Candour

Voice search, site migrations & the future of SEO with Katherine Watier Ong

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What's in this episode?

In this week's episode, Jack Chambers-Ward is once again joined by Katherine Watier Ong of WO Strategies and the DM Victories podcast.

Katherine joins Jack to discuss her 17+ years in digital marketing including:

  • SEO for voice search
  • Site migrations with millions of URLs and hundreds of millions of backlinks
  • The future of search technology

Show notes and links

Transcript

Jack: Welcome to episode 22 of season two of the Search With Candour Podcast. My name is Jack Chambers-Ward, and this week I am joined by Katherine Watier Ong. You may already know Katherine from her more than 17 years of experience in the digital marketing industry. She's also the owner of WO Strategies, a fantastic consultancy over in the US, and she is also the host of the fantastic Digital Marketing Victories Podcast.

Jack: Search With Candour is supported by SISTRIX, the SEO's toolbox. Go to SISTRIX.com/swc if you want to check out some of their fantastic free tools, such as their Instagram hashtag generator, hreflang validator, checking out your site's visibility index, and the Google update tracker. That's SISTRIX.com/swc for free SEO tools. You can also go to SISTRIX.com/trends, and there you'll find the monthly TrendWatch newsletter, which you can subscribe to get monthly trend data delivered straight to your inbox. There is also SISTRIX.com/blog for all of the latest articles and analysis, including the recent May Core update analysis and the monthly SectorWatch articles, which give you a glimpse into a particular industry and any recent changes that might have happened there.

Industries that have been covered recently in SectorWatch include sustainable travel and project management software. I highly recommend you subscribe to that, to get a glimpse into those industries, especially if they're relevant for you or your clients.

Jack: And now, without any further ado, here is my interview with Katherine Watier Ong. Welcome to the show, Katherine Watier Ong.

Katherine: Hi, thanks for having me.

Jack: Thank you for joining me. I know we are very quickly transitioning from Twitter DM buddies to podcasters in a matter of 24 hours, I think.

Katherine: You got lucky. I've been over-booked for three years up until recently. Now I've got some time to hang on on Twitter, I guess.

Jack: I was so pleasantly surprised and we'll get into who Katherine is in a moment, as if you don't already know her, but I sent out a tweet saying, "Oh, I need a guest for this week's episode," and had some great responses and you were straight in there. I was like, no way. Oh my God. And I assumed as, as you correctly said, you've been super booked for years and years. You're like, "Yeah, I'm totally free." I'm like, wow! Okay. Brilliant. Yeah, let's do it. Let's do it right now!

Katherine: Oh, you're making me feel like a rockstar. So sweet!

Jack: For the listeners who don't know who you are, Katherine, please do let them know.

Katherine: Yeah, sure. I'm the owner and principal at WO Strategies, which is an organic traffic consultancy. We primarily focus on science enterprise sized organizations. I'm working the good fight to get good science into Google. I've been doing SEO for 17 years prior to my own business, which I think we're on year seven almost. I actually ran and built the online marketing and analytics team for Ketchum, servicing their clients globally. I've had a chance to work with a lot of crazy brands. Not crazy, crazy in that they're big.

Jack: And then to how I kind of discovered what you through was through your Digital Marketing Victories Podcast.

Katherine: Great. I'm a podcaster, yeah, the most important part. I run an interview style show called the Digital Marketing Victories Podcast, and it's focused on the soft skills around digital marketing. I actually started it because I used to run the DC search marketing meetups in town and I really loved connecting with other folks in the digital marketing industry and learning something myself obviously. And that got a little bit harder when I started my own business, because kids arrived about the same time. Getting downtown from where I am in Virginia was just tough and hard. Even before the pandemic, I ran into a friend of mine at a search show and they were talking about podcasting as a marketing channel people should pay attention to.

Both of us were like, "Oh, let's do this together, that way we'll make it happen." I also clients with podcasts, so I like having a playground. But it's so similar. The meetup was actually for people to celebrate their wins with other people that will care, in case other folks don't care, right? Be around like-minded people, but then also get into the nitty gritty of how you got to that win. That's what the interview style podcast is. And then I also have a Daily SEO Tips Podcast, which I was very ambitious when I gave it the name daily, because I don't think it's ever been daily. And now it's been on a hiatus for a while because we ended up homeschooling with the kids at home and whatever.

I had to cut something and that got cut, but I'm hoping to bring it back because I have a lot of subscribers weirdly. I want to bring it back.

Jack: Coming from an SEO perspective for a podcast title, daily blank tips is just gold in terms of podcast titles and people are just going to search for that kind of thing on podcast apps until the end of time. I think that's a...

Katherine: Well, I got lucky. I was early. I was actually at the VOICE Summit speaking, ran into somebody who was into they call it micro podcasting, right? Really short stuff. He had an Alexa Flash Briefing and talked my ear off about how much I should do this, about how it really works. It doesn't need to be overproduced, people subscribe, et cetera, et cetera. I wanted to speak the VOICE Summit the next year. And I realized that everybody had an Alexa Flash Briefing. I was like, "Ugh, I don't know if I'm going to be picked as a speaker if I don't have one." That was also... Anyway, so you can get it on Alexa, but it actually turns out it's relatively easy to get your micro podcast onto Alexa. I was able to figure it out myself.

Jack: Well that transitions us quite nicely into some discussion about voice search that I know is something you have delved into and something I've not particularly delved into myself from an SEO perspective and something we've not really touched on that much on the show. It comes up in the news every now and then, but tell us a little bit about your experience with voice search and how that's kind of grown over the last few years in terms of SEO.

