Candour

Episode 118: E-commerce SEO live Q&A part 3: content, with Nathan Lomax

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What's in this episode?

In this episode, you will hear Mark Williams-Cook answering live e-commerce SEO Q&A with Nathan Lomax from Quickfire Digital, an e-commerce specialist build agency about SEO for e-commerce brands.

They will cover:

  • How content can drive your e-commerce SEO

  • Common mistakes with blogging for e-commerce

  • Tools and data sources you can use

  • Subdomains vs sub-folders

  • Tagging and categories

  • And loads more!

Transcription

MC: Welcome to episode 118 of the Search with Candour recorded on Friday the 2nd of July, 2021. My name is Mark Williams-Cook, and today I am bringing you the one hour, part three recording of our E-commerce, SEO live Q&A sessions we've been doing with Shopify specialist agency Quickfire Digital. These are LinkedIn Live sessions we've been running, taking your questions about SEO. And this episode we're going to be talking about content on the E-commerce sites. We've talked previously about technical optimisation and optimising for products and categories. And in this episode, we're going to be talking about that extra content on your E-commerce site. The articles, the how to guides, the comparisons, the size guides, how do they all fit in? What's the benefit of them and how do we optimise them?

Before we kick off, I need to tell you this podcast is very kindly sponsored by Sitebulb, which is an SEO auditing piece of software for Windows and Mac. It doesn't quite do it justice when I just say it's an SEO auditing piece of software. It's an incredibly useful tool I've used for many years at our Candour agency. Sitebulb have actually just released version five of their software, so it's a great time to go and check it out. There's brand new performance reports, you can lighthouse audit across every page on your site, there's performance budget reports. If you already are using Sitebulb as I do, there is a lovely new setup process for audits that is much easier, faster, cleaner, quicker. I'm a big fan of it. The great thing about listening to this podcast, apart from that hopefully you find it generally interesting, is that there is a special offer for you with Sitebulb.

If you go to sitebulb.com/swc, you will get an extended 60 day trial of their software. You can download it, no credit card or anything required, so no excuse not to give it a go. They've just released this new version that they've been working on for most of 2021 apparently, so go check it out. sitebulb.com/swc.

NL: Good morning and welcome to part three of our SEO series with Mark Williams-Cook from Candour. Morning Mark, how are you?

MC: Morning Nathan. Very good, thank you. Pleased to be back for a third time.

NL: Part three. Can you believe it? Thank you so much to all of those that tuned in last time. We had some really great interactions. For those that are joining today for your first time, please do ask any questions as we go. It's a great opportunity to ask Mark any questions you've got around SEO for E-commerce. And for those that are back for maybe the second time or even a third time, maybe you've been to every single one, I hope you continue to enjoy them, and please do ask your questions as you go. You will know by now, I dare say, there will be a few mentions of schema and a few mentions of a few other SEO principles, but yeah, stay tuned. Keep asking questions, and if we can help then just shout.

But Mark, without further ado, let's get cracking. We've talked a lot about general SEO principles for E-commerce websites and product pages and now we're tackling supporting content such as blogs, FAQs and those other really non-product pages. Where would you begin when it comes to SEO for these pages?

MC: Yeah it's a really important thing to think about actually because I think this is one of the biggest opportunities for search when it comes to e-commerce. And you can think about if you're not marketing trained, how you go about choosing and buying products. There's this whole set of steps you go through. And if you've done any marketing courses, you'll no doubt have seen pictures of these inverted triangles of slices that say stuff like awareness, consideration. And this is talking about all the stuff that happens before someone actually purchases something. So we set up our e-commerce site, and to be able to sell products, we will have product listings with some descriptions about those products and they will generally be in categories. That's roughly what an e-commerce site is.

Say we sell sports stuff and we sell knee braces for running injuries, there's a whole set of searches that might happen before someone actually even comes to our site to buy. The first thing that happens is, they have a problem, they injure their knee and they're like, "Oh my knee hurts. What should I do?" They'll Google things like knee injury or knee pain. And this is them at this awareness stage of working out, I have a problem, what do I do? And then they might find a page that talks about knee supports and then they might Google something like types of knee support or what is the best knee support. They'll go through that next step of, they're in this consideration phase now of looking at different types of knee support. And then they work out it's actually a hinged brace knee support that they need. And only then, that stage is when they're actually looking at maybe buying a product and looking at prices and comparing brands and stuff.

There's a whole opportunity there for you to build content at those levels further up. For instance, you sell all these different kinds of knee braces, so rather than just have the categories of different types or just listings of products, it might be worth you building a page that explains what the different types are used for, what they're appropriate for, maybe getting some experts to talk about knee injury, which could then take you that one step further up. So maybe get someone who's a sports therapist or something, to talk in general about knee injuries and even when your kind of product is appropriate. And then they've started to open yourself up to ranking for all of this other content. And the great thing about that content is, because it's informational and not transactional, it means you're much more likely to attract links, meaning other people, other websites that are likely to cite it, to link to it.

