THE KNOWLEDGE PANEL Episode #8: What aspects of SEO do big brands miss?

Although big brands tend to have bigger budgets, they also tend to have complicated structures and requirements. And this can also mean that other things get prioritised or thought about rather than a specific aspect of technical SEO.

In this episode of the Knowledge Panel, we’ll be discussing which aspects of technical SEO big brands miss and the ramifications that this has on the brand’s overall success.

Joining Dixon to discuss this are Ant Robinson, Keith Goode and Lea Scudamore.

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Want to Read Instead? Here is the Transcript.

Dixon: Hello, everyone, welcome to “The Knowledge Panel Show” episode eight. And today we’re gonna be talking about what aspects of technical SEO do big companies miss. And once again, we’ve got a fantastic panel. Unfortunately, one of them is currently in a…I think it’s a storm or goodness knows what somewhere down in Texas, so we’ll get to him in a minute. But in the meantime, thanks so much for coming on to the show. Whilst we get people sort of coming in on Facebook and YouTube, we’ll sort of go around and have introductions for people.

And before we dive into the subject matter proper, I imagine the price of the conversation might be sort of moving towards processes and things with big companies, but technical SEO and big companies, do they do it right? Do they do it wrong? So, before I go on to the audience, I’m gonna say hello to my producer, David. David are you there?

David: I am, indeed. Hi, Dixon. Good to be here again.

Dixon: So, if Keith can’t go through the whole show, I’ll bring in David considerably more than I otherwise was going to. But why don’t we start by introducing guests, and Lea from Aimclear, why don’t you say hello? Who are you and where do you come from, as they say in the game shows?

Lea: I’m Lea Scudamore. I work at Aimclear out of Duluth, Minnesota in the States.

Dixon: And you got snow on the ground there as well.

Lea: Of course, yes, Minnesota and, you know, Minnesnowta. We hear that a lot. So…

Dixon: Okay, fair enough. And thanks so much for coming on. And you’ve been in Aimclear for 6 years I think, so?

Lea: Yep.

Dixon: A fair well. So that’s great. Thank you very much for coming on today. And, Ant, you’ve been moving around recently. So Ant Robinson, why don’t you introduce yourself? And you’ve got new ventures on the horizon.

Ant: Hi, Dixon. Yeah, thanks for the intro. I’m launching a new digital agency called Black Swans Digital. That’s likely to open its doors officially on March 1st. Kind of a long career, as you know, that you and I have known each other a long time. So hopefully, I think this afternoon should be some good fun because I think we’ve both worked on some fairly large corporate projects too.

Dixon: Yeah. And I think when I met you the first time around, you were working for a very large car brand, I think.

Ant: No, a car retailer, a car brand where you could advertise your car.

Dixon: That’s right. Yeah, absolutely. And huge. And I once tried to get Ant to work for me, and I couldn’t afford him. So, that’s a sign of the times really. Okay, and Keith, who works for some little company. Keith, are you there and can we speak to you? And I know we’ve put you on speaker only.

Keith: Yes, speaker only. I am Keith Goode and I work for a small company known as IBM. They’ve been around for a few years. And yeah, you know, it’s fun. I’m a senior SEO strategist for them based out of CHQ, which is corporate headquarters.

Dixon: So, that’s quite good. We can actually hear you quite well. So why don’t you tell us why we can’t see you today?

Keith: You can’t see me today because we’ve just had a historic winter storm plow through all of Texas. It’s literally frozen all of our wind farms, and it occluded, of course, the sun from being able to power our solar farms. And so, we’re all on coal and natural gas right now. And of course, that’s pressing the grid to its extreme limits. So I’m sitting here in the dark shivering slightly, but I am on the phone with you right now.

Dixon: It’s brilliant isn’t it? Technology is amazing. You can talk to anyone in the world, but you can’t warm up. That’s interesting stuff.

Keith: That’s true. These might be my last words, but I spent them with you, Dixon.

Dixon: Well, it’s more likely to be your last words. If you have a last [inaudible 00:03:45], you would spend it with me. Okay, so guys, thanks very much for coming on, all of you. All of you got a huge amount of experience in…well, certainly in technical SEO and in, you know, big companies as well. And so, I wanted to start with one question. And we’re gonna dive into that very, very specific question. What are the aspects of technical SEO that the big companies miss? But before I just dive in and go winding off. I always like to start with this question so that if anybody, you know, on Facebook or YouTube, you know, hasn’t got time to get to the end of the session, there’s one takeaway right at the top of the thing.

So, if there’s one thing that you think, you know, you’d give big SEO…big companies, obviously, advice or point out that you’ve seen a number of times that you could think they could take away, that they could grab and think about, what would that be? So I don’t know who to pick on first really. I think, well, I’ll pick on Keith on the basis that he’s in a big organization and then has to see this every single day, or something every single day. So can you give us one thing that if people left now, they should go away with, Keith?

Keith: Related to technical SEO, I would say get priority for SEO from the highest levels of the organization. Because you’re going to discover the audits and all sorts of other things, problems, that if you have to wait for budgeting and if you have to wait for priority and resources, you’re basically gonna fall behind. So if you can get an executive on your team and understanding the value of SEO, that will go a very long way with you, as you try to fix things.

Dixon: Okay. I’ll come back to that one. Let’s jump in and see what Ant’s got as an idea.

