Episode 115: June Core Update and the convenience of Google Duplex

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What's in this episode?

In this episode, you will hear Mark Williams-Cook talking about:

June Core Update: Thoughts from the SEO community about changes being seen due to the first of two Google core updates coming in summer.

Google Duplex: A new rollout of Duplex features means we need to consider the long-term strategic impact of such AI in digital.

Show notes

Mordy Oberstein thread about the June Core Update:

Lily Ray tweet about the June Core Update

Chrome Unboxed article about Google Duplex


MC: Welcome to episode 115 of the Search with Candour podcast recorded on Friday, the 11th of June 2021. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and today we're going to talk a little bit about the Google June core updates. So that's the first of two known core updates we're getting, one this month, one next month following hot on the heels of the Google product review update and of course the current rolling out page experience update keeping us SEO's very, very busy and guessing which is brilliant. We're going to talk a little bit about some of the thoughts in the community around that and we're also going to talk about the strategic convenience of Google duplex. So there's been an announcement from Google about duplex and some new stuff they're going to be rolling out and we'll cast our minds back to May 2018 when we first saw duplex demoed and just have a refresher of what it is and why we should be thinking about it.

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There's been a little bit more news about Google Duplex recently and it's something I wanted to cover because I think it's important. It goes along with a lot of what we've been saying over the whole show really about the future of SEO and search and user journeys. So if you don't know about Google Duplex, it's essentially an AI Google has which allows you to or helps you complete tasks and it can do that in a conversational manner. It has a very impressive... viral demo in May 2018 at Google IO. I'm just going to play you a couple of minutes clip from that demo because one, if you haven't heard it I think you will be amazed and two, it is quite hard to actually describe unless you just hear it. So here's a little snippet from the May 2018 demo at Google IO of Duplex.

Speaker 2: The progress with the assistant, as I said earlier, our vision for our system is to help you get things done. It turns out a big part of getting things done is making a phone call. You may want to get an oil change schedule, maybe call a plumber in the middle of the week or even schedule a haircut appointment. We are working hard to help users through those moments. We want to connect users to businesses in a good way. Businesses actually rely a lot on this but even in the US 60% of small businesses don't have an online booking system set up. We think AI can help with this problem so let's go back to this example. Let's say, you want to ask Google to make you a haircut appointment on Tuesday between 10 and noon. What happens is the Google assistant makes the call seamlessly in the background for you, so what you're going to hear is the Google assistant actually calling a real salon to schedule the appointment for you, let's listen.

Speaker 3: Hello, how can I help you?

Speaker 4: Hi, I'm calling to book a woman's hair cut for a client, I'm looking for something on May 3rd.

Speaker 3: Sure, give me one second.

Speaker 4: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Speaker 3: What time are you looking for?

Speaker 4: At 12:00 PM.

Speaker 3: We do not have a 12:00 PM available, the closest we have to that is a 1:15.

Speaker 4: Do you have anything between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM?

Speaker 3: Depending on what service she would like, what service is she looking for?

Speaker 4: Just a woman's haircut for now.

Speaker 3: Okay. We have a 10 o'clock.

Speaker 4: 10:00 AM is fine.

Speaker 3: Okay. What's your first name?

Speaker 4: The first name is Lisa.

Speaker 3: Okay, perfect. So I will see Lisa at 10 o'clock on May 3rd.

Speaker 4: Okay, great. Thanks.

Speaker 3: Great. Have a great day. Bye.

Speaker 2: That was a real call you just heard. Now, the amazing thing is the assistant can actually understand the nuances of conversation. We've been working on this technology for many years. It's called Google Duplex, it brings together all our investments over the years in natural language understanding deep learning text to speech. By the way, when we have done the assistant it can give you a confirmation notification saying your appointment has been taken care of. Let me give you another example, let's say you want to call a restaurant but maybe it's a small restaurant which is not easily available to book online. The call actually goes a bit differently than expected, so take a listen.

Speaker 5: Hi, how may I help you?

Speaker 6: Hi, I'd like to reserve a table for Wednesday. The seven.

Speaker 5: For seven people?

Speaker 6: It's for four people.

Speaker 5: Four people when? Date? Time?

Speaker 6: Wednesday at 6:00 PM.

Speaker 5: Oh, actually will be here for a while upto like five people, four people you can come.

