The jolly lovely (and extremely practical!) Chris Green from StrategiQ delivers the answers to all those questions and a whole lot more besides (even a bit of Dalai Lama and 90s movie trivia!).
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- Download the slides to accompany Chris’s talk: Why SEO ‘sticking plasters’ aren’t the enemy (5MB PDF).
Cool so I’m Chris I’m Head of Search, whatever that means, at a local-ish SEO agency no marketing agency (not just SEO) called StrategiQ just down the road in Ipswich.
Someone said: “Do they have computers in Ipswich?” I didn’t realise it was quite as rural as that.
I’m actually from Bury, so that’s a farmer town, and no this accent doesn’t go with digital but we roll with it anyway.
I’m talking about why sticking plasters aren’t the enemy or quite simply: ‘Getting shit done in SEO’ from my 10 or so years of sort of battling with clients, developers, other team members just to get stuff done and implemented – and hopefully you’ll take some of this away and get more stuff done which will be awesome.
[tweetshare tweet=”I want to start off with a statement that: Sometimes SEO is nothing more than getting the job done. Makes it sound so easy right? – @chrisgreen87 speaking at an #Optimisey event” username=”Optimisey”]
Don’t listen to us – just go out and do it!
However… yeah… it’s taken me that long [7 years] to say that. I think you kind of go back, take an Exec or someone, you’ve shown them through ScreamingFrog, you’re showing them through all of the concepts and well… even Kevin sighs… you know your brain’s on the floor.
It’s like wait a second that’s not easy, right? But yeah it’s kind of knowledge.
You know all the clients I’ve worked with – big business, small business, every niche is different, types of websites… the common point where you can make or break it is pretty much always at the same point.
Again a lot of what we do is actually remarkably simple.
Not to detract from it. You have to wear many hats. You have to do lots of things. You have to learn quickly. But actually you break it down these variants of the same, very often it’s implementation.
I think where it often falls down is actually getting it in place.
I’ve reflected on this for a while. Why does implementation fail? Broadly speaking I think it can fall into one of the following:
I was devastated when I found out that was Photo-shopped and not real but team’s not talking to each other. Business cases not being made. Buy-in not being sought. Recommendations not being conveyed clearly. Overly complex recommendations. Who knows what that is? Someone does.
I mean before I did the research and dropped that in and I probably couldn’t recognise it from sight: ‘I don’t really understand this’ but the point I’m getting at – I do understand it – not to detract from it but what exactly it does that’s not my job.
But starting with the detail and not conveying all of the things you’re doing; losing people in the process; and then an unwillingness to compromise.
I could have picked a handful of politicians some UK-based for this one but that felt a bit raw.
Fun tip: change the word ‘Brexit’ to ‘breakfast’ and your day becomes more enjoyable.
Just saying for conversation… I didn’t mean to be use two Republican Presidents as part of this presentation as a political statement it just felt oddly fitting…
But being able to work together.
Critical point is – all of the above yeah probably you might think of your own reasons – but for me this is the common points.
Yeah in this talk I want to help you embrace the sticking plasters are getting the job done. And what I mean by sticking plasters I’ll come on to later but sometimes it’s settling for the less than perfect option.
Part of this not making enemies. Delivering concise recommendations and then get a working solution.
I love this, I got my notes and everything, I feel like I’m cheating.
But first yes… story from early days in SEO. I’m not going to go back, right back, way back but I dug that one out. That was me. My early days of SEO. I look like a spaniel, so I’m told – not being self-deprecating.
So I learned SEO. Did a spell in-house you know, then I went agency side, then tech SEO, had my first client, my first audit and I tore the site to shreds – eagerly.
I did my duty.
It is kind of weird – given that tech SEO is a kind of a geeky thing – there’s a strange amount of almost… I don’t know matcho-ness us about this kind of thing. Y’know: ‘Your site’s shit! Make it better!”
I kind of did a version of that. I didn’t say it in those words because I don’t like to upset people – broadly speaking – but I did my duty.
I self-righteously fixed all of those SEO wrongs. You know: dotnet website with a plethora of issues; sitemaps that weren’t updated; duplicate content; incorrect pagination you name it.
It’s kind of this checklist of tech SEO fails – they scored, you know, they’re Bingo or full house. Not good, obviously.