Ant: So, it’s a really similar chain of thought, actually. And actually, my very first conference that I went to in the U.S. was in New Orleans, and you were there, Dixon. I was from Bill Hunt and I was in the audience listening to him. And one of his pieces of advice was to monetize annually with a finance team a landing pages that you have, and that forces senior finance people to do exactly what Keith just asked, or kind of recommended. Because if you monetize landing pages on an annual basis and then multiply that by the number of landing pages that you have, that’s a significant amount of income and a significant amount of revenue that any FD will not want to lose. And you will get immediate protection for the landing pages and all the kind of funding that you’re kind of going to ask for for the next 12 months.

Dixon: I wanna come back on that one, actually, as well, because I got something that’s a follow-up thought on that from Bill. But before I do that, Lea how about one thing for you?

Lea: After you get buy-in, also, you have to start from the very basis of the platform. It has to be accessible for everybody. You can’t try to retrofit accessibility in sites that have already been built. It doesn’t work, it’s way cost-intensive, and it doesn’t always work the way it should. So you just end up eventually scrapping everything and starting over. So…

Dixon: Oh, okay. I can come back on all of these. And so, let me do that. I mean, surely… And by the way, my job here is to, you know, disagree or argue with anybody. So I’m just tying to pick the holes and create the conversation. But surely, sometimes that’s…and especially with big companies entirely impractical. So many companies have built their technologies with, you know, flash, and, you know, they seem to be the last people to get rid of the bad practices. I mean, do you find that, Lea?

Lea: Yeah, well, also, they’re the biggest targets for lawsuits. So you can do that, but you’re playing with fire. And we know, like, in the States side, we’ve already started to see lawsuits go after big brands. So we really can’t wait on it here our side. Also, since the lawsuits are started here, and everybody is starting to rebuild their websites right now for page experience, because May is coming, right? This is the opportune time to do both. Otherwise, you’re gonna end up building a second site anyway.

So since you’re working on page experience and you’re working to get those speeds up and make sure there’s no content layout shifts, you might as well be building in accessibility from the ground up.

Dixon: So, just before we move in and anyone else who’s jumping on UX as well, but, you know, just so we all know what’s happening in May?

Lea: Google’s launching page experience algorithm that will change the way sites are ranked. They have threatened that they are going to expose brands’ accessibility score in the SERPs. So, like, they’ve done before with, like, mobile-friendly. So, those sort of things are…you know, it’s coming. It’s coming in May. And if you aren’t working on your website to make sure it’s super fast, nothing shifts when people are using it, and that it loads quickly and the parts of the site that load are functional really quickly, that’s all coming here at May.

Dixon: So, I get the feeling that this is a Microsoft Clarity competitor product where they’re coming out with. This is Microsoft’s UX products in there. But I mean, so let me bring UX back in with you, Ant, and say, you know, how important do you think UX is in the UK for big brands at the moment and for SEO?

Ant: I think it’s important for SEO for obvious reasons. It’s less important because we have this brought into law back in ’98 with the Human Rights Act. So a lot of sites have been really, really kind of up on accessibility since I’ve been in the industry. And a lot of this then changed in 2004 where there was an actual legal requirement that your site had to be accessible. So, we had this legislation years ago.

So, it will have less impact in the UK legally. It will have more impact in the UK I think from a user-experience perspective, natural language programming is where we will be key in the UK market.

Dixon: So, Keith, I wanna come back to you on your point, and you feel free to carry on with UX bit. But I wanted to come back on your point of getting buy-in right at the top. And so, that’s not always easy to do, of course. But let me flip that around and say, sometimes you’ve got somebody at the top in a small organization, then it’s quite obvious who’s, you know… At Aimclear, Marty is the face of Aimclear and on the face of inLinks and stuff. And it’s there.

In large organizations, in the massive organizations, you probably have got the Jeff Bezos and Zuckerbergs of this world who are faces, Keith. But aside from the buy-in of someone at the top, you know, a lot of SEO is about sort of influencer marketing. And you’ve got somebody at the top of these organizations, or people at the top of these organizations, who are huge personalities, but they’re highly unlikely to get involved themselves in SEO. How do we go about harnessing that person without making them, you know, become a technical SEO?

Keith: Great question. IBM is not really known for having big personalities in our leadership. So I…[crosstalk 00:11:19]

Dixon: [crosstalk 00:11:18] asking you the question though. I was probably talking to the wrong brand at that particular point.

Keith: But, you know, don’t get me wrong. Brand is absolutely vital in sort of shoring up your organic strength across the site. So, we definitely encourage brand building from our brand teams, our executive teams, and making sure that we really strengthen the brand. Because what we know is that we rank really, really well for our own terms, right? Our own branded terms would do very, very well for. What I have to do as an organic person is I have to talk to the executive and I have to say, “Listen, yes, we’re doing very well from an organic perspective, but look at the keywords that are driving our traffic. It’s us. It’s all our stuff.”

So, you know, when I show them that, okay, sure, we’re driving, you know, I don’t know, 33 million visits a month on our organic terms. But here’s 75 million visits per month we could be driving from non-branded terms. That’s when I can sort of go, “Well, there’s your opportunity. This is money you’re leaving on the table because you’re not either funding something that we’ve asked for or we’re not getting priority from other teams.” So you know, yes, play the brand, but certainly brand is a very small portion of the keyword universe that you could be going for.

Dixon: That’s a very interesting answer to a completely different question, which is great. So I’ll follow up on that one really because it’s sort of what Ant said at the start as well of show them the money. And I get that. And I remember the very first time I saw Bill Hunt myself was in Sweden, I think, and he was still at Global Crossing or GSI before he’d sold that business to Ogilvy, or whoever he sold it to.