Speaker 6: How long has the way it usually to be seated?

Speaker 5: When? Tomorrow or weekday?

Speaker 6: For next Wednesday, 7:00.

Speaker 5: Oh no, it's not too busy you can come with four people. Okay.

Speaker 6: Oh, I got you. Thanks.

Speaker 5: Bye-bye

Speaker 2: Again. That was a real call. We have many of these examples where the calls quite don't go as expected but the assistant understands the context and nuance. It knew to ask for rate times in this case and handle the interaction gracefully.

MC: I'm sure you agree if you haven't heard that before, it is a pretty wild demo, it was apparently a legitimate call and there was just so much nuance in there that did really impress me from just how well the AI was able to understand the conversation and when it was asking direct questions and getting the wrong answer back that its worked that out.

Now, the reason we're talking about Duplex is there was an announcement made on the Google nest help support forum and they're essentially saying now that very shortly through Google nest they're rolling out the ability to use Duplex to do this exact thing, to make bookings at supported restaurants which is incredible, it means we're getting there. And the interesting thing from a search point of view for me is down to thinking about marketing and brands and convenience, right?

So where I'm going with this is, we've seen through many different things, not just SEO and search, but the path of least resistance is what generally wins out with consumers, right? So if you've got two ways of doing things and there's... Or one way of doing things and then there's a new second way which is slightly less effort, eventually that’s slightly less effort way will win out. People are motivated, programmed to get the most for their effort and certainly when this is combined with brands we've seen this at the extremes for shops like Amazon. So I know personally people who don't like Amazon for their own reasons as a company to do with tax and how they treat staff. However, they still shop at Amazon which you could say well, that's quite hypocritical and when you talk to them about it and it is just because of that trade off inconvenience because they've got prime, they know what they want is on there, they can get it next day in most cases, the delivery is free so they don't even bother searching anymore, they just go straight to Amazon and then get what they want.

And we've seen similar things happen when there's been these arguments about various types of rich results in the SERP so it might be featured snippets, it might be actually when Google's moved into doing its own comparisons in the search engine result rather than pushing people to websites and obviously webmasters, website owners, content creators, business owners have complained saying, you're essentially stealing our livelihood and just giving people the answer straight away a lot of the time an answer we've powered and Google's retort has generally been based on the fact that, hey, we do what's best for the user and our user research shows this. And I think if everyone's honest with themselves we know that there is a divide between what the user prefers and maybe what's best for users as a whole in the long term because it's certainly not good to get into situations where we do create monopolies.

And we do reduce choice, we do reduce competition and innovation. That's quite a snowballing effect however, Google knows if they reduce friction to getting that answer they reduce that time to results that users will just go along with it. If they can do it for long enough they will go along with it and this does make me think about the role of search and discovery and brand in marketing when we are making booking restaurants as easy as saying, Hey Google, book me here or there or wherever because you've taken away the need to go and do the thing that creates friction. It might be to Google it, to find the phone number or to book it online through an app. I believe you will reduce the chance for new search activity where they might discover something else, see an ad for something else.

So we will see more centralisation a lot of the time in brands that people know and I'm not just applying this just to restaurants. I mean, I think restaurants are slightly different from other things because it's an experience and that's the point of it but the overarching thing I'm thinking of in terms of SEO and search and marketing and digital strategy is I think as things get more convenient like this, knowing the brand becomes more convenient for the user. So I think you'll see increased loyalty where you've got these incredibly low friction interactions. So something to think about, and this whole different way of interacting with businesses apart from through the website because I do... Whenever I give a talk on the search and thereby try to paint that a business isn't the website. The website is one view, one window in one way to interact basically with a database, you can do that through an app, through a website, through Duplex.

So there's lots of different ways to do that. And then I think following this line of people will do the thing that's basically the least effort for them. Is it going to hold true as it always has so? Just something to think about as this Duplex starts rolling out. Google did promise a quote, unquote,” slow and responsible rollout” so it was three years ago when this was unveiled and it's only now that we're starting to see it but I think this isn't going away, this is, I think, what it's going to be. So definitely start thinking about this in your longer term planning for digital, for search, for everything really.

