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How Google Algorithm Updates Inform Content Audit Processes – Jordan Koene // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: Google’s recent series of updates all share a common thread of improving the user experience and changing the way their search engine evaluates and labels high quality content. Join host Ben as he interviews Searchmetrics’ SEO Strategist and Advisor Jordan Koene about the signals coming from Google on how they’re assessing high-quality content in 2020 and how to perform content audits that will put you on the right track toward success before the next content algorithm update.

Summary

  • The best content audits balance organic writing using your company or brand’s voice, providing content that is useful to users and creates excitement and engagement.
  • The first component of a content audit is conducting an assessment of your content stock, documenting the types of content you have and accurately grouping content assets for your SEO and content teams.
  • Creating more content for the sake of it often does more harm than good, when optimizing existing content can increase visibility and prominence on Google.
  • Google’s focus on improving the user experience with the BERT update, September update and late Q4 – early Q1 updates indicate a continued concentration in 2020 on publishing updates that further prioritize content quality and user accessibility.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                 Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’re going to talk about auditing your content for the quality signals that Google really cares about. Joining us today is Jordan Koene, who is an SEO strategist and an advisor for Searchmetrics. Okay. On with the show, here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and advisor for Searchmetrics. Jordan, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:             Hey, Ben.

Ben:                 Dude, it’s our first podcast recording with you on the other side. How is life as an advisor?

Jordan:             Pretty good. Actually, it’s been great. Oddly enough, since transitioning to an advisor, I have had a great opportunity to connect with a few of our customers and work with the team a little bit on this side. And it’s been a great pleasure and I’m really looking forward to this new chapter and turning this leaf and continuing to make Searchmetrics a success but contributing to the SEO community.

Ben:                 So, when you think about life as an advisor, not as a daily operator, tell us what it’s like to be doing this podcast from the beach in your shorts.

Jordan:             I wish it was that simple. I got to find a job. So I can’t just spend all the time on vacation.

Ben:                 It’s a rough life.

Jordan:             Right. A rough life. No, but I think there is some great value in being on this side. The first one is I can really dig deep and look at SEO from a variety of different angles and bring in that outside point of view on things. And I think that’s going to help Searchmetrics and help the SEO community alike.

Ben:                 So, let’s talk a little bit about what’s been happening in the SEO community and one of the hot topics that we’ve been hearing a lot about is all of the updates and how Google is signaling that they are thinking different about content and they’re thinking differently about quality. When we sat down earlier this week and talked about what we were going to discuss in the podcast, I said, let’s go back to the beginning. How do you do an audit? How do you figure out what is the problem with your website, with your SEO efforts and how could you make the biggest focus?

Ben:                 And you said, you know what, the biggest area of focus on change right now is in the content landscape. Let’s figure out content audits first. First off, walk me through what you consider to be a content audit and how is that changing?

Jordan:             Yeah, this is a great topic and this is one that is really often misunderstood from many sides of the aisle, from the management teams, from the content editorial writing teams, and as importantly the SEO teams. Ultimately a really good content audit is not writing for robots. It is not writing for Google. It is continuing to maintain your brand voice, being focused on developing something that is useful for your users, creating engagement, creating excitement through content. It’s all the things that your traditional content writers are preaching about in terms of what makes content useful and successful.

Jordan:             So, that is one area just to start off with because there’s often these debates and these misguided comments between these teams about what is a content audit and what is optimizing or writing content for SEO.

Ben:                 So, it seems like there has to be a marriage between those two things to be effective in the sense of content has to be engaging, it has to have a purpose, it has to be something that your customers want to consume or it’s not going to end up having a business impact. On the flip side, you can game Google in some capacity by understanding what are the words that they are going to prioritize for the keywords that you think are going to drive the most traffic.

Ben:                 So how do you blend the two mediums to be thinking about what is going to be effective content in terms of customer engagement and conversions and what’s going to be effective content in terms of optimizing for what Google is going to show to people that you think are going to be your customers?

Jordan:             A few years ago, my default answer would have been data, data, data, data, data, which is not the entire story. Data is certainly an important component of it, but before you really even introduce data to the content audit conversation, you actually need to start with effective communication. To do a good content audit or to have a good relationship with your content teams requires you to spend the time with those organizations and those teams defining what their goals are, what their objectives are and how you can help them drive towards those.

Jordan:             In addition to that, you need to really understand what is it that your brand or your company is trying to achieve or convey through this content. So actually live and breathe and consume the content that you’re ultimately going to provide an assessment on.