And they were talking about this idea of a matrix, a cost matrix. And what they were doing was taking, you know, what the paper click volume said it was supposed to be for any given set of words, then showing them, you know, what the actual traffic from organic was, and then monetizing that and showing, “Look, this is the gap. This is the opportunity missed.” If you were number one for all of the phrases you wanted to be, this would be the amount of traffic that’s coming through.

And I thought that was a fairly effective way of demonstrating a massive, great big hole. I don’t know whether they can do that so well now, because, of course, keyword matching isn’t such an easy thing. But, you know, how easy is it, Ant, to get that kind of monetized, you know, that financial imperative view that you kind of suggested in your introduction?

Ant: Like any part of SEO, it’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge worth doing. And all you need is a mid-level exec who works in the finance team. So, to actually work through, because you have the keyword volume in terms of the search volume. It’s in search console. You have the keyword volume in Google ads campaigns, and you can see what the overall size of the prize is. And then you can monetize what you’re getting now and what the uplift is.

So, once you monetize what you’re getting now, you can protect the asset value of the landing pages that you have, and then explore with finance, “Actually if we can get additional funding for SEO, this is the projected uplift in revenue that we’re gonna get and here’s the evidence.” And if that goes high enough, protecting the asset value is the thing that actually generates revenue for us. Because if you think about an FD, and he has an asset value, and that asset value is at risk by a go-live process not being right. It gives us the support that we need to get things done, but it also gets us the support financially for what we want to do moving forward.

Dixon: Okay, so Keith or Lea, do you wanna jump in? Do you have anything to add?

Lea: Well, I was gonna say if we’re on the hunt for revenue, right, we’re on the hunt for money, and I’m gonna come back to accessibility a little bit. And I know that it’s been a law in the States since 1990, ’94 for the UK. But there’s $249 to $274 billion in discretionary income that people with disabilities have in the UK. Sitemore [SP] did a study and index of your government offices, like your local government offices, only 17% of them are actually up to par where they’re supposed to be.

So, like, if you look…use them as an example for small businesses and businesses that have websites, there’s a lot of money out there and revenue out there. And the biggest thing we hear back from big brands is, “Well, they’re not my audience.” They’re your audience. They eat, they drink, all that.

Dixon: The only thing I’m just going to say facetiously is that most of our government buildings are older than the United States, so that gives us a [inaudible 00:16:07] problem.

Lea: Well, I’m not talking buildings, I’m taking websites, websites not buildings, websites, web properties. It has nothing to do with the physical location.

Dixon: Yeah. I’m sorry. That was being facetious. But I don’t know if you feel… Ant is the only other Brit on here apart from David. But I feel that the government websites have improved over the last 12 to 24 months a lot. They seem to be more user-friendly. You know, there’s a certain more uniformity. And I’m actually, apart from trying to log into my tax system, which has been bloody impossible, but it seems to be getting better. So we’re working on that, Lea, and I take your point, and I think you’re absolutely right.

Ant: Can I quickly jump in?

Dixon: Yeah, please.

Ant: One of the things I think over here as well is that there’s a load of funding for small business for accessibility on websites that doesn’t transfer across to large business in the UK at all. So, if we’re talking about large business, it doesn’t really fit. But definitely small businesses lots of funding available to upgrade websites that are legacy websites into new if you’re a small business.

Dixon: Hey, Keith, you’re sitting right in the middle of big brands. And I know it’s not just IBM. You’ve got lots of other websites that you sit there and manage as well. And of course, I’m sure IBM is perfect. But on the edges, you know, do you think UX is still something that you guys nearly need to work on? Or is it something that you and you think big brands, I’m not trying to pick on IBM specifically, have largely cracked?

Keith: We’ve mastered it. Yes, we have work to do and there’s no question about it. I always reiterate to folks, when they are doing competitive gap analyses and they’re trying to figure out what they need to do with their website compared to their competitors, I tell folks in our UX team, do not look at the Googles, do not look at the Microsofts and the Oracles exclusively. And look at your actual SERP competitor. See what they’re doing very well from a UX perspective and why they’re potentially ranking better than we are, because more often than not, the SEO at Microsoft and Google and Oracle and all of our other big competitors sucks just as bad as ours does.

So, why would we wanna learn from them, right? So, I think that’s a big lesson, especially when it comes to UX. We discovered a while back that we weren’t ranking well for a term that we thought we really should. We looked at the ranking competitor, not Microsoft. And we saw this beautifully thorough and in-depth piece of content on their page that we literally couldn’t put on our page because our template restricted how much content we could put on that page.

So, this was a big learning for us where we could go back to our UX team and ask them, “Where did you pick up these tips from?” And they were like, “We saw it on Google and we saw it on Microsoft.” Well, of course, and they weren’t ranking either. So there you go.

Dixon: Okay. So what you’re saying for a big SEO is what they should be doing is not looking at the big competitor, they should be seeing why that little guy gets into the rankings. That’s a good lesson.

Keith: A hundred percent, yes. And here’s the thing. We have, and of course, we had a big sloughing off of our links last year due to getting rid of some spammy links, but we still have about 450 to 500 million backlinks coming into IBM. Microsoft has, you know, 150 million backlinks, you know, coming into them. Oracle has, I don’t know, 90 million or so. So it’s not links, right? It’s not just links that are powering these things. It’s the little guys who have 48 links coming into their site that are still outranking us. It’s because they do a better job of answering the questions and they really tap into that whole EAT that Lily Ray talks about so much, the expertise, authority, and trustworthiness and the thoroughness of their content. So don’t just learn from the big guys, learn from the little guys, too, and gas.