Why don't we talk a little bit about core updates. Again, this month I've seen another really good thread by Mordy Oberstein and he seems to be making quite a few appearances on this podcast. And that's simply because he is actually taking the time to track some interesting stuff and think about things and publish it that I'm not seeing from other people. So if you don't follow him, you'll find a link to his profile in our show notes at I suggest, if you're on Twitter, you give him a follow. He's published some of his thoughts about the June 2021 core update and interestingly as I said, I saw loads of interesting stuff he's been doing lately.

So Mordy recently I saw he was tracking how many well-known big brand websites came up in his Google discover feed versus kind of small niche sites. And he literally keeps a spreadsheet of this so he can spot when maybe the algorithm in Google Discover changes because a lot less is known about that. And it's a lot less direct input output than things like regular SERPs. And I just love that because I was like, wow, what a smart thing to do, it's like he's working in this field and he's just bothering to actually do that record and then have some kind of data to think about. And I'll give the usual caveats with this which is that of course we are looking at an absolute... We're picking up one grain of sand on the beach here and just talking about it. As I posted the other day when we talk about things like ranking factors, they apply differently over different websites, different verticals have different effects in different combinations.

So there's not a lot of point in trying to pull them apart individually but I think what Mordy does here is, he is contributing good things to establish the theme of things we are seeing in these core updates. So I'm just going to read out a couple of his tweets and again, I'll link to it in the show notes. So Mordy says in the June 2020 on core update, is an odd one, very unique patterns and behaviour, in fact it's been really hard to find any considerable patterns et cetera but here's one case I stumbled on that's just beautiful. The key word is commercial truck loans, here are the winners and that's and and the losers and the and then Mordy posts a screenshot, he uses rank ranger to track the rankings for those keywords.

And of course as you'd expect you would see the losers have dropped from the first page down into second, third page and those winners have had a very sudden blip at the same time and essentially replaced those two websites that are now the losers. So Mordy goes on, looks at the content and says it's easy to see why First Capital Business Finance page lost some rankings. Just look at what's on the page, and of course you can look through these tweets yourself, but it's a very basic H2; doesn't look like a styled page, just bullet points of who we finance, bad credit or can't provide financials, not a problem, it's super, super basic stuff and he says the same for the truckers report page, which is the other page site that was a loser, up top nothing too helpful.

So there's what looks like a free or very cheap vector art and then just some blurb at the top about financing for semi-trucks, easy if you know where to look. Now under the fold some not great content at all, followed by a thin list again. Mordys provided screenshots again of exactly what it says on the tin. Some pretty generic content and quite poorly formatted small lists. He says, now the LendingTree page is where this gets fun because it's really good but lost rankings and it starts off with some nice overview content, it's beautifully styled, it's to the point, it's clear with headers that are targeting keywords, features of commercial truck loans, commercial truck loans versus leases. So they've obviously done keyword research. You can see they are across linking with good anchor text and then it goes down some nice info on where to get a loan from.

It says a section about shopping for commercial truck financing and lists like Wells Fargo bank where you can get this, there's a nice FAQ. So you get the point, this is a solid page, why would it lose rankings? So Mordy says, "let's look at the Fundera page that saw gains." It does a lot of what the LendingTree page does but a bit more. It gives some really nice details that speak very specifically to the target audience truckers/business owners looking for a loan. So it's highlighted in the section of the content, it says the first thing they'll consider is whether the truck is a vocational truck or a long haul truck. A semi vocational truck is a garbage truck, a dump truck or any other type of truck with a specific use is used primarily within a single geographic area.

A semi-truck is a truck that transports freight cargo often over hundreds of miles. The Fundera page is a really classic example of being that much better than good content that already ranks in the SERP. It has that added value that it differentiates, now taking the first capital page which also saw gains same as the Fundera page with deep details about the nature of the industry. Again, this type of information is missing from the LendingTree page and it gives some examples of that, I won't read them out. The first capital page is just full of nuance and details all of the way through. One of the elements that caught my eye was a graphic the page starts off with, it really helps the reader understand, not just how to get a loan or where to get a loan, but it helps the reader get a grasp on the trucking industry from a financial point of view, it helps give context.