Katherine: I'm sort of a negative Nancy about voice search, even though I know a lot about it. More people are searching via voice, period. Everybody should probably pay attention to it, period. However, you can't measure it, so ROI is impossible. If you were to ever convince a client or your in-house and you're like, "Hey, I think we should do some voice search," and you're not creating a voice app on Alexa or the other platforms like Google Podcast... Edit out Google Podcast, Google Voice Search app. I'm blanking on the name of it now, of course.

But anyway, if you're not going to actually create something on both of the platforms and you just want to be found by organic search, generally, it's really hard to prove the ROI because it's really hard to measure. The stuff that you can measure is if you've actually built something.

Jack: There's no view all property in Google Analytics for voice search, right?

Katherine: No. And then the traffic comes in as direct in your analytics, so it doesn't even get stuck in the right bucket. Impossible to measure there. And then the part that makes me even more frustrated is like I always felt bad for small businesses, for instance. Small businesses need to do regular old SEO plus the local SEO on top, but they have the least amount of resources to do that. It's always made me off as an SEO, honestly, but voice search is very similar because there are a thousand different databases that pull voice search answers depending on the type of query you've got. Again, depending on the queries, you're trying to appear for, it's this multi-pronged strategy, kind of similar to local search.

It's more work. It's more work. There's no ROI. You can't measure it, but you should do it because people are clearly searching via voice search.

Jack: I know there's kind of some contention around sort of featured snippets and knowledge graphs and things like that around voice search. How much of that factors in? It's mostly driven by featured snippets. Am I correct in thinking that?

Katherine: No, it's only a third of the time a featured snippet is the result. That's the problem. A problem. I mean, if you've got a featured snippet strategy anyway, which you should have, then yeah. If it's information based query thing, you've got potential options, which is voice search. But if you're a local map result, that's a different database. If it's on a particular phone that might be an Apple Maps result, so it depends on the... If you were to create a strategy, you would have to know, first of all, what queries you care about. You'd have to know more about your audience and what device they're using to do the search, because different devices provide different voice search results.

And then you can map a plan from there, but you'd have to... I mean, the first part is sort of like convincing somebody you can spend the time on it, which I think would be the hardest part maybe.

Jack: Yeah, definitely.

Katherine: Right? But then you'd have to sort of map with, okay, everybody is, I don't know, searching for us in the car and most of them have a particular database installed. Right? It's all going to be Siri stuff or whatever. And then you can map a plan from there. Because Amazon doesn't like Google, and so it's not using the Google database. That's where you got all these fracturing of all these different places that can pull from. I have a full guide on my website, so really if you are interested in all this. Back when I did the analysis, which at this point is probably about a year old, maybe a year and a half, but Bing was powering more voice search results because of the Amazon dominance than Google was.

Jack: Right. Yeah. Interesting.

Katherine: So then you're optimizing for Bing, which you normally don't optimize for really, right? If you want to dive into it, certainly I've helped folks figure it out. I have some guides on my website you can download. It's usually hard to get past that first spending time on something you can't measure the results of part.

Jack: Definitely. I'm trying to justify that to a client who's paying you money.

Katherine: Exactly. That's the hardest part.

Jack: Exactly. All the links for that stuff, by the way, listeners, will be in the show notes at search.withcandour.co. There you find the links to Katherine's website, Katherine's Twitter, all that kind of stuff as we'll go onto throughout everything we'll talk about, and we'll talk about a lot this episode. Everything will be linked there for you for future reference. Going on kind of from voice search and thinking about the evolution of search, from your experience, how much does a kind of voice search differ from like a similar query taken from a written perspective, somebody tapping into their phone or tapping into their laptop or whatever it is, compared to searching, like you said, in the car or in the shower?

I don't know. Where else people use voice search. How much of the language actually used for search changes from text to voice, do you think? Do you think mostly people are texting like they talk nowadays?

Katherine: No, no, because the queries... No, the queries for voice are longer. When I was trying to pull this out for a client actually, that was sort of what I was looking for. If there's enough volume around the query and your site's not big enough where you can't get to real data inside Google Search Console or Bing, this is where Bing might be helpful, but you can go in and if you find a query that really strikes you like a long question, that's a voice search query. It's just full stop. It's a voice search. Nobody's going to type a sentence. No. I was lucky in that I found... It was actually for National Cancer Institute. I found a query that was clearly a voice search query, but you got to dig hard to find something that's relevant.

But then if you actually want to see what appears, that's where it gets... Last time I looked, there was one... I can send the link to it because I'm forgetting the name of the software. There's a software that you can sign up for a subscription, of course, and it does the local search voice responses. You can put in a query and it will give you a sense of what's appearing.

Jack: Interesting.

Katherine: But if you're outside of that one intent, just local, because there's many. You could be doing product searches, you could be doing information based searches. There's a bunch of different intents out there, right? If it's any of the other ones, particularly the information base, which a lot of people might be shooting for, the only way to know what appears is to turn on all the devices in your room and just listen to what responds, which is crazy because they personalize to you. I get back to the same problem that like, okay, cool. I know that I'm appearing in Alexa, but not on my Google Home, but that's with my data.

Jack: Yeah, that's really interesting. I know Claire Carlile and I talked about it when we touched on local SEO and how Google kind of pushes the kind of questions of like, "Oh, did you enjoy that place? Would you like to go to this place? Does this place have disabled access?" Answering all those questions like on behalf of things that will appear in map packs and all that kind of thing. Having the similar kind of thing for research, like you said, it tailors it to every person's different... Their own personal algorithm in a way. Yeah, that's fascinating.