Dixon: So Ant or Lea, I mean, what do you think stops big brands from doing that out of the box? Surely, surely, they have all the training and stuff to be able to do that. What goes wrong?

Ant: They’re simply just too slow to respond. Sorry, Lea, I didn’t…

Lee: That’s okay. Go ahead, Ant.

Ant: Big brands are just too slow to respond. It’s like getting an oil tanker to change direction. So if you think about over the last, what? Six, eight months, and how much kind of AI and structured data and kind of Google’s aim to be 50% AI by what? 2024, 2028, somewhere between there, and how they’re bridging the gap. Most big brands don’t have any structured data on their website, which are helping to bridge that gap, which is dead simple, dead straightforward. It could go live easy unless you’ve got this leviathan of a CMS that just doesn’t work in exactly they way that Keith just said.

Dixon: Yeah. And of course, this is my advert for inLinks, since inLinks is sponsoring the whole event here today, of course. I mean, the one thing that inLinks does is it just uses one line of JavaScript, and all the schema…well, the content schema anyway, and FAQ schema and internal links can be automated with one line of JavaScript. So, I guess my question on from that then is, obviously inserting a JavaScript is a fairly new thing within SEO, because you couldn’t really do that…until Google started, you know, rendering the DOM, it wasn’t really following JavaScript very well. But now, Martin Splitt and all the guys now, you know, have no problem with rendered JavaScript, haven’t done for some years and things.

So I guess my question is, why is it that we don’t make use of JavaScript more in SEO now? Because, you know, JavaScript can cover your schema. WP schema does that very, very well, or Schema app.

You know, inLinks is doing a pretty good job, you know, including Keith has talked about it. So thank you very much, Keith. So it must work on some big websites. We got some pretty big bands using the thing. But it could be doing so much more to stop that juggernaut of slowness. You know, the fact that the big organization can’t move doesn’t mean to say the people within it can move. And what was holding people up before is the SEOs know what they need to do because they’ve run 20 audits over there last year. But they can’t give them to the developers because the developers are too busy doing something else in the organization.

And so, I guess my question is can JavaScript take that away? And is that something that might develop more and more? Or am I just trying to sing the praises of inLinks and I haven’t got a chance? Anyone wanna jump in with that?

Keith: I’d love to.

Ant: It’s [inaudible 00:23:03] now.

Keith: Yeah, I’d love to speak to that. Because I think part of the reason the adoption of JavaScript hasn’t been there as much as it could be is partially us. It’s partially the SEOs just not knowing…

Ant: We’re just not used to it.

Keith: …it can be implemented. We’re not used to it for one. The second part of that is also us. But it’s because we understand that our developers want to take the easiest way out of developing it. They want to do client-side rendering. And we’re, like, “No, no, you got to do server side.” And they’re like, “But that takes too much work.” “Okay, we’ll do a hybrid.” “Well, that takes even more work.” So, you know, part of it, you know, is really the fact that we don’t trust our developers as much as maybe we could or should. And maybe it’s because they’re not trustworthy enough? I don’t know.

Dixon: Oh, okay. Well, if we’ve got any questions from the audience here, then feel free to jump on in there.

Ant: So I think as well…I think that if you think about most big sites, and a lot of WordPress sites, Google takes a snapshot of the five-second point, and it literally…it renders the JavaScript at five seconds. If your page is loading at 12, then you’re not getting the structured data and everything else put forward. So the reason why I’m really reluctant to kind of use JavaScript in the way you’ve described is because the majority of pages load after five seconds anyway. So it’s not getting a full snapshot of all the content that is on a page.

Dixon: So you’re saying the majority do load or don’t load?

Ant: Don’t load.

Dixon: Don’t load. Okay, so I’d agree with that. If your site hasn’t loaded in five seconds, then you’ve got a speed problem, and that’s kind of like a cliff, I think, for SEO. You know, Google is not all about you have to be faster, faster, faster to write better, better, better, but there’s got to be a cliff, and you’re saying the cliff is five seconds.

Ant: Google’s cliff is there, is there, and it’s there [inaudible 00:25:02].

Lea: I think a lot of brands got burned by Java before, right? We got burned and we ended up losing content or giving up content that we had that we thought was so great because of ranking in Google and all that stuff. So, I think there’s a little bit of a trust issue there. Like, we’ve already dated them, and maybe we’re not ready to jump back into a relationship yet?

Dixon: Possibly, but I think Martin Splitt said Google has done a huge PR job for Google of saying how far they’ve come on and how that’s moved. But back in the early days of JavaScript, it was slow. You know, it’s not now. I mean, you know, so we put defer tag on anyway, so, you know, everything else loads for the customer for the user before our stuff does anyway. But you’re right, you know. It can load in five seconds and, well, you’ve got bigger problems than SEO, I think, possibly.

But to your point, Keith, I mean, I don’t think we as SEOs should be doing everything server-side anymore. It’s not necessarily quicker. And I think we, as SEOs, have probably missed some real opportunities, which we seem to be slowly getting to. But, you know, I’d argue that JavaScript is still the future because it decouples a lot of the problems that large organizations have got.

