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Where to Start When Evaluating Your SEO Performance – Jordan Koene // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: SEO can get complicated, no matter how many years of experience you might have working with it. When an expert gets stuck on how to best optimize for SEO, it’s best to turn toward another SEO expert who can provide fresh insights. Join host Ben as he reviews a case study of his own MarTech podcast with Searchmetrics’ SEO Strategist and Advisor Jordan Koene to talk strategy about how to best optimize and grow organic traffic.

Summary

  • A great place to get started with SEO optimizations is Google Search Console. It provides detailed insights on speed scores and metrics for both mobile and desktop experiences.
  • Multiple elements in a webpage could be the culprit behind slow site speeds. It’s also important to investigate your system infrastructure or compare providers to identify slow downs and who has better speed offers.
  • Although mass industry consensus agrees Google doesn’t prioritize backlinks as much as they used to, they still have benefits for net new domains.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                  Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro and today we’re going to be going over an SEO case study talking about the strategy for understanding what you should be optimizing to grow your organic traffic.

Ben:                  Joining me today is Jordan Koene, who is an SEO strategist and advisor for Searchmetrics. Okay. On with the show, here’s my case study with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and advisor for Searchmetrics. Jordan, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:           Hey Ben, how’s it going?

Ben:                  I’m good. I’m good. So, this episode is going to be totally self-serving. I need your help, I have an SEO problem, are you ready?

Jordan:           I’m all in. Count me in.

Ben:                  All right. So, I’ve got these podcasts. One of them is called the Voices of Search. We just launched the voicesofsearch.com website for anybody who went there before and were redirected to the iTunes page, sorry about that, but the website is actually up now. But I’ve got this other property that’s actually bigger. It’s called the MarTech podcast and it’s more of a general marketing show about people that use marketing and technology to grow their business. And it’s about three times the size of the Voices of Search podcast, it’s got a broader topic. It gets about 60,000 downloads a month.

Ben:                  And we’ve been doing this for a couple of years. We have this website, we’ve done 300 interviews. We’ve got … kind of, what I consider to be a beautiful Squarespace site looks great, but it might not be SEO optimized. And I was looking around the other day saying, you know what, our performance marketing budgets are drying up. I don’t want to spend any money. You don’t know when the revenue is coming in, it’s COVID-19 crisis. I got to really put my money where my mouth is and be an expert in organic growth. And we’re not really getting a lot of SEO driven traffic. We’re not getting a lot of organic traffic, help me out here. How do I start to think about taking this site that has three, 400 pages. A lot of them are interviews, a lot of show notes and that type of content and actually make it into a meaningful marketing media property.

Jordan:            Yeah. This is often a very difficult question for many small midsize businesses in Austin. The website and the web property starts off with a very specific intent, right? A specific purpose as you alluded to here, right? Like you’ve got episodes and show notes and very tactical transactional information that you’ve got on here. So, oftentimes the first question I ask is, well, what is it that you’re doing for SEO to ensure that you have a sound technical site, right? Because if you don’t have those elements in place, even the tactical content, the transactional content that you have isn’t going to perform well. So, I’m kind of curious, what have you done? What have you done to make your site performance, have the right titles, all that kind of stuff?

Ben:                   Yeah. So nothing, yeah. That’s … like a true general digital marketer I didn’t think about SEO that much. I’m kind of saying it tongue in cheek, the site’s built on Squarespace. So, we’re using a platform like a lot of other people do. One that doesn’t have a ton of capability to sort of optimize the speed. So, I’m a little hamstrung here. I guess we could move it to WordPress, but that requires a lot more effort. I’ll flip this back to you, we went through and we tried to title things appropriately. We did a little keyword research, and the first thing that we were focusing on is just ranking for our brand or MarTech podcast, and then MarTech and eventually marketing.

Ben:                  We titled most of our content as episode content. So, it is the title of the interview and have the guest’s name and the show notes and some of the quotes from that person. And then we have a couple links for how they can get in touch with us or how they can get in touch with the guest. So SEO, titling and content, we actually really only primarily focused on just building content for those episodes and they’re meant to be a supplement for the podcast, so that’s answer number one. What are we doing from an SEO strategy? But you also asked about site speed. We haven’t really done anything, I just launched the Squarespace site. Where do I go to look to just evaluate my site speed quickly to understand if I have a problem?

