Stephan Spencer is an internationally recognized SEO expert and bestselling author. He is the author of “Google Power Search”, co-author of “Social eCommerce”, and co-author of the “The Art of SEO”, now in its 3rd edition and considered THE bible on SEO.
Stephan founded Netconcepts in 1995 and grew it into a multi-national SEO agency before selling it in 2010 to Covario. Stephan continued as a sought-after SEO and digital strategy consultant. His clients post-acquisition have included Zappos, Sony Store, Quicksilver, Best Buy Canada, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Chanel.
Stephan speaks at many Internet marketing events, including SES, SMX, PubCon, Internet Retailer, Shop.org, etc. He’s contributed to Huffington Post, Search Engine Land, DM News and MarketingProfs, among others.
Stephan is the creator of Traffic Control, a 3-day seminar on SEO, co-creator of the 3-day professional development seminar Passions into Profits with Kris Jones, and the host of 2 podcasts, The Optimized Geek and Marketing Speak.
Interesting Facts and Sound Bites:
- He holds an M.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
- Inventor of “The Gravitystream” – an automated pay-for-performance natural search technology platform, re-branded as RIO SEO Website Optimizer.
Nile: Hey, welcome back to the social media business hour. We’re talking with Stephan Spencer and Stephan is a true SEO expert. He’s really written the bible on SEO. Go back in the first segment if you’d like and listen to the details regarding that. But without getting into the details we were talking about some SEO strategies and one of the things that we happened to talk about was an SEO audit and in that audit finding duplicate content. Now, one of the questions I get asked a lot Stephan is about duplicate content. What’s considered duplicate content? What’s not? You know, what would get you slapped by Google if you will. And so rather than me speculating on it let me just ask you about that.
Stephan: Yeah, great question. So, let me first dispel a big myth about duplicate content. It doesn’t create a penalty situation. It is a filter. Not a penalty. So, when you get filtered because you have duplicate content that another more authoritative site also has it’s not like you are being slapped. It’s just basically that you’re not being favored over a more authoritative site. And this can happen if you’re even the originator of the content. So, let’s say that you have created unique valuable content about cruises and cruise lines and various, you know, just each cruise line, princess cruises and so forth. And this is an actual real world case. A company, cruises.com created all these different write ups about each cruise and each cruise line and so forth and then they would syndicate it to various sites that — like airline partners and travel partners like Orbits. And guess who would end up winning the duplicate content filter war in Google. It wasn’t cruises.com. it wasn’t even any of the airlines. It was Orbits. Because when you think about how much authority Orbits has with all of these links and really powerful, important links pointing to their site. So, cruises.orbits.com was the site that would win out and then everything else would get filtered. So, you don’t want to get filtered out. Even if you’re the originator of the content that can happen so there’s some strategies and tactics you can use to ensure that doesn’t happen. Like for example, any partners you’re syndicating to asking them to link back to the — your original article from their article. Like if you’re syndicating an article to various business sites then you could have in the byline or the bio where you specify, you know, just your company and so forth. You can include a link to the original article on your site. Not just to your home page because we want to link directly to the article in question so that Google can see that oh, this is the originator. And also when you’re the first one to show that article on the web and then later your syndication partners start to show it on their websites that’s also a signal. And then there’s another thing that — I’ll geek out for just a moment here and then we’ll get back to normal talk. And that’s called a canonical tag. So, you add this into the HTML code. It’s not really difficult to do. It’s just one line of HTML and it just specifies what the definitive source URL of that piece of content is and so if you get permission, you get buy in from this syndicating partner that they’ll put a canonical tag in your HTML on the page that points to your URL, your article on your site then that will be a very definitive signal to Google that you’re the originator of that content.
Nile: You know, if you happen to share content or get it syndicated and the syndication partner — obviously, you might want. But they are not going to do anything related to linking back to you or allowing this conical tag. Did I get that right?
Stephan: Canonical tag.
Nile: Canonical. See? I told you I’d mispronounce it. What — or how much of the content do you have to change on your page to make it unique?