Katherine: It's so much more diverse than you would think too, because I got a chance... When I was at Ketchum, I sweet talked the user testing crew and got a demo account from them because I told them I did speak at a search show talking about it. But I got a demo account and we were working with Hertz at the time and they were launching a Zipcar competitor. I wanted to prove the point that they possibly don't know their target demo and how buried the results were. We did basically a focus group, starting from search. I always encourage people to do this especially if they're sitting on the software to do it already, like they have a user testing account or something similar.

We recruited their target demo in DC and New York. I actually gave them a scenario that wasn't leading and we had them articulate, because the scenario of something like you have to go get groceries and we knew they didn't have a car. We vetted for that. And then they would articulate their keywords out loud, which was amazing because people were using keywords I never would've brainstormed. In New York it was car service. I was like car service, okay.

Jack: As a Brit, I have never heard that phrase in my life.

Katherine: Right. You would never know that that could have been something, somebody would've Googled. And then at that point, they weren't talking with their phones. They were typing it in on mobile, because I don't believe voice search is too old of the case study. But then you can see everybody's search results on mobile and how radically different it was. I mean, there was somebody here in DC who even though the query was car rental, they got WMATA, which is our subway system, really high. And most everybody got what frankly looked like a crappy website that was high ranking. It was like one of those directory ish things.

But everybody loved it, because we had part of the scenario was like clicking through and talking about which one you like, and everybody clicked on the dang thing and talked about it, which was a huge insight. You're like, okay, it looks like crap, but that's a barnacle strategy. Get yourself listed there, right?

Jack: Yeah, Absolutely.

Katherine: Anyway, if I had a client that had the budget and I really wanted to be smart about it, honestly I'd start there. I would do a focus group with people starting from search.

Jack: Amazing. Well, talking about kind of getting teams together and planning big things, I know you've done some pretty, pretty impressive site migrations throughout the years, talking tens of millions of URLs and hundreds of billions of search traffic. We're going to touch on it in a bit more detail, but let's start from the very top. How do you even begin to tackle something that big from such a huge, like I said, tens of millions of URLs, hundreds of billions of monthly traffic? How do you even begin to tackle something that big from an SEO and migration perspective?

Katherine: Well, I mean, it's funny because the migrations are only kind of recent. When I joined Ketchum, I joined because I helped them win the business, promoting electronic health records and launching healthit.gov. Technically, yeah, that was my first migration. We moved from the HHS Office website into healthit.gov. I had the manpower with intern staff to actually outreached everybody who linked to the HHS Office website and told them about the new website with a customized link building email.

Jack: Wow! Wow!

Katherine: Because doc apps don't get any special treatment. They have to build up the same backlink profile as everybody else in order to rank, by the way. I've worked with three doc apps. No special treatment.

Jack: No TLD specialties.

Katherine: Yeah, no, no. What was crazy is that it frankly totally worked probably because it was an HHS website, but anyway, everybody built more links. They replaced the one and then they built more.

Jack: Interesting.

Katherine: If you have the manpower, do that. But anyway, that was my first sort of migration. But then since then, I've worked on a lot of typical SEO work where clients did migrate and then come back to you because they lost traffic.

Jack: We all know that.

Katherine: Yes. I did a lot of that, a traffic recovery kind of assessments. But then one of my clients that I was on a master service agreement with did a migration, but our retainer was odd and they ran out of funds before I could help them during the migration month. Not ideal. But then that led to me working on a couple more journals where I actually helped them migrate and they had the budget to keep me on board the entire time. I worked with the Association for Microbiology and they were 18 different sub domains that kind of collapsed into one. There's about seven million URLs in the previous web platform down to about two indexable. There's more than that to be crawled.

And that one had 35 million backlinks. And then this year there were 150 million historical backlinks on this site that I migrated, about the same size of website. But I'll tell you the trick. The trick is, one, I've been doing SEO for 17 years. I've seen a lot of stuff, one. I just felt like even though I hadn't done sites that were particularly that big, I mean, I giggle a lot about it, but I'm like, "Let's go. Let's do it. Sure. I'll figure it out." Some of it's confidence. I'm like, "I can figure this out." But then the other part, this is the secret to my success, if you're a woman in the SEO space, you need to join the Women in Technical SEO group. That's got a Facebook group and there's a Slack group.

Jack: Amen. Absolutely. Even as a white dude doing a podcast, as I am here, I know that a region, the team over there, have done amazing work and I cannot recommend them enough. As always, links in the share notes. If you are a woman in SEO listening right now, highly, highly recommend what those guys are doing over there. I know quite a few people who have said amazing things about that group and people I've met at BrightonSEO or people I've worked with in the past who have been a part of that group. One of the nicest places in SEO by the sounds of it.

Katherine: They are the other half of my confidence, I guess is what I could say. When I was like writing the proposal for this like 18 different what? I mean, I've worked on big sites, but not migrations. Because when I worked with fisheries at NOAA... Actually, no, sorry. National Cancer Institute when I did their audit. It turns out they had 150 subdomains on different platforms on different CMS systems run by different teams. I mean, I've played with bigger sites but not migrations, right? I was like, okay, I think I can do this. I've been where the SEOs have been hanging out a long time, right? I was on the Moz community when that was the hot place to hang out. I've been on Twitter for a long time, because that's where people hang out that are in the industry.

I've been on some Slack groups, but there are some really great men in SEO. But then there are also some men that just make it really hard to get your dang answer. You don't get any of that drama in this group. None of it. She doesn't allow it. It's nothing, but help. No matter where you are in your SEO journey, like baby beginner, you don't know anything, to I've been doing it for a decade or so, no question is stupid. You're not allowed to even say that in the group. It's nothing but support. When I actually posted with a question about one of these dot govs, I forgot the question, but I posted with a question. It was like technical question saying like, "Okay, it is a dot gov, but here's the rest of my question," I totally had these guys pile on... This is in a different group obviously, but these guys piled on.

