Sarah: We’re very lucky to be joined by an incredible SEO and digital marketing mind today, Mr. Mike Andrew. He brings a solid 20 plus years of experience in internet marketing, which is insane to think about with how fast the digital world moves and advances.
Katrina: Mike has worked with some of the largest companies in Australia and is now head of SEO at Localsearch, so his insight into how Google is changing how they rank pages and what to do to ensure it doesn’t impact your results is going to be absolutely invaluable information.
S: Welcome, Mike. Thank you so much for joining us today!
Mike: My pleasure, Sarah.
S: Around the office, people call you Magic Mike, assuming not for the reason that people may think…
M: I do wish that was the reason — no. Several years ago, one of the web developers here decided to have a bit of fun and so he actually took Channing Tatum’s body and put my head on it, and then circulated it around the office and ever since then, I have been known as Magic Mike. And I took it home to my wife and showed her, and the only thing she said was, “I wish.”
So that’s how I got the name Magic Mike.
S: There we go, people actually know if you say, “Oh, go get Magic,” they know exactly who we’re talking about.
M: Yeah, exactly, yeah. And that has now spread to things outside the office as well. So I get introduced sometimes as ‘Magic Mike’.
S: Well, you’re magic at SEO Mike.
M: Thank you. I got to be magic at something.
K: Okay, so to start off our podcast we always ask people a couple of obscure questions just to get to know them a bit better.
S: You have obviously been working in internet marketing for over 20 years with some of Australia’s biggest companies, it’s insane what you’ve done. But in saying that, what is your proudest career highlight?
M: I spent 29 years in the media, in radio and various incarnations of that to moving to internet marketing, which to me was a totally different field. It’s one thing to be able to get in front of a microphone and talk to people and do a radio program and do voice overs and commercials and things like that.
It’s a totally different thing to come into a field which requires a lot more…if you like, brain power, to think about how things work on the internet.
I was very lucky in getting into the internet in the very early days, I started in 1999. And when I first started I knew nothing about it. The internet was relatively new, not a lot of people knew about it, websites were relatively new as well.
And I think going from that industry (media) which I had a long time in, and a lot of people who are in that industry – the entertainment industry, do find it difficult to transition to another industry. Particularly when they’re of a certain age.
I mean a lot of people think technology is a younger person’s market. So to do that when I finished that industry over 30 years ago is an achievement I’m very proud of.
I think also, the other one that I really really did quite like was when I first flew solo as a licenced pilot. That’s the other one too. When you do a flight with a flight instructor and you go around and you might do X amount of hours, then when he gets out of the plane and says “go off, off you go” and you do that one circuit on your own when you’re totally in control of the aircraft. So, whether you do it right or wrong depends on whether you live or die. That is a really special moment as well and that is something that even now, I’ll always remember that day very very clearly.
S: For those who may have heard of search engine optimisation, or ‘SEO’ but aren’t really sure what it actually involves because it is a big thing. Can you give a barebones explanation of what it is you actually do?
M: So, essentially SEO improves the organic performance of the website in the Google footprint to increase the amount of traffic that comes to the site, therefore increases conversion.
S: Speaking of algorithms, Google has actually confirmed they will be releasing an update to how they rank web pages. Which is – if you have anything to do with SEO at all you know – isn’t something they generally do, is actually announce it. And unfortunately for those who try and do their own SEO or have web pages and don’t really know about SEO, this update is pretty technical.
M: Yes, this one is probably the biggest update that Google’s had in the last 12 months or more. And this one coming up now which was due to be rolled out in May but Google have pushed this out to the middle of June now, is a really big one based around speed.
So, there’s the speed of the website, there’s the security of this website and there’s content based on user intent. So, security was a big issue about 2 years ago when Google made everyone move towards “https”. So websites that are not on that “https” or that secure type of URL are essentially going to suffer pretty badly in this algorithm update as well, but so are websites that are slow. So this one really concentrates on speed and content lifecycle and user intent, or what they call “page experience”. So this is a big one.
K: Yeah, it sounds like a big one. In saying this, obviously you’ve mentioned that page speed is a big factor for this update. How fast does a website need to load and what can slow this down?
M: Right, good question. Speed’s always been a factor and particularly on a mobile device. Things have improved a little bit as we move towards 5G because that means that pages load faster. Download speeds on mobile devices have improved enormously with 5G but 5G is not readily available to everybody.
So the biggest problem that websites do have is their load times and when the page becomes interactive. So in this Google algorithm coming up now there are three criteria which Google are looking at. First of all is what they call the largest contentful paint, or the “LCP”. And that looks at how quickly a website loads, or the page loads and then becomes stable.
