Is it a good idea to use AI to generate content? And if so, what is the best way of going about doing it? That’s what we’re discussing of Episode 33 of the Knowledge Panel Show with A.J. Ghergich, Julia McCoy and Nadya Khoja.
THE KNOWLEDGE PANEL PODCAST
Every month, InLinks CEO Dixon Jones is joined by producer David Bain and a panel of digital marketing experts to deep dive into a single question on “The Knowledge Panel”. Join the show live over on YouTube and have your chance to ask the audience or line up the shows on your favourite Podcast system.
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It’s often the case that SEOs and creative content producers don’t work closely enough together. So how can this be resolved and what creative content works best for SEO? That’s what we’re discussing in episode 32 of the Knowledge Panel with Genie Jones, Armarni Lane, Iona Townsley, Hope Anderson and Kirsty-Elise Noonan.
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Are you working too hard? How do you protect your mental and physical health in 2023 and ensure that you avoid digital marketing burnout? That’s what we’re discussing in episode 31 of the Knowledge Panel Show – hosted by Genie Jones, with guests Si Shangase, Pam Aungst Cronin and Caspian Turner.
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Are you thinking of moving on to a different SEO role in 2023? In episode 30 of the InLinks Knowledge Panel we’re exploring how to find your dream SEO job in 2023 with Katherine Nwanorue, Orit Mutznik and Paige Hobart – hosted by Dixon Jones.
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What link building strategies work now? Joining Dixon Jones on Episode 29 of the Knowledge Panel Show are Bibi Raven, Eva Cheng, Debbie Chew and Aaron Anderson.
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What are the key elements of digital PR that cross paths with SEO? That’s what we’re covering on Episode 28 of the Knowledge Panel.
Joining DIXON JONES are LEIGHANNE MAKRYGIANNIS, NATALIE ARNEY, HANA BEDNAROVA & LUKE BUDKA.
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A discussion on how you can be more targeted with the traffic you are driving from your organic search activities and how to better select keywords that will be more likely to attract your ideal target audience.
Hosted by Dixon Jones with Filipa Serra Gaspar, Billie Geena Hyde, Eilish Hughes and Jonas Sickler.
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How should you be using log files to assist your SEO? That’s what we’re discussing on episode 26 of the Knowledge Panel show, where Dixon Jones is joined by Gerry White from Oda, Sophie Brannon from Absolute and Steven van Vessum from Conductor.
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Want to Read Instead? Here is the Transcript.
Dixon: Hello and welcome back to The Knowledge Panel Show. It’s Episode 26 and it’s “Using log files in SEO”. So, I’ve got a fantastic panel again with me. I’ve got Gerry, Sophie, and Steven. I’ll ask them all to introduce themselves in just a moment.
For those that are seeing me on camera, I do apologize for the lack of shaving. I spent last week at the British Chess Championships and shaving didn’t seem to be a thing there. They didn’t do that very much. So, I didn’t bother.
Anyway, thanks so much for coming in. Why don’t we just start with the introduction? Sophie, why don’t we start with you? Tell us about yourself. So, who are you and where do you come from?
Sophie: Hi everyone, I’m Sophie Brannon. I’m the client services director at an agency called Absolute Digital Media and I’ve been working in SEO for the last six and a half years. I’ve dealt with campaigns across a broad number of industries, huge websites down to tiny little brochure websites, and like to get my teeth stuck into log files so I’m really excited to join the panel.
Dixon: Fantastic. Thanks very much for coming on. And Gerry, what about you? Where are you and where do you come from?
Gerry: So, at the moment I’m the SEO director for a company called Oda. It’s a Norwegian supermarket. We’re expanding globally as we speak. We’re kind of looking to kind of grow into Germany, into Finland, where it’ll be next week, and well, I mean, that’s basically the start, but historically, I’ve been everywhere from agency side to I’ve been the SEO of JUST EAT, I’ve been at BBC, I’ve been more places that I can remember in like I say 20 years’ worth of experience.
Dixon: Brilliant. Thanks very much for coming in, Gerry. And Steven, tell us about yourself and where do you come from?
Steven: Thanks. So, my name is Steven. I’m the director of organic marketing over at Conductor. Conductor is an enterprise SEO platform. I’m also the co-founder of ContentKing, a real-time SEO auditing and change tracking solution, which was acquired earlier this year by Conductor. And similar to Gerry, I’ve been all over the place. I worked in-house, agency side, run my own agency, and now in the SEO tool space for the last seven years.
Dixon: So, as was said on Twitter earlier on today, a dream panel. Thanks very much for coming in guys. I really do appreciate all of your attention here. As always, this whole event is sponsored by InLinks. So, thanks to inlinks.net. That’s the advert for them out the way.
Let’s just check with my producer though, I haven’t missed anything important before we get on. David, how are you?
David: The only thing I want to say… I’m very good thank you. I just want to say, Dixon, we got many people listening to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, but if you can, try and join us live next time. We broadcast live on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. So, follow the InLinks channels, especially on YouTube. We go live once a month on YouTube. So, subscribe there and get an alert when we go live, and then you can interact. You can see what the next show is and hopefully, you can watch us live and ask questions on the next show, and I’ll tell you about the next show later in this one.
Dixon: Brilliant. We’ve got a little opt-in if you want to sign up and get an email when the shows are coming on, then if I remember, I send that out an hour before the event, but you know how I am. I’m not always quite as perfect as I should be. Okay guys, so thanks a lot.
I’m going to start as I always do, around the topic. A lot of people don’t jump into the whole 45 minutes all these podcasts and wish that we got to the point quicker. So, I tend to start with the question of if people don’t have 45 minutes to hang around – what one tip would you give to people about, a tip, a suggestion, a takeaway, surrounding, using log files for SEO? One thing that you think, “Hey, that’s an easy win. Go do that.” And I’m going to jump in on Gerry first to go with that one because he’s always got an answer for me.
Gerry: To be honest, I’m struggling with this one. There’s so much to it. Log files are actually one of the most complicated parts of it all. There are some great tools to kind of analyze it. I mean, obviously, ContentKing has got the kind of log file analysis part of it, component to it. If you haven’t got that, then Screaming Frog, and they’ve got kind of great dashboarding solutions. These two tools will allow you to kind of do a really quick and deep analysis.
So, basically, you can’t really do log file analysis without a great tool anymore. It’s not something which is possible because you’re talking about terabytes of data. Unless you’re kind of a programming database big data kind of guru then kind of analysis of it does require some kind of tool. Like I say, I’ve used multiple different things in the past but yeah, use a good tool.
Dixon: Okay. Sophie, what about you? Any tip, suggestion, idea?
Sophie: Oh, I think mine comes probably more off of one of my biggest pain points of log file analysis. I guess my tip would be if you can use a CDN to access your log files then do it because it makes it a lot easier to access and it stops all of those headaches of trying to find where they are, trying to get access to it, particularly if you don’t have the full access anyway and you’re trying to go through lines of developers or stakeholders to try and get hold of them. If you can get them in the CDN then that’ll be the easiest way.
Dixon: We’ll probably come back to that because I was going to talk about CDNS anyway because I’m so, so old that CDNS didn’t exist when I started, and to Gerry’s point, I used to use a templated Excel spreadsheet where you could cut and paste everything into a spreadsheet and then I did some analysis.
Dixon: Yeah, I’m really, really old school but things have moved on a little bit. So, can we come back to CDNs?
Steven, I thought of you and, obviously, I think it’s fair to say: “Use the ContentKing tool”. You’re allowed to say that. It’s okay. I’m not going to stop you from talking about your own tool. But any tip?
Steven: Yeah. So, love what Gerry and Sophie said and continuing where Sophie left off. Using CDNs where you can basically plug in the log streams from CDNs into SEO platforms such as ContentKing, for example, and you can get real-time insight into what’s going on your site. So, that’s super, super useful. A lot of folks think about log file analysis as, like, a rigid process that you go through once a year and it takes forever and you need to bribe people with donuts to get the log files in the first place, but there’s a whole new world out there and I would highly recommend exploring it.
Dixon: Let’s start with the CDN thing then because that’s kind of… Well, actually no, before we go into the CDN and I’ll come straight on to that one because I think we should get into that but let’s just, for those that CDN is two steps too far, let’s just ask, what is the real difference between a log file analysis and just using Google Analytics? I mean, it’s a question that I’m asking rhetorically but does someone want to jump in and say, what are the main differences between log files and things like Google Analytics, which is what we all use?
Gerry: I’ll jump in. Basically, Google Analytics is really very, very different to log file analysis. I mean, a bit of history, actually. There is the fact that Urchin, actually, used to be… Well, in fact, when we first started doing web analytics it was based on log files, but we are going back to when Dixon was young, so we are talking quite a long time ago.
