Topical authority and Search Generative Experience with Mark Williams-Cook

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Show notes

This week, Jack Chambers-Ward is joined once again by Mark Williams-Cook to discuss:


Jack: Welcome to episode 71 of season two of the Search with Candour podcast. I am Jack Chambers-Ward. I am one of your hosts for this week because I am joined once again by Mr. Mark Williams-Cook.

Mark: Hello, happy to be here.

Jack: Hello, Mark. How are you?

Mark: I am very good. Very happy that I could jump in at the last minute in this episode.

Jack: I had a guest reschedule at the very last minute, so I have a couple of backups for solo show ideas if I need to just bust out a quick Search with Candour. I was like, "Maybe we should actually..." I wondered if you were going to be in the office today, you often don't work in the office on Friday, so I was like, "Well, Mark's here."

Mark: Let's get the old team back together.

Jack: Exactly. The good old days, exactly. We'll be talking about:

  • Some interesting Sainsbury's data from SISTRIX.
  • We're talking about Google statement about topical authority.
  • We're diving into the big topic at the moment that is Search Generative Experience, and that is now rolling out in the US.
  • and we'll also dive into some recent possible controversy around video thumbnails and snippets and all that kind of stuff.

SISTRIX - Sainsbury’s new brand

So three topics, plus the SISTRIX section. Should we dive into some Sainsbury's data? Because if you haven't listened to the show before, SISTRIX do sponsor us. They are fantastic. They are known as the SEO’s toolbox and you can go into if you want to check out some of their fantastic free tools, such as their SERP Snippet Generator, the hreflang validator, Google Update Radar, or if you want to check your site's visibility index, all for free. The update I've got this week is actually a post from Steve, the fantastic Steve over at SISTRIX, who is basically our main point of contact at SISTRIX.

Mark: Friend.

Jack: Yeah, friend of the show.

Mark: Let's go that far.

Jack: Former guest, friend of the show, good guy all around guy-

Mark: Motorcyclist.

Jack: Yes. Renowned motorcyclist and gig attender. He loves a good tribute act to a 70's rock band does Steve. And we're going to be talking about Steve's analysis of some Sainsbury's data. So what Sainsbury's have done, they are launching their own fashion marketplace, like Amazon in a similar way that you can have multiple sellers in one place selling multiple different products kind of thing.

Mark: It's worth noting if you're not in the UK, Sainsbury's is basically, a supermarket chain here.

Jack: Yes, exactly. Thank you for clarifying, Mark. The Sainsbury's, I feel like a lot of the supermarkets are branching out of just being a supermarket. You see a lot of Tesco does mobile phone contracts and stuff and they also have insurance and legal services and all kinds of things. A lot of our supermarkets over here in the UK are branching out of just delivering your weekly groceries or whatever typical supermarket stuff does. But in particular, things like ASDA have their pretty well known clothing brand and a few of the other ones have clothing brands as well, but Sainsbury's are branching out and trying something called Tu Clothing. I don't know if it's Tu clothing?

Mark: I call it Tu.

Jack: Tu Clothing. What SISTRIX and what Steve is trying to do is understand where the visibility for this new directory is coming from, how the strategy and it's what they do in a lot of their analysis, especially what Charlie does with the SectorWatch stuff that I absolutely love. You dive into why is this performing, why is this not performing? You can really have a look at the data there and see why it's not working. So I guess Steve's question is, where would you place a marketplace for clothing and other brands and stuff within, in this example, sainsbury' domain? Should it be a sub-domain, should it be a folder? Where is the best place to put this?

Mark: Near the toy section, past the potatoes. Just like in store.

Jack: Right? Yeah. It's a weird thing of, I found this, I was shopping on Tesco the other day and it's funny, I've now corrupted my wife's mind into seeing websites with a bit of an SEO mindset. It rubs off after a while, I feel, after being married to me for a year. And there's a phrase, I can't remember the exact phrasing. It's like go to the aisle or browse the aisle. So if you're looking at a product, you can see what would be on the aisle if it was in a shop in a virtual setting. It's not VR in a thing, but it will show you the list of products. So if you are on a particular, say, I was looking for vegetarian frozen food because I'm vegetarian, you then click there, that shows you all of the frozen food of that particular, so suddenly you can see all of the pizzas and not just the vegetarian or vegan pizzas and it expands out. So I think what a lot of these supermarket brands are struggling to do, from what we've seen, a few of hits and misses in terms of the visibility index we've seen from SISTRIX, is they're trying to translate that organizational, for want of a better phrase, indexing experience that they have in the store to their website and trying to understand where to put everything.

Mark: Does that mean customers are crawlers?

Jack: Maybe, maybe.

Mark: It's basically a posh word for a category. It's just a, we're going to show you a category that's organized in the same way that we productize our aisles.

Jack: Kind of. They're also category pages, so you can be on vegan and frozen food, but then there's also the broader thing, like this aisle thing.

Mark: It's different kind of.