If you've done a really good job of comparing different types of knee support, that's a really easy thing to get links to. Whereas trying to convince websites or other people just to link directly to products because there's an obvious commercial benefit is very difficult. And there's loads of places you can get data about this. People Also Ask data, obviously we've got our AlsoAsk tool, Google suggests when you start typing, there's Answer the public which can give you that kind of data. There's loads of places to find what questions people are asking around topics. The advice that comes out of all of this is you absolutely need to plan how that content is all going to go together and how it's going to be organised. The situation you don't want to end up in is you have your E-commerce site and you just have a blog and then you're just like, "Oh this week we're going to post about types of knee injury support and next week we're going to talk about insoles for running shoes." And it's just peppered in there.

You need to have it in a logical structure that's permanently there, so that requires some forethought, some planning, some keyword research.

NL: And what's the reason to do it on a separate page as opposed to enriching the existing product page and putting a lot of that content on the product pages?

MC: Yeah it comes down to the intent of the user. If for instance you're talking about types of knee support and you sell 10 different types, that's not really appropriate to put on... Well firstly, you could put it on every single page, but then you'd have an issue of when someone searches for types of knee support, Google wouldn't know which of those 10 pages to rank, because you've created a duplicate content cannibalisation issue. And it's not appropriate to put on just one of the pages, because it might not be applicable to all of them. And it comes down to intent, which is that people probably aren't ready to buy at that stage. You definitely should be interlinking them. If you're mentioning products in that article, you could definitely deep link to them so people could just click to them. But yeah generally it would be hard to come up with a sensible structure that works with all the different products.

NL: Yeah. Makes sense. Now in terms of going forward, most e-commerce sites have a blog of some sort. What are the basics around SEO best practice when it comes to blogs?

MC: Yeah blogs are really interesting. When clients talk to us about blogs, the first question I ask them is, what's a blog? And it sounds like a silly question, but I say, "Describe what makes a blog." And a lot of people struggle with this because blog comes from a term we don't really use anymore, weblog. It is a web page, but it's generally just webpages that are posted chronologically. So it's very common that you have a March 2021 post, April 2021. And that has kind of been taken from a lot of people who have personal blogs and put onto business sites. It's certainly one of the things that trips a lot of people up. Both in terms of SEO and actually the user experience.

How I think about it is this: things that go onto a blog should have some kind of chronological importance to them. Meaning that they are more important at the time they were posted than they will be in a year's time. And examples of that might be company news is a good thing to have in a blog section. Although I would be tempted, if it was just that, to call it news as opposed to a blog. And the reason for this is, take our previous example, we did a blog post on types of knee support and we posted that this month, a great bit of content, it was top of our blog, lots of people read it because they found it on the site. In 12 months time, how are we going to find that piece of content on our site, unless it's internally linked maybe in the main menu, people will have to go to the blog and then they might have to look through a specific category on the blog and search that way, or they might have to go back through archives.

It's going to be very tricky to find. When you have what we refer to as evergreen content, which is content that is pretty much as relevant the day it was posted as it will be in a years time, so things like maybe this article on knee supports, we would generally create a structure away from the blog about this. It might be, you'll have to think of a better name for it but like an injury support section on the site, if that's what we're selling. And it lists different types of injuries and then the articles pages and assets you've got that relate to that. And that just stays there because then from a user point of view, if someone comes onto your site and they want information about injuries, "Oh it's there in the menu, here's different types of injuries, here's what's related to me, I found it." It's all in one place. That becomes much easier for the user. And as an abstract, search engines understand that those pages are more important because they're higher up in the structure of the site and they're linked to from important pages rather than being buried somewhere in the blog.

Blogs can be helpful. We've just released this product, we've just hired this person etc. That for me is generally what a blog is used for. If you're writing stuff that's evergreen, you need to carefully think about how that's linked to on your site and where it is. You can reverse engineer it. You can do it on a blog as long as you have another page that links to all those posts. I'm not saying you can't use a blog, what I'm saying is don't just chuck it on there and hope it's going to rank, because not only will it not rank over time, you'll cause issues and frictions for your users.

NL: Question coming in here around creation versus curation. What's best, to create a blog where you guys are talking about said topic, e.g knee supports, et cetera, or simply referencing another article that talks about knee supports and giving some commentary around it?

MC: Depends where you're trying to add the value, and I know that's the cliché response to SEO questions. What you're trying to achieve with content, the way I look at it is, you think about what are we trying to rank for? This is the term. And then you need to understand what the intent of that term is. What I want to know is, do we answer that intent better than anyone else? There are cases where it's useful to curate and comment on content, especially if you've got experts to do so. And there are other cases where you can just produce better content than other people. Certainly if it's an area where there's already huge expert analysis, brilliant video content and all sorts, and you're maybe limited by time or budget, you may need to take a different approach to that. Because there's all kinds of different ways you can cut and spin data and comment on it. You have to get creative to do that. But I don't think there's an answer to is it better to create or curate. It's what's going to give you the best outcome and what's achievable with your kind of resource.

NL: What do you classify as an expert and how do you go about finding those? Let's take our knee support example. You now want to go and find an expert in the knee support world. Is there a site you can go to to reach out to these people or is there a way to get in touch? Or is it simply just looking at other content online, finding the author and then some cold outreach to ask them if they would be interested in commenting?