What that doesn’t track is when it doesn’t hit the server. So, a good example of that is we often have interactions within pages which don’t necessarily fire kind of a something back to the server. For instance, if you click play on a YouTube video, it won’t actually fire back to your own server, so it doesn’t get tracked in the log file.
So, fundamentally, the two now have very, very different purposes and I think one of the things we’ll be talking about here more for log files is we don’t really even look at users in log files. We want to look at the robots. We want to look at people in, like, Google, how Google crawls your site, how Bing crawls your site, even how some of the other search engines actually handle your site and what we can do to kind of either stop them or improve the way in which they go through it.
And I think that’s the biggest thing that we look at in log files is basically the inefficiencies of how all sites are being crawled whereas in analytics packages we’re almost looking at inefficiencies or how to convert users. So, they have kind of similar purposes but really totally different.
Steven: Personally, I keep them separate because I look at the crawlers and users in different ways as Gerry explained. So, when it comes to log files, I really look at, I zoom in on Google’s behavior primarily because it’s the dominant search engine in most countries that we target and I am looking for ways to improve the time to crawl, time to index, and time to rank because, obviously, when you push the button and you publish a content piece, you want it to drive organic traffic as soon as possible and especially when you start analyzing that in real-time, at scale, it gets really, really interesting.
Dixon: Okay. So, then Sophie, let’s go back to… Well, feel free to add to those two points, but let’s go back to the CDN thing, you made the point at the top of the show, if you can get your log file through CDN network, instead of through the end server or whatever, then that’s going to be a better thing.
I’ve got a couple of questions, two or three questions really, I’ll just sort of throw them all out there to you and talk to you Sophie, if that’s all right. Do all the CDN systems provide that data very effectively and why is it better to have the CDN stream rather than the end server log file data? Why? Why and how easy is it?
Sophie: So, for me, my personal preference is Cloudflare and that’s for a number of reasons not just because of log files. I’m talking like DDoS attack with security, everything on top of that as well, overall site speed, and I think I’ve seen a bigger increase in people using CDN since the whole core web vitals everyone needs to improve their site speed, oh quick, let’s shove a CDN on top of it without really seeing or doing much else with it.
The reason why I prefer using a CDN is literally the ease of access more than anything, particularly when you’re working with big corporate companies, big brands, or even just people who don’t know where their log files are or they’re dealing with kind of legal teams, really strict legal teams, and there’s a whole other range of issues there which I think you might talk about a little bit later, which we can, with GDPR and things, but it just really helps you to access it a lot quicker.
One of the biggest things that I also find when having to go through a development team or going through a whole list of stakeholders is the length of time those log files are held for you can kind of control that on a much kind of closer scale when you’re dealing with CDNs because really you can access all of that, whereas when you’re going through kind of the client side and you’re trying to go through the development teams you turn around, they’re like, “Oh, we only held the log files for 24 hours. Sorry about that.” Great. That’s really helpful when I’m trying to analyze something.
Dixon: Okay. Gerry, anything on that? Any other good reasons to use CDNs?
Gerry: Yeah. I mean, this whole CDN is actually quite a recent thing for me. I say that because back when I was younger, CDNs were almost a problem. They didn’t store log files. They didn’t kind of… In fact, what they tended to do was stop the logs, they’d stop the servers from being hit as much because they’d actually cache a lot of the hits and do other bits and pieces. So, it’s interesting that now we kind of use the CDN as a way to get access to log files, that we would not have got before. So, I think that’s absolutely kind of really important that we kind of do use the CDNs. But one of the other advantages is the fact that when I was working, for example, at JUST EAT, the website is made up of like 12 quite separate kind of servers, services. One is a PHP box, one is a .net box, one is a WordPress box, there’s so many different ways in which these kinds of engines will kind of store the hits, and this really is important that if you then try to analyze it, you need almost the complete pitch, you kind of have to understand what’s happening everywhere.
And I think one of the things Steven will probably be able to expand on is the fact that all of these different services have a different log file format. Sometimes it’s a different column, different everything, so even if you got access to all of these, consolidating it, pulling it into one, and kind of analyzing it, you’re kind of trying to look at loads of different formats, and it’s like when 10 people are trying to consolidate one Excel document, it’s… sorry, 10 Excel documents, it’s absolutely horrendous job to do. But yeah, Steven, I think you’ve probably got an opinion.
Steven: Yes, I do. I totally agree, Gerry. It just makes life as an SEO so much easier if you have one place to look for your log files. It’s a breeze.
Dixon: I guess as well, you know, I mean, Gerry made the point of a large website has six servers say but a small website that uses CDN that has only one server, then has quite likely, especially if you’ve got static content, cached content that’s in the CDN that would never hit the server and that’s the whole point of a content display network or a distribution network, sorry, I just can’t remember what CDN stands for. But that means that, it’s very likely that if you try to use the raw server logs then and you’re using a CDN, you’re going to miss a whole load of the traffic because the traffic is never actually going to hit your log file. Is that correct or am I being naive?
Gerry: One hundred percent correct, yep. We saw this time and time again. Again, this is before the times when CDNs actually produced their own log files. When I was working at JUST EAT, I was like, “Oh, okay, so none of these actually,” particularly for images, particularly where we have like a long cache life, so any time… I mean, a good example of that CSS, we did not want every single user to kind of access the CSS file on the server. We wanted the CDN to handle 80% to 90% of that. And so yeah, exactly right Dixon.
Dixon: I think as well for those that haven’t seen another show that we’ve got, we’ve got SEO on the Edge, which you can find out there. Well, one of shows that was about the Edge and Edge workers. And the Edge workers, for those that don’t know, is where effectively you’re using a CDN network to literally change the code at the DNS level and that is increasingly common amongst SEOs, not always with the approval of the web developers or the admins, assistant admins, but is getting us through quite a few problems for previous issues when admins have been unwilling to give us access to various bits and pieces. So, very useful tool. So, look up that if you want to go into that a bit further.
Okay. So, let’s talk a little bit about the traffic that we see in log files because I know Imperva used to do an annual study on the types of traffic that they see on websites and they tried to work out how much of the content was human versus how much of it was machines, how much of it was malicious versus how much of it was not, and one of the startling things that always came out is that pretty much half the traffic on the Internet is not human orientated at all.
Is that the sort of thing that you see, Steven, in ContentKing or is it something that varies a lot on website-to-website? And what is the sort of non-human traffic that you see, or one sees?
Steven: I haven’t looked across all of our clients, I can’t, to see what the ratio is between real traffic and bot traffic, but I would wager that it’s more like 80% bot traffic and 20% user traffic nowadays, just because there’s so much crawlers out there doing their thing. A lot of them are, we don’t really know what they do, what they’re up to, but they’re out there.
And if you’re talking about ratios for sites, it depends. If you have a massive site like Gerry’s, for example, you’d want to see a lot of bot traffic on it because if a lot of pages get refreshed and they’re pushing a lot of new content out there, you want that content to be re-indexed as soon as possible. So, I’d rather have like 10% human traffic and 90% Google traffic on my site than, say, 50/50 because whenever I publish something, I want Google to eat it up.
Dixon: Okay. I wonder if the rest of you, Sophie, have you got the same sort of views or different views?
Sophie: Kind of similar for me. I see there’s a bit of a difference depending on the industry I’m working on. So, like, I find that with kind of health, finance, particularly bigger websites you do tend to see a lot more bot traffic than what you do with smaller ones. So, I’m talking like, I don’t know, Jim the local guy, you’re probably not going to see too much, you know. I like to kind of split it between good bot traffic and bad bot traffic.
Now, that may be controversial depending on who you’re talking to, but for me, like, good bot traffic would be website crawlers, website monitoring, like UptimeRobot or something, scraping, aggregation bots, but then bad bots would be like the spam, the DDoS attacks, ransomware, the ad fraud. It does depend, I really hate saying it, I really try and avoid saying it, but I think it’s just a matter of being able to block some of the bad bot traffic if you’re able to really identify that.
Dixon: It’s hard though, isn’t it, because we, unless I’m mistaken, we’ve got two basic ways of identifying that bot, that traffic, either the user agent or the IP address that it comes from, and if it’s the user agent what I think a lot of people don’t appreciate is that the user agent is given by the choice of the user. I mean, it’s something that’s pushed by the bot. So, the bot could sit there and say, “Hey, I’m Mr. Google,” quite happily or “I’m a very good bot,” and you wouldn’t have any way of knowing, or they could sit there and say, “I am a bot that you’re already familiar with” or “I’m Firefox” or whatever.
