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For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser talks with Geoffrey Kerbis, the Associate Director of Client Services and SEO at Silverback Strategies. They discuss not only the future of search engines but also SEO for various search engines like DuckDuckGo, Bing, and Yahoo. Watch now for profound insights.
One of the beauties of trying a lot of different things is you get the opportunity to determine what success looks like and determine what you are indeed good at.
Matt, Thank you so much for having me.
That’s such a wonderful question. And I’ve definitely given thought to this idea of whom we were in high school has shaped who we are now. In high school, I was definitely a man of many hats. I was in choir, I was on my school’s rowing team, I was a part of our homecoming and prom planning committee, little bit of journalism. I like to try a lot of different stuff. And yeah, the idea of turning the high school into almost a college junior experience, where you take advantage of the opportunities given and learn a little bit about yourself in each one.
Yeah, I think that one of the beauties of trying a lot of different things is you not only have the opportunity to determine what success looks like and determine what you are indeed good at. But at the same time, you are able to become familiar with the concept of failure, you’re not going to be good at everything, you are not going to make the basketball team or you’re not going to always be the lead in the play or the choir or have the solo, instead becoming familiar with the idea of trying new things, learning your strengths, being accustomed to failure, and then learning where you can grow. And if things do still pique your interest and you might not be good at them in the traditional sense, how can you still participate in that field? What are the ways that you can investigate and allow yourself to become more involved in it and maybe not be the star of the show, but a good supporting player?
I’ve definitely noticed that we live in an environment where there are two things that are very much present, specialization, you do one thing, you see it with a lot of high school kids now, they only play basketball or they only play football and that is what their entire life is. And then there’s also the sense of guarding folks from the idea of failure. In that sense, you want people to be as successful as possible, only future success in their lives so that they grow accustomed to that concept. But that’s not really realistic, right? Once you then get into the real world, those folks who have been coddled or have only done one thing tend to implode in some sense of matter, whether that is their grades or trying to get accustomed to what the real world is like and maybe getting their first, “No”. It’s definitely something that I worry about for those folks. But at the same time, I like to think if you introduce these ideas of trying new things, being inspired, and feeding curiosity, you’re going to learn a lot of life lessons along the way.
Oh, my goodness. What a great question. I love this question. One of my greatest failures, I definitely could pick from a lot of them. I could very easily say, Hey, there was a course in college that I did not do well in and I learned that, you can just not study. I could say that, oh hey, I didn’t get a bid to a fraternity, which seems so superficial, but I ended up getting in one. But I’m going to use a story that I like to think about as being able to come into something not as prepared as you need to be. So when I went to Indiana University, I got the opportunity to audition for a friend of mine’s show. He was putting on a musical version of Dr. Horrible Sing Along blog, if you’re familiar with that, congratulations. You’re one of the few. If you’re not, it’s okay. And he just said, Hey, prepare a little bit of music and a monologue. So I came and I knew, I have the music prepared. And I started preparing a monologue. As I’m sitting down in a casting room with a large group of people who also look very similar to I do, which is a surreal experience of realizing what typecasting is. I go into the room, nailed the singing part, and then the monologue comes up. And I absolutely know from the instant I’m handed the monologue, that they’d like me to read that I did not prepare. What ended up happening, which was really nice, is the director who is a friend, called and said, hey, you obviously did not get this part, but this is what I want you to do if you ever want to do this again. What ended up coming from it was a really great learning experience, which was I ended up taking an acting course at IU. I ended up being able to then use that to understand like, maybe acting is not the thing I would love to do, but I love public speaking and gaining confidence in public speaking in that sense and knowing even if you are super familiar with a subject like SEO, you still need to prepare that presentation for those clients or if you are lucky enough to be at a conference and giving a panel, you need to prepare that deck. Not everyone is just going to be introduced to go and do a mars con for example and be up on stage and just wing that presentation. Even the greats like Rand Fishkin are going to put a lot of time Dr. Pete is going to put a ton of time into making sure that presentation looks amazing.
Exactly. Yeah. It’s definitely there’s a wonderful balance, I think anyone can memorize lines, but it takes something very special and it takes preparation to be able to know how to weave someone into the story of your presentation and make them leave thinking, Oh, that wasn’t just another speaker, that was something that changed my perspective on the topic as a whole.