Then there’s what they call the “first input delay”. That is when the user can actually interact with the page, in other words you can push a button, and you can actually interact, you can call. As a page loads, sometimes they don’t become stable enough to do that over a long period of time.
So for instance, the largest contentful paint – Google’s now looking at making that 2.5 seconds load time. Some of the websites are taking 5, 6, 7 seconds to load so they are outside this new algorithm update.
So what can you do to speed that up? Well, I mean there’s a lot of things we can do. First of all, we look at removing plugins that are not needed. We look at, you know, do you need a plug in, do you need all the features?
So one of the things we do is we look at the individual pages, not the website overall. I mean that is part of the considerations, because if you’ve got a 20, 30, 40 page website but only page ranks in it, you’re not really using that website effectively. So we dig deeper than that. So to speed it up we need to look at basically how it loads, what your server resources are, also what’s causing the page to slow down.
Things like heavy images, things like pop-ups, things like chat buttons and all that sort of stuff can slow the site down. And a lot of people like them so we try and make a compromise as to what we can get rid of, how fast we can load it, optimise the images to bring the file sizes down so that the html size of the page is less than what it was, which was slowing it down.
So I guess it comes back to those three key areas for search engine optimisation which is technical optimisation, which is on and off page optimisation and then content strategy.
S: You said earlier with the update being delayed from May, now to around June is what Google is saying, you have seen some signs it may already be impacting websites.
M: Yeah look I think it has been in for some time. I think Google did a soft roll out, not in all elements of it but there are some elements. I mean page experience is really about how the page responds to what they call “user intent”. So that comes back to content being king again.
K: Okay so, for those who aren’t too sure, what exactly is user intent?
M: So if a user is searching for a keyword, and it could be anything you’re searching for and you put yourself in the same position when you search for something. And you see a website that’s out of date, the content is thin, it doesn’t match what you’re looking for, it really is a bad experience.
So what Google is trying to do is look at websites that have good content, that match the user intent 100%. So if you’re searching for a given keyword which still basically generates a response on the Google search engine. Then Google’s trying to find a website which matches your search query to 100%.
Is that possible? Yes it is, but you need search engine optimisation to do that because without somebody like myself talking to you about the content and the structure of the content and how it matches the user intent. You really don’t know what happens with that website or that page without having someone do an audit on it or an analysis on it, and re-writing it.
The other thing too with this is the structure of the content on the page. You need to think about voice activated search with mobile now because there is a certain way you structure content and phrases, to allow the Google bot to understand that there is speakable data on that page. And once we can get that element done with the user intent matching to as close as we can get it to 100%, then we push it out to Google. And it’s probably more important if you’re currently ranking number 1, because you’ve got more to lose than a page that’s sitting at number 10 for instance.
So it’s very important that an audit is done on a website across the board today because if you don’t do SEO on your website, then you really need to have a check
K: You’ve mentioned before that content will always be king. So how is content, or will content be impacted by this update?
M: There’s obviously elements within content. Like, there is a category called “money or your life” which Google brought out last year which focused on those websites which have the ability to change your life. So it came in with doctors, dentists, medical professionals, lawyers, financial institutions, physiotherapists, anybody that falls into that category. Google wanted to improve them probably far greater than other “retail based categories” say for instance.
So, there was areas that they looked at where there was what they called expertise, authority and trust. So Google wanted its cake and eat it as well, pardon the pun. And those elements, if they’re missing from the page, if they’re missing from the website in general, that is how long has the doctor, dentist, financial consultant been in business? You know, what was their training? How were they educated? What sort of qualifications do they have? All of those issues needed to be included into the website itself which was part of the content.
So this new algorithm actually looks at that in more detail than what it did 12 months ago. There is also a change to the way that the Google algorithm now interprets content. 12 months ago or so, Google was very good at interpreting short form content. So it would be able to have ‘predictive’ if you like on content. An example would be “Old Macdonald had a…” and then Google would be able to anticipate, probably the next line would be “…had a farm”.
Well Google’s now improved this learning capacity to basically understand the intent of a sentence structure. And that would be “Old Macdonald had a farm” and now the new Google algorithm goes, “E – I – E – I – O, and on that farm he had a pig”. So there was much more understanding of the intent of the content. But we still needed then to build that content out further.
I mean we look at for instance, does it provide original information, reporting, research or analysis? Does it satisfy the user intent to the point that that person’s not going to go anywhere else? Because the worst thing that can happen when you’ve got content, you get your speed right, you get your on-page optimisation right, but then your content suffers. What happens is if someone comes to your site, they open up the content, they stay there for less than 2 or 3 seconds, they find the content not very good, they jump out and then they go to another site. And that might be the number 2 or number 3.