Stephan: Substantial. It would have to be very substantial. Because if you just move your paragraphs around or you add an extra paragraph — think of it like if you had this imaginary five or six-word long window that you ran across both pages to compare and contrast them and see how many of those — these are called shingles. These five or six word long windows are in common between the two documents. Shuffling paragraphs around is going to still leave most of those shingles in common between the two documents. Adding an extra paragraph or reducing a paragraph, that’s still going to keep — leave most of the shingles in common between the two documents. You’d have to do a substantial rewrite. Paraphrase most everything. Or significantly augment the content with tons of like user generated content, lots of customer reviews or discussion forum posts and things like that to really differentiate your content from the other site. And that’s also — we didn’t even go into the issue of duplicate content that you’re causing to your own site just by misconfiguring all the — like the URL structure or having superfluous parameters in the URL. And I’m getting geeky again. Sorry. I just — I’m a geek.
Nile: That’s okay. Keep getting geeky. You know, we get some technical people on here so we want to know this.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah. and actually I’m a podcaster as well so — when I say I’m a geek I actually have a show that has geek in its name. optimized geek.
Nile: I like it.
Stephan: So, yeah. I’m a real geek. So, anyways, if you have duplicate content on your own site — so, you are competing with yourself. Now it’s like you are creating not only duplicate content but you’re creating page rank dilution. So, think of it this way. Like if the leading candidate for president — whoever that is. I’m not going to get into Trump and all that sort of stuff. But let’s say whoever your favorite candidate is had a twin brother or a sister, whatever. And they both ran and they had similar platforms and they didn’t really have any differentiating, you know, their level of experience was pretty much the same and so forth. You’d have a hard time picking one of them, right? So, it would split the vote and neither would win. So, imagine doing that on your website. You have five different variants of the same exact product page at different URLs. You know, flags or parameters in the URL, tracking parameters and things and they’re all picked up by Google. It’s like having four twin brothers and you both, you know, all of you running for president and none of you are going to win.
Nile: You know, so people get into article spinners and then they’re looking to change words out in the article and they get the percentage of words and all that type stuff. It sounds like that’s sort of a game that they’re probably not going to win. Is that a fair statement?
Stephan: Oh, are they not going to win? In fact, they are going to lose very badly because most of Google’s future algorithm is going to be based on machine learning and you can bet that with artificial intelligence they’re going to be able to sniff out any of that nonsense and if it does not read like it was written by a human and it like reads like poetry — you can’t make an article spinner right like Shakespeare or, you know, whatever. Pick your favorite poet or a writer, right. So, you cannot fool the search engines going forward. You might be able to fool them today or a couple of years ago. But even today I’d say you probably aren’t fooling them. Maybe a few years ago possibly. So, you are down a path that is not going to bode well for — it’s not going to — you’re not going to win. You are going to in fact lose. Certainly get penalized for it. And when you do something that you think okay. I’m going to kind of skate the edge here and see how far I can get away with this and I know it’s not cool, I know it’s against Google’s guidelines but it works. And other people are having success with it. So, I’m going to keep writing this out until I think it’s too dangerous and then I’ll stop. That’s a terrible idea because what will happen is Google will be able to retroactively look back on all your bad behavior because they’re keeping a rap sheet on you for certain. And they’re going to be able to figure out — hey, wait a second. You have a pattern of, you know, skating on the edge here, doing stuff that’s against Google’s guidelines until you suddenly think you’re about to get caught and then you stop. We’re sick of that and we’re going to slap you like you’ve never been slapped before. And rightly so. You know, you had it coming to you.
Nile: Yeah, and that’s what everybody, you know, has heard about the Google slap that happened to a lot of people and they went from respectable or high rankings to being invisible.
Stephan: Yeah, but they think in terms of like okay. I did this thing and then I got caught or I did this and then I got caught or I do this thing and I don’t — did I get caught? I’m not sure but suddenly my rankings are not what they used to be and so forth. So, they can’t pinpoint it to a particular algorithmic update. What they’re not thinking about is they’ve created a pattern of bad behavior. Google’s been keeping that rap sheet on them and they can retroactively go back and reassess, reanalyze the data, figure out that you were doing something that was not okay and you have this pattern of stuff and something that probably wouldn’t on its own have gotten you in trouble; with that pattern of bad behavior you’re slapped.
Nile: That makes perfect sense and I know a lot of people won’t like that but let’s go back to where you were talking about duplicate content on your own site. And it’s not there for any other reason than you’re trying to create, you know, different pages on your site that address specific issues and you might have people look at content on those pages.