Ben:                 I think at the end of the day, data is obviously very important in doing a content audit. But I’d say that there are two types of data. There’s your qualitative and your quantitative data. And you can crunch all the numbers and see what the query count is for a specific keyword and try to figure out what your best shot at showing up have the highest ranking. That’s all the math behind SEO. The qualitative data is going to your customers, going to the other members of your team and try to understand some of the problems that they’re trying to solve and some of the questions that they’re asking so you can create content that is actually going to solve a business purpose.

Jordan:             Correct.

Ben:                 So, I don’t know if I’d necessarily say it’s not data that is the answer. It’s just not only numbers. It’s not only the quantitative, but it is the qualitative as well.

Jordan:             Yeah, absolutely. And I think the big thing that have work very well for good audits is that through kind of doing this interview process with those content teams to define those quantitative metrics, you’re actually prioritizing what it is you’re going to assess in that content audit. Because a lot of SEOs want to just start off with the general blanket things.

Ben:                 So, basically what you’re saying is step one is you have to go and do your homework. Right? Go meet the customers and understand what their pain points are, go talk to your customer service team, go see what questions the customers are asking. Go talk to your product teams then and see what solutions they’re creating and figure out how to create content that merges and marries those questions and experiences.

Jordan:             Absolutely. That is absolutely right.

Ben:                 So, once you go through and you have a general understanding of the landscape, then what comes next in a content audit?

Jordan:             So, to kick off a content audit, Ben, the first component is to really do an assessment. Take stock, take an inventory of what it is you have on your site, what kind of content do you have, and identify that content and collect that content in a way that can be communicated to both the SEO and content teams.

Ben:                 So, when you think about creating an inventory or assessing what the assets you have for content, how are you segmenting that? Are you looking, I’m thinking ecommerce first. What are our product pages? What are our category pages? What are our guides and customer support, our home pages? What are the other categories of pages I’m missing?

Jordan:             So, a lot of things that people are missing when it comes to content is that it’s not just the URLs or pages that you have on your site. That’s certainly one element of the audit. There are a variety of other content assets that you can be leveraging such as media. So there’s different media assets, video podcasts, like what we’re on right now. Another piece of data that is often overlooked and is really important is structured data. So can I use certain structure data elements to help convey my message and communicate to consumers through search?

Jordan:             Things like price, ratings, location, there’s a variety of different structured data elements that can be leveraged within content. And then lastly, I think one of the most interesting things that most people overlook is the use of taxonomy or information that helps you understand how a site is organized. So this is a very often misunderstood and overlooked component of content, but the way you catalog or organize the content on your site has a direct impact on your performance, and that is by nature a content asset.

Jordan:             It’s often managed and maintained by a variety of teams in your organization. And if you don’t look at that and consider that as part of your content audit, you might be missing one of the biggest opportunities.

Ben:                 So essentially there’s two steps here when you’re going through inventory, one is figuring out how many of each asset you have, whether it be media, types of pages, elements of structured data. What are the assets that you have? And the second piece is where do they live within your site? If all of your videos are structured 10 links down from your homepage, you might want to surface those a little higher if they’re critical to your business and not make your consumers hunt for them.

Jordan:             Right.

Ben:                 Once you have a good sense of first and foremost what are the problems that you’re trying to solve, who your customers are and what the solutions you have, and then you’ve gone through your inventory process, how do you start to marry the two and think of what your strategy should be and fill in the gaps?

Jordan:             Yeah. So the next step here is prioritization. So where am I going to get the most bang for my buck? And so this is where SEOs start to really get excited and start geeking out. So things like low hanging fruit reports, which is basically anything that ranks essentially on page two of Google. How can you get that to move to page one? Or target lists, so lists that have a targeted set of keywords that you want to focus on or you want to really emphasize or pages that are missing certain key elements, missing an H1 or missing a title or missing a good description.

Jordan:             So, these are priority mechanisms and I think this is a really important part of the conversation right here because priority tools often get misunderstood in our space. They get misunderstood for directives, like you must do X. You must always do the following and if you don’t follow this rule, SEO will never work. And that’s not really what a priority list is. A priority list is just helping you understand what is going to give you the most output or the most productivity.

Ben:                 This is the thing that I struggle with the most with evaluating any of my web properties is understanding, great, I have all this content, I know how my website is performing, how do I figure out what to do to make it better? And so I think that the call out of, look for the pages that you have that are surfacing on page two of Google. No brainer. Hey, you’re going to get much better value if somebody doesn’t have to click to the next page. Something that is close to being visible on the first page, looking for things that are obviously broken.