That went badly didn’t it.
I wouldn’t be telling the story if it didn’t. It wouldn’t prove my point.
But I pissed off the owner of the dev agency a lot because he’s like: ‘Who’s this joker? What’s he doing?’
You’re kind of rocking the boat a little bit.
I pissed of their account manager (and ours) because someone had to take the ear-bashing; the developer whose hard work that I just tore straight into.
And it actually took a long time to undo that. And as much as the client took some comfort in knowing that they had someone who knew what they were talking about saying: ‘This is why you’re not ranking’ the friction and the the issues that then came off from that, they weren’t actually that grateful for.
We lost actually quite a lot of momentum.
It wasn’t my fault, wasn’t theirs – I mean you could argue that they should have built the website in the way it needed to be – but I didn’t need to stomp all over it in my size 11s. Things didn’t have to go that badly.
Here’s where I went wrong
And this isn’t usually the way I go to in tech talks but I turned to the Dalai Lama for advice:
“In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision”
– Dalai Lama
So why is that relevant?
I take it to mean: don’t piss off the person who you need to get the job done.
That’s actually a kind of a truism that you can extend to many other things but because my day job, primarily, is being tech SEO this is what I’m talking about: The developer who’s making the fixes for me.
I like that slide because that actually – if I can say what’s helped me in my career move – it’s not by hugging people who don’t want to be hugged, I’m not actually the most huggy person but it is making friends with developers.
Sometimes they add ‘They are people too’ but I don’t know how many developers we’ve got in here? I don’t want to piss them off.
[tweetshare tweet=”I like working with people who are smarter than me. My job becomes asking the right questions and then pointing their intelligence in the right direction. – @chrisgreen87 speaking at an #Optimisey event” username=”Optimisey”]
That’s worked. I kind of make my niche in that. Some people suggest I’m an ‘ideas man’ from it but take from that what you will.
I guess should use the pointer right but for those who want developers it’s not actually that easy. Not when you add in the client and deadlines and budgets.
Developers get a lot of hard time from tech SEOs.
Who follows Barry Adams? Knows of? Yes, a handful.
I’ve got a huge amount of time for Barry but web developers really don’t like Barry. Follow him on Twitter for a while you’ll find out why.
But you know sometimes they make perplexing decisions. Sometimes they act in ways we don’t anticipate. Most developers just don’t know a lot, or enough about SEO.
But arguably do they need to? Is it their job? Overall you know – the difference between semantic styling and bits like that – if the effect is really important but fundamentally things that the client wants to see and the things that they’re probably being tasked on, or what’s being sold is not my pagination markup’s not correct or you haven’t put JSON-LD on that page quite simply.
Developers don’t get a free pass
Ah but that doesn’t mean they get a free pass.
And we let it go. You do need to get your own way because stuff like that happens.
I can’t actually remember the website for that now but whoever does the marketing, who first saw it was not a happy bunny.
But that’s you know let’s take everyone on that journey. And if I were to leave that statement it kind of feels a bit Disney for me it’s not all rainbows and light. Sometimes you’ve got to put your foot down.
You’ve got to have that argument, stand that fire but it is a two-way street and understanding and cooperation does get you a lot further down.
Yes so what helps: speaking developers’ language.
So I asked Twitter, I did a poll: Do you need to be a web developer to be a good tech SEO?
64% of people who said “it helps”. Now obviously the 167 people who answered that survey make it fact… but again proves my argument.
I don’t think its the first time that Tweet’s been used at an Optimisey event [Andrew: nope, Julia Logan used it too!]
Your recommendations become doable and this means you learn to speak their language ultimately which is really important. Again I’m not saying ‘they’ as if there are different people but you learn to give forward recommendations in ways that they can understand.
You can also understand how to compromise better and find workarounds and find the less good options.
So other other ways that things fail: who loves monster spreadsheets or data sets and can’t compromise? Well done everyone. Was that cleansing? No?
I do! I missed that one – but lots of people do, particularly lots of people that work in any kind of technical digital marketing roles do.
How many clients or stakeholders loved them? Far, far less. You get the odd crazy one that sometimes you think might but broadly speaking no they don’t.