They're like, "That seems like a waste of our taxpayer dollars." I was like, "Dude, without an SEO, it's a waste of your taxpayer dollars. There is stuff being created on these dot gov websites that are not found by Google search. If anything, you should be happy that there's an SEO or two working on some petrol websites. Anyway.

Jack: I think that's... We're not going to go into a huge rant here. We could all day long.

Katherine: No, but if you're a woman, join the group. And if you're not on the group, you're missing out is really the big takeaway.

Jack: Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, can't recommend enough. I've heard nothing but great things from, like I said, people I've met, people I've interviewed, people I've worked with throughout the years. Highly, highly recommend Women in Tech SEO. How do you kind of... I guess, there's going to be issues with the migration almost no matter what, right? I know we've touched on this a couple of times on the show before, but there's always going to be something that is going to go wrong. How do you kind of approach that with something that large? If something does go wrong that is pretty big scale, I guess, it's the element of communicating that to the client or the company you're working if you're in house.

How do you kind of approach that? Something's going to go wrong, but don't worry, we'll fix it kind of thing kind of approach?

Katherine: I mean, I think my job might be a little easier because I train all of my clients in SEO and that's weird because I have a bias. I think SEO should be owned internally, and I end up working with these big organizations that don't have SEO internally. My entire focus is like, you can have me help you, but you've got so many moving pieces. You need somebody internally to drive the strategy. In fact, I help the National Cancer Institute hire their first SEO. Sometimes I help the fisheries division of NOAA write their first job description to hire an SEO. I mean, I'm really big on training SEOs actually. That's my that's my side passion is training people for an SEO career if they've got the DNA for it.

All of my clients have gotten... They usually go through the overview, how do you pick a keyword kind of stuff, search intent, and then how do you write it, some sort of a content brief, and then some measurement kind of coaching, right? I set up some reporting for them. That's usually the plan. Usually I skip technical because for some websites, it doesn't matter. But with these bigger ones that I've been working with recently, it really, really matters. With the first academic journal that I helped, they had a crawl trap that took me forever to find, but I find what was causing the crawl trap. Basically it was like a piece of their search functionality was not triggering a 404 and it was relative link, so it created these infinite number of folders.

Jack: I had that on a client a couple of months ago funnily. I have relative URLs and their navigation that caused this thing. It drove me mental.

Katherine: Actually my brother is a UX developer and I honestly was like, "Can you look at this code with me, because I don't know what's going on? Where is this? I know what the problem is, but I have to document it so the developers can fix it." Anyway. We fixed that one piece. Now, mind you, this is a big domain authority site, but we fixed that one piece and they got over a thousand more keywords ranking on Google page one in a month.

Jack: Wow!

Katherine: Yeah. And I've seen this a couple of times on these bigger sites. Sometimes there's a technical issue people don't know, and that thing will... When you clear it, suddenly you get instantly more traffic, right? Anyway, for the last two, the ones that were these 35 million backlink things, I trained both of them on technical SEO and they're crawling on their own. One is doing regular crawls and Screaming Frog in the cloud and the other one's starting to check their own epic redirect mapping list on their own with Screaming Frog. That helps. We're all talking the same language. They understand when I'm talking about. They're actually pretty savvy.

Katherine: The other thing is these last two ones, I did a lot of research around which configuration of migrations can cause the most traffic loss basically. Unfortunately, these type were the type that could lose the most. I started talking about that very early on. Obviously I also don't own the developers. We're working with a web platform, one platform to another. I can give them mapping. I can test their mapping. But if they don't put the redirect mapping in place accurately, all I can do is tell them they didn't do it accurately, right? That's literally all I can do, unfortunately. I can explain the amount of traffic, but it's just me and the client being like, "We wanted you to do A to B. You went A to C. Can we go back and do A to B?"

Right? That's like literally all they can do. Part of it was that because these migrations had in one instance multiple subdomains into one. It had a design change. It had a platform change. It had sort of like a URL change. And then multiple sub URLs definitely changed, because one platform had sort of one format for URLs, the other one had another platform.

Jack: Of course.

Katherine: When you stack all of that together, that's the type of migration where you're going to lose the most traffic, unfortunately. And then on top of it, both of them did not execute on all of the redirects accurately. We got lucky with the second one where we lost no traffic. They published a very popular article on launch day, which I wouldn't have recommended, but that sort of eased things a little bit. I dream of the day where I'm working with developers and they accurately implement all of the redirects that I want.

Jack: I know I've seen a few strategies. Funny enough, you mentioned the popular article being published there. Few people have done like sort of post migration strategies of like, okay, we need to start doing some outreach and get some backlink going, because we know we're going to get hit by this migration in some form or another. Do you ever go in with that kind of mentality of thinking like, if something does go wrong, we have this kind of backup idea of don't worry, we have this, whatever it is, whether it's a strategy from a content perspective or backlinks or whatever it is to kind of-

Katherine: Well, I mean, yeah, when we moved to healthit.gov, I just lucked out, in that you don't see this behavior with Google now. But back then, which is seriously maybe 10 years ago now, but back then, you could actually see... I know Google says they don't do this, but we ended up tweeting articles that weren't indexed yet and they got indexed faster, because we were tweeting.

Jack: Controversial take there from you.

Katherine: I know. It doesn't work now, but I mean, we tested it. We did like the submit. It was already in the site map, check, check, check. I mean, that was an instance. It was glorious because the development team sat next to me at Ketchum. I got to really get them involved in SEO and everything. I was part of the QA process. It's like an SEO's dream. That site launched in a way that was ideal, but you still have to go through the process of getting Google to care about each and every single new thing and putting in the database, right? Back in the day, we did some tweeting, that worked, and certainly the outreach worked, but that was also because I was doing that strategically, because I'm like, okay, this website's going to launch with no back links. None. It's brand new.