And, of course, IP addresses are getting much, much more random and variable these days, particularly with IPv6 being people are changing their IP addresses all the time. So, Gerry, when you’re blocking, if you’re going to use log files or information from log files to start blocking bots, how much danger are you in? Are you going to slip up and actually start stopping, I don’t know, Google’s image browser from looking at your information inadvertently, for example?
Gerry: Yeah, absolutely. I won’t mention the client’s name, but basically, I have seen clients where we can see something where somebody is trying to basically hack the site. An example of that is, I think everybody here knows, you can buy usernames and passwords off the internet off of sort of black sites basically, relatively cheaply. I’ve never done it myself, so I don’t know exactly how to do it.
Dixon: I’m glad about that, Gerry.
Sophie: A bit of a disclaimer there.
Gerry: I know. Absolutely. But then you can run these against any kind of site, any major site. And a number of sites that I’ve worked on have sort of spotted that, very specific passwords and things have been done at scale often from a strange country like America if you’re based in the UK or often it’s like Russia or something like that. And, as you say, if I was doing this myself, I would use a range of different IP addresses, different countries, and different user agents to hide it as much as possible.
So, exactly what you say, although we can sort of see this pattern happening, us trying to block it using user agents and us trying to block it using IP addresses, it’s a massive challenge. There are ways in which we can kind of try to fix that using things like a good example of that is, like, is it human, the kind of the Google thing, the CAPTCHA stuff, but again that means that other bots which are valuable, will struggle as well.
So, it is that sort of magical balancing act. So, I mean, we do rely a lot on things like Cloudflare’s own protection to kind of say, you know, “We can see bad behavior. Switch it on in Cloudflare.” But again, Cloudflare is not perfect, you know [crosstalk 00:22:05].
Dixon: No, Cloudflare is got this big button that you just, this one button that you can press, and it strikes me that that is using a mallet to knock in a paper clip really.
Sophie: To just decide, yeah, just trust it aside.
Gerry: Yeah, but often when they, I think it’s called Shields up, isn’t it, but basically when you hit that button it’s because you know there’s kind of a security incident going up ahead. And, I mean, I think all three of us, all four of us have worked on big sites where security trumps everything else, you know, you kind of get to that point where you kind of go, “Okay. SEO is really, really important, but security really, really important.”
But again, you know, I’ve often found it where they’ve hit the button almost and they’ve almost forgotten they’ve hit the button until suddenly we start falling out of Google and kind of going, “Oh, we seem to be blocking Google.” But as a user, I can’t see it because we’ve been whitelisted because we’re UK based or we’re whitelisted because of this or the other, but it’s kind of like until Google starts to sort of say, “Hey, we’re actually starting to drop you out.” It is something which is definitely worth kind of paying attention to.
But so, to your point, IP addresses can be… Well, you can’t fake Google’s IP address but what you can do is you can kind of give yourself a random IP address in effect in any country. You can’t fake user agents completely. So, yeah, I mean, I for one often browse news websites that I don’t want to pay for by pretending I’m Google and they just magically let me read all the private content and everything.
Sophie: Yeah. I think a good example of that as well was when everyone was… Well, a few people booking in their COVID vaccines, and everyone was trying to skip the NHS queue by doing exactly that. It was all over Twitter changing their user agent. So, it’s hard and same talking about kind of just blocking certain regions or kind of countries, people use VPNs all the time. People are so much more invested in their own privacy and their own security and it’s probably becoming a bigger trend than ever. That’s where it starts getting really dangerous.
Dixon: Yeah, I know, I’m British and I’ve got a TV license. So, I definitely want to be able to use my iPlayer from abroad. So, I use a VPN for that all the time as well. I think we do use that, we’re more and more of us are using VPNs and certainly a hacker, whether good or bad, whether a good person or bad, they know how to use a VPN. So, it’s not going to be an effective barrier.
And I think on Cloudflare there’s two different buttons. We’ve got a DDoS. A denial-of-service attack is happening right now, press this button. I understand that, you know, if you’ve got panic, it’s great to have a button. What I worry about is they’re more subtle. Here’s the setup that’s running in the background sort of thing that if it’s just taken at face value you start to miss an awful lot of potentially good traffic because if you want some… Coming back to the idea of SEOs being the subject of the podcast. If you want somebody to click on your website from a search engine whether it’s YouTube, whether it’s a Majestic or whether it’s Bing or whether it’s an image search engine, or anything that’s not the core Google is the biggest search engine, there’s loads of different Google crawlers and stuff, then if you don’t let the bots see that information then a human will never click on the link that’s then indexed by that information. I think people forget that quite a lot. Anyway feel free to carry on, come back on that one.
But let’s talk about error codes and how that could be useful on log files and let’s get to something really useful for SEO. Why can’t I see error codes in Google Analytics and what error codes can I see in log files that I can use to improve my SEO? I see Gerry is come off his mic, so we’ll let him go in.
So, there’s loads of other different codes which you can put into analytics that you can’t necessarily put into log file analysis. So, they’re different. And one of the things that is important is understanding what goes where and how to consolidate the information afterwards.
Dixon: I’ll come to Steven last on this one, I think, because you’ve probably got plenty to say, but Sophie, are there any error codes that you very much look out for because you’re looking at log files probably day-to-day more often than Steven or Gerry or me.
Sophie: Yeah. I mean, for me the 404s, the 500 errors, particularly on large e-com websites where there’s, like, loads of people accessing the site on a regular basis, updating products, taking things down, taking things out, and not putting redirects in place, or when they do put a redirect in place, let’s put a 302 in because they don’t know the difference and all this kind of stuff because they’re not there for SEO, they just manage their website, they’re just there to manage their stock. If that is a huge website and you know that kind of thing is happening on a regular basis just from the standard nature of it, that’s when I turn to log files.
I mean, I can run crawlers on sites like Screaming Frog and things like that or ContentKing but just really understanding and drilling into that more regularly and then seeing what Google is hitting because if they’re regularly hitting those 404 pages then you know there’s a problem and you know you need to do something very quickly.
Dixon: Steven, what do you want to add in there?
So, what I like to do is, I pull in all of the status codes that we get and pull it into a different place than Google Analytics because it’s just not the right place to make that overview. So, you could build your own platform, or you could use something like ContentKing that continuously monitors your site and leverages log file analysis, Google search console data, and Google Analytics data and you could piece it all together. You can even add the stock levels that Gerry was talking about through an API. So, you’re basically piecing together your own platform and getting the insights that you need.
Dixon: Okay, cool. So, there’s a lot of things you can pull in but apart from things like error codes are there some other things that you pick out in log files at all, that you’ve got a pet choice? Sophie, you’ve come off mic, so I’ll let you dive in there first.
Sophie: Yeah. For me, if a page is unnecessarily large or slow and the reason why I use log files for this more than anything and it’s one of my biggest frustrations in SEO is people will typically just run the home page of the site through kind of page speed insights or Lighthouse and just be like, “Oh, everything is fine. This is fine.” That’s not fine.
So, I tend to use it more specifically for that, and finding things that may be like static resources that are crawled too frequently or not frequently enough. But yes, the page speed, especially with this whole turning around towards the core web vitals and user experience, and like the big trend towards that, a lot of clients I see on a monthly basis are asking a lot more what are you doing with our site speed, what are you doing with our core web vitals.
Now, that’s not always going to be the top priority, but being able to really identify that in a much larger website where it’s going to take a really long time for it to crawl on kind of a website crawler like a Screaming Frog, for example.
Dixon: So, do you then use that also to find really large image files that are sitting there just, you know, they’re actually a little icon in the browser but when you look at them, they’re 4HD, Ultra HD, and that’s really slowing stuff and you wouldn’t see it another way. So, I think that’s a really, really good example.
Gerry, Steve, any other things that we need to bring out before we hit the top of the show?
Gerry: I think the one thing that I get inspired and I basically find interesting is the wastage. Basically, you often find that there’s, like, parameter URLs that are being crawled at scale. There’s sub-domains that are being crawled or there’s often things which you don’t expect. I mean, the funny thing about log files is the fact that you tend to look for things that you didn’t really see anyway almost. I mean, a lot of the time we kind of look at the website, we have a kind of understanding of the website, and using tools like ContentKing or Screaming Frog or whatever kind of crawler we’ve got, we have a really good idea of how Google should be seeing the website. But then, often we kind of look in the log files, and we’re often surprised when we go, “Oh, Google has got a bit weird over here” or “Google’s found something over here.”
I mean, one of the things that I would mention is before you get into log files, another place you can look for the same kind of information is in Google Search Console. There’s something called The Crawl Stats section which I think is massively underutilized, and once we’re talking about log files, I think kind of starting there allows you to kind of go, “Okay. This is something which I need to look at,” and then you go to the log files. It’s almost kind of a, “Where do I start to kind of then go somewhere else?”