MC: Yeah, I think an expert is pretty easy to define in that an expert on say knee injury, is the same person I would speak to if my knee was injured. There's not a website I'm aware of that lists different experts, so that may be a good idea Nathan for a side hustle there. What I would do is maybe find some that does sports injury, maybe does online consultation as well or something like that. Probably a bad example for sports injury specifically. But I would find someone directly like that and then actually contact them and say, "Hey look, we're running this website. We do this. We'd love you to help us with this article." And that can be mutually beneficial, so you're going to be promoting them as an expert, so it may lead to more business for them. Or obviously if you're selling products that are related to them, there's maybe a deal you can do there, but that's what I would do.

I would actually go to a genuine expert in that field. Because we've done various content collaborations. We did content for clients around things like mental health during lockdown, and we just reached out to people who did things like mental health counselling and said, "Can you give us your insight into what you've anecdotally experienced through lockdown with clients?" Just getting their opinion on the piece we were doing. And the only thing they wanted in return from that was to be mentioned in the article, because that's their research and their thoughts. It works actually really well for both of us, because I just think you have to be very, well it's not even careful. The quality of content on the web is quite high now. So just if I went off and tried to Google about mental health and pull together an article, it's borderline inappropriate because all I'm doing is stitching together other stuff I'm finding. Am I really creating any new value? No I'm not.

It's actually just easier and quicker for everyone, and a better outcome to get experts involved.

NL: And on the topic of experts, are they experts in the eyes of Google or experts in the eyes of the general public? Because I'm thinking okay, let's go and see a knee surgeon who's based out in Great Yarmouth or whatever, he's an expert but his web presence is appalling. He's got no value online, no one knows he's an expert apart from you because maybe you've been recommended to him. How do we then make sure that if we simply reference him online that's going to carry any weight?

MC: That's a good question. That's Google's problem, in my opinion, longterm. Because an expert is an expert. And I would think of this in the same way that I think about the rest of Google's algorithm, which is there's a whole load of stuff Google asks you to do. There's guidelines and there's best practice. And Google is good at measuring some of that, and not so good at measuring others of that. And what you're describing is essentially referred to as chasing the algorithm, which is when you know, okay Google likes this particular thing or maybe it's very good at measuring this so we focus all our effort on that and well Google says they want this, but they can't actually measure it so well so we won't bother with that. What generally happens with that long term is that we get these core updates like we've just had in June, and then suddenly your site plummets because Google has now fixed that technical hurdle or overcome that technical hurdle and they've worked out how to start measuring that properly. And you don't have any of that because you decided that Google couldn't measure that a year ago or six months ago, and now you're shocked that you've lost 30% of your traffic and your competitors who were quietly sitting there have jumped ahead.

Longterm, I wouldn't worry about how good and what Google can and can't measure because that's a technical challenge and that's one they're taking big bites out of every month, week, day. But anyway, if you can get an expert to write content, I guarantee you if I got you to write about knee injuries, and I got an actual expert to write about knee injuries, they would structure the sentences differently, they would use different words to you, there'd be a big difference in that content which I think you would be able to see anyway. And part of the value is actually again having that authenticity to get links and be able to get people to reference that content and users that are actually reading it to see who it's written by. To give you an example, we're working with a client at the moment, in the medical space. And one of the things I commented on, they had a blog and they had some medical based advice on that blog, and the author was just an admin.

And I'm saying, "For people who just landed on this blog post, they've never heard of your brand before, how much would you trust medical advice that's written by someone just called admin, and that's all you know about them? If you want to get the trust of these people, have a profile for that person so they can click on it and they can see what are this person's credentials." Answer to your question, if they're unknown online, that's fine, that's how you get known online, you start publishing this kind of content. I would make sure that alongside, publish their profile and the information about their qualifications, credentials, experience, et cetera. But yeah, long term it's not something I would worry about.

NL: Very good. A question from Fatei Medi, I hope I've pronounced that right. They've said, "We can't simply add value to every piece of content. What are your go to tips for planning content?"

MC: I guess my question would be, why not? Why can't we add value for all pieces of content? If we're not adding value through creating content, why are we doing it, would be my question. The thing I try to nip in the bud about content planning creation is when people start saying things like SEO content or content we're going to do for SEO. To me that's the completely upside down way of thinking about it. You should be thinking about users and intent for your content, and then you shape that with SEO. You say, "Okay well this is the intent we're answering, but these are the specific questions and how people are phrasing that. And our research shows that Google is showing images, so we need to include images in this explanation. These are the related things that we need to talk about." That's the purpose of the SEO in that process.

If you're not adding value, or if you create content for instance and you think, "Yeah we're going to answer this question," but the first 10 results in Google are better than you, they give more complete answers and better answers, then why do you expect to rank would be my question. Why would anyone link to you if they can find better content much closer? This is the difficult and hard conversations you have to have about creating content which is that it's not easy and it's not just, "Okay well we'll post a 500 word blog post every week and then we'll get traffic." A lot of the advice we give clients is around actually doing fewer posts, but doing a much better job of them. I would much rather see one really well researched, beautifully laid out piece of content, than four or five rushed researched ones.