What not to give to seo clients – embrace TL;dr
So anyway part of this – so the complexities about getting stuff implemented, monster spreadsheets kind of get off and get in the way sometimes. If used in the wrong fashion can give a client more work rather than less or it makes them feel like they’re getting further away from the desired outcome.
So let’s talk about some kind of common scenarios some of which I feel I’m guilty of.
‘Here’s a list of [x] thousand keywords – what do you want to rank for?’
I still come across people – fortunately none that I employ at the moment – who asked that question. That’s not very helpful because actually most clients want you to tell them what you want to rank for and mainly sanity check it.
It’s a collaborative process. Don’t give them a bucket of data that they can’t use.
Again ‘Here’s [x] dozen pages you need new titles for.’
They’ve said ‘No no no we’ll write content. That’s what we’re good at.’ Don’t just give them an unsorted, un-prioritised list.
And ‘These are the [x] thousand longtail keywords you need to incorporate into existing copy’. Again something they’ve insisted their content team’s better doing but where do they start? Where does their content team start? Is that going to get any further than the marketing manager who’s got 20 other things they want to do at that given moment?
How many of these get actioned – and that’s kind of the nub of this – not many. So make it as easy as possible to get the job done.
But the biggest recommendation here is in presenting actions not data.
And it sounds so painfully simple but that is one of the things my biggest learnings across these: loving data, loving to show everyone the fullness of the argument ‘Here’s all of the data that I’ve used’ – you know ‘There’s so much data it couldn’t fit in Excel!’ – they got that much data, however many million rows but that’s not going to work.
It’s embracing the ‘too long didn’t read’ version.
Compromise is not a dirty word
I work with lots of SMEs lots of owner-managed businesses so on the smaller end of the spectrum they don’t have time – best will in the world even if they do really like good it is you’re talking about – so give them a solution and an opportunity not a problem another issue.
Coming back to compromising parties: we hate compromising.
Again does seem to be a trait of tech SEOs and web developers I often find. Compromise isn’t a dirty word or a synonym for utterly failing again in your own way – and that isn’t a legitimate screenshot I kind of had to add that in post – I know we all probably know some people that can make that reality let’s be honest.
But that’s not what it is. It’s not a dirty word. Quite often actually there – look at that yep – quite often actually a lot of people see compromise as a sign of weakness as well, that kind of ‘No my recommendation is that good I can’t back down on it’ but if that grinds the entire project to a halt you’re not helping to anyone.
There are too many SEOs, developers and designers spitting their dummies out over it I thought I’d kind of extend it across the entire spectrum because I’ve had many one-hour meetings last four hours for exactly that reason.
I was a bullish SEO at one end of the spectrum and we had a UX lead and the developer and client stakeholder and… yeah they weren’t fun, not fun days.
[tweetshare tweet=”SEO is all about compromise. Budgets, time, buy-in, information, misinformation, skill… but the biggest one: we’re compromising with Google all the time. – @chrisgreen87 speaking at an #Optimisey event” username=”Optimisey”]
But SEO is all about compromise isn’t it? I guess? It should be. Budgets, time, buy-in, information, misinformation (hello large organisation that doesn’t know its are from its elbow), skill, inclination… but actually the biggest one: we’re compromising with Google all the time.
I think we are some other people may say that we’re not and we’ve got the power to control it but not for any long-term not really.
But are you victim of these compromises? How do you make the best of them? And that’s that’s kind of where we’re going.
There’s always an opportunity in a compromise or there should be. You want to maintain momentum and keep things moving.
Implementing SEO changes via Google Tag Manager
Sticking plasters: on to the actionable bit.
I’ve kind of gesticulated widly at your for a little while but now here’s the bit that you can hopefully go and take something away and do stuff with.
Right quick game of true or false:
If you’re forced to implement SEO changes by a meta CMS or tag management system something has gone wrong.
I’m not actually asking you that question it’s a leading one: it’s true. Something has gone wrong and I’ll explain why.
They are quite unreliable there’s been lots of experiments. Google isn’t quite sure how unreliable yet either which is kind of embarrassing.
That comes back to ‘Google don’t always get it right’.
Show hands who finds that comforting? Google sometimes get things wrong?