I mean, one of the things Sophie mentioned before is things like 302s versus 301s. We kind of understand the difference but explaining to a developer that a 302 will be hit hundreds of times whereas the 301 will be hit a few times before Google will kind of go, “Okay. This seems to be permanently moved over here.” 302 is like, “Oh, I have to keep checking back and checking back and checking back.”
So, a lot of the time developers, IT guys, they want to improve the crawling, they want to improve the efficiency of observing content to not just users but also to the search engines especially if a huge proportion of the traffic is search engine based. We want to improve the efficiency there, and the best way to do that is to kind of go in log files.
Another thing Sophie mentioned was page speed and one of the things that I never knew before recently was that there was like a status code called a 304. Actually, I mean, I say recently, this is like 5, 10 years ago but when I first found out about that, I was surprised. I was almost worried when I went, “Wow, there’s so many 304s in here. What are they and is it causing me issues?” And it turns out that’s a good thing, but nobody had ever really told me that we should be using 304s to improve a crawl which means that Google will check it and then when it comes back again it won’t rescan the page. It will know that it’s not been modified because that’s a not modified status code.
All of these kinds of little things which you kind of go, “Okay. These are the little things that are kind of massively improving things,” or “This is where Google is gone a bit crazy over here and is found some spider trap or something,” which means Google is kind of finding millions of pages of parameter content that it doesn’t need to find. A good example, going back to kind of my time at JUST EAT, we had hundreds of thousands of sub-domains and Google was crawling them even though they weren’t generating any traffic. It was just basically canonicalized back to the main site and we didn’t realize just how bad it was until we started doing log file analysis.
Dixon: I might come back with some of that, but I wanted Steven to have a chance to wade in.
Steven: Yeah. I love the 304 and using Google Search Console’s crawl stats report to get some pointers on where to optimize to use your site’s crawl budget more efficiently. So, what we typically see is that a lot of sites are not leveraging the 304 not modified HTTP status response.
Dixon: So, let me ask, how do you leverage a 304? I mean, so basically, what you’re saying is a 304 response is better than a 200 response? Is that right?
Steven: It depends. So, if you’ve got content that’s not changing or not changing that often, it makes a lot of sense to use the 304-response code because you’re essentially telling both browsers and crawlers like, “Hey, this piece of content, whether it’s a font or a logo or HTML, it hasn’t changed. So, you don’t need to fully crawl it.” It hasn’t changed. So, you can use whatever you have, and that way you decrease unnecessary load on the site.
So, for example, like a company’s logo doesn’t change that often, it’s totally fine to use the 304 HTTP status there and you can use it in a bunch of places where it makes sense.
Dixon: So, you do it on the logos and the images not necessarily on the HTML pages, URL itself, is that right? How do you do that? I mean, if I’m a WordPress user, am I stuffed? Do I need to be a little bit more tech-savvy than that or can I do it in WordPress?
Steven: There’s probably plugins for that, so any speed plugin that’s worth their salt is going to have options for this, so that’s built-in pretty much any plugin I’ve seen.
Dixon: Okay. Cool. And… sorry, Gerry?
Gerry: No, I was going to say you can also do that using the CDN layer basically. So, you know, often that’s what CDNs are really, really good for is kind of going, “Actually, I want to cache these hits and use a 304 and other bits and pieces.” So, it does exactly what Steven is saying, it kind of gives you the ability to kind of go, “Okay. These image files, I want to basically extend the, oh God, the data points.” Oh, I’m talking rubbish now. I’ll pass it back to Steven.
Dixon: No, I’ll move on because I want us to get onto GDPR just briefly before the end and before that you brought up, I think it was Gerry, the idea of… Well, actually, Sophie brought it up really, data basically, these large files and that being really obvious when you look at log files and you suddenly see that 80% of your resources have been used to load images and you didn’t know you had an image-rich site or something like that or it’s just been streaming a video to one person for the last 24 hours or something.
Does that mean, is that an opportunity to talk to data, to developers, and systems admins in a language that they more understand? If you sit there and say, “Look, you’re using 20% of your resources just to load this image up,” are you going to get a faster reaction than if you say, “Look, you’ve got 3000 bots hitting this web page,” or something like that? Is data a better way to communicate with systems admins, or is that an it-depends kind of question of the system admins?
Sophie: I think, it’s always an it-depends question. I think anything is an it-depends question, isn’t it really? I’ve always found it’s easier to build relationships with developers if you are almost speaking their language. If you can show them how it impacts them rather than how it impacts you or kind of just really building that bridge because they don’t really care, they’ve got their own job list, they’ve got their own ticket system, like they’ve got all of these things that they need to work through, why should they care more about what you’re trying to get pushed through than what they already need to.
So, you just really being able to showcase to them what the impact is and kind of talking to them about what the effort behind that is as well and how they can resolve that and leaving that open to them because if you storm into kind of a development meeting being like, “Great. This is definitely a low effort task. I need all of these things done because it’s going to benefit me and it’s going to benefit the SEO,” you’re not really going to get anywhere. They’re going to be completely just shut down from that. So, I always think just talking to them in their language, showing them the data, is going to help.
Dixon: Then I’m going to defend, it’s not it depends, it’s yes. You reckon that if you can talk to them in their language then you’re going to get further faster.
Sophie: Yeah, unless they know SEO, I guess, but that’s really hard. I can’t say I’ve found a developer who’s like the same level of SEO as what an SEO is, but yeah.
Dixon: Yeah. Okay. We agree with that Gerry and Steven?
Gerry: Go on, Steven.
Steven: Yeah. It’s more of a communications issue as Sophie put it, yeah.
Gerry: I think the worst thing or the worst habit I’ve seen from SEO people is telling developers how to do it rather than what they want to get done. If you kind of go, “Oh, you need to edit the htaccess file,” and the guy turns around and kind of goes, “We don’t have a htaccess file or a .net server.” You look like a… Yeah, you don’t look like the best SEO guy out there and it is basically your job to kind of talk to them about what you need and why you need it rather than how to do it.
They’re always very good at kind of telling you how they think it should be done and talking to you through it and you need to be in those conversations because often they come up with a solution which doesn’t really work for you, but equally, you know, you almost have to trust them to kind of understand their own systems to kind of come up with the best ideas.
Dixon: Excellent. Okay. Before we… We’re nearly at the end of our time. These things go really quickly when you get into them, but I did want to just finish up with this question which if you don’t want to answer that’s actually fine, but GDPR law is something that, you know, when it came in, I thought, “Well, I believe in this and I do, I want people to opt-in to have their data or not to have my data stored or whatever.”
But one of the quirks of GDPR law is that IP addresses are considered to be personally identified information. So, does that mean that server logs are illegal? Who wants to go on with that one?
Gerry: So, fundamentally, no, they’re not illegal in the basis that they have to be stored. They have to be stored in that way. Basically, the whole GDPR law is if your data… It’s a bit complicated but, basically, if your data is used and matched up in a different way. Now, if we kind of use the IP address to then re-target you and do sort of all bits and pieces and match it up with other kind of data sources then yeah. Basically, if it’s for the core service that we’re doing then absolutely we need to use the IP address and so on and so forth.
Now, it is debatable whether an IP address is actually personally identifiable. The reason I say that is because…
Dixon: I agree.
Gerry: … I used to work at the BBC and everybody at the BBC whether they were in the Manchester, the London, or any other office, all shared one IP address, and it’s the same with most organizations. And equally, as I browse around at home, my IP address could change. I could pay extra to have a fixed IP address, but I don’t because I’m tight and I don’t need one, but basically an IP address is one of those things which is only just kind of a way in which you at the computer that you’re at accessing the internet at that time.
And again, as Sophie’s mentioned, so many people now are using VPNs and other bits and pieces. It’s quite interesting that we still consider an IP address to be kind of personally identifiable. However, on the basis that GDPR and, I mean, the company that I work for, we don’t use Google Analytics, for instance, because Europe has deemed it to be potentially illegal. So, in Germany and Finland, we’re looking at different tools but what we are doing is we’re not sharing the IP address externally. We’re not using the IP address that we capture to kind of then share that with other tools and other services to kind of use it in ways for retargeting and other bits and pieces, but we are using it to kind of provide the best service and to make sure that what we do and how we do it is functional.
So, without storing and using IP addresses literally the internet would collapse, and whilst I’m a great believer in my level of privacy I’m also a great believer in having a functional internet.