Go to tips for planning content would be to have what we talked about earlier, this understanding of the customer journey and the questions that they ask at each stage and where you're relevant in that stage. And normally you'll start at the very sharp point which we've already talked about, which is the actual products and the categories and optimising them. And then the next step up from that really is around information about your products, how to use them and getting this answer from, as we said Google suggests, People Also Asked, Keywords Everywhere, all great tools to do this. And then the next step up is actually building articles around that consideration and awareness phase. I would normally plan from that sharp bit of the triangle, upwards. Because the nearer you are to that then the nearer you are to a conversion.

And then a plan. This is really talking about the content strategy, the plan is the governance and that's how much content are we making, who's going to do it, when are they going to do it by? And that's about looking at your resources. What experts you have access to, could get access to, what internal resource you've got, who can write for you internally, what skills do they have, what bits do you need to outsource maybe to an agency? Because it's very likely that you'll have a really good strategy, but in reality you can't execute it all, so you then just have to choose, this is what we can realistically execute, and then you can get your expectations from the plan. Again, don't get content strategy muddled in with a plan. They're two different things. You make your strategy and from that you make your plan.

NL: Thank you Mark. Question from Abby, and I hope that's helped Fatei. Let us know if that hasn't and we can come back with some more on that. But Abby, what would your tips be to get images to rank better for search? If you were to tune in to part of the SEO for E-commerce series with Mark and I, we did a little bit about this in terms of alt tags, et cetera. But Mark, just your tips to get images to rank better for search please.

MC: Now you're stretching me out. I would, as Nathan said, have a look at part two, because I think I gave about 10 tips there. The basics were, if you can, avoid using stock imagery, because Google is only going to rank different images. When you do a particular search, you don't see the same image appear again and again. If you're using images that lots of other people use, you're immediately at a disadvantage. Then there's some super basic technical stuff which is around, for accessibility obviously, using your alt tags, titles of the images, having them be relevant in terms of place and surrounding text to the content, the file structure as well. Google actually takes the folder structure, the URL structure of where the images are, as hints to what's in those images. They've got image sitemaps you can use to help images be discovered, technical optimisation, so compression of the images as well. And schema of course. Can't not mention schema. Yes you can ring the schema bell.

Yeah for things like product schema, you can add in images and stuff there as well. That's all I can get off the top of my head now. But yeah check out the last episode, I go into 10 minutes of images.

NL: Very good. Abby, I hope that's helped. Please let us know. Mark I'm keen to talk to you about sub-domains. Now some people on blogs use a sub-domain, e.g blog.ecommercesite.com. Are there any issues around this and is there an optimum setup for the URL structure should you have the blog on a main site, or is there space for a sub-domain?

MC: Yeah you want to get me in trouble here. Yeah, sub-domains are a really interesting topic because there are two very strong camps in terms of SEO, two schools of thought on them. The official Google line, we'll start with that. The official Google line is that it makes no difference whether you have stuff on a sub-domain or whether you do not have stuff on a subdomain. Okay, now other things that we know just talking from Google is that Google does have some, what they refer to as site wide metrics for ranking. Which is scoring metrics they apply to a whole website, which can affect how pages of that website rank. We know that. The other thing we know is that there are lots of websites, and I'll give Wordpress.com as an example, that use sub-domains that host websites on those sub-domains that have nothing to do with them.

You can go to Wordpress.com and you can set up Nathansblog.wordpress.com. Now just because your blog is on the Wordpress.com domain, doesn't mean that it's going to rank well. What we've clearly seen there is that Google has decoupled Wordpress.com from the various blog sub-domains. However, things that are hosted in a subdirectory seem to benefit from that coupling of, if you were on Workpress.com/Nathan, I would expect you to rank well. And Google says that we try to work out if the sub-domains are related, whether they're part of the same site to the main domain or not. That already tells you that there's room for error, that if they're making this calculation, and I have absolutely seen lots of examples of where people have migrating content from a sub-domain to a sub-folder and they have seen ranking improvement, and vice versa.

I do think Google has got better at this working out if it's part of the same site and if it really matters if it goes onto a sub-domain. However, where I end up with this is that there's no technical reason to have something on a subdomain. There's nothing that you can do on a sub-domain that you can't do in a sub-folder. And the issue here as well, to be very clear, isn't sub-domains. Because www. is a sub-domain. And www. doesn't rank any better or worse than just non subs. The issue is potentially having things spread across different sub-domains, which is where we've seen this ranking asymmetry. The classic reason why people have put things on sub-domains is you can run things off an entirely different server for instance, very easily. People used to use forums. They'd install a separate forum software over here and run it through a sub-domain. But you can use reverse proxies and things to push these through folders now. From a user point of view, you don't have to use a sub-domain. I try to avoid them unless it is separate.

It's a very, very long winded answer to, Google says it's fine. But that's one of the things that I would say yes it's probably going to be fine, but why settle for probably?

NL: Mark, thank you. I like the reference to non dubs. Love the lingo. Dan Conley, question coming from him. Morning Dan. He says, would you advise using certain E-commerce platforms above others when it comes to marketing in general? Are there limitations using say Shopify over Woo Commerce? Does the platform even matter and what is it you should look for when choosing your platform?