We got to build velocity. How do we do that? I was also involved in some content marketing on that site, which also worked. It was like, okay, there are all these people with liver cancer that need an EHR. Let's get a case study of somebody who had an EHR, that kind of stuff. And then we pitch it to the link to liver cancer people, plus the one we already worked with and typical content marketing stuff. But still, we probably took three years to start ranking for the keywords we wanted to. Slow and steady.

Jack: Yeah. Well, that's SEO, isn't it really?

Katherine: It was very slow and steady, especially with the federal element there. There was a bit of a approval process that kind of went on.

Jack: I can only imagine the red tape we had to cut to-

Katherine: Yeah, yeah, there was that too. Definitely. It was not a startup speed that's for sure.

Jack: Kind of transitioning off into long-term strategy, is there any kind of advice you'd give to somebody coming into working with a new client or a new site and coming out with that initial strategy? Maybe they're at that kind of proposal onboarding kind of stage in the early process of that relationship. What's a kind of way of approaching a really long-term... Like you said, it's going to take three years for you to rank for the right things sometimes. Sometimes it's quicker. Sometimes it's not. What's the kind of initial approach there from your perspective?

Katherine: I mean, I think there's a couple things that make it harder now in 2022. Google's not indexing everything and it's getting hard to even get authoritative stuff into the index, because I'm sort of doing that right now with this migration. Some things didn't get back into the index, so let's get it back and it's good stuff. That's different and weird and harder. I think that websites that have... If you start with a client and they've got a lot of stuff that's not performing, maybe you actually trim as part of your strategy to see if you're getting slimmer. I also think that it's really hard... Deep in this, it's really hard to get Google to pull the canonical you want to pull if the signals aren't lined up.

And even if the signals are lined up, then you still have trouble. Trying to be as clear as possible about what URL you want Google to put in the index, link to it internally, link to it externally, make sure it's the result of all the redirects, put in the site map file, all that stuff. Just like line it all up. My clients and I obsess about this quite a bit right now. And then the other thing is that I think depending on the industry, it's gotten a heck of a lot harder to rank. I'm working with these... Some of these clients have been in the health space. Like when we did an assessment for National Cancer Institute, I was like... Because they were still working on a set of keywords.

They picked the popular ones because they thought they were the dot gov, and of course, I'm going to rank for liver cancer. Actually I had to tell them, I said, "Based on your internal capacity and external capacity, I think you should maybe take breast cancer off your list. Go through the cancer types that you think are well-covered in relation to like an American citizen getting cancer, getting accurate information in search. If you feel like it's well-covered by the health lines of the world, then maybe you move on to something else that's easier to rank," because they have 260 different cancer types. They didn't realize until I worked with them that they're up against behemoths in relation to SEO teams. Did you know that WebMD has been doing SEO since before Google?

Jack: Interesting. No, I didn't.

Katherine: They are very sophisticated. Anyway, some of those teams are big, massive, well-trained. I mean, I think that's the other bit is that if you wander into a new industry, it might make sense to kind of take a look at some keywords, like a broad swath of keywords, and see what's ranking. Because in the health space, I tend to see the same it's like a white labeled list of the same sites again and again and again and again. That's really going to drive your strategy. Talking about voice search. I actually worked with an agency. They wanted me to come in and help train their team and help sort of tighten up their voice search strategy. They were working with a client that was pharma.

It was like a drug, something, something. Anyway, and they thought they were going to rank for all of these terms. I spent forever trying to find a term that had some space that they might rank for, where like the intent made sense and there was space and it wasn't too competitive and all that kind of stuff. I would do that. And then if any of you end up working with a journal website where Google Scholar matters, there's only I think... I found three of us that know anything about Google Scholar, three SEOs that is. Feel free to ping me. I'll give you the 411. Well, that's also a totally different bag of worms.

Jack: Google Scholar is not something I've ever dived into. Do you want to touch on that a little bit?

Katherine: Yeah, I mean, it's more so... I mean, I guess the big takeaway is that most journal websites sit on one of the I think it's 12-ish platforms that are Google Scholar partners. That means Google Scholar knows their format and they have a rep from Google Scholar and all that kind of stuff. But also that has meant to me, one of the platforms, in fact, the platform all my clients loved, that you might have a developer who says, "I don't care what you're saying. I have a Google friend and our Google friend is telling us something different." Well, the Google Scholar team is tiny and it's not the same thing as the Google Search team. And then the irony is they all use Google bot to crawl. That's the best part.

Regardless of whether or not they argue with you, it's the same dang crawler. If Google bot's having trouble, probably Scholar's having trouble, but a lot of it is very much black box. It's like another level of black box, because Scholar folks won't meet with you as an SEO and they don't have like a John Mueller.

Jack: No, there's no liaison for Google Scholar.

Katherine: No. And a lot of my clients get more traffic from the big G, the Google Search G, than the Scholar G.

Jack: Interesting.

Katherine: I mean, they don't want to ditch the Scholar traffic. That's why they're on a Scholar platform, right? But they also don't want to like shoot themselves in the foot in relation to the bigger Google Search.

Jack: I think that's something we're seeing a lot more of. I know we've touched on, kind of like you said, in the health industry and stuff like that. The phrase "your money or life" comes up a lot, talking about EAT and authoritativeness and expertise, trustworthiness, all that kind of stuff. In your experience, how much of that has kind of shifted in how much of... Because from my experience, and I maybe coming from a cynical perspective here, as I often do, but a lot of people talk about that kind of stuff and talk about how important EAT has become, but I'm still not like 100% convinced that it is really, really driving a lot of that industry. I mean, I'm sure you have a better perspective than I do.