Dixon: No, I absolutely agree with all you’re saying, it’s just that it wasn’t me that deems IP addresses are personally identifiable information. It’s in the legislation which seems to me absurd because there’s no way you can… It’s like having a telephone call between two people but the system doesn’t know what one of the telephone numbers is, that’s not going to work. You need it to be able to do the communications.
Gerry: Yeah. I mean, one of the things I would say is I’ve had some very interesting conversations with legal teams and big companies where they were trying to figure out how we’ve given permission for Google to scrape the site or similar things. Basically, lawyers don’t always understand the implications of law. They understand their side of it. We understand our side of it, but the two are not necessarily very well connected. Internet lawyers are a new breed and I think that’s a fascinating kind of area if I’m honest.
Dixon: Sophie, Steven, you got anything that you want to add in that conversation? I find it fascinating, but it probably bores the hell out of a lot of people. So, I left it to the end of the show.
Sophie: I mean… Go on, Steven.
Steven: Yeah. So, I think the discussion you need to have it’s like how do you go about IP addresses. In a lot of cases, you can discard them, or you can just remove the last couple of octets. And you can do everything that you wanted to do anyway. So, it’s not really an issue that’s holding back your work as an SEO. So, moving beyond that, it’s pretty easy.
Dixon: Yeah, that’s certainly what I do. On InLinks we kind of have a tracking system on our, it’s like Intercom, it’s called GoSquared but it’s sort of basically a web chat system, which everyone needs to be logged into to be able to have a chat. So, I’ve got their email address and everything. But where I haven’t got any of that information or haven’t been given permission to hold that information then we kill the last three digits of the IP address, so that we’re GDPR compliant. And obviously, if somebody signs up for the service then they’re obviously then…it’s a different nature of a different relationship.
But I find it weird because you go down a different internet lawyer who’s worried about, I don’t know, terrorism, and all of a sudden it’s illegal not to have the IP address of your customers. So, the ISPs are damned if they do, damned if they aren’t. So, I find it… Anyway, it’s a story for another day and I don’t want to take people too much off the beaten track, but I do find it fascinating.
Anyway, guys, we’re up to our 45 minutes and a little bit beyond already. So, thank you very much for coming in. Before I ask you all to, please tell people how they can get hold of you and find out more because a lot of interesting stuff comes out of this session. I’m going to bring back my producer, David, to let us know what’s happening on the next show and when that’s going to be.
David: Sure. The next show is going to be on the 19th of September, 4:00 pm BST. That will be Episode 27 and the topic will be: “How do you Target Audiences using SEO.” We’re booking a few guests for that and stay tuned to the InLinks channels to find out exactly who’s going to be on that show, but the topic is going to be, “How do you Target Audiences using SEO.”
And the sign-up link is theknowledgepanelshow.com if you want to sign up and watch the next episode live.
Dixon: I might have to talk about GDPR again then, that’s going to happen. Okay, guys, thank you very much for coming in. Guys, before we go, can you tell people how they can get in contact with you as long as you want them to, and please don’t say what you can see on the screen because bear in mind most people are on Spotify or iTunes or whatever. So, Gerry, how can they get you?
Gerry: You can always find me, if you Google me, Gerry White. You can find me on Twitter which is @dergal, or you can find me on LinkedIn. They’re the two best places to find me.
Dixon: Okay. And Gerry is with a G. Sophie, how do they find you?
Sophie: Similar for me as well. Twitter more so just because I’m dreadful with my LinkedIn DMs because they’re normally full of backlink builders, but @SophieBrannon is the best place to get me on Twitter.
Dixon: Excellent. And Johnny Scott is on YouTube in the background. So, thank you very much. Thanks for coming on, Johnny. That’s great. Steven, how do they find you?
Steven: I’m an SEO, not a hard person to find. You can search for Steven van Vessum, and if my last name is too difficult, you can go to steven.land and you’ll be able to find me and contact me.
Dixon: Brilliant. Steven with a V. So, guys, just leaves it for me to say thank you very much for coming in, and if you all want to be on the next session live go to theknowledgepanelshow.com and sign up there. Cheers. Bye for now.
Transcript edited on 8th October 2022.
How do you keep your SEO clients so satisfied that they’ll stay for a long time and recommend more customers to you? That’s what we’re discussing on episode 25 of the Knowledge Panel show where Dixon is joined by Himani Kankaria, Jake Gauntley, Olga Tsimaraki and Sara Moccand-Sayegh.
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Want to Read Instead? Here is the Transcript.
Dixon: Hello, welcome to the Knowledge Panel Show, Episode 25: “How to keep your SEO clients happy”. And as normal, I’ve got a great panel in with me. We’ve got one down due to Covid, I’m afraid, but Sara, Himani and Jake are with us, and hopefully we are going to have a great chat over the next 45 minutes over “How to keep your SEO clients happy”. We can probably use the fact that I have just said “no” to giving somebody a refund, as it’s a bad example of how to keep your clients happy, and we can talk about whether you should or shouldn’t, but a great team to get going with. Why don’t I ask you guys to start off by saying who are you and where do you come from. Sara, why don’t you go, because I couldn’t pronounce your surname, so you’re going to have to say it yourself.
Sara: OK, I will do it. So my name is Sara Moccand-Sayegh and I work at Liip which is a mobile and development agency and I do SEO for the clients that come to us to build a website and I do SEO from some clients that just come for SEO and analytics.
Dixon: And you are a sort of a huge company there, aren’t you?
Sarah: Yeah, exactly. It is probably the largest development company that there is in Switzerland. OK, I didn’t say that, I come from Switzerland.
Dixon: Thanks for coming on the show, Sara. Himani, tell us about yourself, where do you come from?
Himani: Hey everyone, I am Himani Kankaria from India and I own an organic marketing agency, which specializes on content driven SEO. So we are mostly into content optimization, on-page optimization and all those stuff, and we are really aggressively target feature snippets. Every content that comes its feature snippets is the first target that we key.
Dixon: OK, quite specific, so that sounds a good plan. Jake, how about you, who are you and where you come from?
Jake: Hi everyone, my name is Jake Gauntley. I’m from the northeast of England, but I currently live in sunny London, very sunny today. I started working in SEO in 2011 so just over a decade in the game. Currently working at Reprise Digital here in London, I have been here for the last 5 years, manage a team of 6 people, and we cover some large multimarket global SEO accounts.
Dixon: Welcome to the show, Jake. So, Jake and I are in sunny UK, and sunny UK is approaching 40 degrees today, which is going to be a record for us. We have one other person from the UK in the building as well, David, my producer. I’ll bring David in. David, what I have missed out today?
David: Oh, you are getting very good at noting, not missing things out, actually. I don’t know if there is any job for me anymore, Dixon.
Dixon: There certainly is.
David: I just want to share with the listener, you are probably listening on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, one of those platforms. If you are, come and join us live next time if you can, theknowledgepanelshow.com, sign up to watch the next show live and join the hilarity, ask some questions live, and hopefully we will see you there next time.
Dixon: OK, so let’s start off with my new phrase the tip at the top. One takeaway, if people haven’t got time to hang around for 45 minutes. When it comes to keeping your SEO clients happy, what one tip at the top would you guys give? Let’s go in the other order now. Jake, why don’t you go first?
Jake: Sure. So without a doubt, my tip at the top would have to be education. I think it’s so important through a relationship from the second you start, kind of working with the client prospect, kind of fully educate them, not only on the processes of the agency, but also about the kind of SEO itself. The more you can kind of help educate a client, the more likely they’ll be useful in kind of getting things implemented and being able to communicate more effectively to get what you want done.
Dixon: Excellent tip and I think that one will resonate with a lot of SEO agencies and possibly their customers as well. Himani, what about you? What thoughts have you got?
Himani: Sorry, can you please come again, I had some network issues.
Dixon: No worries, I’ll go to Sara and come back. Sara what tip have you got for one tip for takeaway if people haven’t got 45 minutes to stay.
Sara: For me, I think that is communication, but it’s very connected to educating people, because in the reality like you, I like to have clients and I like to speak to them like once per week or every two weeks and then automatically you educate them about SEO, how we should work together and so, communication for me is the main tip.
Dixon: So how often will you jump in and talk to your customers?
Sara: It depends, I have some customer, then they come for the development, just do a website migration, and then I don’t see them anymore, that is very sad. And then I have a customer, then I like if they follow me, I follow them, and then we regularly speak. The largest one maybe once per week and another one like once per month, but we have regular meetings and I love it, I live for that.
Dixon: Brilliant! OK, Himani, if I can come back to you if there is a tip you can give our listeners to take away.