MC: Yeah that's a good question. Again, starting at the top, from Google's point of view, they don't have a specific platform that they prefer because it is that platform. Everyone's on a level playing field, and it just depends how that platform itself performs. And over the years I've previously talked about how some of these off the shelf platforms will put you at quite a big disadvantage, one I used to and lots of people used to be very mean about was Wix for instance. Because Wix used to be absolutely garbage for SEO. They have completely turned things around and they made a lot of efforts now, and now it's not a garbage fire anymore. But certainly E-commerce wise, WooCommerce and Shopify are the two big ones that people use. They have again historically had some limitations. Shopify have just recently fixed one of their headline limitations if you like, which is that for years you couldn't for some reason edit the robot.text file on Shopify. Which may mean nothing to you if you don't do SEO, but it's essentially a way of controlling which parts of your sites get shown and it can be quite important. And you just couldn't do that on Shopify, which was bad. It meant you couldn't do certain types of optimisation.

But they've actually just changed that around so you can do that now. Same with WooCommerce. Both of them have their foibles. And with these platforms, it does come down to what theme you use a lot of the time. All of them have different plugins, add-ons, extensions, whatever you want to call them, and themes. And these are the things now that will have the biggest impact on how well you rank.

To give you a specific example, Shopify. I think we spoke about this as well in one of the previous episodes. Shopify has many themes, this foible way, if you setup a product in multiple categories, the way Shopify handles that is it actually allows the same product to be accessed through multiple URLs, which is not great for Google. And Shopify handles this with canonical tags, which again is a solution, but it's certainly not optimal. If you had full control, it's not what you'd be doing.

And again, there are ways you can dive into Shopify and fix that. And the other thing has to do with performance. I've seen WooCommerce sites completely trashed because they've had loads of plugins and JavaScript heavy themes used. Same with Shopify, you can get really heavy front ends for it. You'll probably know this better than I do, Nathan: I saw someone rank all of the Shopify themes by how they performed, on Core Web Vitals, so that's Google's performance metrics. They're the things I would look for. If you're using Shopify, WooCommerce, Magenta if it's a bigger site, they're all perfectly usable nowadays from an SEO point of view because I think they've had so much pressure from the industry to get their stuff sorted. But it's really just having someone implement that correctly, because it's still completely possible to have a poor performing Shopify site or a poorly performing WooCommerce site, if the person building it doesn't know about SEO. And that's just from a technical point of view.

From all the other stuff we started talking about in this episode, things like content planning, planning the main menu, none of that is done for you with these platforms. All the platforms give you a technical foundation. But there's still a lot of ways you can muck that up.

NL: Question coming in from earlier on in the session when we're talking about those pages such as your knee injury support page, is there a minimum duration that we can expect for these pages to take to rank or is there something we can do to speed it up? Tomorrow, for example, we listened to this. We thought Mark shared some really great tips, let's go and create a page that's going to be full of useful content. Now what do we do to try and encourage crawling to happen ASAP as opposed to waiting patiently in line?

MC: Yeah, so there's a couple of different things that need to happen there. Firstly, as you said, the page needs to be crawled. Secondly the page needs to be included in the index. Just because a page is crawled, does not necessarily mean Google's going to include it in the index. And then you actually need to get it to rank, which is the trick. Getting it crawled is fairly straightforward. If it's linked prominently on your own site, it's going to get crawled. If it gets indexed, it's going to be down to quality signals. If you've just copied and pasted a bunch of stuff from another site, Google will probably crawl that page and be like, "No, I know this. I'm never going to bother showing you the search results." Assuming we've written good content, it's going to be indexed.

Then how do we actually get it to rank? Assuming it's not something that's a complete gap, if you like, in the search in Google's index, we basically need to get some links to it really. Good content as well needs outreach. Which means it's all well and good creating brilliant content, but you actually need to tell people about it. This content should have an audience, there should be other websites where that audience goes to, so you should be contacting them, working out partnership stuff with them, getting them to link to it because you're adding value. And that's what's going to get you to rank. The other side ways in, there's different things you can optimise for, like featured snippets. Your research where it could've kicked up some specific questions, and if you actually optimise your content for those specific questions, featured snippets, the really cool thing about them is they're a feature added after ranking is done, which means that... We've had feature snippets come up within an hour of posting content.

You can just leapfrog straight above everyone. And we did this for an insurance client we work with because we were competing against people like Money Supermarket, Compare the Market, really big sites with huge SEO budgets for competitive turns. But we found a way we could beat them for traffic by looking again at what really specific questions are people asking where Google is generating these feature snippets and just leapfrogging over them and appearing for them for loads of definition type terms.

NL: Mark, when it comes to getting backlinks and endorsements from other sites, Fatei has asked here about the importance of Wikipedia. Is it still useful to have links and references from Wikipedia? Is it not? What are your stances and what camp do you sit in in terms of loving Wikipedia, not loving Wikipedia, somewhere in the middle?

MC: Yeah Wikipedia is an interesting one. All links pretty much, as far as I'm aware, from Wikipedia have got a no follow tag on. No follow tags previously existed to tell search engines not to count them in their algorithm. You're meant to use no follow tags. For instance, if I say to you, "Hey Nathan. Can I give you 100 quid to put a link to Candour on your site?" And you say, "Yeah, sure no problem." You're meant to put a no follow link on that to tell search engines, "Look, this link has been paid for, so don't count it as a vote for you should rank this site better." Wikipedia put no follow links basically on everything, partly because it was being bombarded by SEO people trying to insert links everywhere, as it is obviously a very linked to and authoritative site.