I think it definitely has helped. I think we’re definitely made up of our experiences and one of the things that I’m very passionate about is when it came to post-school, I had the opportunity to work for an organization called CEB, which is now a part of Gartner, and I was working in their sales team and sales included calling or making a very large number of calls. In the first couple of months, I was starting off by making anywhere from 100 to 120 deals a day. Not only was I dialing, I was prospecting all the fun stuff, but then as I was going through my first month, I noticed, Hey, I’m not really reaching any sort of level of success that I would deem as acceptable. What can I do? What can I take from my previous experience and all the things I did at school, to be able to ensure that I’m reaching the folks that I need to reach? So I started thinking, let’s prepare, even more, let’s take this idea of drawing someone in. You only have 30 seconds on the phone and to a story that hits upon their pain points really really easily. So at first, it was CEB, that time I was doing a lot of human resources case studies and I absolutely fell in love with the idea of succession management. I would spend my nights reading about case studies and then go in. And if I caught someone on the phone, I’m going to tell them the story about how they’re not prepared for succession management even if they think they are, and it could end up costing them millions of dollars. And if I told you, Matt, hey, guess what? You’re not prepared for succession management, especially in this environment today. And if you don’t have that person being trained appropriately and engaged appropriately, it’s going to cost you millions of dollars in the end. That’s a terrifying story to hear. And yeah, so what I’ve been gone from and I very much thank CEB for that training, is by having a foundation and performing in sales, you start to learn a little bit more about presenting is not just telling your perspective, it is telling a perspective of yours that is actually engaging to the audience member who’s there. The average CFO does not care about SEO. It is not what is keeping them up at night. I hate to inform your audience, but what is keeping them up at night is the idea that they are investing all these dollars in website redesigns, but the website’s not being seen. So being able to then angle towards them and show how we could be increasing based on a few smaller investments rather than redesigning an entire site which could cost a bucket load of money. It’s one of those things that I have found and you mentioned in my biography the idea of making SEO relatable. I think the work that I’ve done in sales previously in marketing, research, and then data and analytics have all led up to being able to say, SEO isn’t just something small, it’s not something that is that should be overly thought of, like you don’t put your ego at the door and be like many SEOs and say, I’m the most important person in this marketing department. Instead, see how you can be acting within the function to lift up those around you and those you’re serving.
Yeah, that’s a wonderful question. So, what ended up happening, in this case, was after working at CEB, I had the opportunity to work within their executive adviser’s room, which is basically the folks who help come up with case studies and work directly with clients to be able to identify situations to improve their strategic planning. That got me in the door of understanding. I really love this strategy bit. Sales are fun, it definitely has that bit of fire and spark and there are a lot of days where you’re riding on highs and there are some days where you’re in deep lows, but I love the idea of being able to talk to an executive and say, this is the situation we’ve identified. This is what others have done. How could we do that here? From there, I realized that research is something that I love, data is something I love and I had a really great opportunity to work with Anthem for a small period of time within their customer service area and do marketing research for them. But I always had that small thing in the back of my head saying, I’d love to work in advertising, I’d love to work in digital marketing as a whole, and got my first shot with Barefoot Proximity, which is an agency-based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, part of the Omnicom network of agencies. At first, I was just there to do data and analytics, but there was a need for someone in SEO. There was a gap within the network. We talked about succession management earlier. Someone left who was in charge of a very large portion of SEO for a very large client. We need someone to fill that hole and I decided, going back to that idea of trying a lot of things and natural curiosity, I’d love to try this. I would love to be able to learn by fire and see what I can do. Luckily, it was a large client and we were successful. The strategies that I put in place were a new perspective, trying to prioritize things that were put on the wayside and becoming not just another SEO, but someone who was helping to drive the ideas of what a Fortune 500 companies website could do when they actually thought about prioritizing SEO and not just having it as a line item from there, great opportunities come if you have success in this space. Doors opened and that allowed me to start helping the organization pitch. Other very large organizations own accounts and one of the things that led me to where I am now is the opportunity to continue that ownership and continue speaking with really smart leaders within their spaces and see how SEO can be a tool to help them unlock their KPIs.