Who finds it bloody petrifying? Sorry that was another loaded question – that keeps me awake at night.
And then you start moving away from a Tag Manager we get a little bit more kind of techie integrated cool solution: a meta CMS so something on the edge – which I kinda talk about later – adds another point of failure.
So we’re talking about not great things here.
Overall I put this one in but don’t not do it because it’s not the best way to implement these changes there’s a few negatives in there that hopefully all even each other out appropriately.
What I’m saying is something is better than nothing. You know getting a little bit closer to the solution is better than not moving at all.
This is not a sales pitch I’m not saying that you want to be using this method.
Some common scenarios that this might help you with just to give you a bit of an idea: I need to Bob change hundreds of titles. I don’t have CMS access or client doesn’t have any resource to do it or it just isn’t a priority.
One method might be to get things rolling: title tag injection by tag manager.
Start off with a nice simple one: that’s pretty much what it looks like. Who’s used Google Tag Manager before? Enough of you for me to kind of barrel through. If you haven’t or you’re unsure just let me know – we’re just essentially saying ‘rewrite the title of the page to this one’ which is almost elegant in its simplicity.
Really I quite like that. That’s it kind of working in real life – you have to take my word for it but it’s there.
Could work but it takes ages to do this over a hundred – you know the scenario is hundred it’s not just one, it’s loads.
You can add them all in individually in tag manager but actually even just making this example took far too long. I could have used Photoshop I suppose or maybe a little bit quicker these look-up tables (look-up tables are cool) they speed things up a little bit.
That still takes time you still gotta map things one by one. Better option – kind of stealing is from Steven Harris his article on the Seer blog – he’s made a spreadsheet or Google Sheet. What’s not solved by Google Sheets?
So simply drop in the page page title, there’s some little details at the top: so the variable name that’s going to go in, the input of the variable, the lookup type… it’s all relatively straightforward with the guy that’s associated with it.
You copy the JSON that it generates and you bulk upload it straight into tag manager. The bulk uploader.
Yay! Then it’s all in, in one go.
Not un-problematic: if you want to change a handful of those you’ve got a look at re-uploading, you may have to pull stuff out but that’s a lot of titles that changed or uploaded in one go. It isn’t perfect, can potentially slow down some setups if you’re kind of running sort of enterprise-level sites that’s got really complex tag managers you don’t wanna start adding in hundreds if not thousands of titles but it can kind of work.
Content injected like this is slower to be picked up by Google. We did some experiments. We built a rank tracker that could track things hourly. So I thought: ‘Let’s do a drag race!’ You know it might be to the hour accuracy that we need!
I was really disappointed when it took 12 days longer kind of felt like: ‘Hmm, we checked all of those extra requests and that infrastructure from Google and it was unneeded anyway because it took so long.’
Incidentally the quickest we saw it was a few days and the longest – I think we’ve had a handful of tests that still haven’t been picked up and there are some good reasons for that but you know as we say not the most reliable thing in the world.
Google says don’t do it. If we listen to what Google said we probably wouldn’t be doing our jobs because just do what the user wants and job’s gooddun.
I do quite like John, you know I have a lot of sympathy for him. I know he kind of accepted the job but Jesus… everyone hanging off your every word like that.
Who spoke to a Googler? And kind of did they all seem like they’re really tired? I don’t know. Gary did when someone in the audience started challenging about Medic. It took about two minutes for him to start talking afterwards, it was a bit worrying.
It’s a job done – actually this linger on that – I’ve kind of almost talked you out of it but if the option is not changing them, titles are hugely important getting the title optimised, getting the right keywords in there, is mission critical for a lot of people.
So in this instance job done. It does work.
Rather than showing you lots of graphs going upwards because I’ve successfully implemented it I’m going to show you what happens when it goes wrong.
There’s a graph. It’s one of my test sites. Here’s where I fucked it up. Here’s where I un-fucked it.
And actually it’s almost a case of well you know Google is picking these up – don’t doubt the damage you can do with this.
[tweetshare tweet=”Just because you’re doing it in a UI just, because you’ve circumvented the IT manager, doesn’t mean that you might not get someone pissed off at you if you do it wrong. – @chrisgreen87 speaking at an #Optimisey event” username=”Optimisey”]
Similar one: getting a bit sort of slightly heavy duty, I need a new content area on each page but the development pipeline stretches off into the distance.