Himani: Absolutely, I totally agree with Sara. Communication has been the key with our Missive Digital, and we have seen that the more we talk with them, the more we showcase that the decision making is already taken by us. That’s where they feel like okay, we have partnered with the right agency. So they need 2 things. Most of the time they are so much overwhelmed with all of the task they already have, most of the business owner in the marketing is. What they need is that decision making should be done by the agencies, and they should just inform us, that this is what they are doing, and the client should just approve that whether we are on the right direction or not. So, decision making, they want to offload the decision making, but while having really high on the communication side, even if it is possible that just email them if for everything that you are doing and even just keep them in CC when you are talking with everyone and even maybe having calls with the development teams regularly, so they feel that OK, they are actually concerned about our website and our services and that’s how they will help us.
Dixon: So, can I get us a clarification there? So, are you saying that the agency should be leading the decision making or the customer should be leading the decision making?
Himani: No, usually what has happened with us is that most of the SAS companies they try and apart, I mean they are always looking for a SEO agency which takes the decision [Freezes] they have to every time pitch and they take the decision, they don’t appreciate that. So that’s why they want that the SEO agency should identify the challenges, and also they should be coming up with this solution, they will just play on, that kind of role where they just have to give you the approval or the rejection. That’s it.
Dixon: OK. Jake, in your experience is that the same or do you think it depends from client to client?
Jake: Yeah, I think it kind of depends client to client, I think in some instances from my experience.
Dixon: I can’t believe I just said It depends. I am sorry.
Jake: In some instances I think you have to be quite collaborative with clients, so for example, recently we have been working on a hair tref lying with a client, and the usual way that we would recommend the client implement that across the sites, kind of isn’t possible without their websites are set up, so we have got to be more collaborative in coming to a recommendation that works for them as well as what we kind of want to do as the SEO agency. But I think we would always go in like this is what we would recommend, the best case scenario and what you should be doing, but then there’s always got to be that communication and open dialogue, it’s like well, what can we actually do with the system that you guys have got in place.
Dixon: So Sara, do you find the same?
Sara: So, for me, it depends on the expertise of the clients also. Sometimes on the other side, you find clients who have zero expertise and they come to you and they’re like, so what should I do? And then you evolve the process now behind that kind of clients, and then you have already more expertise and then it’s more a collaboration with them, and then as Jake said, then there is more…
Dixon: As Montse just jumped in and said, it depends, because it does. Montse from the audience, thanks for jumping in. I think that then means that it does depend possibly on whether the right client is matching up with the right agency, doesn’t it? Because some clients, are very educated, or they think they are very educated, they may or may not be, and others maybe less so. If they are less educated, then of course they have to allow the agency to lead, but if they know what they want, then maybe they are taking a more hands-on approach and the agency is sort of having to fulfil the content requirements or whatever the message of the day is. So I think maybe that’s all about aligning expectations, I suppose. Trying to find that you got the right customer for your way to work is probably a good thing and I think we were talking about before we’re coming on, choosing the right clients. Sorry, did you say you had the luxury of being able to choose your clients?
Sara: Exactly the opposite.
Dixon: All right, you don’t have the opportunity.
Sara: No, OK, because it is like this: I have two type of clients. So when I say “I”, I mean the team, the SEO analytics team. We have two type of clients. One is external and they are not connected to the development agency, there we can set our rules. But then we have the clients that are connected to development agencies, so their clients they are coming, because they want a new website and that is the core business of the agency, building a new website. So now, imagine they are spending a bomb and then I come and I say, listen, I really don’t think that we are a good match.
Dixon: It is not going to work, really it’s the only choice they’ve got in town. OK, fair enough. Himani, do you get the opportunity at all to select, or I suppose, in some cases, fire your clients?
Himani: I should not disclose this, but it’s something that happened to us like two or three months ago, I believe. And there was a time, where the client was very choosy on focusing on challenged base, and point based content strategy. And what was happening is, that was not aligning with the queries that actually the audience searches were. So that was the mismatch, that was happening. We were constantly explaining them, that you should be focusing on the query based, on content strategy, to make sure that your audiences search for you and you are there then they are searching for you. It was like completely, I mean, they just wanted that their performance marketing to work and that’s why they asked us that, we need these kind of pages, which were not, all created based on (…), but they were mostly created based on the audience or obtain points. Like, say whether they would be looking something in a product for strategizing, something for collaboration and something for analytics, so there was this product around, that was from the finance industry, and it was something created in that ways, and we were not able to identify the queries that would fit in that page. So we were like literally tired of discussing that these are the keywords we need, and we need people, I mean, we need traffic from these queries and on these landing pages. And they were like, there were a lot of huge arguments and everything that was happening and then finally we had to say, that sorry, the expectations that you had given to us – sorry, we can not match that, let’s close this. So that was something that happened, that was really crazy for us, as well, because we invested a lot of time in doing all that thousands and thousands of keyword research, clustering and mapping. And then at the end of that, you are just telling them, that no, sorry, we cannot do things for you. And it was like really… Even the teams was shattered that we had to let them go.
Dixon: It’s a touring day when that happens.
Himani: And it was a high-paying one.
Dixon: Well, that happens sometimes, I suppose. There are kinds of ideas that you guys have come up with, thoughts that you’ve come up with so far. Fit into the ones that I sort of picked up from Search Engine Journal did something in October last year, on the six most common reasons why SEO companies go wrong, and they were misaligned expectations, so very much similar to what you are saying. Misaligned expectations, a failure to educate the client, a lack of value for money, which we haven’t just talked about, your clients don’t know what you’re doing, which we kind of touched, no visible results, fair enough, and the product wasn’t ready for SEO. So six ideas, but I think those are probably worth touching on. But before I dive into those into more depth, I wanted to start with sort of a happier kind of question. Have you ever done something that doesn’t just keep your clients happy, but they suddenly really delighted. It might be sending them a birthday cake or something like that, but you know. What is the icing on the cake moment that you might have, that you’ve done with your clients where a client has said: “Yeah, I’m really, really happy”. Jake, are you willing to go first on that one?
Jake: Sure. I haven’t sent out any birthday cakes yet, but I’m gonna make a note of that idea for the future. But again, going back to kind of what I said for my tip at the start of the show, I think all of the really successful accounts that I’ve been part of, have been based around educating the client. Obviously communication is a very important part of that, but kind of making sure that the client themselves are educated and whether that is training your specific client contact as person, or delivering training for the teams internally client-side things like the PR teams, development teams, content teams, brand managers.
The more that people client-side know about how SEO works, I feel like that’s where more can happen client-side. I don’t really have control of what happens client-side. I can do great work for the agency, but as soon as I send my recommendations over, I’m relying on a completely different set of people to implement that. So if we can kind of get in there and be like business partners as well as service providers, you know, we’re helping to educate the people client-side and…
Dixon: And how do you make that happen? What does training look like in your world?
Jake: If it’s just kind of one-on-one with the client contact, it can be relatively informal things. If you’re taking through a deliverable, and they’re not quite sure about things, you can spend some time explaining more about canonical tags or more about kind of page speed and things like that, but then if they kind of spot a need for you to help people their side, that can be more formal kind of works like workshops or like training sessions, SEO 101s things like that.
Dixon: So have you gone into their offices in the past and sat there with them and gone through a formal sort of training sessions over to particular ideas with groups of people from the client?
Jake: Yeah, quite a few. Common ones that we’ve done are SEO training for like in-house PR teams, obviously with the link building that’s very handy. We’ve done stuff with developers in the past as well, just kind of giving a bit more context to what we were asking them to do. We’ve worked with kind of brand managers who part of their new role was to be in charge of local SEO, so we kind of give them a bit of an insight into about local SEO, and it just helps to kind of upskill everybody and in the long term will help organic performance.
Dixon: Absolutely. OK, back to the delight question. Sara, Himani, does one of you want to jump in with a story of delight? Sara, do you want to go there?
Sara: So I remember this one time, it was like last year. Normally, obviously, if you achieve results is what makes a client safe, you know, that is basically where they’re paying you. But there was this one time, which was a nightmare. The client wanted something, that just a few people add, and it was a test by Google, so it was an icon. And finally, after a lot of go back and forwards between, I will not explain all the situation, but it was very difficult, with one of the developer inside the company, we obtained it. It was a live blog post, so with the written live blog during the match. And finally when we obtained it, I remember everyone was crying and the developer too, because we’re working like two months crazily to obtain that, so it was not a developer inside my company but outside, like from another company, and we were working every day trying to obtain that and every day we were like depressed. No, not even, and finally we obtain it, so the developer were like super happy. It was super proud in front of his team finally. I was proud in front of the client. So, client happy, I was happy, developer team was happy. That it was like a fantastic moment, because finally we were all happy.
Dixon: Brilliant, good story! Himani, have you got anything to add on there?