Jack: Yeah, it's a different section actually.

Mark: I did actually see a demo of a VR supermarket shopping experience where you walked around and picked up the stuff and put it in your trolley and then that basically put it in a virtual basket and you bought it and it looked like the worst thing I've ever seen. Why anyone would want to do that, that blows my mind.

Jack: It's a job simulator, basically. Supermarket worker, job simulator.

Mark: The best thing that happened about online shopping at the supermarket is I don't have to go to the supermarket. The last thing I want to do is badly simulate that in 3D.

Jack: Yeah, yeah. So what Tu clothing to Sainsbury's, Steve is thinking about cannibalization because it does cross over with some of the existing products there already and particularly looking at branded versus unbranded stuff as well. So it's a pretty strong brand. Most visibility comes from branded phrases, but the unbranded stuff is basically non-existent. And the big question is, should that subdomain, so it's currently the, so it's got a subdomain and obviously, the directories after that as well. Should that be separated from the main domain since it's a separate sub brand? Should it sit under something else? Should it have its own completely separate domain or should it be Does that matter? It's doing well for its individual brand, but would it be better if it was off on its own domain and not, for want of a better phrase, stuck under What do you think, Mark? I know it's an endless conversation in SEO of subdomain versus sub folder. Where do we go from here? What do you think?

Mark: Yeah, I don't think subdomain’s ever the answer.

Jack: I agree. I've never liked subdomains personally.

Mark: I think I would answer that from a more brand marketing strategy perspective of do they want to separate Tu from Sainsbury's? Because to me, it's almost part of the brand that George is ASDA and Tu is Sainsbury's. Not as in a, "Oh, this is so cool because it's from Sainsbury's," but it's almost the juxtaposition of, "Oh, that's a nice T-shirt. Where'd you get that from?" "Oh, it's actually George from ASDA." "Oh, oh cool." And it's cool because it's not cool, in a way. I don't think-

Jack: You don't seem like you're trying too hard.

Mark: Yeah, I don't think Tu is you ever going to be up there with designer brands, is it?

Jack: No.

Mark: It's a supermarket thing. So I guess the decision for me wouldn't be primarily an SEO one. So I guess if I had to make a choice, I would probably leave it under Sainsbury's would be my thing. And then of course, you've got the additional benefit of you don't have to build up a separate domain or arguably, sub-domain from scratch because I imagine Sainsbury's, without looking, has probably got a couple of links to it.

Jack: I would guess almost certainly. And an interesting thing Steve brings up, and it's something again, that's come up in SISTRIX data before, the excellent work that B&Q, which is a hardware and home store here in the UK, they own, which is pretty cool, pretty impressive. And they've actually managed to turn that into a marketplace and they don't just sell their own branded stuff, they sell a bunch of different brands and you can shop on that site in a very different way than you would going into a typical hardware store that only sells their own branded stuff. I think what Steve is saying that maybe Sainsbury's can lean towards that approach that has been so successful for B&Q.

But I also know Steve and the team from SISTRIX highlighted the success of B&Q massively driven by the incredible informational content that they've built out and the fact that they were tackling multiple intents of you've got the hub of information that's answering a bunch of different questions. If there is a guide to do basically anything, and I've just moved house, I found B&Q stuff all over SEPs as I was searching for. We've boarded out our loft. We had to reinforce the stud wall to mount some TVs. Every time I searched anything, was bang, right at the top, featured snippet, basically every time. And I wonder if Sainsbury's, I don't think you can really do informational content about t-shirts.

Mark: You could do fashion stuff.

Jack: Yeah, I guess so.

Mark: I think the other thing with is they've got that as a navigational term now. And DIY in the UK alone has about 200,000 searches a month. So the fact that they made a run on one of the most generic terms that describes everything they sell, is something, unless if you-

Jack: If you tack DIY on the end of everything, which you would without thinking, I think, here in the UK because it's such a common term.

Mark: Even just searching DIY, unless Tu are going to buy, which can't quite see that working out as well for them.

Jack: Yeah, I think you've really got to focus. When you bring in a marketplace like this. I think it's a different approach. We even talked about Etsy many, many months ago, and I remember you were searching for something, Mark, and it seemed like, you know a site has been touched by somebody who knows SEO. It feels like they have a page for everything. No matter what I search, there is a landing page for a three foot tall green standing lamp or something-

Mark: Snow Globe.

Jack: Exactly, yeah. An incredibly specific landing page like, "Mm-hmm, yep, yep." There's probably an agency or a consultancy behind that or something like that. So yeah, I'd be interested to see what they do. I think there's something we'll keep an eye on. We did the same thing for the Primark website. You mentioned Primark earlier, Mark. We did a pretty extensive coverage of that thanks to SISTRIX and their ongoing and updating thing.When they rebranded, they've got their half and half, you can buy it on the site, you can reserve it in store and then go and collect kind of thing that Primark shifted to where you could previously not buy or reserve anything online. It was all foot traffic, essentially. I think Sainsbury's moving in this direction is interesting. I wonder, like you said, if the power of that domain, because it is a household name here in the UK, again, some internationalists probably don't necessarily know the name Sainsbury's, but here in the UK, that is one of the big supermarket chains. Does that pull enough weight to just drag the subdomain along up with it? We'll find out I suppose. And we'll, like I said, keep an eye on their strategy and see how they're then trying to access those unbranded terms and how their optimization strategy for their products either hits or misses, succeeds or fails. We'll find out.