You know we need to change pages, or the payment gateway’s wrong or the CTO has got their own agenda or something that’s happening.
Actually again another really simple kind of content injection as before, and after. It works. It drops it in.
Again does seem to work. I mean here’s some graphs with lines going up to again. Take my word for it these did work. We’ve kind of continued to monitor these since these screenshots and we’re now rolling out the strategy across the entire website.
But with a plan to actually put these pages into the CMS instead – pipeline looks a bit shorter now though. We’ve done enough to those key pages to get the ball rolling which it’s kind of what I like to use this stuff for: proving the concept and getting stuff done.
Not just for SEO though or not just for conversions. I know conventional SEO – is CRO SEO? A kind of an existentialist one there.
But landing pages are missing some key conversion elements or are just not very good – again the pipeline… the pipeline…
Injecting additional CSS to modify content: making prices bigger and redder (makes CRO sound like a science!).
I do it a disservice – it works. This campaign was doing bad and now it’s doing better.
It’s an ideal solution, we’re rolling.
Some more words of warning (if I haven’t scared you away from it enough). Trust me, it actually does work, I do do this on client’s that are aware.
Reports of what does and doesn’t work via JS are massively conflicted.
Canonical tags: broadly speaking nope don’t do it doesn’t work. Shortly Eoghan came out with this really nice kind of content experiment that said ‘yeah it does’.
And then John kind of does a sort of a slightly graceful climb down and say ‘That’s nice’ – so canonical tags do work in that, but not an ideal solution. But you can deploy them.
Same with robots directives. Google, via someone that I work with at Hike SEO, basically John told them JS won’t be able to override noindex tags.
Oh actually it can… but Google picks the most restrictive version. So if you’ve got a nofollow or noindex tag on the page you can’t override it to make it a follow one, Google’s not going to trust that.
It actually came off a Reddit thread which means it’s irrefutable and trustworthy content but it has been picked up since.
I just look back to my days at University and think I wouldn’t get away with that citation on a paper but such is life we have to do or deal with the hand we’re dealt right?
People are still contesting these. More testing is needed. Caveat, health warning, caveat: please don’t do this to client sites without telling them. That’s my arse covering done. Now go and experiment!
Oh and reliability of it once it is injected – we the drag race injecting content seeing what happens.
TL;dr there are some technical eccentricities on a page that can stop this from working as well, beyond what you might expect.
So one of them: mixed content issues. Google suddenly stops trusting a lot of this content altogether which is kind of frustrating. But again your website needs to be pretty robust to test this reliably.
And actually when it did work we saw it was likely to drop in and out almost randomly – so again not reliable as a content in the source.
distance from Perfect & the enemy of done
Cool. Nearly there. Andrew was shocked about how many slides I said I was going to bring up… How am i doing for time? Sweet!
A few words on perfection.
So perfection is also another thing that stops SEO changes getting made. Let’s talk about it.
So one of the my favourite sort of presentations that I’ve been to, thinking back on my time doing what I do, is Ian Laurie, Portent he delivered it at Search Love 2015 called ‘The Distance from Perfect – Marketing with a Human Algorithm’.
There’s so many reasons I loved that. I was air-punching tall the way through cuz he was kind of just talking about tech SEO truisms, and righting wrongs, and saying no get it perfect it’s the best thing you can do… and I bought into that and I loved it.
But he hinged on this concept of ‘successful marketing minimises that distance from perfect’.
Let’s be clear first, I’m not arguing this at all, this is absolutely the case. I think, if you can minimise the distance from perfect, it works but it’s when I see this kind of thinking misappropriated is when it’s a problem. It’s, you know, a sound concept built on strong principles – people get it wrong when they get a little bit dogmatic about it.
They start air punching and all things go wrong.
So for example: maybe those fifty missing alt texts won’t make a difference.
I’ve seen people implement alt text on social media icons because SEMrush auditor told him they were missing.
Okay technically that’s getting it closer to perfect, but that ain’t doing anything. Don’t tell your client you’ve wasted their money on that.
But the key concept here – and this is definitely what Ian was talking about when he said it – is that perfect doesn’t mean ranking well.