Katherine: No, I have sort of like two conflicting thoughts in my head about it. One is that... In fact, I just saw Glenn Gabe the other day, it might even be yesterday, shared... I think it was him. He shared a screenshot of Healthline, who has a big team. I know how many people are on their team for SEOs, and they actually have like a subpage very similar to like Wikipedia where they actually show who edited it, who did the medical editing.

Jack: Yes. I saw this.

Katherine: When it was updated.

Jack: Yep. It's a full kind of accountability of the authors and the editors and stuff, right?

Katherine: I honestly wouldn't discount that. They're one of the behemoths. You know what I mean?

Jack: Yeah, absolutely.

Katherine: If they're doing it because they feel like that's the future or it might not hurt, then perhaps everybody should do that. I don't know. That's kind of where I've been leaning. I do think that websites that have literally no information about who owns the site and who the heck writes the stuff is not ideal. Anywhere from like the Wikipedia format to at least just give a real blog author maybe. I also think like it doesn't hurt to do same as markup on your authors. We know it feeds the knowledge graph. Why would that hurt, right? You should do that. That just seems obvious. I recommend everybody do that.

But then on the other end, and I've seen Google say stuff that they can't do this, but I kind of wonder, there's one of these moments where I'm like hmm. I go to the Word Museum. It sounds like a tangent, but I go to the Word Museum in DC. If you have a chance to come DC and you have a chance to go and you love books, you should totally go. The entire thing is about words, everything to do with words, including singing. It's an amazing museum. Your kids will love it. Anyway.

Jack: It sounds like my wife will love it as well.

Katherine: It's an amazing new interactive museum here in DC, and they require masks. Yay for all of us who want to wear mask. Anyway, and they had this library section where they have a really cool thing where you can put a book down and then it like tells you the story with visuals on top. Super cool. But then they also have what looks like maybe mirrors and you pick up headphones and you listen. One of them that my daughter's like, "Oh, you have to listen to," this was all about corpuses and how with machine learn... Get this. With machine learning, they can by looking at the corpus of an author, figure out if you are the same author, even if you're ghost writing, because every one of us who writes has a fingerprint that they can determine with machine learning.

Jack: Interesting.

Katherine: They compared... I'm blanking on her name. The woman who wrote Harry Potter.

Jack: J.K. Rowling.

Katherine: Right, and she writes under a pseudonym.

Jack: Robert Galbraith, something like that.

Katherine: There you go. See? This is why I'm asking the Brit, because, of course, you live close. Anyway.

Jack: I don't support J.K. Rowling for the record, but I know who she is.

Katherine: Anyway, they compared those two corpuses with those two names, right? And they knew that it was the same person because of using the same sort of tell in the writing.

Jack: Sentence structures and prose. Yeah, wow! Interesting.

Katherine: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anyway, once I saw that exhibit, of course, as an SEO, I was like, right?

Jack: You can't turn off your SEO brain. I know exactly what you mean.

Katherine: I cannot.

Jack: I frustrate my wife all the time with that kind of stuff.

Katherine: I know recently they said, "We don't know who the authors are. We don't use that in ranking," but then I also know that they can do it with artificial intelligence. I don't know.

Jack: How much they've been talking about Burton mom recently and how sophisticated Google is getting with that kind of stuff with their language understanding. There's got to be something in there, right? I think you're definitely onto something

Katherine: I'm suspicious. I'm very suspicious. I guess tactically for my clients, I make sure that it's clear who owns the site, who writes the content, because that just seems stupid to not do. And then I put same as markup on. Bare minimum. Do I need to go to the Healthline? I don't know. Maybe if it was a health client and we were having trouble ranking, maybe if I'd give it a test maybe. Do you have to ditch the ghostwriter yet? I don't know, but now I'm kind of like 50/50 about it. Kind of wonder. Again, I think it might depend on how much your search results are dominated by these sophisticated big guys where everybody's an expert, right? I mean, because Google can't not show something in search.

They have to show something, right? If you're in a query, like unfortunately, recently I have a kind of odd medical condition and there's crap written on the internet. It means it's not very accurate. I feel like in that space you would have room and you could probably rank even though you weren't fully an expert on it. But can you do that for breast cancer? No.

Jack: A topic that is covered by, like you said, the behemoths of the industry, the world leading experts.

Katherine: Yeah. That's how I kind of feel about authority right now. Big suspicion. Feel free to come to the Word Museum so you can listen to that yourself, because as an SEO, I was like, "Ooh!"

Jack: Emma and I have been planning our honeymoon recently. We got married a few weeks ago.

Katherine: Oh, congratulations!

Jack: Thank you very much. We're thinking about like, "Oh, where do we want to go?" And we're talking like going to America and stuff like that. Maybe I can convince her to go to DC and go to the Word Museum in that sense.

Katherine: I don't know. I mean, there's plenty of free museums to come to in DC. The Word Museum's not actually free, but they have a sliding donation scale, so it sort of counts. But I don't know if it'd be the sexiest place for you to come for your honeymoon.

Jack: It's not the most romantic place in the world, instead of Disney, the most magical place.

Katherine: The monuments at night are very romantic actually.

Jack: There you go.

Katherine: But other than that, I don't know.

Jack: You're just giving me marriage tips now, Katherine. SEO advice and marriage advice.

Katherine: Everybody should see the monuments at night. When I first came to DC, I actually worked for National 4-H Council in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and I lived in intern housing, so there were other interns there. Other people were hired... I was in the development department, but other people were hired to be tour guides. One of my good friends was actually a DC tour guide and did night tours of DC. It's a thing, and it's very romantic at night. It's actually sort of better to see like the FDR Monument at night because it's lit up with all the water. It's really pretty. Anyway.