Mark: So SISTRIX do a lot of this kind of analysis and it's really helpful if you are learning SEO to check in on when they flag up things like this and then actually follow it up in three, six months time and see how they turned out. Like you said, we did it with Primark before. It's just a really interesting way to learn about SEO on big sites, making big decisions affecting millions of pounds of revenue without having to take responsibility yourself and just be like, "Oh, that turned out terribly. Oh well. I'll note that down."

Jack: I remember when we first had a conversation with Steve and the data journalism team over there, especially things like SectorWatch and these larger case study things, they're basically case studies on steroids. You are getting a free tracking thing. The kind of thing you would do for a competitor or you would do for your own clients and websites if you're working in an agency or if you're working in house as well. That long term, we revisit and update our articles like you said, Mark, three, six months later to see, we can see they're doing something. The visibility has significantly changed, but now we're going to actually keep an eye on that and see what the long-term benefits or not benefits, the detractions, I guess, subtractions.

Mark: Not a fits.

Jack: And not a fits, exactly. So like I said, go to Steve's LinkedIn, first of all. Go follow Steve on LinkedIn and of course, go to Like I said, they regularly post updated case studies and SectorWatch, IndexWatch, TrendWatch, stuff we cover here regularly on the show, but we basically just scratch the surface of a lot of the data stuff that they post on their blog and on their trends. So go and check that out at Should we get into some topical authority discussion?

Topical authority

Mark: Let's talk about topical authority, which I'm sure anyone working in SEO has probably seen the term topical authority before. I actually did some research a month or so ago into how long SEOs have been talking about topical authority. And off the top of my head, I feel like it was 2007 ish or 2009, so we're talking-

Jack: 15 years or so.

Mark: 13, 15 years ago. The first mention I could find just with a basic Google search phrase match for the term was actually a chap called Aaron Wall who, some of you, if you've been in SEO for a while might recognize as the author of SEObook, which was at, which for many years-

Jack: Speaking of good domains to have.

Mark: Yeah, right? So before we had lots of courses and videos online on how to do SEO, it was forums and SEObook was one of the main sources of information. But it's certainly come up with increasing frequency over the years as a general theory that gets woven into SEO strategies. People will mention something along the lines of you need to become a topical authority, which I think if you have to summarize, it means staying in your lane in that it's not possible to be an expert on everything. And a bit like, you've probably all got friends that someone knows lots about computers and someone knows lots about cars or you've got friends that are experts in certain areas and, in some way, websites are kind of the same to search engines in that some become known for certain topics or certain geographies, as is the case here. And what's interesting here is that on the 23rd of May, so actually only three days ago, Google did a blog post on their Search Central Blog entitled Understanding News Topic Authority. So it's about topical authority specifically with news stories and to my knowledge at least, it's one of the only times I've seen Google write at length specifically about topical authority with examples and systems. I don't know if you've ever seen anything before?

Jack: Not off the top of my head, no. I had a quick search around when we were talking about this earlier. I couldn't find anything that was, like you said, such a direct thing and as we always say, having a direct line from Google about anything is hugely important to pay attention to, to read through, to deep dive, what we're going to do now, hopefully for you guys, is read through this and help digest that and think about the information that's presented. As we said, it's often full of nuance. The language they use is very specific and very precise. So thinking about news topics in particular, this is something we've been talking about a lot with some of our clients who are looking to move on to Google Discover and stuff like that. Being more topical in their content rather than just general informational content. Actually being topical and relevant can be a huge thing. They talk about freshness a lot at Google, that being a key factor there as well. I think having this actual, like you said, clear statement about topical authorities specifically from Google is always something we should pay attention to.

Mark: So I'm just going to read you verbatim quickly a couple of bits of the post where it's helpful. So we'll put a link to this in the show notes at The post reads, "Major news events are often covered by a wide array of news sites. This can present a challenge for Google users who are looking for publications with particular expertise on a topic, such as a finance outlet for a query about the impact of an economic report or a local publication reporting on a disaster in their area. Such knowledgeable and helpful work can be overtaken among more general coverage. To better surface relevant expert and knowledgeable content in Google Search and News, Google developed a system called topic authority that helps determine which expert sources are helpful to someone's newsy query." It literally says newsy query. "In certain specialized topics areas such as health, politics, or finance."