Almost depressingly so. I guess someone who’s a tech SEO, identifies as, but you know perfection in any sense is reducing friction for the user so just keep that in mind.
Each decision you make has to be a commercial one. So when we loop it back to this, kind of pursue of perfection, getting that clean scorecard just because you can is not a commercial decision. Especially, you know, working with clients with smaller budgets.
But it’s only [x] amount a month to a small client, that doesn’t matter it’s still a lot to them. Make the best use of their time wisely.
But what is perfect anyway in this world? I mean that’s the kind of a big one again.
I’m not going to, I don’t want you leaving kind of questioning your life choices from this, but I know what it isn’t.
It’s not a perfect Yoast SEO score. I deactivate them on every site we launch now because my I’m just fed up of that phone call: ‘You’ve not optimised my website because they’re all red on Yoast.’
It’s also definitely not a SEMrush site audit score.
And that’s that’s not me taking an unfair kick at SEMrush there but a human programmed that. A human that isn’t Google.
This old principal of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ – if the parameters that are specified when that audit’s created aren’t on point you’re moving in the wrong direction. aAnd false positive as well I hate ignoring reports because the same crap is churned up every time so it’s not the right stuff.
Yeah anyway, ‘garbage in, garbage out’ key one.
[tweetshare tweet=”What works doesn’t have to be perfect. If you walk away with anything – it doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s nice if it is but it just has to work. – @chrisgreen87 speaking at an #Optimisey event” username=”Optimisey”]
We want to do what works but what works doesn’t have to be perfect. I guess if you walk away with any kind of learning that you can apply across its kind of that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
It’s nice if it is but it just has to work. Simple right?
So in conclusion… I’ll give a few people chance to read that… yeah customary snigger.
What my saying all this just make yourself understood. Turn adversity into an opportunity.
It says a lot about your strength of character if you can. Incidentally I stopped people from tearing sites apart and kind of gleefully going ‘This is where it’s wrong’.
I get my team to report on the opportunities to make things better.
And ten years ago I would have said ‘No that sounds like crap. You sound like some kind of self-help guru.’ but actually clients do like that better.
Funnily enough giving the last incumbent a kicking is not the best way of starting a relationship off believe it or not. Not for a lasting one.
Learn to find a compromise, find another way.
Nearly finished – this is a maybe a slightly self-serving plug but I’m not going to ask you for a credit card details or anything.
There is another way – because we’ve just launched it in alpha.
So we launched a platform very similar to – who’s heard of Distilled’s CDN? Yeah we kind of launched a version of that that costs five pounds a month to run in cost.
Which is quite cool.
But basically talking about meta CMS’s or deploying stuff ‘on the edge’ you may have seen ‘edge SEO’ start to be a thing that’s used. I mean as a term I’ve been peddling it but that will probably die off because we’ll get bored and we’ll go back to SEO.
Or in this instance we’re piggybacking off Cloudflare. So who uses Cloudflare or is familiar with Cloudflare?
Cloudflare is amazing there’s lots of really smart people that work there and the vast majority of the benefit you can get is free.
For an added five pounds a month you get their workers access for ten billion? Million? One zero doesn’t make a difference… requests so basically you can kind of serve requests through their platform. And this piece of software, Spark, that we’re kind of working on in very early stages just adds code on the outbound requests.
So no loading implications, no crawling or indexing implications, it’s just there. And you don’t have to be a developer to use it incidentally.
I’ve been the guinea pig and if I can make it work then we’ve decided that’s ready for launch or roll-out.
We’re accepting testers. We’re not going to take card details you need to play Cloudflare for a small amount of money but we are looking for people to give us feedback because this certainly would have solved a lot of issues I had five to ten years ago.
Not to brag but ninety percent of the clients I work on – the developer who develops it sits ten feet behind me – so that’s quite a position to get stuff done.
But there’s always that site that you can’t get stuff done, so yeah I’ll take a look.
All right, if I can finish – my phone is now locked it’s fraught this is, absolutely fraught.
Oh yeah I want to lead on that, that’s kind of another take away: ‘Be excellent to each other’. Kind of undermines the Dalai Lama at the beginning but I kind of like it to end on. Thank you.
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