Jordan:             Yeah. In this particular case, it’s getting started with Google Search Console, right? Jumping in to Search Console, seeing what kind of speed scores and metrics you’re getting back from Google within that platform. They’re going to show you a lot of information about both your mobile and desktop experience. And obviously as you know, with these kinds of platforms like Squarespace, there’s only so much you can do, right? But there are some aspects that you can control, like image sizes. In some cases, these platforms do allow you to do some customization or pay for additional features. But ultimately you want to make sure that by and large, your … as performance as you possibly can within this platform.

Ben:                   So, I pulled up Search Console here and I think we’ve got a little over 300 pages. In terms of the site speed, we’ve got zero slow pages. That sounds like a win, and we’ve got 105 moderate pages and no fast pages. So, talk to me about what you think when you hear that breakdown.

Jordan:           Well, I mean, it’s okay.

Ben:                  We’re okay.

Jordan:           You’re not blowing anyone out of the water and you’re not having super high performance pages. Honestly, this is a very common place to be in. And to be honest with you, okay is really good enough in this particular instance, because you’re not some behemoths that’s trying to compete in a very specialized vertical. And you really just want to make sure that by and large, the majority of your readers and viewers from Google are going to be able to access the content in an adequate amount of time, and moderate is good enough for that. You don’t have any slow pages, so that’s great. So theoretically, you really don’t have a ton of minor tweaks or optimizations that you might want to do on these pages. Like say image size or size of the page or maybe you put in some sort of special customization or additional element that has to render on that page. And so, that’s a good sign. And so, you’re doing okay, which is good enough in this particular instance.

Ben:                   All right, so we’re doing good enough. I’m going to double click into this real quick. I’ve got 105 pages that are moderate, not fast, right? And so, that means I have 200 pages that are not slow, but not fast. Where do I go if I want to start to do optimization on these pages? How do I figure out what are the places that I should look to start making some tweaks?

Jordan:            All right. So, the first thing here to do is to take a look at what are these pages, right? So, what are these moderate pages? Is there a common theme within these? Are all of these pages of particular directory? Do all of these pages have a particular experience on them that may be causing a slowdown for you? And so, that’s … really the first step is kind of evaluating the situation and understanding what’s happening. Is there something that systematically I can resolve or fix? And oftentimes some of the solutions for this is typically things like enabling features, or capabilities with Squarespace or other platforms like caching, or improving your package so you can have a faster service provided to you through the servers or whatever system or infrastructure that provider has.

Ben:                   So Jordan, I’m in Search Console and I’m seeing 105 effective URLs. I go into Search Console, it doesn’t give me a list of the URLs. How do you actually figure out what the heck is wrong?

Jordan:            Yeah. So, there’s a couple of resources, right? So in many cases, the first resource is your website itself, right? So, going into Squarespace, seeing what kind of data that they maybe will provide you, going into … if you have a custom website, you get access to things like server logs or other data sources. You could also crawl your own site, right? You could use tools like Searchmetrics, and others in the market to help you crawl and analyze why some of these pages might be slow. And now we’re getting into some of the more kind of heavy lifting for a business owner that becomes a very challenging thing to comprehend and understand and prioritize. So, I often try to help people to just stay focused in Search Console first, because that’s going to be your main source of data, and then finding the solution is a whole another set of resources.

Ben:                  Okay. So, outside of, hey, are you actually able to load the pages and get your content out there? Obviously the technical component is one thing to look at. When you’re using a platform, a lot of the times you’re digging into what the platform restrictions are. You’re going to use Google Search Console to evaluate whether you have a problem. In this case, we’re okay. We’re all right. We’re not great. We’re not terrible. I could probably do a little tweaking, bad news. I’m not that technical, right? I’m a general marketer. I need a geek in the corner to help me figure this stuff out. What do I do next that I can actually make an impact with? What else are you looking at to try to evaluate how to start driving real meaningful organic traffic?