So two things they've touched on there, which is the topical authority in terms of the actual topic, but also geographic authority. That's wound up into this topical authority. And then they actually have a section called, helpfully, How Topic Authority Works and they've written, "The topic authority system looks at a variety of signals to understand the degree of expertise a publication has in particular areas. A few of the most prominent signals are," and then they've listed three. "Number one is how notable a source is for a topic or location. Our systems understand publications that seem especially relevant to topics or locations. For example, they can tell that people looking for news on Nashville High School football often turn to the publication like The Tennessean for local coverage."

Jack: That makes sense.

Mark: So that makes sense certainly in a news sphere. It's also something we've definitely helped clients with whereby say, we've got a local trader, I don't know, say, that builds conservator or something. One of the really common things when a client comes to us like that is they will have a catchment area of the city or the county that they're working in and one of the first things we normally pick up with them is a lot of their content actually isn't clear in the content that this is the area that they're serving. We've helped them by do things like providing case studies of all the products they can build and then the locations within the city of where they are and when we're doing things like title tags, making it clear the area that they're serving and that's related to link building everything as well. But making it very clear that this is a very geographically centered business, so the pages need to show that expertise, if you like, for that area.

Jack: Yeah. Next up we've got influence and original reporting. "Our system looks at how original reporting, for example, the publisher that first broke the story, is cited by other publishers to understand how our publication is influential and authoritative on a topic. In 2022, we added the highly cited label to give people an easy way to identify stories that have been frequently cited by other news organizations." Weirdly enough, this ties back into the syndicated content thing we were talking about a little while ago as well because I think you do get this and Google seems to be focusing in on this of ensuring they are, for want of a better phrase, crediting the right sources and ensuring the people that are being cited are accurate and relevant and appropriate for being the most served to users.

And I think that is something they're trying to do. Obviously, they've had a big discussion on misinformation on SERPs that happened over the last five, ten years or so, and I think this is definitely something they're consciously trying to avoid is bad misinformation being referenced multiple times and then it's too late, it's already gone out into 100 different publications and there's no way you're going to withdraw that or recall that or-

Mark: Put the cat back in the bag.

Jack: Exactly, exactly. The cat's out of the bag and you own a dog, Mark. I own a cat. Cats are very difficult to get into bags, boxes, anything in general. Cats are very resistant.

Mark: The other thing this brings up, interestingly, when we talk about who originally broke the story, is a blackout SEO technique, which I don't see as much now because hopefully, Touchwood doesn't work as well as it used to, which is I used to see people who would set up scrapers on other news sites that would scrape their sites every few seconds looking for new stories and then as soon as they found a new story, they would scrape it, publish it on their own site, date it back an hour, and then immediately ping Google to try an index the link

Jack: Oh, interesting.

Mark: So, they were essentially stealing their content.

Jack: Newsjacking, but not quite the same way.

Mark: Yeah, but then tricking Google into looking at their site first, so when Google came round it was like, now you are the original publisher of this content and it's verified as well because they've changed the published date because Google only knows something exists when it sees it. You can change the publication date and popularities related to crawl frequency.

Jack: Create a data schema and then be like, "Ta-da."

Mark: Yes. And lastly we have here source reputation and it says, "Our system also looks at a source's history of high quality reporting or recommendations from expert sources such as professional societies. For example, a publication's history doing original reporting or their journalistic awards are strong evidence of positive reputation for news insights."

Jack: Interesting. Awards are a strong sign.

Mark: I think this is slightly code word for links.

Jack: I feel like you said that quite a lot. Google doesn't say it and be like, "Yeah, but they mean links though, don't they?"

Mark: They mean links. So I think a lot of these things are just talking about who you're getting links from.

Jack: Is the author of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, have they got a link from, I don't know,

Mark: The only other thing I'd pull from that is when it talks about the history of high quality reporting, because this actually falls in line with lots of things we've heard from Google around if you make significant quality changes to your websites, it can take Google systems many months to recognize that and reward you for it. And it's the same thing we tell clients, and I try and explain it like, if you meet someone brand new who is lovely, you don't immediately just fully trust them because you've had one interaction with them. You need to consistently interact with them and then for them to prove to you over a period of time that they are trustworthy and they weren't just having a good day or something. And I feel that's a reliable way to look at websites in that are they consistently putting out what we think is good content? Are they consistently earning links or did they just try once really hard and they're like, "Cool, can we have the rankings and keep them now?"

Jack: So I think that's true for journalism in general. This is going to be a weird brief tangent, but the fact that there is so much dodgy reporting in general, whether that's politics and stuff. I follow professional wrestling and I follow professional wrestling journalism. There's a lot of that stuff because it's a weird, everything is scripted and fake but also real at the same time industry. It's a weird version of entertainment where some people report on it like it's a sport, some people report on like it's entertainment and they're happy to go behind the scenes and stuff, but there are certain sources that sorted the wheat from the chaff in many ways where certain people, you're like, "Oh, if he says that thing, I trust him." And there are certain people I follow on Twitter who are like, "If I see his tweet or their tweet, I understand that's probably true." Whereas if you see just some random Twitter account has retweeted this thing from a source, you've never heard of that

Mark: 551922.

