Yes, SEO Strategy Still Matters for Marketers

John McAlpin - Yes, SEO Strategy Still Matters for Marketers

John McAlpin, SEO Director at Cardinal Digital Marketing, joins the Content Experience Show Podcast to discuss key ingredients of a successful SEO strategy.

In This Episode:

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Full Episode Details

John McAlpin - Yes, SEO Strategy Still Matters for Marketers

What’s Changed (and Hasn’t) About SEO Strategy

Search engine optimization is a different rodeo than it was only a few years ago. The factors affecting your business’s place in search rankings (like domain authority, keyword density, and others) don’t necessarily hold the same relevancy they did the last time you refreshed your SEO strategy. The rise of smart home devices and Google features like featured snippets, knowledge panels, and other rich results are all changing the game at a rapid rate.

As Cardinal Digital Marketing’s SEO Director, John McAlpin has seen these seismic shifts in the SEO landscape first-hand. Today, he shares his perspective on what those changes mean for marketers.

From content writing to strategizing for voice search, John covers the areas where marketers should be experimenting to maximize visibility. You’ll hear his tips for appearing as a featured snippet, writing for smart home devices, writing a click-worthy “hook,” and more essential advice for anyone serious about SEO.

In This Episode

  • What Google values most right now when it comes to search ranking.
  • How to tailor your content for the best shot at becoming a featured snippet.
  • Why your best-performing pages need a “hook,” not just a solid place in the rankings.
  • Tips for crafting search-friendly copy.
  • When domain authority matters, and when it doesn’t.
  • How creating custom skills for smart home devices impacts your visibility in voice search.

Quotes From This Episode

“Is Google doing the right thing for businesses, or should they keep focusing on users?” – @seocounseling

If you can educate your audience on how to use their devices for voice search for your brand, that's where you can win. Click To Tweet

“The longer the content, the better you can rank, but you can’t really rank if your content is just fluff.” – @seocounseling

Resources

Content Experience Lightning Round

What do you love about grilling?

John loves the competitive BBQ culture that’s become popular at high schools around Texas. He’s more than ready to coach some competitive grilling once his kids start high school!

See you next week!

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Episode Transcript

  • Randy

    Welcome to the Content Experience Podcast. I am Randy Frisch. Anna, we’ve got a fun one today for us. We’ve got John McAlpin joining us as the SEO director at Cardinal Digital Marketing. Now SEO is one of those things. It’s never going away, but it’s always changing, right? And I think what we got to do today was get some very practical, right now how do I optimize, advice and then sandwich that at the end with some ideas on where is search going and an area that we’re always intrigued about. Maybe we can’t optimize for quite yet, but it’s voice search. So these are two areas that we’re going to hit on. The practical was how do you be that little blurb, that little snippet that comes up front and I don’t know. Anna you and I were chatting about this afterwards, do you want to be that blurb or do you want to just be the result. What’s your preference? Would you rather someone just get a glimpse of what you have to offer or do you want to force them to enter?

  • Anna

    Look, I unabashedly sit within the user experience camp, which I think sometimes doesn’t have to be at odds with SEO, but sometimes the goals are different, right? So while sometimes SEO really wants to drive clicks, I very much want to be the person that provides the best user experience. But then on the flip side, maybe just being the best at UX doesn’t actually drive to our business goals. So there’s a lot of different facets to that. But I want to be the snippet. That’s a very long way to say I want to be the snippet.

  • Randy

    I think what you’re saying is I want to be everything, which is not a bad thing. Right? It’s funny, I was out with a friend literally last night for dinner and we were talking, we weren’t talking about business or anything like that, but we were talking about search and talking about what we read online. And he was alluding to this idea that he really just reads through Twitter now. Like he doesn’t even click through the link anymore. He lives in the 140 characters. And that’s his definition of reading, which is, it’s sad, but it’s the reality for some people. So for me, I want to be able to have the answer for everyone, right? I want to be able to, to take care of the person who wants 140 characters. They’re just looking for that snippet in the search result, but I also want to be there for the person who wants to dig deeper, who maybe wants, needs to read more and understand more, watch more videos, whatever that is that we’re going to lead to. I want to offer both.