Jordan:            The next phase of this effort is really getting into what’s going on with your content, right? So, what is it that you’re publishing? Why are you publishing it and really getting a sense of, is your content addressing an audience that’s in Google? And so, at this particular point right now, I mean, oftentimes what happens is that people jump immediately to this conclusion. And I want to make sure that people hear this and understand this is not about making more content. Right now, it’s just about what do you have and why do you have it? And then ensuring that either A, you are leveraging that content to its full potential. Is it providing the maximum potential possible? And if it’s not, then you may have to be looking at other issues or challenges that you’re facing. If it is [inaudible] its full potential, then maybe we need to be building more content.

Ben:                  Okay. So, we’re looking at the volume of content and in this case, like I said, I have roughly 300 interviews, let’s call it 300 pages. We’ve got a subscribe page, a listen page and about page, nothing too crazy scientific here. There’s a content strategy component, and I guess the question for me is, should I be focusing on building more content? Should I be focusing on my site speed? Sounds like site speed was really the first thing to look at. We check that box off. Am I not ranking for things other than my brand term, because the domain doesn’t have authority, because the content isn’t relevant or because there’s not enough content? Help me unpack that.

Jordan:           Yeah. So, the first step here is kind of going to understand how much traffic am I really getting on my core sets of pages. So, am I actually meeting the market supply that is available for these topics and themes? So, you have 300 podcasts that you’ve posted on your site. And one of the first things I’d look at is, for those episodes, am I ranking in a position that gets me traffic on average? Yes or no.

Ben:                  So, let’s dive into the data here, a little open kimono style. Over the last three months, basically the beginning of this year, when we migrated the site to a new domain, we’ve generated almost 100,000 impressions. We’ve got a little less than 1 percent click-through rate. We’ve driven, I don’t know, 800 clicks or so. Our average position is 52.3 and the only thing that we’re ranking first for is the brand keyword MarTech podcast. There’s a couple other things that were in the top 10 for mostly a couple of the guests’ names. And then everything else is like way, way down there, including we’re 72nd for the keyword MarTech, right? That seems like we should be performing better. Is that content problem? Is it an authority problem? How do I think about it?

Jordan:         All right. So, I think that what you think about this is when you were going through those data points, there’s two data points that really stood out to me. One of them was average position, right? So, your average position is remarkably low. And so, what I would start to understand is what are some positions that I can improve? What are some of the pages or ranking positions that I can in essence, bring from a 20 or 30 to eight, 10. Subsequently in theory, if you’re able to improve those ranked positions that would drive your click-through rate up. Your click-through rate is obviously very, very low because many of these pages are getting impressions, but they’re not in a position to receive traffic. And so, how do we improve that?

Ben:               Well, I’m on the seventh page of Google? No one’s clicking on anything on that page. They’re just scrolling through the pages at that point.

Jordan:         Lots of bad traffic.

Ben:                Well, okay. So, I’m getting lots of bad traffic. Great. All right. So, I’m going to pose the same question to you. Is it a content problem or is it an authority problem? How do we figure that out?

Jordan:         Yeah, that’s a great question. So, this is an interesting one. I’d say that one of the things that you want to understand is going back to the previous technical component, it seems like Google is crawling and indexing all of your content. So in theory, there isn’t necessarily some limiting factor that is preventing you from getting your content into Google. What is going on though is that your content isn’t actually moving into a position of higher authority. It isn’t moving into a position that is high enough to garner traffic. So, oftentimes what we talk about and when we work on sites like these, we try to find the sweet spots of where you can actually move content into authority position to gain traffic in clicks.

Ben:                So, what I’m hearing you say is that the content isn’t the problem?

Jordan:         Correct.

Ben:                Hey, site speed not a huge problem, always could be better. Content, we’ve got content, Google is crawling it. It sounds like what you’re saying is the content isn’t irrelevant, it’s the brand doesn’t have enough authority. Let’s use some data to get into this. How do you think about figuring out whether the brand has authority, whether the domain has authority and value whether content problem or an authority problem?