What I think you have with the two pages that saw gains is that they both really speak to the user, they both empathise with the user, they don't just tell you what to do but help the user understand the larger picture. In other words, if I'm looking for a trucking loan what does that say about me? It says I'm looking to get into the trucking business. The LendingTree page ignores that, it solely focuses on getting the loan per se, not getting into the business. In contrast, the Fundera and fast capital pages pay attention to who the user is not just what their immediate wants are. As such it offers contextual information via a targeted level of detail, depth and nuance. Simply they speak to the user, not the user's task. Now that's like a super deep dive and you may think well, this is just one example and that narrative just fits what we're seeing here but this does fit into this larger picture, right?

If you think in the last few episodes we spoke about MUM, the Google advance that's looking at breaking up complex what would be multi query tasks into ‘Google understands what all those next queries are going to be and builds the answer for you.’ We've looked at before, that I've spoken loads about, people who also ask data. So when you type a search and to give an example, around this maybe getting loans for a truck, Google knows what other questions people will ask and it might be about the actual kind of trucking industry as Mordy says. So I don't think it's actually that much of a stretch to make this case that Google is thinking more about the user because of that level of data and understanding it has got. I think again, with the example we're looking at in this episode with Duplex, the level of understanding Google has of language has transformed massively over the last few years to the point where it's becoming a much deeper ranking factor than it ever was.

And those that know me and have worked with me on projects over the years with SEO know I've always been very much firmly in the it's links camp, right? So despite being told content is king since 2000, it's always for me been links that I have seen time and time and time and time again that move the needle. Okay. And yes, there are different ways of getting links and yes ideally you just make really good content like this and you get links but links are definitely less important than they used to be in my opinion because you used to be able to just do anything with them.

And certainly I think what we're seeing with content is different now. So the biggest change over that long period I've seen is that it used to definitely be optimal to create single pages for each keyword phrase that you wanted to target. Search engines were very happy when they found a page with a title tag and a header one that pretty much matched the users query, and we had Panda and we've had loads of updates since then where now everyone just talks about hub and spoke pages and how if you've got several related questions, if it makes sense to the user, you have them all on one page.

And that I think leans into what we're talking about here and even the step further of Google understanding all the related information, questions and understanding and context, all of this intent that people have. So I think firstly, from a user point of view. you can't go wrong with what Mordy’s suggesting here, you should be doing this, even if it wasn't cited to be unlike an SEO thing, because this is what's going to be good for your users.

I think from what we're seeing here and certainly from the noises Google makes, from the technology we're seeing, it does make sense that this is going to be an SEO thing if you want to call it that.

The other thing I wanted to bring up about this core update is another one of my favourite SEOs is Lily ray and she tweeted just yesterday saying there is definitely something still going on with product review sites. So if you remember, of course we did have the product review update as well, so we went through that and actually yeah that refreshes my memory. The guidance that Google gave, so we read out the bullet point lists of what they're expecting in review sites and we talked a lot about comparisons and context in that. That's exactly what we're talking about with Mordy. But then he says, he's seen a lot of change, especially in the tech consumer electronics category, below are some of the biggest winners I'm seeing so far of the June core update.

These sites have been making major changes to improve quality and we've got trusted reviews, Android, digital trends, Technopedia,, Engadget which have at the top end with trusted reviews, a 36% visibility gain going down in the double digits and then 6% for Engadget. The theme here is, again, the least picked up on these sites have been making major efforts to improve quality. I haven't seen many people talking about how the new link building campaign has been affecting things in terms of how backlink profiles have been affected in these core updates. The feeling I'm getting and this is just again from trying to, I guess, is take an average from everything I'm hearing; from speaking to people, from looking at our client's results, from looking at other people's clients results, from talking to other SEOs, from seeing information like this put out, is that a lot of these core updates do seem to be around, I would say, language and content and intent. So nothing as simple as you know longer content is ranking better.

Those are nasty little correlations we need to stay away from and really pulling apart that, I think Google is running some pretty decent stuff on this content now to work out this intent and nuance. So I wanted to share those examples with you to really bake that into your minds in terms of looking at your content plans, thinking about what we are doing for SEO? Why are we producing this content? And really, is it much better than our competitors? Is it really what our users want? Or are we just thinking here's a keyword, we need to make some content for it and then see if we can build links to it.

I'll put links to all these tweet threads in the show notes, I hope you've enjoyed this episode of Search with Candour. If you have, why not tell a friend about it? It's really nice to see the listeners going up every month, I really appreciate that and the kind messages some of you have sent me. I'll be back of course in one week's time which will be Monday the 21st of June until then I hope you all have a lovely week.

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