Jack: Exactly, with a bunch of numbers and a egg for a profile picture. Don't trust them. That's always the case for me, and I know Twitter's a bad example at the moment because of all the chaos that's happening there, but little simple things like that and it's interesting to see how my approach to filtering through bad stories or misinformation seems to be a similar way in that Google is doing it, but obviously on a trillion time scale, but when you really think about it, like you're saying, you boil it down to, you have the first conversation with somebody, would you just trust every word that they say? It's really fundamental, basic stuff about how we interact as humans, how we understand stories and information and stuff like that. And I think that's a really good way of understanding these really complicated systems that Google is then, bringing all together. If you're like, "Well, would you trust something that's never written about this subject before? No. Then why would they trust you if this is the first time..." Again, like the conversations with clients, you have that, "The first time we've written about Bucky O'Hare," I'm wearing a bucko hair t-shirt, "Writing about cartoons from the 1980s, this is the first thing you've ever written about cartoons from the 1980s. Are you a verifiable source? Do you have any extra information? Is it original? Are you just copying and pasting from Wikipedia basically?"

Mark: Technology mimicking nature again.

Jack: Exactly, exactly.

Search Generative Experience

Mark: Shall we talk about the future?

Jack: Ooh, we're diving through to the future.

Mark: In terms of the Search Generative Experience, which is now live, it seems, pretty much every US SEO going got live.

Jack: Twitter actually exploded, didn't it?

Mark: Do you want to give us a quick introduction as to what the Google search generative experience is?

Jack: Yeah, so this is the thing that was announced at Google I/O. This is something, funnily enough, Garrett over at the SEO Weekly did a fantastic episode where he highlighted a bunch of different people on their thoughts about-

Mark: Hot takes.

Jack: Hot takes.

Mark: You were on there.

Jack: Including myself, and we'll discuss my hot take in a minute because I think I'm reinforced in a lot of this stuff, which is nice. I don't know how hot my take was, but it seems to be a correct take and that's the most important thing. But this seems to be essentially, integrating a lot of what we've been thinking with AI stuff. I know we said the dreaded two letter word that is inescapable at the moment, but have to-

Mark: I just want to jump in here because I've purposely avoided talking about AI and GPT since it went into hyper fashion mode. I think SGE though, is now-

Jack: Legit search news.

Mark: It's legit search news. It's not pontificating about bad uses of ChapGPT. This is going to be central.

Jack: I agree.

Mark: I feel fine talking about this to strap in.

Jack: So the Search Generative Experience is a revamping of the SERP and what a lot of people boiled it down to is featured snippets on steroids. It is a way of getting an answer to your query quickly and with a way to interact with that answer as well, in ways you cannot do with featured snippets. I'm sure plenty of you are familiar with featured snippets already, but if you've seen that little box at the top there that says, "Yep, this is the answer to the question," it's nice and simple, you can choose to click through to that or not. What SGE does, allows you to ask follow up questions. You can click links, you can go through and it will allow you to essentially, follow up on that stuff. It literally says, "Follow up on this question," and expand upon that.It's similar, and this is where my hot take when I submitted to Garrett was going, it's like PAA's as well and PAA and featured snippets merging together in a weird thing.

And my hot take was I think we are going to see a lot more FAQ content being served on SERP and people creating a lot more FAQ based content, like direct active answers to questions and then having a whole page that then explains multiple steps of that same answer so you can then interact with it through the SERP. Again, there's the whole conversation about you're not getting clicks to your website through that, but I think, as you said, Mark, this is actual genuine news from Google that matters to people doing SEO professionally because this is going to change fundamentally how a lot of people interact with the SERPs and how they interact with your content that you're serving through your clients or through your company, whatever it is. This is changing how the SERPs are going to be seen by a lot of your users. So I think, like you said, now is the time we really do take the cork out the bottle and actually talk about it.

Mark: I have an interesting lead into this as well, which I saw tweeted by Britney Muller who I would recommend you follow on Twitter, do a search for her if you don't. Britney was involved in SEO for quite a few years and then took a tangent a few years ago and with great hindsight now, got involved in AI and she's highlighted a little section on the SGE privacy notice, You know those privacy policies that we all definitely don't read.

Jack: Yep. Except all, go away. That's fine.