Stephan: Yeah. it’s totally inadvertent. It’s not like you said well, let’s create five different copies of every product in my catalogue or, you know, whatever. It’s just that whoever built the site didn’t know what they didn’t know.
Nile: If you encounter that problem, is there any way to basically say this is my main page, these other pages, you know, ignore because — it’s something like that if you will.
Stephan: Yeah, absolutely. That’s what the canonical tag was built for. So that really reduces the duplicate content. The thing is it’s only a hint. It’s not an absolute directive so Google may or may not obey that canonical tag but the — before the canonical tag was cross domain meaning it covered multiple websites — you could go, you know, like let’s say you get syndicated onto — I don’t know. Businessinsider.com or something, right. And they agree to do a canonical tag back to your site, to your original article on your blog. Well, back in the day when canonical tags were brand new that was not supported. You only could use canonical tags within your own site and that was to reduce the duplicate content that was inadvertent created because of tracking parameters and things like that. Because if you have like added to the end of your URLs source=blog to track when people are coming into your home page from your blog or source=email if you’re tracking people coming in from your email newsletter and then you also have that email newsletter archive down the web and, you know, have all these different pathways into the home page and they all are different URLs with that source= whatever tracking parameter. Now you’ve created umpteen number of duplicates of your home page and that’s not — that creates that duplicate content situation we’ve been talking about.
Nile: Okay, okay. It makes sense. Well, listen, we’ve got a lot to talk about. I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface but we’re at the end of another segment. So, join us in the next segment. You definitely don’t want to miss what’s coming up next. And we’ll be right back. Hey, welcome back to the social media business hour. This has been so exciting. We’re in segment three of a three segment interview with Stephan Spencer who is — I’m going to change your title. I was saying that you wrote the bible on SEO. I’m now going to make you the SEO god so — you might argue that Google really is in that position because they’re the guys that are making the rules but listen. I’ve learned so much. I appreciate it. Thank so much Stephan.
Stephan: It’s great being here. Thanks for having me.
Nile: So, you know, if somebody wants to learn some more about some of the SEO there’s a lot of tools out there. Are there any tools that are really worth your time?
Stephan: There’s so many. That’s a great question because there are a lot of time wasting tools out there but there are some great tools and it depends on what you’re trying to do. Like some people will buy a big, expensive enterprise level tool and then they don’t have anybody to run the tool which is absolutely ridiculous. It’s like buying a really expensive car and nobody has time to drive it. What a waste of resource. So, if you instead buy lower priced tools and you spend your money on internal resources, staffing and outside consultants and so forth that’s way more effective use of your money. So, my favorite tools — and I’m using these for all my clients, right. So, every engagement where I’m dealing with the three pillars of SEO which is, you know, every engagement I’m dealing with all three pillars so architecture, content and links if you recall. So, for links I’m using link analysis tools such as AH _____16:28 majestic.com, open site explorer which is part of MOZ. Of course Google has their free tools inside of Google search console. It used to be called Google web master tools. Doing link analysis with those. And linkresearchtools.com. these are all fantastic tools and I recommend having at least a couple of them so that you can compare and contrast the data that’s coming out of them and the reporting because they’re all different. They’re using different algorithms, different data sets, they crawl the web differently and to varying degrees. So, that’s just link analysis to figure out what your competitors are doing, where they’re getting their links from and which links are the most authoritative, important, trusted links so that you can maybe go after some of those same links and — but again. That’s more tactics than strategy. You’ve got to have a strategy to like go viral with some crazy, amazing content marketing piece and so forth. And so we can circle back to that if you’d like. But so that’s link analysis. And then let’s say we’re doing some competitive intelligence on what keywords and so forth are driving the most traffic and rankings for our competitors. We could look at tools like search metrics. That’s M-E-T-R-I-C-S.com or semrush.com. and if we’re talking about keyword research to figure out which keywords are popular. Not based on looking at our competition and what they’re getting traffic on but just like what’s popular with Google searchers in our niche, our categories and so forth. Then you want to use the Google AdWords keyword planner which is a free tool. You just have to have a Google AdWords account which means you have to sign up with AdWords and give them your credit card but you don’t have to start buying AdWords campaigns. You can just never do that. And then log in and start using this free tool inside of Google AdWords called the keyword planner and this will tell you which keywords are more popular than others, synonyms, verb tenses, plurals versus singulars, all that sort of great stuff. And there’s complication with like — algorithms have gotten better over time with google so it’s not so much like oh, I’ve got to get the right verb tense or I have to get the singular or the plural right depending on which one’s more popular. It’s more about entities and stuff so we can geek out on that later. But keyword research tools, that’s one of my favorites but there’s also keyworddiscovery.com which is a paid tool. There’s a tool within authority labs that’s great for doing keyword research. Authority labs is knows as being a tool for tracking your rankings. Your search rakings across the engines. It’s like Google and Bing and so forth. And speaking of tracking your rankings if you have never thought of YouTube as a search engine you should because it’s the number two search engine by search volume, number of search queries. So, tracking your rankings on the YouTube search engine is something that’s not on anybody’s radar for the most part but it should be. And there’s a tool called Woot that you probably have never heard of that allows you to track your YouTube search rankings as well as some other YouTube engagement metrics like watch time and number of views and favorites and likes versus dislikes. All that sort of good stuff so that’s —
Nile: Okay, spell that one for us.