Okay, let me move on to hreflang, because I can’t really go for too long with big organizations and say hreflang because this is, again, Bill Hunt’s pet peeve. How man big companies seem to get it right? And how often do you see that going wrong? You know, Ant, I don’t know. Lea, I don’t know if your an hreflang person. So I’ll jump in with Ant because I’m sure he’s had his fair share of hreflang problems.

Ant: Yeah, it’s a European problem, isn’t it, right?

Dixon: Yeah, because we have a lot of languages to deal with. Yeah.

Ant: Yeah, I mean, the problem being is that Google wants to be able to kind of group a set of pages together that are delivering the same content just in different languages. And done right, hreflang is the way to do that. It’s kind of…it’s as important as using a canonical tag on duplicate content that you know is duplicate content. The problem being is that implementation is a challenge.

And the reason being is that you’ve got headquarters in every different European city or every different city where a localized language occurs, in every country where there’s localized language. So getting the same content that actually is the different language version of the same content is often a challenge. If you get some data in one country and not in the next and that’s where the challenge arises with hreflang in my experience.

Dixon: Keith, how are you coping with language problems?

Keith: Okay. Okay. I don’t know. All right, no, actually IBM, and I think a lot of companies have a hard time with it in general, simply because the implementation is not always as easy as you would think it would be. Because oftentimes, especially if you’re an organization that has multiple different CMS and different types of content management systems, which is a CMS, never mind, I’ll just say it again. You run into sort of cross-platform issues of getting that hreflang right for one.

Secondly, oftentimes, the content in the other countries is basically just stealing content from other regions. And the need to have a different page altogether is sort of minimum. So, you know, we’re actually taking a language-first approach rather than a country-first approach. And we’re finding that that’s probably going to work out better for us simply as a B2B business.

Now, when it comes to a B2C business, you might absolutely positively need to have a country-first approach because of taxation and different pricing and different, you know, monetary values, etc. But I’m not sure I’ve seen a really, really great example of a very large company doing it extraordinarily well. I think it’s all a bit kludgy. If it works sometimes, it’s just sheer luck.

Dixon: Did he say it’s all a bit Fuji?

Keith: Kludgy. I don’t know if that’s an American word or not, but it just means it’s wonky. Lea, do you have any examples of Minnesotan language for wonky?

Lea: Oh God, if we get into Minnesota language, we’ll be here all day.

Dixon: Minnesnowta is where we got [crosstalk 00:29:44].

Lea: Yeah.

Keith: By the way, Lea, your weather’s down here. Would you please come get it? It got drunk and wound up in our backyard?

Lea: No, it was near 23 when we woke up this morning and that’s without wind. So we would happily take seven degrees back. That’s, like, outside weather. That’s run-around-and-do-stuff weather. We’ll definitely, yeah, send it back home, because we would rather push this stuff north.

Dixon: So let me throw in that whole idea of language back to all three of you and say, “Well, okay, I take your point.” It’s very interesting, Keith, that some countries, or some organizations, are gonna develop, you know, with different businesses in different countries. And so, clearly, you know, they’re not gonna have the same content. They may have started from completely different places, in different countries, because their businesses operate differently that way, and the content is gonna be different.

But by the same token, is there not a real opportunity there if we can only work on that finance piece of demonstrating, you know, where there’s content in one language but isn’t there in another language? So it’s not about hreflang now, it’s just about the fact that, you know, one country has written this massive, great big piece at some university student did as their thesis, and it’s in Spanish and it’s not sitting there in German or English, or Taiwanese, or Chinese.

You know, is there a real opportunity there or is that just going way too far out the comfort zone of SEOs to be able to get that message across and show that opportunity? I don’t know. Lea, do wanna jump in?

Lea: I was gonna say content gap analysis is a content gap analysis, right? You have to look at your audience in the individual areas that you’re going to present products, too. So if you’re missing a page, and you can see that you’re missing it, then you build the page in the right language. So, I think it just comes back to is it actually needed? And you do that by looking at the analysis that you have in front of you.

So, I think you start there versus like saying, “Oh, we have it in Spanish. We should obviously have it in English,” or, “We should obviously have it in German.” I think it honestly has to be by audience.

Dixon: But I mean, it’s not by topic, or if you’re not fighting over the phrase, I don’t know, blue widgets in Germany, because no one’s written a piece of content on blue widgets in Germany. And yet, you know, that blue widgets is money-making in the U.S. or in Canada. Is that not, you know, to your point at the start, Ant, where you said, you know, “Get that monetary value on the table.” And Keith said it as well. You know, can we use that? Shouldn’t we be using that? Or is that too far out the SEOs’ stable?

Ant: It’s absolutely what SEO should be doing. And in Europe, it depends where the corporate headquarters are. In England or the UK, if the corporate headquarters sit in the UK, we’re a little bit arrogant and we don’t really care what’s going on in Europe. And therefore, often hreflang and additional content in different languages, people expect Europeans to read English and English language pages okay. It’s not. It’s eroding traffic. And using that analogy, Dixon, is absolutely the right way to go. It demonstrates clearly at exec level that there’s money being left and somebody else is eating our lunch.

Dixon: Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, I’m only a small business at inLinks, really, but we’ve just launched the knowledge graph in Spanish. And almost the first job I’ve taken on is somebody to start translating all of the pages on the blogs, you know, to go through and start. Before I couldn’t market to the Spanish, but now I can, but I’ve only got my homepage in Spanish, so I’m a long way off being a big company for that kind of reason.

Ant: [crosstalk 00:33:37].

Dixon: Keith anything to add?