Mark: Yeah, right. Britney highlighted this about the SGE, it says in bold, "Please do not include sensitive e.g. confidential or personal information that can be used to identify you or others in your interactions with SGE features. Some of your SGE data is stored in a manner that is not associated with your Google account and may be read, processed or annotated by human reviewers to help with quality and improve our products." I thought that was quite interesting, especially after, for those who missed it, there was a story with, I believe, it was Samsung and ChatGPT. Some of the engineers were using ChatGPT to help them debug some firmware hardware code and then some other people managed to then get ChatGPT to show them that code, as obviously that had been used. Whatever you put into ChatGPT at least stays in this big inky murky pond of data they collect. So I found that interesting that that's part of what's going on with SGE and obviously training of those models because it's quite different to obviously, what's going on with Google and our expectations of what we have in Search. So good explanation. Thank you, Jack, of SGE. I haven't said much about SGE publicly yet because obviously, Google showed it to us in Google I/O and I don't want to talk about something that much before I've actually used it despite, I'm sure, someone's ultimate guide on SGE is only hours away, but I just made some bullet points from today of now I see SEOs actually using it, some of the-

Jack: And legit, again, trusted sources. Expert people, exactly, yeah.

Mark: So I just made some bullet points. I thought maybe we could talk about them or if you've got any thoughts on them, which is the first one, which I did expect. It seems to be the average amount of time it takes for the AI to answer or generate, I should say, a query is about five seconds.

Jack: Okay. We had some pretty slow responses last time.

Mark: Do you think that's too long?

Jack: Yeah, I'm sure it'll get faster, but I know we were talking about 20 to 30 seconds previously and again, the ChatGPT, version of things. I think five seconds is, I think it's just about on that borderline of being annoying. If it was 10 seconds we'd all be going, "Oh no, that's too long." As soon as you get into double digits, I think that's too long. Five, I feel like I can tolerate, but I assume we'll only get faster from here essentially. How do you feel about five seconds?

Mark: I think it's going to be a slow change in behaviour because hopefully, if it takes five seconds, that's your answer. Whereas if you get the search results, which may be a fraction of a second, you still have to go and click on them and find the answer. So I wonder what the total time to complete the task is and if, at the moment, is the wrong expectation that in your head you're timing it comparative to how long it takes to bring back search results rather than how long it takes to get an answer. So I don't know if it's too long. It feels too long at the moment, but I think if it does change, it'll be people's expectations change over time. That said, Barry Schwartz posted a good example of when he was doing a Google search for when his holiday starts, Jewish holiday, and interestingly, and as another point, I don't know if this will happen when it's fully rolled out, but the SGE seems to be showing AI answers and featured snippets. And when he was searching for a date when this holiday starts, that SGE was generating just three paragraphs as the answer, whereas the featured snippet in classic featured snippet style was just like, it's this date.

Jack: May 25th to 27th?

Mark: Yeah, and the feedback on that was, well I think the featured snippets better because it's just telling me the thing I want to know instantly.

Jack: Yeah, yeah. It does feel like sometimes the SGE side of things tries to... We're using a lot of analogies this episode for whatever reason. It's trying to over-egg the pudding, which means it's trying to do too much. It is trying too hard to answer your question. Sometimes, and I know we've had this conversation before, Mark, when it comes to things like bounce rate and stuff like that, sometimes you just need an answer, a number, a word, a name of a thing, and that's it. You are not interested in clicking through to the expertly crafted article that explains everything you need to know about subject A. Sometimes you need to know when is subject A and that's-

Mark: I think recipes are the classic example, right?

Jack: Yeah, exactly. And you'll learn the chef's life story of, "Seems it was my grandmother's recipe that started in 1865 when she was learning from her great grandma," and blah blah, blah, blah, blah.

Mark: How many eggs do I need?

Jack: Yeah, and it was like, I'm in Tesco or Sainsbury's, as we were talking about earlier and I need to buy eggs. How many eggs do I need? I don't need to know about six generations of your family and how, well they used to have chickens on the farm and we got the eggs. I was like, "I don't care. I need to know how many eggs I need." And I think you're right. You can just go to a featured snippet and be like, bam, there you go. There's the answer. This is the date, this is the time, this is the thing. If you want to learn more about it, and maybe this is, like I said, leaning towards the FAQ style stuff. This is, here is a topic and here are the common things that people typically want to know, this is what the SGE is serving you, but it's whether you like it or not, which I find very interesting. Like I said, it can be alongside the featured snippets as well, but SGE comes first and then featured snippets slots along underneath, right?

Mark: Yeah, we had a similar thing with ChatGPT as well in that, sometimes when I was asking it questions, I was like, "Just give me a yes or no answer." Well, when I was giving code examples, I'm like, "Don't give me the reasoning, just show me the code." Which obviously, we can't do from Google Search. Worryingly, maybe worryingly, maybe not worryingly, Lily Ray, again, absolutely pumping out examples of things from SGE, doing a search for what looks like a slightly obscured best website or what website is best for beauty products that he was noting that the SGE was listing websites without linking, which arguably, is contrary to a good user experience. If people are asking which websites can I go to and you're not linking to them and then we're back into the debate about Google's long-term strategy, it seems, of for the user's best interest, we need to keep them in our ad riddled ecosytem.