Himani: I never had this kind of thing, where we had to send a cake or something, where things were really crazily challenging, but what we have, because there are some of the large publishing sites, who come to us and tell us that “Hey, get us on the feature snippets and everything”, right, so in that case what happens is, some pages take lesser effort and some pages take larger effort to optimize those pages. So where we see that there are times, say, there is this client, they have like billions of organic traffic almost every month, so it’s like, there we have to optimize 10 pages a month. So what happened is that two of their pages took really less effort, so what we did is, because we thought that it was very less effort, so we identified one more challenging page, and we delivered the optimization for the 11 pages. So that’s what made them really happy, that you guys identified that it was the less effort, and you took the initiative and told us that OK, this is the page that you are taking up next for this month itself. So that little effort helped us and obviously there are areas where they feel that OK, they have given us something for free, so that’s what make them really little happy.
Dixon: And a good thing that made you feel good there, I suppose, is that you find yourself on the front foot as opposed to being the beck and call of the customers demands and things there. Brilliant. Let’s get on to one of the reasons that was cited, not by you guys, but by a wider audience. The one of the reasons that customers aren’t happy is they can’t sense a concept of a value for money. How might you mitigate that and set it off so that doesn’t become an issue? I don’t know if anyone wants to stick their hand up and go first on that one. Sara switched off her microphone – you’re going first, go on.
Sara: Jake, you want to go? No, too late, excuse me. So I think that there is one of the things then helps me and probably helps the client, is to set the target and to set the analytics goals, so that normally if you reach them, it helps you to understand, so I’m in the right way and if not, you know then you’re wrong, and then you have to assume, discuss with the client and…
Dixon: So you’re setting targets based on the amount of organic traffic?
Sara: Depends, that depends on the client a lot. I know, that I shouldn’t say “it depends”, because you said it at the beginning, but again, sorry about that, but it depends. So the advantage – I’m not like the best in analytics to be honest – what I have is then I have the advantage then there is a inside the team they are like four people that are specialized in analytics. The interstate it’s analytics, tracking, setting, doing workshop on analytics and everything. So my advantage is then I have them to support me. And then they will do some workshop for example with the client, I will be there, and then we can set the goals, and then they will drive the clients also to have the credit call, and then like this normally we are all happy at the end. If I don’t set. If I don’t arrive to the result, if that happens, OK, I will find an explanation to that, and then you know.
Dixon: OK, I might come back on that, but I think I’ll let Himani and Jake jump in first as to how they might stop that from becoming an issue. Jake, do you want to go?
Jake: I think for me unlike the lack of value, it’s more so being open and honest up front at the beginning of the project about kind of what a client can expect for the money that they’re paying for that project, and then finding out what value is to them. I mean, obviously for like a lot of e-commerce businesses that’s going to be make more money, but also like in terms of the client contact themselves, like are there any specific metrics, vanity metrics, like goals personally that they have, that you can then continuously tie the results back to. So whether that’s kind of using smaller impact reports to show like continuous progress of the tactics that you’re doing but then from a more strategic view in things like qbr’s that’s when you’re looking at the overall impact to money. Like I said, vanity metrics, if they’ve got their heart set on some page one generic non-brand rank and that they really want to rank for, but maybe wouldn’t be super value for them, like is that something that you say “Oh, look, we’re now ranking first page for this!” that they will get a personal sense of value from or there’s also the element of if they want to see the value for money with your recommendations, how can you tie recommendations to a monetary value before they’ve even recommended it. So using things like click-through rates, conversion rate, and average order value to be like, look if you want value, this is the value of getting this keyword to position five, position four, position three, position two, position one. And if they can see the monetary value for that, they’re more likely to kind of be able to get the buy-in like, all right this is could be worth ten thousand pounds a month or whatever. I think just tying it back to that monetary value kind of helps to show value from the beginning.
Dixon: So i mean it’s not always obvious though. But I’ll jump in on that one as well afterwards. Himani, do you want to jump in first.
Himani: I would say 70% of the clients that we have are from the tech and the SAAS industry, so they have a lot of targets on MQLs, even more than SQLs, they are focusing on marketing qualified leads. So if they want to see whether the services that we are providing that are value for money or not, it’s something that as Sara said, we have to tie it with the targets, and we always have. Whenever we pitch the services, we always have those smart goals attached to the proposal. So what happens is, that they can understand that “OK, these many conversions we are expecting it by the end of this, say, quarter” or something like that, so we have to tie that and say for example, when we see, that we are maybe halfway or, even say, below that, below those targets, so on that month itself we take the precautions, and we take the clarification calls and everything and we tie and set the another milestone to achieve, because what happens is, if we don’t let them know in the advance, they will feel like that we were not proactive enough to take the right decisions at the right time. So that’s why we also bind the goals, that we want to achieve on the MQLs, SQLs and the traffic, and then we have to constantly monitor it and make sure that even if we are not able to achieve – that’s fine, they don’t look at that because SAAS founders and marketing heads are least concerned about whether they are achieving those targets or not, but they are most interested to know, whether we are in the right direction or not. So when you showcase that, that OK, we are progressing, but the pace is slow, then it’s fine, they are okay with it, but at least they should be having that feeling that OK, they are in the right hands, these people know what they are doing.
Dixon: So I think mentioned qualified leads and you were talking in terms of leads. Sara was talking in terms of traffic and Jake was turning into talking in terms of rankings. And I think therein lies my sort of second dig further kind of question, because I suspect that it’s until you’ve jumped on one of those choices and got the customer to buy in, as to what you’re going to be measured against, the customer will have a tendency often to change what they consider to be value for money, when they’re just testing, paying that monthly bill, they’re kind of saying “Well, what have I got”, and they will have a tendency unless it’s very, very clear to choose whichever one you’re not going with, and I think that it’s not easy to know which one to go with, because to Sara’s metric of traffic that would be great, because you can sit there and say, well it would have cost this much to get this much traffic from PPC, for example, so you can show value for money from that point of view, but we all know that. Himani, if you had one goodly would go one really spot on visitor that person could convert and then your conversion rate is much better than the 100 or potentially thousand that come through from not a targeted PBC and then Jake, your challenge lies in the between, because what’s the difference in the value between a page one ranking and a page five ranking and a page ten ranking and then putting that across multiple keywords it becomes a difficult thing for the customer to see. So I guess, and then also Jake you make that point, I’m sorry, I’m sort of covering all of the things there and putting in another question really, but Jake, you make the point that different stakeholders may have different objectives, so that your direct customer may have a vanity metric, but the CEO or the finance director probably has a “how much cash am I paying out” metric and the marketing officers there’s “how many visitors coming in”, so there’s different stakeholders within there, so I bring it back and say, well, you know, is it a negotiation to try and set those targets to avoid an unsatisfied customer six months down the line or do you always try and go in the same direction. I don’t know if I said too much there.
Jake: I think it’s always going to be a negotiation, even if you kind of don’t necessarily want it to be, obviously you’re working with paying customers and if they want to focus on top line revenue traffic, things like that, are always going to be the most important KPIs of success businesses want to spend more money with an SEO agency to make more money. And if they’re not making more money, then obviously that’s when the questions start. But there can be instances, like going back to kind of rankings, where if demand for a particular product category or brand or something that has fallen, and a client comes asking questions, I’m not funny, but you can show that actually fewer people are searching for this product, than they were last year, and here’s some kind of backup KPIs, things like rankings, and you can pull in data from search volumes, Google trends, that kind of thing, to show that we have made SEO progress, but in order to kind of generate demand that’s maybe not a job for SEO, that’s maybe another channel.
Dixon: Anyone wants to jump in at all on that or let it run?
Sara: So I agree with Jake 100%. For me there is like this workshop then help me, then I was saying before with the analytics team, then help me a little bit, like, OK you have all these stakeholders and make them be a little bit aligned also, and then there is also when I’m doing the job, I will try to figure out also based on this, for example which kind of page we are targeting,so some will have a search intent then we’ll go more for conversion, so I will go maybe more in that direction now that it will be just because they want to have a lot of leads, so you’re going in that direction and drive traffic there, so you have like also that they take to take into account.
Dixon: OK, so Himani, sorry.
Himani: I completely agree with Jake and Sara. It’s something that needs to keep going and what has happened with these days it’s like, my same queries would have indented results and everything, so it’s something that you cannot rely on. Say you’ve done something for six months and then there is nothing to do and nothing to go beyond. After six months it’s nothing like that, it’s always ever evolving and because this is now, I mean, there is a lot to go beyond, just rankings is something that we also know that these days after COVID people have started taking a lot of time to convert, so it’s not something that they should only look at SEO for driving business, it’s the holistic approach that they had to take for digital marketing to make sure that every channel helps the other to make sure the business keeps going and the demand generation keeps on improving.