And Google monitors this, and if this happens quite a lot what happens is Google drops you from that number 1 ranking and drops you to 3, 4 and 5 because you’re relevant to that search/query. So that’s basically where you really need now to look at content, not only the structure of the content, the word count and this new Google algorithm also looks at content lifecycle.
So if you built a website 12 months ago and you did content on that site and you haven’t updated it for 12 months, then that is also going to be another element on this page experience: what is the life cycle of your content? So there’s a lot of areas with content.
One, I think, how important Google places on content is that in this new algorithm update, what’s going to happen is that if your speed doesn’t quite match what Google expects from the requirement point of view, if the content is 100% matched to the user intent, it will not drop you in the rankings. So, that goes to show that Google is still concentrating on making content king.
And that’s an area that if you don’t do SEO, you really need to have a look and get someone who’s a search engine optimisation specialist, or a writer, to look at your content and then do an audit on that and make recommendations to update it.
S: Amazing. I don’t think people tend to think of content as such an important thing for improving Google rankings and getting the traffic in, but it’s right up there.
M: Yes, thin content is the worst thing you can have on a website, or a webpage, because you can have a number one ranking, you could have the fastest — and usually if you’ve got very little content you do have a fast website, you’ve got to keep that in mind. So, you could have the fastest website, the fastest loading page in the world, but if content doesn’t match the user intent, if it doesn’t supply enough information to satisfy that user, they’re going to jump off it.
K: Yeah, 100%.
M: Yeah, therefore you’re going to have a negative result in your search engine results, anyway. And you’ve got to remember one thing, if you think like this. Your business on the web is only as good as Google says it is.
M: That’s a very important point and that’s why it comes back to having a good search engine optimisation strategy on your website.
S: Say someone is doing blogs, because obviously blogs are a way to keep your content fresh, is it still important that people are regularly updating, say their product pages or their home page?
M: Absolutely! Yes, because the page experience algorithm, or part of it, looks at lifecycle of content. So whilst you’re posting blogs and look, they are still — a lot of people think blogs are dead and they’re a waste of time and all that sort of stuff, we saw over COVID a lot of people abandoned their websites, for instance.
Our strategy then was to go the opposite way and that was to keep content fresh, to keep pumping content into the site to keep the site dynamic. It was always being updated. Google knows that because your site map updates and Google knows when your content’s there.
We saw a definite improvement in ranking for the sites that kept dynamic during that period. Those that were abandoned, what I classified as abandoned, was people that just left them (because there’s no business to do sort of thing) they disappeared — they actually dropped in rankings and now they’re struggling to get that position back again. Because Google’s lost faith, lost trust in them.
So, blogging is important, but so is updating the product pages, your about us pages, you home page, any static content on the site needs to be looked at and needs to be updated.
Now, what is content lifecycle? That’s a question. We don’t really know the weight that Google puts on lifecycle with content. I would think that Google likes fresh content all the time. So, an updating of your content and your product pages on a monthly basis, is not going to be over-the-top.
I would like to see — and one of the recommendations we do make when we assess content on a website is that that content be updated as regularly as possible. And that is not detracting from the content, it’s adding to the content.
Particularly if you fall into that money or your life side category, it’s very very important that your page content and your word count is high. Because Google’s not looking for king content on those sites, it’s got to be enough to satisfy the user intent. So yes, very important. Blog content, absolutely, but page content, product content and service content, absolutely, very, very much a high priority.
K: So for businesses that are already sitting on the first page of Google, they can sometimes get a little bit comfortable and not think that these updates will affect them. What would you say to those businesses?
M: Don’t think that if you’ve got a high ranking now and you’re doing nothing that’s going to maintain it, because it’s not. The thing you’ve got to look at is if your competitor has good optimisation which improves the value of the website to Google, which in turn improves it to the user, because it will serve it more frequently, then what’s going to happen is you’re going to run the risk of dropping the rankings which has multiple impacts on what you do online, means that your organic traffic is going to drop. It means if you’re doing sales, they’re going to slow down, because you’re not going to have the lead generation coming through.
There’s probably one other thing we should mention too and that is where we have pop-ups on a website. Now, I’ll try to say this correctly, intrusive interstitials, I think is the way you pronounce it. Where, what happens when you load a page and a pop-up, or a 10% off voucher, or something like that pops up while the content is loading. That’s a big no-no from a Google point of view, because it obscures the main content. So one of the things you’ve got to be careful of is where that pop-up is placed. It mustn’t obscure any of the content on the website or the page itself. If it does and it means a person cannot read the content, then you either need to remove it or you need to basically put it in a position where it doesn’t obscure the main content while it’s loading.