Jack: I think it's interesting, kind of coming back to your money or life and EAT and stuff like that, it makes sense, right, to think about how Google is going to kind of filter out the crap. But as you rightly said, you come up with less known medical conditions or unusual subjects or whatever it is and you very quickly get questionable information. I know there was an example when the Titlepocalypse happened, well, 18 months ago, two years ago at this point, whenever it was, and there was like a featured snippet that was... It took the wrong piece of the sentence and it was like, "If somebody is choking, stick your fingers down their throat." It's like, hmm, I don't think that's the plan, Google.

Katherine: I know the quality of Google Search Results is sort of like a totally other different conversation, but I am also questioning the quality of results for sure, even in the health space. I get really annoyed. My mother had some sort of a medical condition and I went to go look it up. The behemoths were there and I'm suspicious enough to be able to read through the lines of what they're writing. I noticed the language where they're kind of sort of hinting that's not fully proven, you know what I mean? But that's like a little tiny line in a little tiny sentence. It's like the whole apple cider vinegar people. I worked on the National Honey Board once and it turns out there's this whole...

Anyway, I did the keyword research for honey, literally everything to do with honey. There are all these people that think that honey and apple cider vinegar are going to cure all their ills. Anyways, feeding into that basically, which just makes me mad because that's not accurate science information. Coming back to getting good science in Google, that stuff makes me mad.

Jack: As a person with a physics background, I am all about getting good science in Google. I can definitely appreciate that journey for sure. I think we're definitely heading for the most part in the right direction. Again, not getting too political, but the whole like questioning of experts and don't trust the people who have degrees and PhDs in these topics. Don't agree with that. But at least, thank God, there's people like you in the SEO space that are having a positive influence on the digital side of things. In fact that when you do search for something, you will actually get a relevant, hopefully useful result from someone who actually knows what they're talking about.

Katherine: I mean, I also think that big behemoth needs some legislation. I appreciate what the European Union is doing actually, though it's making everybody upset with GA4 and stuff. But ultimately, they need legislation. If you're in the search space and you haven't read The Filter Bubble, I highly recommend you read it. It's from Eli Pariser. He had then moved on to do MoveOn. Weirdly, I knew him because I babysit him when he was a kid. Weird connection. But The Filter Bubble's really good. It's an older book, but it's all about the bubbles we have online, how much it impacts politics and our culture.

Katherine: While I'm a search geek, it also bothers me. However, getting US folks to coordinate themselves to do anything about it, especially when they don't really understand how the internet works, is a whole other thing.

Jack: I know that's definitely true outside of SEO, but its definitely true in SEO as well. Kind of in that Filter Bubble, the echo chamber kind of thing, you will get a kind of negative feedback or even a positive feedback look of like, "Oh yeah, this is a thing. My confirmation bias says the people I work with say this is all correct." Have you experienced that before? Have you been able to kind of balance that out and try and really filter out the crap in your career as an SEO?

Katherine: Whether or not I've gotten better results?

Jack: Yeah.

Katherine: I would say no, but I think the part that people don't realize is that, and I spoke about this years ago, is how much all of the platforms are personalized. They all use machine learning. They all have very sophisticated folks working on their search algorithms. LinkedIn has a personalization filter. Pinterest has a personalization filter. Facebook has a personalization filter. Obviously we knew Facebook, but like literally all of the social platforms you touch are getting personalized to you. The voice stuff is getting personalized to you. My overview training always has a little flavor of that because I just want clients to know like how much the personalization is a factor. Most people don't know that, for instance, you can download your voice talking to your phone inside your Google account.

Jack: Yeah.

Katherine: It creeps people out and it should.

Jack: Yeah, that's fascinating. I love going back on the Google Home app. You can see what your family members or household members have searched for and stuff like that. I was like, "Why did you ask how tall Brad Pitt was three days ago?" And it was like, "Oh, I don't know. Don't worry about it." I was like... Fascinating. Like you said, you have access to that information. You can just download it. On the other side of things, some of the software I use for podcasting and stuff, you can now basically like deep fake your own voice using some of the software I use called Descript where you can not only kind of touch up your audio and edit it as if it were a text file, it's fantastic to your software, but you can also read a script for it, send it through, and it will create a deep voice version of you, which we did a few episodes ago.

We had an intro read by the movie guy voice and he just did like, "Welcome to Search With Candour." I was like, "Oh wow! Okay." It's this moment of like, we could do that with our own voices and I could just not be... I'd just type out my podcast script and leave it running for 40 minutes and walk away kind of thing. It's fascinating.

Katherine: I mean, in relation to longer term strategy, I just think people should understand the underpinnings of all of these platforms. I'm big about that. I've said that probably a thousand times to various different clients. For instance, I used to volunteer at the PopTech Conference, which is like a TED conference in Camden, Maine. They always had... I mean, Sergey Brin were in the attendance one year. It was kind of crazy. It's a very small show too. It's like 300 people. Even as a volunteer... Because I did my master's thesis on consumer adoption of wearable computers. I really wanted to go because the inventor of wearable computers had spoke there a year before.

Anyway, it's like this weird tech show and it's in basically my hometown in Maine. I got to see Ray Kurzweil speak. I don't know if you know who Ray Kurzweil was.

Jack: I absolutely do.

Katherine: Okay, yes. Everyone in SEO should know who Ray Kurzweil is.

Jack: Talking about technological singularities and stuff. Yeah, absolutely.