The interesting thing that changed, I think it was March 2020 or 2019, it was in March I think. It was a while ago now as well, since then. Is that Google changed how they process no follow tags from what's called a directive, to a hint. A directive is something that they will always do and always obey. This previously meant if they saw a no follow tag, they would never count that link. Since then they said, "We know that it is a hint. Meaning that even if it has a no follow tag on, we may choose to give you credit for having that link." And the reason they've done this is because there are lots of important sites that are very useful to Google deciding which page you should rank, things like newspapers link out to lots of sites, but newspapers generally blank it no follow everything. But Google wants to count those things because they're not paid for, and if you are linked to from a newspaper it generally means that your site is at least interesting.

So they've started taking this as a hint. And the last thing about Wikipedia is, it's actually very difficult to put links on Wikipedia because it is very heavily moderated and if you just stick links on there, someone will be there very quickly to remove them. If it's relevant for you to be on Wikipedia and you can get a link there, I would definitely do it. Nobody can tell you 100% that it does or does not have value. But I would certainly say it's not going to be a bad thing having your link on Wikipedia. If you don't get traffic for it, that's my litmus test if a link is good. If a link is good, regardless of any other metric, domain authority, trust flow, whether it's followed, whether it's not. If it's getting traffic it's a good link, if it's not getting traffic, it's probably not that good. But yeah Wikipedia normally is like a one shop. You do your edit, you add it in and then the link is there for life.

It's very much like a low risk, low effort thing for a potential reward.

NL: Mark, the questions are starting to flow in now. I've got one around directory listing, and I'll come to you shortly. But firstly to Ethan. Good morning Ethan. He says, "Hi both. I'm looking at optimising the speed of my website by lazy loading in certain parts and images, et cetera. Will this cause any issues with the crawler, and is there anything I shouldn't lazy load?"

MC: Yeah so we're getting super technical now. I love it. HTML5 does support lazy loading of images. Google bot supports lazy loading of images. That's all covered in their web rendering service, so no it shouldn't cause any issues. The thing that I would think about, so the potential issue could cause yourself, is if you're lazy loading, you need to basically set place holders for where those images are going to be. Because one of Google's core web vitals is called cumulative layout shift, which is CLS, which measures how much your page jumps around as it loads. If you don't have those placeholders for images set as you lazy load images, you're going to cause the page to jump around as those images populate, and that's going to lower your CLS score, which potentially could impact your ranking.

Lazy loading, no it's been around a while, it shouldn't cause any issues. You can lazy load pretty much anything you like. But what you want to do as a whole as well to protect the user is experience, is make sure the page is stable as that stuff is loading in.

NL: Mark, thank you. And Ethan I hope that's useful. Fatei, thanks for your feedback. I'm glad you found that useful. Mark, going back to directory listings within the world of E-commerce. Are there any particular directories that sites should be on in terms of improving ranking or linking to high authority sites?

MC: What directories do you use when you're shopping online Nathan?

NL: Amazon, eBay, marketplaces, Google, Google Shopping. But yeah, apart from that I don't really use directories to shop.

MC: Yeah I think that's probably going to be a common theme. The only time I ever look at directories even now in terms of SEO is for hyper local stuff. If we've got super local offerings, there's normally some local directories you can be in. But in terms of SEO, I rarely look at any type of directory now. The stuff you listed is where people go. You've got marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, things like that. Even Etsy, whatever it is. But web directory sites, that's a relic from pre search engine days. I generally wouldn't bother with directories, unless there's something really specific to your niche, or really specific to your geography.

NL: Yeah fine. Next one coming, pulling this right back to content which is the theme of today, is looking at tagging, particularly with blogs. A lot of people use these tags or tag clouds and you have all these weird and wonderful tags, and sometimes you just see some of the weirdest things tagged and you're like, "What is the point in tagging air or red. Okay. This is bizarre." What are your thoughts on tagging, Mark? And can it be useful?

MC: Generally I hate it. I'm going in there strong. For the exact reason you described. Generally blogs will have categories and tags. Categories are more helpful because like you said, they will have something sensible where there'll be several blog posts listed. Tags tend to get people just putting in random single words, like you said, air for instance. You're probably never going to rank for air. If you actually look at your Google analytics, how many people are clicking on those tags. Think about your own experience. When you look at a blog, you land on the post you want, how many times are you clicking on that tag that says air or E-commerce? It's pretty low. Generally I just don't use, or I scrap tags, because you're normally just creating lots of low value pages. Say we did one for our site and we just had SEO as a tag, that's just going to then give me a list of every page that I've deemed has mentioned SEO. It's not helpful for anyone, so I just don't use them.

And actually I would go as far as to say, categories aren't always that helpful either. Let's take SEO as an example. If I have an SEO blog and I write lots about link building, I think it would make sense to have a category called link building, because then if anyone wants to find any of my posts about link building, they can click on that. And this is where I would argue there's a difference between the user and the search engine. Because it might be helpful for a user to say, "Okay, let me just see everything in the category link building." However, if someone is on Google and they think, "I want to learn about link building." So they Google it. Are they going to want to land on a category page on my blog that lists a load of posts? Highly, highly unlikely.