Dixon: Fair enough. So the thing then is, if you’ve got individual objectives for individual customers and they are all unique, and I led you down this road for this question And then you’ve got all your customers with a different kind of mentality of what they consider is value for money. One’s pounds and pens or dollars and cents, and one’s visitors, and one’s leads, and one’s rankings. Doesn’t that give a problem internally within agencies to try and develop internal systems that are going to help the agency grow because if every customer is totally different – does that mean that every SEO consultant within your agency has to be a real expert and you know really at the front of their game to be able to keep up or do you think there’s an opportunity for different agencies to take different approaches? If that’s a harsh question for anybody then that’s fine, but Jake seems to be happy to jump in, so no.
Jake: Yeah I’ll take that one. To be honest, I think all of the different things that you’ve just listed within that question: rankings, revenue, traffic or things that an SEO performance report would include anyway, it’s just more so when you’re delivering kind of the insights are going through with the client, maybe you would kind of lean towards one particular part of that, is that the revenue do they want to look at, user engagement of pages, things like that. I think, generally, you are going to be reporting on all those things, but it’s more so how you then communicate success with the client as with that data.
Dixon: That’s a fair point – which you said the first time around it’s primary results and secondary results which is a fair way to kind of have them all, and then you just decide what the key performance indicator is for that particular client.
What happens though, when you jump in there and six months down the road you don’t see results, and it may not be entirely your fault, because we do know these agencies, that as Jake said, he can produce the work to a good standard, give it to the customer and then the customer doesn’t act upon it and I know from previous Knowledge Panel Shows, that this is something that happens, that the customer pays for all of your advice and consultancy, then doesn’t do anything about it and then blames you for it not happening. How are you going to get around that one, Himani?
Himani: That’s so common, especially because the development, I mean we don’t develop and design in-house so like the developers and the development team are with them. So what happens is, whenever we recommend any UX suggestions or any tech implementations, it takes almost, say, they will say that it is in pipeline, but nothing goes as per expectations. And then, after two months, three months, they are like, where do we stand, and then we are saying, that this was given long time ago and because the business owners were not in loop, they were like okay we don’t know that this didn’t go ahead, and you should have asked us, and everything. So it’s like pretty crazy experience, when the development side implementations are not done and even these days we have seen with many SAAS companies who have signed up with us, they are using Webflow and not WordPress, so they are so much keen about not sharing their Webflow user access to us, so that we can update the blogs and everything on our end. So it’s like, we feel like, okay please come on, we need to implement these things, otherwise we won’t be having any control, and he won’t be able to show you any results at the end of the month. So we have to just keep on poking on Slack, channels and everything that hey please go and just let get these things done. I can just relate it with my two days conversation, I was poking the client since three days, that we need those landing pages live, if they won’t be live, we are not going to help you with anything. This is super crazy!
Dixon: I love this, I really hit the key of the problem here, didn’t I. Sara, you’ve got the same sort of feelings and issues?
Sara: So the advantage then, as I said at the beginning, I work for a development company, so it took me four years now, but I have a clear vision how to bypass all these kinds of problems. So how? So the secret is to understand the working sprint NO when the sprints are happening. So even when I work with external clients, my first question is: who is responsible for the development team? Can I speak to the developer directly and have their phone number? Second thing, they work with the PO normally, it depends what they use, Scrum or no, but normally it’s like this. So you want to have the number of the PO, you want to know what is their favourite way of communicating with the PO and you want to make sure to persecute him, to make sure then when you persecute him, you arrive to put your tickets in the sprint as you want it. So normally there will always be, yeah, but we have like a sprint in a week, and it’s already booked. No problem, next sprint is in the month? – OK, I can wait but let’s already go up in the hierarchy, prepare it for next month.
Dixon: So you’re assuming, that all your customers are using proper agile sort of lean systems?
Sara: No, no, that is, they are like this. If you just have for example a developer, somebody then will implement what you have to do is just persecute the developer. I mean, at a certain point they cannot avoid you forever.
Dixon: I don’t mean to pick you up, but do you mean “persecute” or “pursue”?
Sara: No, no, persecute really. We call them: “Cheers, hello, I’m Sara, how are you?”.
Dixon: That sounds more like “pursue” to me. “Persecute” means put in jail.
Sara: Oh, OK, than persue. Wrong word but you got it correctly.
Dixon: Sorry, I apologize for that. My Italian is a lot of worse, I shouldn’t really pick you up on that one.
Sara: I’ve learned a new word now.
Jake: I think it sounds great. I think actually like trying to sell that in with a client about being able to just slip things in through that where it might be a little bit of a harder…
Dixon: May depend on the client then. If the client’s going to trust you, then that’s the thing to do.
Jake: Exactly, it’s all down to trust when it comes to something like that. Some clients, especially if it’s like someone in the finance sector or someone else in like your money, your life situation, that there’s probably going to be some level of kind of, well, you know, things that need ticked off internally by legal and things like that. Even if it is just simple: “I want to change an internal link” or something, some businesses, the wording and things like that might come down to kind of brand teams or legal teams and things like that, but in an ideal world it sounds great. I just can’t say being able to be used across like all businesses.
Dixon: Then, Himani, what about another way to address it and have, when you start a contract, some kind of escalation procedure, so when you’re not getting that response from your direct report, you’ve already got something in place to say if it’s not moving forward, whether it’s, you’re not happy with your direct report, your direct report is not happy with the relationship with you, both sides have got a way to escalate it without it going straight to “I’d like to cancel my account”. What do you think about that?
Himani: Usually what we do, is we try and gather the reports and we try and indirectly tell them that okay we planned this much and we have not reached here, so we try and pick up their nerves, which is on the results that they have put in us, that hey you guys need to achieve these targets by this month. So we just try and share with them that okay this was the planned on the state and here we stand here and these are the metrics on the analytics. Just to inform you, that’s it. And we just let them take the decision on what’s not going and then they will pick it up with the team members and they will tell them that okay what is not working and everything. Because most of the time what happens is, we are talking with marketing heads and obviously their developer as well. But sometimes, as Sara said, they have their sprints to work upon and that’s why they don’t prioritize those activities. So there it’s when you share these reports with business owners and marketing heads, they feel really bad, that okay this is not working because of us. So then they will escalate it. So that’s how it has worked with us.
Dixon: OK, all right. Guys, we’re already at 45 minutes, so I’m going to, just before I ask you guys to tell people how they can get hold of you and everything, I want to bring David back in, if I can, to tell us about the next episode and where we should be going.
David: Superb conversation today. I’m sure it could have gone on for a lot longer, but hopefully we’re gonna have another just as good one next month. It’s a great topic, episode number 26 will be on Monday the 15th of August, that will be on “How to use log files for SEO”. We’ve already got all the guest book for that one, and the three guests are: Jerry White, Sophie Brannon and Stephen van Vessum. Monday the 15th of August, that’s going to be 4 PM UK time, 11 AM Eastern time in the US. Just go to the knowledgepanelshow.com to sign up to watch that one live.
Dixon: Excellent! If you can find another lady on that one, that would be great. That’s a great crowd coming on already, so it’d be absolutely brilliant. Looking forward to that. So Sara, Himani and Jake, before you go why don’t you just remind people who you are and how they can get contact with you. Himani, why don’t you go first?
Himani: I’m reachable on Twitter, LinkedIn and even you can search my name on Google and you will find me everywhere. So you can connect with me on Twitter, you can email me and my website’s URL is: missivedigital.com. So you can look at my website, and you can search my name on Google, and you can connect with me.
Dixon: OK, missivedigital.com. People can’t see your name, so it’s Himani Kankaria. Thanks very much. Jake, how do they get hold of you and Reprise Digital?
Jake: I’m Jake Gauntley – search that on LinkedIn, on Twitter, you’ll find me on there. And reprisedigital.co.uk for Reprise.
Dixon: Sara, how about? How do they find you?
Sara: So I’m also on LinkedIn, Twitter and I think just on these two. My name is Sara Moccand-Sayegh, just search for Sara Moccand and it will come out Sara Moccand-Sayegh. You can find me on LinkedIn, on Twitter, and if you want to make your life super easy just go to Liip, which is the company that I work for. You search for people and you will find me.
Dixon: Brilliant, thanks very much guys, I really appreciate you all coming on today. Thanks to Montse, to T Huts and to Gautam, who all sort of sending us comments in the live feed. If you do want to come on to live one next time, keep an eye out or sign up on the YouTube channel, and you’ll get a notification. Guys, thanks very much and see everybody in Wonderland.
Transcript edited on 17th August 2022.
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