Stephan: Yeah. Woot, W-O-O-T.net.
Nile: Okay, great.
Stephan: Yeah. lots of tools.
Nile: Well, you know what? That — listen, that’s worth the price of admission just to the podcast here for getting that listing of tools. And I know that wasn’t a complete list.
Stephan: Not even close.
Nile: But, you know, the thing that amazes me is you were just rattling all of that off the top of your head.
Stephan: Oh, yeah. there’s a lot more up there.
Nile: I can’t remember all three of my names consistently. First, last and middle. I’ve got to stop and think every once and a while so that was impressive.
Stephan: Oh, thank you.
Nile: So, listen, what are some of the common or maybe even the most common myth about SEO?
Stephan: Boy, there’s so many. And I actually created a white paper full of myths to dispel many of them. There were 72 in that document all in so —
Nile: And I bet you that document’s on your website, isn’t it?
Stephan: It is. It’s my lead magnet on my home page, on stephanspencer.com. so, yes. You can go ahead and download that if you’re listening — if you’re driving don’t do that now. Go do that later when you’re in front of a computer.
Nile: Yeah, we’ll have the links on social media business hour. This is episode 142 so no problem. Just go get the links and in the meantime continue to listen.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah. so, let me give you a few examples of just myths that need to die but still haven’t. so, I still, to this day in Florida people are talking about meta tags and them having really any value for SEO. And I’ll — let me get into specifics here because details matter. Like the devil’s in the details. So, the meta keywords tag is a meta tag that never counted in Google. And this is a great screening question by the way. If you’re looking to hire a consultant or an in house SEO person ask them about meta tags and specifically about meta keywords. What’s your process for optimizing meta keywords, how are you going to go about doing that? And if they give you any answer other than meta keywords what — they never counted. Never. If that’s not their answer you boot them out the door because they never counted in Google. And if they give you some BS line about how, you know, they’re not as important as they used to be. Or yeah, they used to matter and not anymore. None of that is true. They never counted in Google and I can point to concrete evidence of that fact. Google webmaster central blog which is owned by Google and Google engineers write for that blog. They said that — and back in 2009. We never counted the meta keywords tag. So, that’s one. And there’s another meta tag that’s talked about a lot called — so, that was the meta keywords tag. Now I’m going to talk about the meta description tag. Do you know the meta description tag doesn’t move your rankings at all? It’s not part of the rankings algorithm. It’s only used to influence the snippet that’s displayed on your search listing. So, you can change that snippet from like a copyright statement all rights reserved sort of thing to something more compelling which is great. But if you’re position nine, who cares? Nobody’s going to see that search listing. You’re buried. Yeah, you’re on page one but barely. So, instead do stuff that’s going to improve your rankings in the search results instead of tweaking the snippet that’s displayed. So, meta descriptions, that’s a very much a second order activity if that, right. Focus on the things that really move the needle. So, you could ask another kind of trick question or screening question of your candidate in front of you in the interview. Like tell me about the meta description and how that influences the rankings or how that — where that plays in Google’s rankings algorithm. And if they give you any answer other than it doesn’t count, it’s not part of the rankings algorithm you boot them out the door.