Jack: Exactly, yeah. Along similar lines, Barry used an example for local haircuts, like where to get a haircut near me, and you get a five pack of, it basically looks like what you would imagine a map pack or a local pack is on search results anyway. It has a couple of other things. It highlights reviews at the top. The layout is slightly different. They specifically summarize customer ratings and reviews and stuff like that. So you have the little star rating on the left, but you also get in the summary, this is a 4.9 out of five business, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

And then you also have the follow up questions like, how much should I be paying for a haircut in Norwich? Should you wash your hair before you go to get a haircut? Or because they wash your hair before you do it, is that a weird thing to do? How do I find a nice haircut? Should I be looking at celebrities. Again, it's that, do I need to know this stuff? Does it matter? It's interesting, I guess, if you have the time, but if you just want to, "Oh God, I need to go and get my haircut right now. I haven't booked anywhere. Nearest haircut in Norwich near me." I don't particularly want to know how do I get inspiration for haircuts? I just need it a bit shorter please.

Mark: Got no comments on this.

Jack: Sorry, that's a very sensitive subject. Shouldn't have brought it up.

Mark: Other interesting things I noted, or Lily noted in this case, was there appears to be some colour coordination by topic that it's generating. I saw some greens, some red and I think this is, whether it's your money, your life type topic, it seemed to be, so SGE seems to be cautiously answering these important medical ish queries, which Google hasn't... Well I don't know. I don't know if it's fair to say they haven't got a good track record with featured snippets in that the vast majority are correct, but the difficulty is the downside of being wrong is very bad.

Jack: That's the whole point of the YMYL thing. It's the consequences of the information being wrong. That is why those sites and those answers and that information is so highly scrutinized because it is life affecting or financially affecting. That's the whole key to it.

Mark: The other last point to note is, it does seem to be having a stab at transactional, informational, pretty much all the queries. And I mean, unless you've got anything you want to add, I think I'd round off this by I saw Mike King from iPullRank tweeted with the persistent context windows that SGE has tools, I also asked, are going to become mandatory. I found that interesting, obviously, not because we may also ask, but because one of the things that I said previously when I've talked about SGE and things like that and what Google's mentioned is that when you talk about intent of a search, I think wrongly, that gets attributed to or perversely the wrong way round, this is a keyword, what is the intent of this keyword? I think that question is fundamentally the wrong way round because it works the other way around in that you have an intent, a problem you wish to solve that contains a range of keywords which follow a linear pattern.

So Google told us, I think it was the initial mum announcement, that the average search journey, so I want to find out about this thing and then I do some searches, the average amount of searches was nine to answer what I would consider to be the intent because you ask a question and then that new information then normally triggers some other questions because that jahari window thing of I didn't know what I didn't know when I originally asked the question, now I know that I don't know this, so I need to ask a question. I think that's where the SGE being very verbose in its answers is helpful because it's already giving you the information for subsequent queries, therefore coming all the way back round, in terms of SEO, content strategy, you being the one that gets highlighted, I think it's going to be more important than ever to think about intent, the journey, and this is the problem and these are all the things that you want to answer, as a website content strategy rather than how do we rank for this keyword we want to rank for and think of them as siloed things because they're not siloed things.They tend to happen in trodden parts.

Jack: You're almost word for word quoting my guest from last week, Adriana Stein and having that-

Mark: I hadn't listened to it.

Jack: Thanks, Mark.

Mark: Yet.

Jack: Adriana had the exact same thing. How important, and again, coming back round to things like topical authority and thinking about how your site relates to everything else on your site. No website really in 2023 can just function by itself. It needs to be the entire strategy, all of your content working together to, as you said, cover all of the different answers and cover the different parts of the customer journey. You can't just be having informational content that then doesn't lead to conversions or whatever your end goal is. What is the strategy? What is the plan here for this site? If you're getting people to buy the product, you've got to have top of funnel, you've got to have middle of funnel, you've got to have bottom of funnel content to make sure you aren't answering every possible option and every possible query and in a variety of different ways. We even talked about, again, rehashing last week's episode, but very roughly, even thinking about content outside of just it's a bunch of blog posts that link to each other. Also, have video content that goes along with that. What I've seen quite a lot of sites doing now is having a YouTube channel that has 10, 15 minutes, sometimes five minute piece that is then also an article and that you are covering both of your bases there. Then you then take snippets of that, that then goes on YouTube Shorts that then goes on TikTok. We're now seeing more and more short form video content being served on SERPs as well. Wherever your users are looking, you are covering that base because we're not even talking about users who will stick with your website. They may find your website and then that's a first little initial step and then come back a few days later, search for a slightly different but related query.

And as I was saying with B&Q earlier, every time I search for something, B&Q had an answer for me. Every single time. I was like, well, I have to go there. Anything I search when it comes to household DIY stuff, B&Q was there to provide that answer. And it was video content, it was articles, it was interactive diagrams and 360 stuff you can spin around like, this is how a joint should fit together for your cupboard or whatever it was. Any possible thing and any question. What angle should this thing be? It was like, well, here's a rotational diagram. They have covered everything. This is impressive stuff.