So there are a couple of different ways of being able to do so. There is I don’t like to call them to scare tactics, but one of the very easy ways is just to give a snapshot of what the environment looks like and what is currently happening. Being able to say These are all of the things that you’re currently doing that definitely would not be deemed best practice is one easy way. But that does not always strike everyone, right? Fear is a tool that has to be used in a very careful manner because you can only use it so many times before you lose the trust of whom you’re working because if you keep on showing fear and you’ve already been hired and you keep on relying on that, then what exactly are you fixing and how are you making a better environment when you’re receiving dollars from that client? Instead, I’m very much the person who likes to use the knowledge of my peers to gain a better understanding of what I’m walking into. For example, if let’s say, given your background, I know you’ve worked in car dealerships before. One of the number one things on your mind, if you are owning a car dealership, is making sure you’re having leads for folks who are actually interested rather than relying on foot traffic. There are more car purchases happening, or at least the awareness stage and the information-seeking stage of an automobile purchase have changed drastically over the past couple of years. And so if my number one goal is to make sure you get more leads, I want to build out a vision for you of how SEO is involved in every step of that process. It’s not just awareness. How does it fit with your paid media efforts? Can I make sure that I’m setting up a phone call with your paid media team directly to see how they’re interacting with your sales funnel and ensure that we’re working together with our keyword research, with the content that we’re making, so it can be utilized by both parties to make us overall more efficient? And then on the other end of that, SEO doesn’t just stop on a digital perspective. It’s something that can be used to ensure that we are a better understanding of how we can be matching up with in-person sales efforts or traditional media efforts as a whole. I get very annoyed when I hear someone say, okay, well, we have the digital media front set. I’ve done my job. Your job doesn’t stop there. There are ways that you can be more informative and using all the tools that we have been able to help address a lot of the questions in the room and become more than just a search engine optimizer. You can become a true, well-rounded marketer who is helping a lead strategy rather than lead one small bit of strategy.
That’s an excellent question. In this instance, this was a client that worked both in B2B and B2C. A very, very intriguing situation where content is very different based on what product they’re selling. So the first thing that happened was just getting a comfort level with the website as a whole and I am a person who loves doing things by hand. I know there are 1,000,001 tools that can do a technical audit of your site. I do use screaming frog, I do use Moz or Hrefs occasionally, but then manual checks to be able to understand how does this work? What does this do from a Google tag manager’s perspective? What’s the interaction? If I click on this, what sort of information am I getting? And then working directly with a content marketer to understand as we look at the funnel as a whole, what does each part of this site do? As part of that funnel and map it out. I think that if you aren’t looking at a site from a mapping perspective of what is the situation and how was this site built in order to fulfill my client’s needs, then you’re doing yourself a disservice and you’re doing your client a disservice. You’re not giving them your full self from there. After identifying and seeing all the different types of content that were available and all the different subdomains that they had, it became then a very simple mapping activity. Where do we want to spend our time optimizing? Where do we want to spend our time scrapping? Where there might just be too much and there might be the paralysis of choice that is hurting not only your site from a crawl budget perspective but from a user experience perspective. Then being able to then repackage pieces of content that maybe had been made, put in that bucket of maybe we get rid of them, but then have the realization of what other channels could utilize this piece, so it’s not just SEO coming in destroying your site, but instead making it slightly more efficient. From there one of the things that becomes a key part, and what I think I see where I think a lot of SEOs lose is we’re really good at the awareness stage, right? We love making people aware. It’s why I know folks in SEO who brag about ranking number one or I got that featured snippet.