Keith: Well, I just think from a page perspective, it’s really a matter of what we’re legally able to sell in certain countries as well. So, it’s not just that we wanna have 180 different versions of the same content out there. Sometimes it’s a matter of us not being able to sell there at all, or we have to go through a government-approved local person to sell these products or services for us. So, you know, it would be lovely if…I don’t know how many countries there are in the world. Is it 182, 184? Somewhere around there? Maybe 220. I could be way off.

Dixon: Yeah. No, there’s more than 200 but maybe not recognized by America, you know.

Keith: And we don’t include the micronations. But it would be lovely if we could have a page, you know, for every single country out there and that would be consistent across the board. It would make doing hreflang so much easier for us, technically speaking. It’s just a matter of, like, legally, can we sell in that country? Legally, can we sell that product in that country as well. So it’s as straightforward as I think the documentation would like to have us believe.

Ant: I think one last point that’s really important, and that’s in including when you are doing translations that you have naturalized people doing those translations. Because writing a piece of content and getting a UK translator who speaks French and is fluent in French isn’t the same as an indigenous French person doing that piece of content automatically and writing that from scratch. It’s so much more effective from an SEO perspective when that occurs rather than kind of using a UK translator whose first language is British. You know, it just doesn’t work as well. It needs that localization, just an intonation of the written language. You know, it changes.

Dixon: I’m loving the sarcasm for a moment. So, yeah, okay. Right. So, Lea, sorry, did you wanna dive in there? Or should I just move on?

Lee: No, I was agreeing with him. It’s just…yeah.

Dixon: I wanna talk a little bit before we go about tiger teams versus SEO teams, and I think the idea about mixing and matching different skill sets. But before I do that, you know, we’re talking about technical SEO. So I think it’s only sensible to ask the question, just because you’re a large organization, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your business overly relies probably increasingly after COVID. But it doesn’t overly rely on everybody coming in. We’re not all Amazons.

We can be a very big organization, but we don’t have to have… You know, I don’t suppose JCB is worrying about a server that has to go over 20 blocks of warehouses and things because their audience is very business-to-business and they could probably operate their site even though they’re a massive organization on the same kind of server that somebody like I could do, if you like.

So I guess when does technical SEO, when does servers become an issue for large organizations? And where does that trouble start happening? Wen that scale problem starts happening? How does a large organization find out? I mean, they probably find out by their site crashing, but what do they have to change? Or do they just carry on relying with, you know, WP Engine server-side hosting, you know? When do you need your own data center then, Keith?

Keith: Great question. Well, for one, you need it when you’re in China, first and foremost, because as you know, we know there’s that great firewall of China that you have to sort of be within in order to do very well there. Secondly, I don’t really deal as much with data centers from an actual data center perspective as much as I do with caching services. We are very much interested in caching services specifically, because, yes, you do need a distributed ability to have fast access to your users across the globe. But you don’t necessarily have to have separate data centers so that you can rely on a caching server for that.

Dixon: Okay, well, I’m caching. So today, we’re talking Cloudflare and Akamai, and these kinds of guys, you know, Cloudfare…

Keith: Exactly, yeah.

Dixon: I mean, because I’m a big crawler, you know, I do find it quite interesting. Cloudflare loves to block anything that they don’t think is human. Do you find that there’s, you know, out-of-the-box Cloudflare actually makes SEO worse? I don’t think that Cloudflare understands, or maybe large organizations don’t understand that saving a little bit of bandwidth is a very cheap way of blocking real people eventually coming to your website.

So I have this argument, and I’ll argue to you, Keith, you know, because I’m sure that IBM does it as well, you know. The blocking bots is not a clever way because it cuts down your marketing channels. What do you say about that? Cloudflare is bad?

Keith: Well, I can’t say that for my former…[crosstalk 00:39:11]

Dixon: For me. No, no, for me.

Keith: Okay, okay. Okay. Yes, I do think that there’s a need to configure outside of what comes in the box for either Cloudflare or Akamai. And we most certainly do that on a regular basis. You know, and there is a need to have a whitelist available for the bots, you know, and so that we can certainly service their needs as well. We don’t block bots until they become malicious in their behavior, generally speaking. So yeah, never take anything out of the box, in my opinion, and just use it as is. You have to configure it especially.

And we have people that do that. I couldn’t do that myself. I couldn’t tell you how to do that. So, that’s why we hire the smart people.

Dixon: Yeah. Lea and Ant, your opinion on bots and big business?

Ant: So yeah, I’ve got a really good example of this actually. So a fairly large corporate that has been one of my clients recently was using a global platform for their E-commerce, and their data centers are all based in one country. And it’s north of where you’re sitting, Lea, somewhere.

Lea: Yeah, it is.

Ant: So that should give you a close to who the platform are. I’m not gonna name them. And literally, they were blocking Googlebot UK, which is not a good thing when we’re trying to do SEO for a company whose main revenue is coming from the UK. So you can imagine the challenges that we got to get a major E-commerce platform to change their firewall settings so that Googlebot UK could go in. But we did, but you can imagine the challenge that that took.

Dixon: I find that really bizarre. I mean, Lea, I mean, what’s your opinion on, you know, blocking bots?

Ant: Crazy.

Lea: I…[crosstalk 00:40:59]

Ant: Sorry.