S: At the end of the day, what people don’t like is what Google doesn’t like.
M: Yeah, and a lot of times you don’t know people don’t like it. Because you’re not on the coalface of it. You don’t see what they’re doing when they’re on your mobile device or they’re on their computer, but Google will tell you that information and we know it and we know it exists.
We know it’s part of this new Google ranking algorithm update. So just be very careful of it. If you’re in doubt, don’t do it.
K: That’s good advice.
S: And that all comes back to content again, right?
M: Absolutely, I mean part of search engine optimisation, as I said there’s three key areas to work on. One of them is on-page optimisation and that is looking at where the content is placed. How quickly can I get to your services? You know when people write content, they write a lot of information about them up the top and then their services and products are below the page. If you look at heat maps and where people go, a lot of people don’t go down to the footer, which is the least important position on your website, or your page. So, you’ve got to be very careful about that user journey.
The other thing too that we look at is ‘how quickly can I get in contact with you?’. Don’t make people jump through hoops. I mean one of the things on a mobile device is phone number, you know.
Look, click here and up comes the form. I’m on my mobile device and a form comes up and they expect me to fill it out with my little finger and look, my finger’s is too big and I can’t type like that, you know. I can’t fill out a form. I would just rather go, “call me,” and ring.
So, those sorts of elements about converting people quickly and the way we look at it is if I cannot get to contact you within two or three steps on a website, I’m going to lose you as a client. So you know, they open up the homepage, they open up the product page, there is a call now, book now, or whatever it is, and I click on that and I should be able to get to you or order it as quickly as I possibly can, don’t make people jump through hoops.
S: Exactly. We have every guest give our listeners a checklist so they can basically finish listening to this podcast or even go into it while they finish listening to it and go and do something to help their business, in this case their website.
So for you Mike, what is your checklist of the top three things people should look out for to know if an algorithm update has impacted their website.
M: Well, the first thing that you’ll probably notice is it disappears from the search results, or it starts to drop in rankings. That’s the first sign. If you’re not experienced and you’re not a person who works in the industry that knows where to look, that’s one of the first areas that you’ll notice is that it starts to drop in organic rankings.
Second thing sometimes is your traffic drops off. So you will notice a decrease in the amount of enquiries that you’re getting, you’ll notice a decrease in the amount of comments you’re getting if you’re writing blogs and that sort of stuff, that’s the second thing.
If you want to get a little bit more technical, Google Search Console is, I guess the Bible, that you can add to your site or you can add your site to Google Search Console. That basically tells you what Google thinks of your site. And you’ll get what they call an impression share, which is the amount of times Google serves it to a search result and then you get what they call a CTR, click-through-rate.
One of the first signs within Search Console that you’ve been impacted by a Google algorithm update, and these things are not notified to you, you don’t know it happens, is when your impression share drops.
We have seen impression share drop from let’s say realistically, on an average site, 10,000 impressions a day, drop down to nothing.
M: This is the first indication it’s been hit with a penalty. Either that or it was a technical glitch, but usually it’s a penalty.
What can happen sometimes too if your click-through-rate starts to drop and you can see this in the reports you get from Google Search Console, then you can see well, it’s being served so why aren’t people clicking through? Which then it comes down to content. So you then have a look into that.
They’re the three areas really that you can tell the recovery from a Google penalty is a very very complicated thing. And that’s where you need to in a lot of cases, employ search engine optimisation to identify what has caused that, if you like, “penalty.”
Sometimes you can be placed into what they call a supplemental index, because you’ve done some dodgy backlinking, things like that. So backlinks as well, you know you might get all those little links that come in advertising Viagra, which I get a lot these days, I don’t know why but…
You know they are classed as spam links by Google. So if you get a lot of those, and they can come in on your blog posts, and this is also by the way, reverse SEO, which is done via competitors to your site, so you’ve got to watch out for that.
Usually that too can indicate a Google penalty, when someone starts pushing links to your website, which you don’t know about and all of a sudden you start to drop in impression share.
So, they’re basically the key things to look out for.
S: So obviously because it is such a big topic, if anyone has any questions for Mike whatsoever, you can always reach out to us on any of the Help Me Grow My Business Podcast accounts. We have a Facebook group, a Facebook page and Instagram. We will get Mike to answer those for you and we’ll get in touch with you and I know we’re going to have Mike back talking about more topics.
K: Yes definitely, you’re going to become a regular I think on this one!
M: Very happy to talk! You know I love the sound of my own voice.
S: Amazing, thank you so much for joining us today.
M: My pleasure.
K: Thank you!