Ben:                 Look for priority keywords, all things that’ll help you figure out what to prioritize. And I’m always sitting here saying, “Hey, there’s got to be a diamond in the rough here. I know I’ve created a lot of great content and it’s not being surfaced. Can’t I optimize one of these pages and bring it from ranking 250th to ranking second?” At what point do you start thinking about looking at some of the long tail or buried pages and optimizing those?

Jordan:             That’s a great question. It really depends on the nature of the site and the business and this is one of those things that will get quickly exposed in an audit. If you’re working with a really large website that has tens of millions of pages, this becomes about how can I implement things at massive scale. So back to the inventory topic. If you have structured data that you can apply that might help you lift the rankings for many of these pages in a long tail scenario, then it might make a lot of sense to prioritize that as one of your recommendations in your content audit because you can apply structured data to tens of thousands and millions of pages.

Jordan:             On the contrary, if you’re dealing with a really small site, a site that may only have a few hundred or less pages, this becomes much more of an exercise around targeting. It’s about understanding what is it that’s going to work for these keywords, whether they be long tail because of the location variation or they’re long tail because of some sort of permutation or the topic itself is very focused or niche topic. Knowing what it is you’re trying to go after, targeting that by understanding the competition that’s ranking for that, dissecting what those pages have in terms of content will eventually drive the decision making necessary to lift the rankings for those pages.

Ben:                 How do you figure out the difference whether you should prioritize optimizing your existing content, updating the content, or just creating new content? When you start going through an audit and you’re thinking about where to really invest your effort, when should you start thinking about making changes to pages or just creating new pages?

Jordan:             Oh man, this is a great question, Ben, and I think this is one that is often overlooked by SEOs. And it’s one where we’ve become very accustomed in not only the search space, but just online in general has become very accustomed with this philosophy of more is better. Just keep pumping out more content. We’ve got this process in place. We create lots and lots of content, keep it going, don’t stop the machine. And that’s not really true, and it doesn’t work. In fact, it creates often more harm than good.

Jordan:             And so, to answer your question here, there’s a couple of components to knowing the answer of do you go and optimize what you have or do you go and build something new or more of it? The first question is what are your resources dedicated to today? So and oftentimes for SEOs, you don’t control where the content resources are going or who’s telling them what to do. You’re just a stakeholder. You’re someone who can give them input, but you’re not necessarily the owner of that. So understanding where your business currently stands on that, optimize it or build it spectrum is really important as an SEO because from that point you can actually direct the organization to make good decisions.

Jordan:             The second thing here is that you can make really strong arguments very quickly for optimization, but it requires good data to justify why that investment is good. It’s so much easier to sell the story of create something new and they will come. Everyone wants to believe in optimistic point of view, but the optimization story is one that has tons more value because the journey is shorter. Think about from this perspective, once you have a page in the index, once you have a page in Google, if you can get more people to visit that page, it’s way faster.

Jordan:             You don’t have to get Google to index, you don’t have to get Google to rank it. It’s just a matter of optimizing what you have. And so think about that component when you’re trying to scale these, putting these two options on a scale in which one you should pick between optimization or create new content.

Ben:                 I think of it from a word count perspective where you’ve already written some sort of a piece of content, a blog post, a product description, whatever it may be. You already written your thousand words on a page. If you’re going to create another piece of content, you’ve created another thousand words to get Google to rank a similar page as opposed to you might only have to change 50 words to optimize the page to gain incrementally more value.

Jordan:             Right.

Ben:                 So, there’s always some sort of a strategy and assessment that’s dependent on the brand. Jordan, as you think about the last stages of your content audit, when you’re going through and you’re evaluating your site, you’re figuring out what to optimize, what to create. There’s also the aspect of what do you cut, how do you figure what is not necessary and what you should be calling off of your website.

Jordan:             This is one that a lot of …

Ben:                 Throw some haymakers.

Jordan:             Yeah, I know. This is a big one here. There’s a lot to unpack on the, I call it deprecation. There’s a lot of different names for.

Ben:                 I like page murder.

Jordan:             Page murder.

Ben:                 No?