Lea: No, it’s okay. Blocking bots is not something I’m a fan of just because we have so many times where even our SEO tools are blocked because they’re blocking bots, and so then their clients are looking, or big brands are looking for their reporting, and you’re like, “I’d love to give it to you, but we haven’t been able to do things for…” You know. But when it comes to the big side of that, I’m really lucky I get to lean on Joe Warner, our CTO, and I don’t have to make all those things. I just can say, “It’s broken.” And then he makes everything work. So…

Dixon: I think I found it really interesting for other… I mean, you made the point about Google UK, and that’s obviously huge. But, of course, you know, Google Images has their image bot, you know, or Bing bot or, you know. If the CDN networks or CDNs are going to block bots, by definition, apart from Google and maybe Bing, then they are really by definition forcing the world to go to one of two suppliers. So they’re costing them…what they’re saving in bandwidth, there’s more than costing in advertising revenue, because if there’s only two places where you can go put your advertising dollars, then that price is gonna carry on going up.

And I think that there’s so many different bots that are, especially in a world of entity SEO, you know, where the world is moving towards a topic-based system. And people sort of got this idea of everything being, you know, topic-based rather than page content-based, I think that blocking the bot means you’re not allowing any of those bots, any of those information retrieval systems to scan the content, put it into a machine friendly format, for want of a better phrase, and therefore can’t then reproduce it back.

So you’re not gonna end up in your featured snippets as much as you want, you’re not gonna end up on Google Discover as much as you want, you’re not gonna end up on…you know, if Nokia come out with a new phone or Apple are doing their own crawl, you’re not gonna be [inaudible 00:43:06] seeing if they ever come out with a search engine.

So I think it’s a real problem. And also, on top of that, they’re only blocking the ones that identify themselves as bots, which is just crazy, absolutely crazy. Over half the blocked bot traffic pretends it’s humans, so, yeah, okay, and my pet peeve and then…

Ant: And it only pretends it’s human because it’s blocked otherwise.

Dixon: But Cloudfare and Akamai, you know, make themselves…you know, they stand this up as a USP, but it’s basically saving them pennies and potentially costing them millions, I think, for a custom…

Ant: Yeah, and my take on it is if you look at any kind of analytics of internal traffic, there’s always 10% of your traffic is coming from image search. You know, some of that is…and your audience usually [inaudible 00:43:55] depends on the business that you’re in. But global brands want to have a brand presence, and that is around distributing their imagery that their brand team have produced. And if those brand searches for that imagery are not being found because they’re using a CDN that is being blocked to Google, or any other search engine you can mention, then kind of what’s the point in spending the money on the brand?

Dixon: Yeah. Okay, Keith, feel free to come back on that as well if you want to at the end. But I just wanna cover over the last bit, because we’ve already reached time. And what I want you to finish up with was asking about large organizations and their SEO teams. And I guess I’m gonna ask Keith how big his SEO team is in a second. If you can’t answer, Keith, then that’s absolutely fine. But I guess the reason that I’m asking is, do you think a large organization should have a significant, dedicated SEO team, or do you think they are better off having a tiger team coordinated by an SEO somewhere? So one SEO who then sits there and says, “For this website over here, I’m gonna grab you from UX, you from web design, you from analytics, and you from finance, and get you all into a thing. And you’re going to be my SEO team.” What’s a better approach? And, Keith, I’m gonna throw it over to you.

Keith: Well, it depends. Not really. Actually, it sort of does depend. We have a fairly small team at this point. We lost a couple of our team members going over to a couple of other different companies. And, you know, that sucked. Patrick, you jerk. Anyway.

Dixon: Yeah, he sat next to me at the U.S. Search Awards dinner before I knew, and he was just plugging me for what I was doing before he wandered of and announced it. Thanks, Patrick.

Keith: Yeah, he’s sneaky that way. But I will say that you should have a team in-house if at all possible. I would not rely 100% on agencies. No offense to our agency friends, but I would not 100% rely on them because I think that you have to have someone who has sort of tribal knowledge and can actually work with the internal resources politically to get stuff done.

So, you know, do you need an SEO team of 50 people for a company the size of IBM? Not really. But you can probably get by with a dozen or so ranging from senior to junior SEOs coordinating with a nice agency team, because I definitely do need an agency team to work with 100%. I need somebody to do the grunt work while I’m doing the strategic work.

Dixon: Okay, Ant, do you wanna jump in? You’re on mute. You’re on mute mate.

Ant: Sorry about that. I couldn’t agree more with exactly what Keith just said that internally it does need an SEO team and they should be responsible for managing the agency, because the internal team have the internal working knowledge of the corporate structure and what actually the business is moving towards. I also think that having the expertise in-house that fits strategically, it’s not cost-effective to have that as an external resource, because the cost per hour is just out of the questio, and even large corporates don’t want to spend that with an agency.

And that’s where agencies really do fit well, because we can get that grunt work done quickly and efficiently and change. But what I wanted to say more is, to your original question, the tiger teams I think work really well. So the brand that I used to work with that we started this conversation about had teams that worked in silo. There was an SEO team, there was a mobile team, there was a desktop team, there was a brand team, there was a photography team. And every team sat in silo and no one ever spoke to each other. They just got on with their own jobs.

And the amount of conflict that got created actually caused more problems going back to retrofit what a single conversation would have cured early on. So I think an integrated team with different skill sets in it is much more powerful than managing external agency. That’s where a large corporate gets most of its kind of good work done.

Dixon: Yeah, Lea, do you wanna be the final word?

Lea: Sure, I am. Working with Aimclear, I was embedded in a very large software company’s team for content, and they had eight BU’s, or business units. And each business unit had their own content team. And I was the SEO that led all the content. So I provided strategy and then they did the content and made sure that I was on point for content with the verbiage for the user. And that worked really well and we saw great success that way.