Jordan:         So oftentimes … and this is where things get really triggered for SEOs, right? And I think, again, just like in our content discussion, just a few minutes ago, there’s a lot of misleading sentiments in the SEO space. But one of the best ways to understand where your authority stands is how many backlinks do you have, right? Are you actually getting enough references from other domains, from other websites, from probably many of the guests that you’ve had in the podcast, from the brands that they represent, the blogs that they write on, the podcast that they’re associated to, the social media profiles that they have? Options are endless, but are you actually getting the backlinks that you need to sustain authority position in Google for those episodes?

Ben:               Well, here’s where I’m confused. Everything I’ve been hearing and hearing from our guests and everything that we’ve talked about in this podcast, backlinks are becoming less and less important. They’re less of a signal. Google understands the content on the page so well, the natural language processing, the BERT update, Google knows intent and experience and all of this stuff.

Jordan:        Right.

Ben:               And you’re telling me that the first thing that I need to do is look at the volume of backlinks to figure out whether I have enough authority.

Jordan:        Ben, this is where things get really hard, right? I think that one of the challenging components of SEO in the last probably three to four years has been this mystical concept of backlinks. For established brands, for brands that have had a multi-year footprint and have an established level of authority with Google, backlinks have become less and less relevant. But for net new domains and properties in businesses, this becomes a massive hurdle. And we see it all the time when we work with migrations or we work with companies that are trying to create a subdivision or a new division of their business, that’s never really been online before. This is where it gets really hard. This is where the heavy lifting comes into play in order for you to have enough authority and exposure to get these other pages to rank better.

Ben:               So, you’re telling me that because my page was actually published, we moved this from a personal website domain to its own domain at the end of 2019, where three, four months old for this web property, for this domain. And we’ve built up links that we had in our old page. And every time we have somebody as a guest on the show, hopefully they’re linked to the show as well. We’ve got 121 referring domains and a total of roughly 2,000 backlinks. Is that good or is that bad?

Jordan:       Well, I’d say that it’s kind of like, how do you measure your personal bests, right? What’s your best mile record?

Ben:              Don’t sugarcoat it.

Jordan:       Okay. It’s bad.

Ben:              Okay, thank you.

Jordan:        I mean, let’s be honest. I’m sure that there are a lot of brands, businesses and websites that have much higher backlink profiles and backlinks driving to their core pages that are ranking for many of these topics and themes that you want to rank for. And you are going after mid-funnel keywords in many cases, right? These are not insignificant keywords in the marketing and technology space. And so, you have to think about, what is it going to take for me to get into that profile? And one of the factors is certainly time, right? It’s not going to happen overnight.

Jordan:        So Ben, just think about it this way, there’s really a pendulum that takes place here, right? There’s how old and established is your website and brand online? That is a factor that Google is taking into account. And then how many links in backlinks do you have to drive the awareness of this brand and page? And the reality is that you could have a very, very old website that Google already knows and put up a page that has very, very few links, but Google already knows and trust that. So, you’re going to get that higher position. And to some degree, the inverse is also still a reality. And so, I think that that’s something that you need to be kind of balancing when you evaluate this backlink profile challenge.

Ben:              Okay. So, here’s what I’m hearing it. First thing you’re looking at technically is Google going to be able to get access to your page. And if that’s not happening, it doesn’t matter what content you have or what your domain reputation is. Once you get past the technical component, which we happen to be okay at, you’re looking at the content and saying, “All right, Google is getting access to the content. It’s ranking all of the content, the problem that you’re having isn’t what’s on the page, it’s how many people know your brand. You’re not giving a strong enough signal to Google that you have authority where they should rank you over more established or more recognized properties. Really what I have is a reputation problem.”

Jordan:        That’s right. You nailed it.

Ben:               Well, that’s soul crushing. And I think that we’re going to have to dig into how to fix this problem. And so, that’s what we’re going to discuss in the next episode of the Voices of Search podcast. So, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO strategist and advisor to Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the 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 contact him on Twitter, his handle is jtkoene, that’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E or you can visit his personal website, which is jordankoene.com.

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

Ben:               And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want to daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed. In addition to the second part of my case study, where Jordan and I talk about how to improve your domain authority, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the workweek. So, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That’s it for today but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.