Those are the sexy statistics about SEO, but the even sexier statistics in my mind are how do those match with the intent of the user? So part of that was analyzing SERPs, looking at the keywords that were directly attached to key pieces of content in my mind that were being underutilized, and being able to then work with our UX experts as well as our analytic team to find key metrics that could be boosted. Based on that, we talked about leads earlier. If one of the sites I was working with used it, this is going to sound terrible. They utilized PDFs as one of their main ways of giving information that could be interesting, but they were underutilizing them. They were plain pieces of documents, they were dead ends in this situation. So instead of being able to make sure, hey, we’re going to markup this PDF for SEO because they can be crawled, it’s just not a preferred route for Google, and instead, make sure that we are showing that this PDF does have life. Let’s create UTM parameters in any of the links to show that there was an organic visit from a PDF that went back to the site to allow you to understand that the PDF is providing value. What we then ended up doing is just based on conversation and saying, this is the most successful PDF you have from an organic perspective. We’ve seen trends over the past couple of weeks looking at this data. Do you have a lead? Do you have your Salesforce leads marked? We want to send them all this PDF. What we’re going to do is we’re going to separately mark each of them with a unique UTM parameter to know that they opened this or they sent it to someone else who opened it so we can then track the success rate. These sorts of things may sound like, we’re talking a lot about not SEO, but SEO was the influencing voice in the room of saying there’s interest in this topic. How can we spread it and how can we capture that data appropriately?
So in this instance, it was a little bit cruder than that. We just came up with basic codes that we were putting on and text generators but had an understanding internally of what that text generator matched up with. We’re not going out and saying, we’re going after ABC Company and their UTM parameter is ABC Company PDF. But we did know, if it is X, Y 20 to 35, that’s ABC companies PDF visit.
I’ve taken a couple of different approaches. I would agree that when we think about the owner of Search, there’s a reason why when we say search, we also use the term, I’ll Google it, right? It is the person in the room or the organization in the room that owns that concept. There’s an entire generation that doesn’t remember the time of Ask Jeeves being one of the top search engines in the room. But when we had our first family computer, that was the search engine I remember using the most, because we talk about a great experience and something to joke about that you had a butler finding the information for you that you needed. It was definitely neat. When it comes to the data, though, there are a couple of different approaches that I take and I’ll come back to it. In the sense one, I think that it becomes taking a look at your organization’s profile as a whole and taking a nice step into your organization’s analytic provider. If you use Adobe, congrats. If you use Google you’re probably in the majority. Prepare for GA4. I just love giving people reminders of that. But one of the things that I always do is I like to take a landscape look of what is the user profile because in some instances I will be honest, it is not worth investing your time into other search engines if the overall overwhelming majority is going to be from Google. I’ve seen profiles where 99% of the search comes from Google on some of these sites. But what I don’t want that to be misunderstood and misinterpreted as is not spending any time at all on those platforms because there is definitely value in making sure you are setting up your Bing search console identity, being able to understand how your websites, your competitors are appearing as far as SERPs and what is changing within those SERPs. It is very much a foolish thing to depend on one source of revenue if you’re an organization, why would you depend on only one channel if you are a search engine optimizer? With that being said, though, there’s another entire conversation that we could have on this idea. We talked about the profile, but we didn’t talk about if the organization has international intentions or an international market, because then we have an entirely different thing we have to discuss, which is cool. Are you preparing to go to Russia? Yandex is going to be something that we need to talk about. Are you preparing to go to China? Well, Baidu is going to be the search engine, but we have to talk about how prevalent organic search is going to be as far as your marketing mix is concerned because Baidu as a whole is mainly a paid search engine and it’s very tricky to rank and it is slightly naive to think that your organic SEO is going to be the key to ranking there. Instead, the key to getting any form of traffic instead depends on SEO helping to inform our focus on the paid media side instead but making sure that we’re still creating searchable content that is accessible over there. It’s also gaining an understanding of utilizing the data on those users and a better understanding of how those users interact with your site. We talked about Bing a little bit, bing users in some instances have a very different behavior than a user of Google in certain industries. And in certain industries, I found that Bing users are much more there. They’re the people at the party who won’t leave, even though you’ve stopped serving food, they’re not committing in some instances to actually purchasing and it depends, though. It depends on the SERP. This is why I found it so intriguing, especially in the awareness phases. I have found that Bing users tend to skew data, especially around a very hotly contested metric, which is time on page, time on page being is one of my least favorite things to have as a KPI because depending on the SERP, you might only spend a couple of minutes on a page or you might spend your entire day on a page. That’s why we’re seeing Google introduce more and more of these expected reads. I just saw Barry Schwartz post something about his seeing a 5-minute read and a 10-minute read or less than 5 minutes on certain posts.