Nile: Well, you’ve got a quick boot process. I mean, we’ve got two questions already that we could identify if they know anything and boot them quickly.
Stephan: Yeah, so just download my white paper and you’ve got 72.
Nile: And if they don’t get through all 72 you know that you need to be looking for somebody else.
Nile: I bet that you have some recommendations. Tell us a little bit about your business and how people could engage with you in all seriousness.
Stephan: Yeah, okay, cool. So, I used to have like dozens of staff. We were in three different countries and it was fun. And I decided after I sold my agency that I was not going to replicate that again. That I was only going to take on a small number of clients that I could work with individually rather than just handing them off because when you run an agency, you’re the thought leader who is writing books and speaking at conferences and so forth you don’t have time to work on individual clients when you’ve got, you know, 30, 40, 50 active clients at any given point in time. So, I take a small number of clients and I work with them directly. I’m the one doing the deep dive SEO audits, I’m the one writing the content marketing strategy and presenting it. I’m the one who’s doing the keyword research and creating keyword strategy and doing the ongoing month by month kind of retainer work for the clients. Now, I don’t do all the like trench work. I’ll recommend, you know, outside people for doing things like optimizing individual title tags across a 10000-page website. I mean, I’m not going to — I’d rather like — I’d rather pull my teeth out than do that work. But the more strategic work and the really — the deep dive forensic analysis and a really creative brainstorming for content marketing to get links and so forth, I love that stuff and so I do that with my clients. So, _____25:59 handful of clients at the beginning. Those are all clients I work with personally since I sold my agency. So, _____26:06 Chanel, Sony, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Bloomberg business week, Best Buy, Canada. Those are all post acquisition clients. So, if you’re interested. If anyone’s wanting to talk more about potentially taking it to a whole other level in terms of Google and driving more traffic just, you know, contact me at my — go to my website stephanspencer.com. email me directly at email@example.com and we can talk.
Nile: And we’ll have all those links as I’d mentioned earlier up on the website. You know, I’ve been blown away. We’ve been through three segments. A lot of information. And I feel like we just haven’t scratched the surface. So, I understand why you’re so revered and have reached the status that you’ve reached. Because really, there’s just a lot of great information and I had so many questions that I wanted to ask we didn’t even get to.
Stephan: You know, there’s always another level. There’s always deeper that you can go. Your website’s never finished, your SEO is never finished. If somebody is interested in doing more on your own DIY kind of SEO I encourage them to get a copy of my book the art of SEO. You don’t have to buy it in fact. I got permission from my publisher to share a free electronic copy of this 50-dollar book with listeners. If you email my assistant she’ll send the link. I can’t — we can’t include the direct link to the O’Riley site because it’s super-secret and O’Riley, my publisher would have a fit if it got out there in the wild but for your listeners we can allow them to download one of my three books for free. So, there’s social ecommerce, art of SEO and Google power search and they could pick any one of those three for free. Just email my assistant firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nile: And we’ll make sure that that is on the site as well. Actually we won’t put that on the site. You’ve got to listen. If you don’t write it down, go back and listen to it. It’s there. I think there’s value in that. Wouldn’t you agree?
Stephan: Yeah, yeah. you can allude to it and say somewhere towards the end of the episode there’s instructions about how to get a free copy of a 50-dollar book from Stephan.
Nile: There you go. That’s what we’ll do. That will be the tease in the site. But you’ve got to go back and listen. You know, Stephan thanks so much for being with us. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned and how much I appreciate it. I know that all the listeners with me do. Again thank you so much.
Stephan: Thank you Nile. It’s been great being on the show. I love it.
Nile: You know, and for the listeners, I want to thank you too. You really make the social media business hour. We would be nothing without you. And hopefully you learned a few new ideas or concepts. I’d be surprised if you didn’t. you know that my desire is you take just one of the things that you learned today and you apply it to your business this week. I know those small changes can make a big difference and I’m committed to bringing you at least one new idea each week. So, identify just that one small change you could make from the information that we’ve presented here and find out what a big difference it will make for you. So, until next week, this is Nile Nickel. Now, go make it happen.