So I don’t know how big of an SEO team you need. But the content to be built off of what SEO provides with strategy was a winner for us.

Dixon: Okay, great. So I’m really grateful for Doc and Ammon for throwing in points there. I didn’t see specific questions. So I’m sorry I didn’t bring you out. And David, if there’s anything I’ve really missed that I should have seen… There is a question. So now you’ve done it right after the 45-minute mark, Ammon, thank you, how much does corporate culture become a limitation?

Ant: It’s huge.

Dixon: Okay, yeah, cool. Yes. Okay. Well, let’s answer that one, then. Yeah. How much does corporate culture become a problem for big organizations? And you’re saying huge. Is it 99% of the problem?

Ant: Yeah, you can’t get things done. If you think of what Keith said right at the start, you need somebody at a senior C-suite level who is gonna champion the SEO campaign. Without that, there isn’t anybody at the board level that can actually make sure that we get the work done that we need to do. And then, the corporate structures that sit in between a senior SEO, for example, or a digital marketing director, there’s probably three layers of people, and never the twain shall meet, you know.

Dixon: I agree. I agree. Keith, do you wanna jump in there?

Keith: A hundred percent I agree. The corporate culture can be quite problematic, especially politically speaking, because executives, I’m not going to say that they’re not smart people, but they are very much like cats in that they are interested in the shiny thing that’s over in the corner that’s getting their attention. And sometimes, that is a very, you know, upwardly mobile and outgoing 20-something-year-old fresh out of MBA school who has an idea and just happens to be in front of them.

The problem with that is is that it can actually distract from really, really higher priorities. So, there’s a corporate culture of getting attention and keeping attention that we can’t always win. And then, added to that, you know, I have to do about 20 hours of mandatory training every year on the exact same material related to harassment and diversity, and all of these other things that really keep me from being able to do my job. Even though, you know, I know it. I know. Yes, I know this, but it’s not to do with the training. So there are all this cooperate limitations [crosstalk 00:51:24]

Dixon: And everybody in your organization should be doing that on SEO, and basically, yeah, your imprint on the world these days as well I think. Yeah.

Keith: Which we really, really need to. Absolutely.

Dixon: Yeah. I think that’s it. And you could use legislation for that. You could sit there and say, “Look, anything I say…” Well, in the UK anyway, you can sit there and say, “Anything I say could be taken as something that the company has said. So therefore, I need to be trained in it and use that as a leverage for SEOs.”

Guys, I’ve got to wrap things up a little bit here. And it’s been a fantastic and fascinating conversation. We’re staying on the big data thing next time round. David, what’s the subject of the next session?

David: So next week it’s going to be how to use big data to scale SEO.

Dixon: Next month. I can’t do this every week. It’s too much work for me.

David: Absolutely, next month. That same date next month, 15th of March.

Dixon: Okay, because we’re not on a leap year. So same time, same date,

David: Same time in the UK, but actually an hour later in the U.S. because that’s a day after the U.S. goes into summertime. So it’s 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time next month, and 4:00 p.m. UK time.

Dixon: That’s never gonna work. I’m gonna run. Good luck. Okay, thank you very much, David. I’m glad you’re ahead of that game because there’s no way I would have got that right.

Ant: I’ve got it [inaudible 00:52:38].

Dixon: And it’s a big data SEO, right? It’s good. Who have we got coming on?

David: So we’ve got Laurence O’Toole from Authoritas . We’ve got Will Reynolds coming on as well. So it should be a great show.

Dixon: Yeah, it should good. Thank you very much. Okay, guys, so it just leads me to let you guys say if people wanna find out more about you, where do they go? And how do they find you, Lea?

Lea: You can find me on Twitter @LeaScudamore.

Dixon: Lea Scudamore.

Lea: Yeah or find me on Aimclear blog too.

Dixon: Okay, Ant?

Ant: Find me @antrobbo at Twitter. Exactly the same.

Dixon: One B or two?

Ant: Two Bs antrobbo two Bs.

Dixon: The you go. Keith, well, obviously we can’t even see you so you’re not allowed to be found or you? You are allowed to answer, Keith. Where do we find you?

Keith: Can’t unmute.

Dixon: Okay, so I’ll tell you how you find Keith. You just go down to somewhere in Austin, Texas and bang on IBM’s door and he’ll be the other side there, and he’ll take your queries in person only. So there you go. Okay guys…[crosstalk 00:53:46]

Ant: Sorry go on.

Dixon: Go on.

Ant: I was just saying you guys are working me overtime.

Dixon: Keith?

Keith: Sorry about that, Dixon. I couldn’t get off mute for some reason, but I am at @keithgoode on Twitter. But maybe not for long I’ve got to go burn some chairs to stay warm, so I may die in a fire so.

Dixon: That’s brilliant. Guys, thank you ever so much for coming along. I’m pretty sure when we press the button here everything goes dead. So we’ll be…okay, Ammon’s pointed out that Keith’s cloaking. He is indeed, but, you know, he’s from Texas, so, you know, they’re gonna have to do that for a while for a few more years. So guys, thank you very much for coming along. I really appreciate it. And see you again soon. David, anything I need to say? Did I miss at all?

Keith: Thank you.

David: No, not at all. Everything doesn’t go dead. Actually, people are still here when we ended the broadcast.

Dixon: That’s fine.

David: We ended the broadcast just now. Bye-bye, everyone.

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