyler:                            As you’ve mentioned in your own previous podcast series, the nature of mobile SEO and the way that we watch video on our mobile devices and the circumstances and situations in which we watch mobile video on our devices are very different than those we watch on our desktop, which Twitch as a service was primarily designed for initially. How do we account for those differences and how does the user research that we do on how and when our users find our content there inform our product decisions that we make.

Tyler:                            The current role that I have really hones in on the SEO as a product experience and one that should be defined by understanding what our users want, how we can grow in terms of becoming an authority for particular concepts that we may or may not be an authority for now, or believe we can be more effective for in the space of everything. Not necessarily from just gaming, which Twitch is primarily known for, but also into other areas around TV, multiplayer entertainment, art and other concepts that people search for, and do so in a way that’s consistent with several other different product teams are underpinning a lot of other interesting and awesome video-based experiences and community-based experiences that we are building to foster a feeling of multiplayer entertainment and viewing that is also consistent with what people search for in external search engines.

Ben:                             Yeah. I think the Twitch platform is fascinating. Some of the things that you mentioned are, it started off primarily known as a gaming platform, but the notion of live streaming video is something that’s sort of proliferating our lives in multiple different ways. It’s not just you can watch somebody play a video game, there’s plenty of different experiences where this type of content can be consumed and it actually gets back into some of the things that you talked about with what your role was at Twitter.

Ben:                             The first thing you mentioned was, hey look, there’s all of these different experiences that people around the world are … They consume the content in a different way. Here in the US you might have the Twitch app or you’re going to Google and there’s a rich mobile landing page experience. There are also people that are interested in consuming this content that are in third world countries that don’t have strong connections, how are you going to be able to deliver that content to them? You get that technical component that’s even more complex than what you were doing at Twitter.

Tyler:                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                             One of the big questions I have for you is, as you’re working with live streaming video, how are you thinking about taking that content … Because it is not inherently text rich, are you thinking about translations and you have your video recorded or are you just taking metadata that’s coming from what the content creator is saying about what they’re going to post. How much are you able to take advantage of the content that’s actually being produced because it is not written because it’s video?

Tyler:                            I believe that we’re getting better and better at understanding the content that we have and using some of the other product experiences that we have around generating highlights and videos and stuff like that to reinforce descriptive elements of the video and experiences that we have on any given channel page or on our highlighter clips pages to deliver and modify the kinds of written content the search engines are able to understand and make sure that they’re being understood effectively.

Tyler:                            There’s also a quite a bit of work still to be done, again, around reiterating the importance of structured data and being able to use these very specific schema and schematic frameworks to deliver that information that we might know on the back end to search engines, even if it isn’t necessarily provided by our users directly, and be able to do that in a way that enriches our pages themselves and also enriches our huge table of creators, of bodies of content, to make sure that they’re as effective and visible in search engines as we possibly can be.

Tyler:                            That, of course, also extends to the kind of translation services and our approaches that we’re continuing to hone for our international audiences. I think that we still have a lot of opportunities to grow and understand how those differences should be modulated from country to country and also from search engine to search engine. Obviously some of our biggest audiences are non-English speaking and we want to make sure that the creators in those countries have the same opportunities that the ones in the US do to grow their audiences and be able to still utilize the same services and community-based enrichments that we have here in all regions.

Ben:                             I’m going to boil SEO down to its bare bones and I’m going to oversimplify, so everybody bear with me here. The keys to SEO are making sure that your page loads quickly, making sure that Google can get access to your content and make sure that Google can interpret your content. My takeaway from this conversation is, when you’re working with user-generated platforms, the challenges primarily on the first side is building experiences so Google can quickly load your content. You’re working with a ton of content, your pages need to load quickly.

Ben:                             And then also getting Google access in real time is the other big challenge because with user-generated content it’s important for a second and often then it’s gone and something else is the hot topic for the day. Are there any other tips that you have for people that are doing SEO for user-generated content? Did I miss anything that’s critically important?

Tyler:                            I think one of the other potential critically important aspects of working with user-generated content is making sure that you constantly test your own assumptions of the way that that content is categorized and structured on your own site, particularly as that content is and those organizational mechanisms are proliferated to other countries. The structure of a site, the elements that we as arbiters of the site create and organize are still critically important to the way that search engines crawl through there, particularly when you’re talking about having an efficient crawl through very large bodies of pieces of content, videos, category pages, videos that are live versus used to be live, archived content, highlights.

Tyler:                            Or if we’re talking, again going back briefly to the text-based understanding of this, if you have multiple different translations for the same article or for the same product page, the way that those pages are structured from a metadata perspective, the way they’re translated, the way that they have hreflang and other structured markups applied and the way that those all fit together according to each one of those regions are critically important.

Tyler:                            Getting back again briefly to what you mentioned before, the formulation of experiments to test those assumptions and test those categorizations and present different variations and see what effect they might have on your visibility, positive or negative, are critically important. I would recommend working with your engineers, working with your product teams, to underscore the importance of those strategies, but also effectively communicate why they’re important.

Tyler:                            It’s important, going again back to what you initially said and might be just kind of the boiled down version of SEO, can Google access the most important parts of this page and are we giving our users a clear, concise and easily navigable logical content progression as we move through the site, just so they can find what they want to find and watch?

Ben:                             Yeah.

Tyler:                            That context is everything for viewers and for search bots alike.

Ben:                             Yeah. It goes into Google’s ability to consume and understand your content and using the structure and the ability for you to quickly, easily describe what you’re submitting to Google through sitemaps and through structured data.

Tyler:                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                             That is key, specifically when you’re working with a ton of content like a user-generated platform.

Ben:                             Tyler I said this before, I’ll say it again, for a guy with an English major you know a hell of a lot about the technical side of SEO and I appreciate you telling us about your experiences and walking us through internationalization for user-generated content.

Tyler:                            No, thanks very much. I have to represent for the English majors out there who find themselves in tech jobs.

Ben:                             All right. All you literary nerds, that’s a wrap for this episode of the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:                             Thanks for listening to my conversation with the SEO manager from Twitch, Tyler Vickers. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Tyler, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile on our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter, his handle is tyvick, or you can visit his company’s website, which is twitch.tv.

Ben:                             If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can send me a tweet, @benjshap.

Ben:                             If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

Ben:                             If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed the show and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Ben:                             Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time remember, the answers are always in the data.