Jordan:             Page assassin. But on a serious note, I think there are various ways to go about this piece of the content audit. One of the most critical ones is knowing how to assess garbage. There are core KPIs that every company is driving towards, whether it be traffic, whether it be sessions, engagements, leads. There’s a variety of different KPIs. But ensuring that you’re tying your assessment of what needs to be removed to business metrics is the most important thing you can do. I remember one of the greatest stories and projects we ever worked on was we’re working on a site that had tens and thousands of different locations across the United States and then variations of those pages.

Jordan:             We show the CEO a specific page that included a product in a specific city. That product did not exist anywhere near that city. In fact, you couldn’t find that product within a thousand miles of that city because it was a tiny little city that didn’t sell that type of product. And so the reality of having that page, it was awful. It was a bad user experience. There was no inventory available. There was no product available and it just made no sense.

Jordan:             And so, knowing your audience and knowing how to prioritize the data that’s going to prove these things, proximity to the inventory was the data point we were using in this example, really helps to ensure that you are deprecating the right pieces of content.

Ben:                 So, Jordan, I guess the last question that I have for you is the signals that Google has been sending to the SEO community about how they think about content has been changing. Tell me about your takeaways after all of the recent updates and how do you think Google is changing the way that they evaluate content?

Jordan:             Ben, I’m glad we’re talking about this. And one of the reasons when we started unpacking this topic that we wanted to talk about this was because we felt like Google is very quickly moving in this direction, this direction of these content quality metrics, these somewhat subjective metrics that are not easy to understand require a deep set of knowledge, both institutional knowledge like what is it that your company does or has when it comes to content as well as great SEO knowledge and data to justify things.

Jordan:             And so net summary here is I really believe that the SEO space is very quickly going to face some serious content algorithm changes. The BERT update recently, the September core update and then the couple of updates that took place in December and January really were targeted towards low quality experiences, low quality content, thin content experiences. And I believe that by the time May comes around, the time period where Google typically make some big changes, we could see a big set of core updates focused on content and content quality.

Jordan:             Going back to some of the big Panda updates. For those of you who’ve been in the space for a while, Panda updates were often targeted towards content quality metrics.

Ben:                 I think what we’re seeing is Google getting more sophisticated with their ability to interpret the real meaning of content and not only we’ve seen it go from the domain level to the page level and now I think what we’re going to see is down to the paragraph level and even the sentence level.

Jordan:             Absolutely.

Ben:                 And so, it’s not necessarily going to be quality being dictated on your entire article. It’s going to be, “Hey this one line is the most important line of your blog posts. We’re going to grab that content and feature it in position zero or other elements on the page. And Google is really tokenizing each individual sentence and paragraph.” And to me that’s like the big thing that’s coming in terms of content and how we should be thinking about prioritizing and auditing our content is …

Jordan:             Bingo.

Ben:                 … What are the short form pieces of content that are relevant because I think that’s going to be more valuable to Google long term.

Jordan:             No doubt. No doubt. I think there’s a lot of learning that’s going to take place over the next three to six months in the SEO community around content quality and the signals necessary to be successful.

Ben:                 So, Jordan, help me land the plane here. In terms of summarizing and giving SEOs who thinking about going through a content audit or looking for somebody to do a content audit for them, what’s the golden rule? What’s the tip? How do we summarize and give some best practices?

Jordan:             Yeah, start analyzing what it is you have in Google. So the first and most effective place to start is go to Google Search Console and see what Google is indexing and not indexing. Oftentimes, Google tells us very clearly that they’ve crawled and don’t like something and we just seem to ignore it, like it’s just some mistake from Google. It’s not. So that’s one thing that I just want to leave out there because it’s such a simple task for many SEOs to do. And then the next big thing there is start having those conversations.

Jordan:             There are various content owners and stakeholders within your organization. Start having conversations with them, not just about SEO, but about what is the goal of our content, why are we publishing this content. And through that discovery process, you’re going to find some great opportunities to not only optimize, but maybe even expand the content you have on your site.

Ben:                 All right, great advice. Jordan, congrats on graduating to adviser and excited to see you again. Get back out there on those waves. Enjoy the beach while you can.

Jordan:             All right. Thanks, Ben.

Ben:                 Okay. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and advisor for Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can send them a tweet. His handle is JT Koene. That’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E, or you can find more information about Jordan at his personal website. It’s jordankoene.com, J-O-R-D-A-N-K-O-E-N-E-.com.

Ben:                 Just one more link I’d like to tell you about in our show notes. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, just head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search Podcast. Of course, you could always reach out on social media. Our handle is voices of search on Twitter and my personal handle is Ben J Shap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

Ben:                 And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feet tomorrow. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.