Katherine: Yes, yes. He's created like 42 different patents. He has been working at Google and he really wants to become like a cyborg. He wants to have all this technology support your brain, right? He's working at building a brain at Google. I just think that background is important for anybody who's really serious about search to have and just think about, okay, well, if you've got this really... You can see videos about Ray speaking. You got this really passionate guy sort of driving this development of like a computerized brain. Where does that mean Google is going?

Jack: Yeah. As a big sci-fi geek, like I said, I've got a degree in physics where I absolutely love all this kind of stuff, like diving into transhumanism and futurism and all that kind of stuff and being like yeah. It hadn't even occurred to me to kind of think about it from a Google perspective and a search perspective and think about like cyber punk stuff or Blade Runner going... Blade Runner was three years ago, everybody. It was set in 2019.

Katherine: Wow! Wow!

Jack: It's a weird thing to think about how people thought we'd have flying cars by now, but nobody predicted we'd be able to deep fake ourselves and deep fake the President of the United States calling everybody rude words and stuff like that. The evolution of technology is fascinating. To throw a massive question out of here to round us off, Katherine, what do you think is going to be the next big technological advance in SEO and search?

Katherine: That's a really good question.

Jack: It's a horrible question to throw at you 45 minutes into this discussion. I'm sorry.

Katherine: I know, right? I actually think related to Ray, he has literally said, "Well, you want to eliminate the pain of searching." I actually talk about this at all of my SEO trainings. If you know that that's where Google's going, voice search makes sense and discover makes sense, right? And searching with lens makes sense. Being able to translate quickly across all these languages and still offer up great search stuff makes sense. It also makes sense to do stuff with low power in the developing world, right? They want to addict all of us to Google so they can make money off the ads, right? But then they also like really want us to not have to use our brains to remember things. They want us to always go to Google to just Google it.

Jack: I saw some research about this a couple of years ago that people are not retaining the actual information, but retaining how to search for the thing to find the information. You don't remember the author of the Harry Potter series. You remember how to search woman who wrote the Harry Potter series.

Katherine: They're getting better at answering those queries.

Jack: Exactly

Katherine: The weird queries where you really don't even have enough information to search, right? I mean, part of it is like, again, coming back to Eli's book, which is a little bit more about like where are we going as a culture, right? Part of my heart is like, "Oh my gosh, where are we going as a culture with all this because none of this is being regulated much and not at all here in the US?" But then the other part more practically as a marketer, you just have to know who you're talking to. I'm sorry, but it's like so many people don't have... They have not done good audience research or have good personas or have any clue about how their folks search. Looking at your early question about voice search, I don't know, is voice search relevant for you?

I don't know. Have you talked to your users? Are they sales reps in the car all the time and they do talk to their car? I don't know, right? Depending on your industry, it might really matter. Stuff is getting so personalized to the end user that I think the days of being successful without really knowing who you're talking to are fading.

Jack: I think, again, that ties into the expertise and authoritativeness as well, right? Even from your strategy perspective, not necessarily from an author of an article or a piece, but like understanding your audience, understanding what you are capable of with your resources and all that kind of stuff is so key to success these days. And like you said, ranking is getting harder. There are more and more websites and more and more SEO professionals every single day that are competing with you.

If you're competing with some of the big boys in town, the behemoths, as you said, Katherine, it's going to be even harder and understanding where you fit in that, where you or your client, if you're working agency side as well, where fit into those SERPs, where you fit into the rankings and that sort of things is... I think it's something you have to have in mind in 2022, right? That has to be a part of your strategy going forward.

Katherine: You do. You have to make sure that the query you're... Well, if you are savvy enough to know you have a query that you're writing around. But I mean, if you have a topic you're writing on, does your target audience even Google that, or do they Google something radically different, like the car service idea? And then are you writing with any sense of whether or not your stuff is going to be good enough to beat out the other things that are ranking? I'm always telling, because I'm working with these folks where it's new to SEO and I'm like, "Please don't write without SEO competitive information in front of you. You're just writing a brochure that's going to sit in a cold dark hallway."

Jack: Just throwing out into the cold dark of the internet space.

Katherine: Yeah, coming back to our tax dollars at work for some of these folks like, "Please, please write something that has a chance to rank. Otherwise, what are you doing? You're wasting all this time writing. It's getting so much harder to rank. Please, please, please do some research before you start writing." Anyway, that's my plea in all of my clients.

Jack: Well, lessons I hope you've had plenty to take away from that. If you take away one thing, it's that. That's the final lesson right there from Katherine Watier Ong. Katherine, how can the listeners find you across the internet, whether that's your podcast, your website, your Twitter, all that good stuff? How can people find you on the internet?

Katherine: Sure. Yeah, I'm spending too much time on Twitter, as you just illustrated on the upfront. My maiden name actually is K-W-A-T-I-E-R. But then my website is wostrategies.com, and you can find both the SEO tips there, as well as the podcast. And then I've got couple of downloadable guides about voice search stuff if that's of interest to you and Bing's role in voice search.

Jack: Amazing. The links as always are in the show notes, listeners, at search.withcandour.co.uk if you do want to find all that in one place for you. Thank you so much, Katherine. Like I said, I really, really appreciate you coming on. It's a pleasure to talk with you and hopefully we will talk again sometime in the future.

Katherine: Oh, you're very welcome. I love chit chatting about search.

Jack: That's all the time we have for this week. Thank you very much, again, to Katherine for joining me and providing some fascinating insights. I'll be back next week and we'll be joined by Sarah McDowell, the SEO manager at Captivate Audio, as well as the cohost of the fantastic SEO Mindset Podcast. I've got a lot of brilliant guests coming up in the next few weeks, so please do subscribe so you don't miss an episode when they go live every Monday morning. Thank you very much for listening and have a lovely week.

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