But that’s something that is great to know. And it’s something to better inform not only your client but your organization’s marketing efforts for the client. If I have an understanding of Bing, users are spending more time on site and less likely to buy, and I know we’re putting marketing dollars towards Bing then in marketing dollars towards paid media on Bing, I might make the suggestion that we take away those dollars from Bing, knowing that we might have a better click-through rate or KPI fulfillment from a Google or from a YouTube, which is also Google or LinkedIn, in this instance. It’s making sure that we talked a little bit about having an understanding of search engines, have an understanding and as an SEO, take the time to understand what your users look like from each search engine. Because then when you’re coming to the point of creating an editorial calendar or doing keyword research, you’re not just mapping out for each piece of content that you’re optimizing towards. You might be mapping out an entirely different audience based on the search engine.
I think that it’s very much not making a piece of content for only one channel. That could be a mistake. It’s definitely making sure that you are going through almost a checklist of sorts. What is required for me to be able to ensure that this ranks on Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo! or Whichever ones you prefer? What is the goal of this piece of content? We’re trying to make sure this is in the mid-stage funnel of the funnel. This is a considerable portion we’re really focusing on maybe versus so this gadget versus that gadget. So if we’re doing that call, if we need to optimize directly for Google, especially considering the Helpful Content update, we need to make sure that this is a personalized experience for both of said gadgets or widgets or whatsoever. So we’ll need to have experience. Is that a possibility given the resources the organization has? Let’s use that as a consideration.
I would say if you’re in the situation where you’re working with a client who might have a lower budget, who doesn’t have the internal resources to create content that is truly personalized, you know, as of recording this, we have not seen the big hit yet from the helpful content update. But I have to say, I think it will be coming at some point in time, especially given the verbiage that Google has been pushing as far as EAT as a whole. But what you can do is you can cover your bases with the basics. Going ahead, do a search of the keyword topic that you’d like to do. Look, I don’t just look at Google, look at Bing, look at Yahoo! Look at DuckDuckGo, and try to take the time to realize what are the requirements to rank for this piece of content. For Google, the requirements are I need to have user-generated content included or I have to have pricing included in this piece of content, especially for the services that are guarded information for some services because otherwise, you’re not going to have someone press the button that you have on your site. Yeah, but if for Bing instead, it is making sure that you have the pros and cons, that’s something that Google also really likes to have when you’re doing consideration content. So maybe having it on both and understanding we can list our pros and cons of this gadget versus that gadget very easily. If you may be in addition you actually have to have the product schema properly put on the page. That’s a very low-budget thing that you can do and a very low-cost thing. It takes very few resources. Let’s do that and then that hits a check mark on every single box of each organization. Look at the amount of time you have, look at the considerations for each search engine and the SERP rankings and be able to put that to use for yourself. So you’re not just optimizing for your one channel because I like to think of it. Rand Fishkin put it really well. What’s keeping Google from going after your industry? E-commerce is the one that’s felt at the latest. Seeing every single anything that’s related to a product there’s now google shopping ads, there is what I like to deem the over distraction of a SERP where there is a location near you that sells the product, and there are a variety of stores on Google that also sell it that you can do shopping. You can also check out the paid media ads that are on the google SERP. How are you preparing for other search engines that might not be as hungry for additional revenue via paid opportunities?
Yeah, it’s very interesting because we are now in a world where Google is paying Wikipedia for the privilege of using its resources, which is very interesting. It would be lovely if Google paid all of us. We would love to use your information. It would probably very much have to look like a Spotify deal, where we’re getting paid 0.003 cents per site page or search or anything like that per month. But what I think is important to remember is there would not be search engine optimizers if our goal was not to work in hard situations. If it was very easy to rank, then organizations would not be hiring out folks like ourselves to be able to figure out what could be done and how to gain that small advantage and how to optimize against Google versus only optimizing for Yahoo! Which back in the day would have been actually a thing that could have been a very legitimate consideration when Google had less of the market share.