And a really good example of this is the ahrefs blog. Ahrefs is kind of a big SEO tool. And what they've done is, with their categories, they've actually no indexed them. They've told Google not to even index their category pages. Instead of having a category for link building, they've made one incredibly big post about link building, it's like a beginners guide and it covers every aspect of link building, and then deep links where it's contextually relevant to the posts that they've done. It's like a category page with a massive explanation as well. And actually if someone is searching for link building, obviously the intent for that search is very broad. But they've made content that caters for that very broad intent. I think that's such a good way to look at it, which is if you're creating content and you're thinking about categories, think about the last time you did a Google search and you landed on a category listing page. It just doesn't really ever happen, so why are we making them so much?

We should actually be thinking about, if it's a category, all it probably means is that the intent for that search is wider, so actually we need to make more content to cover all those bases. So yeah, tagging is definite, I just don't even get involved in it. Categories as well. It's a good starting place, but I would actually start to build content behind those category searches as well.

NL: Mark, question in here around the blog content. Again, some people would be going after all these helpful articles to try to improve the experience of the user, et cetera. Whereas some people would be talking about last Wednesday when they took the team to the beach for a pie and a beer. Do you put them in the same place? Is there a way to differentiate, or is it just as important to keep them mixed up? Because if you've got it in that date format, you've got one article talking about the importance of knee surgery, the next article talking about how the team loved their five aside football on the beach, the next article talking about the right shoes to wear with knee surgery. All of a sudden it becomes a little bit jumbled.

MC: Yeah so this is what we touched on earlier which is, I always separate content which is essentially news, which is that it's important when it is new, that’s why it's called news. Which is, like you say, we took the team to the beach, we hired this person, we've changed this at our company. I separate that from evergreen content which is always relevant. I think it's fine to have a mix of chronologically important stories, because the thing you're most interested in is generally the latest thing. If it doesn't fall into that category, I'd have it somewhere else.

NL: All right, thank you. And we see here, let's say there's a question a brand wants to rank for. Is it better to write an answer to the FAQ or to create a separate blog article in this case?

MC: I guess it depends how big the question is. Yeah I don't know if there's a good answer to that question really. I wouldn't use lots of words where fewer words would suffice. And again, thinking about user experience, if you're Googling a specific question as a user, I would much prefer a succinct, accurate, two sentence response to having to pour over 2,000 words. A framework we use for content that awkwardly falls into the middle ground of, well there is a quick answer, but with these caveats we really need to tell them this, is you might have a FAQ type answer.

So here's the question, and here's the two sentence answer, but here's why and there's the details. You take almost the newspaper approach to writing, which is you get the most important headline facts out in the first few sentences, and then you give the background story onto why. You're not writing a book, you don't want to have a slow buildup to the answer someone is looking for. We've talked about it before in the other episodes. It's about trying to get results. So reduce friction, give people what they want as quickly as possible, and then if they do want the long explanation, they can hang around for it. One or other, or both.

NL: Fatei, I hope that helps. We've got about five to six minutes left folks for today's episode, so please keep your questions coming in. I'm going to come to you Josephine next. Good morning and thank you for joining us. Mark, Josephine asks, is it enough to link to a buying guide from a category page of products, or should they also be hosted within a guide section? Should guide pages ideally include FAQs, and how should these be structured?

MC: Is it enough to link to a buying guide from a category page of products or should we host within a guide section? I think the answer to that is a user question rather than an SEO question. Are people coming to your site to look at guides? Have you got enough guides to make it worthwhile having a guide section? Is there any harm creating a guide section would be my other question. Lots of these things, sometimes there's no correct answer for how people use websites. When you watch people in user testing, sometimes I'm scraping my gap off the desk seeing how some people use websites because it just seems so alien to me. But that's how it is. There sometimes is no objective answer. If you say let's make a guide section, if you've got the content for it and it's not harming anything, then there's certainly no down side to that, there's only a potential upside.

Generally from the SEO perspective, the more internal links or the more links you have to a page the better, so it will rank better if it's got links from more important pages on your site. Certainly if you're doing buying guides, you need to get them linked externally from your site as well. That's more important really than everything. As to should guide pages ideally include FAQs, how should these be structured, so Google recently did a product review algorithm update. And if you have a look at our podcast if you just look for Search with Candour, Google actually gave I think it was 20 points of things you should include when you're talking about products. Which is things like frequently asked questions, how you might use a product, how it compares to other products, things like that.

They give you a framework for if you're talking about a product, these are the things we expect you to mention. How they should be structured in terms of FAQs, I think the format of how they appear on pages is all fairly well known. Make sure you use the FAQ schema so you can get the high rise results in the serp. And apart from that, for E-com pages, while I don't use them as an example for many things because they are such an outlier, I think Amazon is always worth looking at in terms of the information they provide on pages.

NL: Mark, thank you. And Josephine I hope that's helpful. Coming to you next Abby, and I'm hoping Mark the answer here is very simple. Is there a particular tool you use for People Always Ask? Does it provide search volume? I'm led to believe and I do believe you guys have your own tool, so now is the chance to plug it.