Mark: As your cupboard hangs limply off the wall.

Jack: Yeah, exactly, exactly. But I think we often think about content strategy and answering queries, like you were saying, matching keywords to search intent and not the other way around. When really it should be, what do people want to get out of this interaction with your content, with your site? And it's not necessarily, and this is where the alignment thing is, this is where the whole big strategy thing comes from, aligning what you want them to get out of it and what they want to get out of it eventually need to cross over at the point of conversion. That's the whole point of, at the end of the day, we have to get people to buy something or interact with something in order to measure it and track everything. And I think we all need to be doing that in 2023. I think credit to the team here at Candour. We have been working on that for a while now. I say this as a person who is new to Candour, you guys were already doing this before I was part of the team.

Mark: You've been here a while now.

Jack: I know.

Mark: You've got a Lego figure and everything.

Jack: That's true, that's true. I'm coming on two years in a month or so. But I think what a lot of the SEOs and, like we're saying, the experts that I would trust to talk about this stuff, you need to be doing so much more for your content strategy now than you would do 5, 10, 15 years ago. And all of these topics we've talked about pretty much tie around and combine with all of this stuff together.

Mark: Coalesce.

Jack: They all coalesce, exactly, exactly.

Mark: I think that's a brilliant way to round that off. So final topic, and I'll keep this short as we are getting-

Jack: We're at an hour, Mark.

Video thumbnail errors in Google Search Console

Mark: Record length podcast. I don't know exactly where I am with this at the moment, but I want to mention it to people in case they have experienced this, which was I saw quite a few people posting around video thumbnails and Google Search console reporting in that quite a few websites that were embedding YouTube videos as part of their content, their video thumbnail reports in GSE were just flat lining basically. And there was a change by Google. I believe it was in April, where Google said, "Video thumbnails will only appear next to Google Search results when the video is the main content of the page." So I think this was to combat maybe, some dissatisfaction they were measuring with users where they were doing a search and you were getting the video thumbnail, you were clicking it to maybe primarily land on a massive text article with a little video buried at the bottom.

And I posted a screenshot from someone who works essentially, for themselves for their own websites and they had shown over the last quarter until, it looks like about the 15th of April. So between the 21st of February and the 15th of April, they'd had 174,000 clicks, 2.61 million impressions on these video thumbnails, and then it just basically went straight to zero. Now, as some people have pointed out, this is the video thumbnail report which means that the organic listings still may exist, but obviously the click through rate might be different. That person had actually estimated that that change would cost them around about 30,000 pounds for the year in advertising revenue through lost traffic. I did follow up with them to try and confirm how much of that traffic they were saving through the regular results, but they didn't respond to that. So I tried my journalistic, we've reached out for a comment thing to get some more specifics.

Jack: Our source was unable to provide comment.

Mark: Andrew Cock-Starkey from Optimisey, helpfully dropped in and said, "Didn't Google also unofficially confirm there was reporting bug on videos in Google Search console?" And again, I diligently followed this up, which meant I went off and read the tweet and it doesn't seem to be related to that bug reporting from John Mueller. So essentially, if you have seen your video thumbnail report in GSE flatline, don't panic. It may well be you're just getting the traffic through in the other report, but it's likely due to that change. So the person that had lost this traffic also did mention, look, I put my video at the top of the content. It's the first thing you see. And it's essentially just a video of what the post is about.

Jack: Exactly what I was just saying.

Mark: But Google is still deciding that's not good enough to have one of these thumbnails. They seem to want to send people directly to YouTube suspiciously. I have no idea why they'd want to do that. But that seems to be happening and I thought that was worth mentioning to people relying on video.

Jack: Like I said, we were just talking about how to make sure your content is everywhere and in different formats and all that kind of stuff. Stuff like being able to report that through the video indexing report is an important part of that stage. So definitely worth mentioning to round us off for the episode that is now over an hour long.

Mark: As we said, aiming for 20 minutes.


Jack: Yeah, we aimed for 20 minutes and then you and I haven't sat down and talked about SEO in a while, so always a fun time. So thank you for listening everybody. I'll be back next week with another fantastic guest, a BrightonSEO speaker. There's a little tease for you for next week's episode. We'll be talking about something related to SEO, but a bit outside of SEO. We'll be talking about more about health and body stuff. We can talk about how to work from home and work in the office comfortably with Jo from Posture People. I attended Jo's talk at BrightonSEO, just gone in April, and I think she had some really, really interesting topics and thankfully, friend of the show, former guest, Myriam Jessier, hooked me up with Jo and I was able to get in contact with them. So next week's episode. Good ol' Myriam, shout out to Myriam, she's awesome. And Jo Blood will be joining me on the show next week.

Mark and I will be back with some SISTRIX with Candour live streams, a bit more professional than this, in a few weeks time on the SISTRIX YouTube channel. But of course, please do continue listening and subscribing, all that kind of stuff on the podcast feed. But until then, thank you so much for listening and have a lovely week.