Yeah, I’m a gigantic fan of this idea. I think search is not going to stop growing as far as the number of providers, but I think depending on preference, we’re going to see search become more specialized. We speak a lot about the concept of demographics and advertising. This is the demographic or advertising. I think in the not so far future, we’re going to start talking about the demographics of certain search engines and there’s one that you didn’t even talk about that and that’s tik-tok. Tik-tok is one of the number one search engines for Gen Z. And it’s not even close. My generation is in a place where if we were looking for an answer, we’re much more likely to go to YouTube to find the answer for certain things, which is dangerous in its own mean but we’re not going to even talk about that. The folks that I know in Gen Z, if they were going to search for how to change your oil, they’re going to look it up on TikTok. I’m going to look it up on Google or on YouTube and the generation before me will look it up on Google or just know based on hands-on experience because you then learned it from hand to hand. If we aren’t preparing for the concept of demographics of search. Then you’re also not doing your job as a search engine optimizer at all. The one other thing that I will add when we are thinking about this and I love that you brought up Apple is we are going to see more entrants into the field because Google has to make its revenue public. Everyone knows that they are a publicly traded organization and when you see the gigantic numbers that Google is pulling in from all of that advertising, then if I was Apple, even though I have more money than you know, God, I would still want a piece of that. People talked about this when Apple News was being rumored. But it is important to remember if Apple is trying to continue its dominance of the U.S. market, they are losing out on a gigantic opportunity of taking advantage of every one of these, being having the default of using Apple search rather than Google. Because Google does pay for the right to be the default browser or a default search engine for anyone on safari. I would not be surprised if that changes if Apple was set to announce a search engine. And you know, I’ve been talking with my peers as far as we talked about, we can even talk about the concept of search and looking at things that you don’t even consider searching for, right? We could talk about Netflix and how Microsoft was involved in the ads part of that and they’re going to be using that data to help improve how they’re serving ads on Bing and how they’re serving ads on LinkedIn and all of that sort of stuff. But I would be very much thinking if I was an Apple, and I would search for a product that you have to create in order to have a revenue stream of advertising associated with it and it’s naive to think that Apple just wants to create answers and give another option. They want another revenue field in case something happens to the iPhone or Apple Music.
Yes and there is the question of, you know, I believe it is a gigantic number. I think it was in the 11-figure contract to have search on or have been the default search engine for everyone. Now that’s what I might be misquoting it might only be ten figures, but that’s still a ridiculous amount of money. They don’t have to put any R&D into having algorithm experts for, you know, any person on staff to create that.
That it’s they’re trying to put up their own silo, if you will, of being able to control their piece of the pie to advertise to people like it’s more in the guise of not really privacy for the user but profits for the company. I don’t know if I’m out to lunch or not.
I don’t think you’re off on that. I think that there’s a little bit of both. We do live in a world where I think there is this naive sense that we do have privacy and we can control it, but we also invite privacy to be taken away from us every day for the sake of convenience. As much as you like to think. I always put it like this, especially in the Midwest. Kroger rules the grocery market as far as grocery stores. But one of the things that Kroger does brilliantly is their loyalty program is one of the better ones. You can get a very large discount on items if you plug it in every time you’re at that checkout counter. And you can also get a large discount on gas for every dollar you spend at Kroger. But there is a naive sense of many folks that they’re not giving away that form of privacy. But they are, you’re plugging it in your privacy. You have a dollar value associated with your privacy, and that is one part of it. The other part of it is, it’s an additional way of being able to sell to someone, our phone does this, our phone gives you the ability to feel like you’re not being followed around, our phone allows you to turn off precision tracking on Facebook and Instagram when you’re using those. It’s a big selling point and people want to take it up.
We’ll see. I think everyone’s really curious.
I definitely look forward to that.
What I would say is to take time to not only understand your client’s sites but how your client’s consumers interact with the site via the various channels that are available to them. We talked a little bit about Yahoo, Bing, a little bit about DuckDuckGo, and Google. But don’t just rely on Google to be the entire signal of that audience base because people have preferences and you need to be able to serve those preferences.
Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn at Geff Kerbis. I’m always happy to take a DM or make a connection. And then if you are interested in terrible takes on sports mixed in with digital marketing thoughts, you can find me on Twitter at RunGeffrun.
Thanks so much, Matt.
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