MC: Yeah. We ran alsoasked.com, for a year in a public beta. That's going to be launched next month now, in July. I think Abby's asking for search volume for people also asked, which is the other questions that Google shows related to a search term. And the answer Abby is that I don't ever look at search volume for people also asked, and I strongly encourage people not to go down that route, because there's no value in it. And actually I've seen people make very bad decisions because they're looking at search volume of people also asked. I'll tell you briefly why. In the ahrefs keyword database, they highlighted that, I think it was 90% of all of the key phrases that they've got in their database, have less than 20 searches a month. And if you look at a specific question in Google's people also asked, if you ran it through a keyword tool it might say, "Okay it's got 10 searches a month. Or zero."

So you think, "Okay well it's not worth doing." But it's worth bearing in mind, that's the search volume for that one question for that intent. There might be 100 different ways to ask the same question. Like what is the best knee support, what is the best knee support website, what is the best knee support website UK, what is the best UK knee support site. You can change the order of the words, and they're all the same question and they might all have one, two, five, 10, 12 searches a month. And by the time you've got 100, you've suddenly got this intent has 500 searches a month. But because we looked at the monthly search data it pulled in and it said zero, we've discounted it. And actually there is a decent amount of search volume there. We've moved on from Google using strings of keywords and trying to rank pages for a specific set of words in a specific order. Google is very good now at ranking pages that don't necessarily contain the exact query that the user typed in, but has the correct answer.

They had their BERT update, which is all about them understanding the order of words and the question. You've got the MUM update recently which is about them understanding what other questions people might ask. And all of these things are around Google understanding the underlying intent of the question and not the keywords used. While keywords research still has its place and its use and the only real time I'm using volumes is when we're making decisions about things like main menus and categories. When it comes down to if we should do an article or how we should word it, I only use the keyword research data there for intent now. For people also asked, I would just implore you to ignore keyword volume. That's why as well we don't include keyword volume on alsoasked.com. We've had a few people request it and I've just said no, because I don't think it's helpful, and I think you're probably not using the tool to its best if you're looking at search volume.

NL: Abby, I hope that's helpful. Mark, coming to the final question for today's episode. I blinked and an hour went by. Last question from us. Is there any other supporting content which can aid SEO effort? Side guide, about pages, et cetera.

MC: Yeah I guess anything that's potentially helpful. Things that I've seen people do that have got traffic before, that a lot of people missed, is things like voucher pages. If you've got a voucher code box in your checkout, it's very likely you're going to trigger a search for shop name voucher codes. Which normally then is going to lead someone to a voucher code affiliate site where they're going to spend ages clicking around, get cookies on their computer, they're going to get a voucher code that doesn't work, and then you're going to have to pay your affiliate because they're sent someone that's clicked through but actually nobody got a discount, so it's just taken them longer to checkout. Or you might lose the sale altogether because they think they're missing out on a voucher.

Creating even a page that just says your brand name, vouchers/coupons. And you can just say if you have any existing voucher deals. You can just say for instance, "There's no active voucher codes currently." That can very easily rank and it can basically save you that conversion, the user hassle. What I've seen other people doing as well is maybe, especially in the SAF space is pages with comparisons to competitors or competitor products. Because in that consideration phase you'll see a lot of sites searching for different brands or variations or alternatives. And I think it's important, where appropriate, to approach those things head on. The things you've mentioned in the question there, I think you said things like size guides, would hopefully be things anyway that you're including in what do we need to get the user to convert. Anything that's useful basically.

I always come back to, we're trying to create value for the user and then SEO it. We're not trying to make SEO content for the site.

NL: Mark, once again, a massive thank you for today. For those that have maybe not met Mark before or not sure about Mark's agency, I encourage you to go and have a look at his LinkedIn profile where he tends to post daily unsolicited SEO tips. Mark, how many are we at now? 500 plus?

MC: Yeah it's over 500 now.

NL: Unbelievable. Go and check him out there. Huge amount of value. And in terms of the agency Mark, if people want to get in touch to get them some help?

MC: Yeah if you just Google Candour or Candour Agency, you should be able to find out. As I mentioned earlier as well, we've got a podcast called Search with Candour, which we run weekly. If you want to stay up to date with what's happening with SEO algorithm updates, PPC stuff, each episode is 20 to 30 minutes and it should be nice and easy for everyone to get a handle on.

NL: Very good. Mark, massive thank you. Neil, very good to see you. Thanks for your kind words. For those that have enjoyed it today please go and check out the other two episodes. Part one and part two. We've got part four coming as well, so stay tuned for that. We'll make sure to invite you on LinkedIn. But for now, from Mark and myself, thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks again.

MC: Sincerely hope you enjoyed that recording. If you would like to join us for one of the LinkedIn Live sessions, just add me on LinkedIn. You can find me, Mark Williams-Cook. And of course I'll post when one of these is coming up. At the moment we're doing them every two weeks and it would be great to have you.

Next week I'll be back on the 12th of July, so that's Monday as usual. We'll be back to the usual show format, covering all the changes in SEO and PPC. And of course, as of yesterday we have the July core update rolling out from Google, so we'll be able to see, hopefully some of the dust would've settled and we can see what's going on there. Apart from that, I hope you all have a lovely week.

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