  • Anna

    Yeah. We can’t be everything to everyone, which sucks. But yeah, there are definitely things I think that John gives us today that we can do immediately to help optimize our content, to make sure we’re doing the best things that we can today. Because this world of search has been changing and is still changing so fast, there’s only so much within our power, but he gives a lot of great advice about how we can actually still optimize today and try to be everything as best as we can to everybody.

  • Randy

    Absolutely. Well, let’s roll it with John. We have him in studio for the next 20, 30 minutes. Enjoy this episode of the Content Experience Podcast.

  • Anna

    Hey John, welcome to the Content Experience Show. It’s great to have you here.

  • John

    Thanks for having me.

  • Anna

    Yeah, I’m so excited to talk about all of the amazing SEO things today, but before we get there, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about yourself.

  • John

    Hi, I’m based out of Texas and I worked for Cardinal Digital Marketing, running the search and SEO side. We mostly work a lot with health care education and big enterprise, mid-market level companies, and we focus on driving qualified customers through organic search.

  • Randy

    All right, so on organic search, the world has changed a lot in the last little while. Ah, if we go back, there were, and I’m not suggesting It’s not still important, but it’s more that it’s changed, right? And I use this terrible dad joke all the time, which is that, the best place to hide things on Google used to be page two, which people would laugh at mildly, but now it’s almost result two or result three. We, we don’t go very far down in terms of our expectations. So maybe you could speak to some of the things that are changing that expectation from what you’re seeing from customers and audiences at the end of the day.

  • John

    So there’s different competing priorities going on between a businesses and Google. Businesses want to rank high on Google, because the higher your rank, the higher potential click through rate is and get more business. Google’s goal is to provide the best search experience for users, which means they’re adding more features to the search engine results page. We’ve started seeing a huge explosion in featured snippets. Rich results, knowledge panels have boomed with more information and they’re trying to answer questions all on the results page without even sending anyone to the website. Now that’s a really cool thing for users and it’s really nice to see, but a lot of companies, especially publishers who rely on traffic for ad revenue and things like that, are really starting to suffer from this. So no longer is the feature snippet something you really want.

  • John

    Cause sometimes there’s bugs where Google can even forget to mention the source and so they may not even be able to click through. Most of the time that’s not the case, but there’s a competing mindset here is, do we want that? Do we want that question answered right away? We want that traffic. While there’s also some competing data saying that, hey, well even though we had that feature snippet, people are still clicking through. So there’s a lot of competing things going on right now, and whether, is Google doing the right thing for businesses or should they keep focusing on users?

  • Randy

    So let’s, let’s break this down really practical for people because you hit on this idea of the snippet that’s broad in line, and we have all seen that, right? We know it well when we’re looking to define a word that we just don’t know the very basic definition to. So we now, embarrassing, don’t have to open a dictionary. We just go define this term and they tell us that definition. How is Google determining what to bring forward into those results? So how can people rank to that first result to be that snippet?

  • John

    So several factors. I wish it was just one. The easiest way is to answer the question as quickly as possible. One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen is that people will have these long … They’ll ask a question, they’ll propose the question. It’s the biggest one. You get to propose a question in your content. A lot of times these are blogs or resource articles that are ranking. Very rarely is it an actual landing page. But for these long tail questions, you get to pose the actual question and answer it as quickly, and succinctly as possible. A lot of people have this fluff and a long intro text, which is typical for writers, but that doesn’t really help Google or your users quickly find that information.

  • Randy

    Gotcha. That’s helpful. To be honest, you just made me go run a check on what is Content Experience and I had a huge sigh of relief that Uberflip is coming up right now as as the the snippet of of what it is. So we’re obviously answering very directly and quickly. You know what happens is it gets cluttered and competitive and there’s a lot of people out there. Obviously it goes away from how quickly you do and I assume it’s more around domain authority?

  • John

    Yeah, sort of. Yes and no. Just remember also that domain authority is not a ranking factor. It is a tool that Moz has created that is very helpful and very accurate to the website’s ability to rank, but Google does not use it. But it’s a great reflection and a tool that almost every SEO uses. That’s a disclaimer I have to put out there. But there is some sense of using domain authority because Google does prefer to use answers from trusted websites. And part of building trust is getting a lot of high quality links from other trusted sources. So for example, if you’re asking a medical question, a lot of times Mayo Clinic or WebMD is going to get ranked because everyone’s so citing them as a source and they’re a very well trusted website and they have a very high domain authority. So yes, that is part of it.

  • Anna

    So, question. So it sounds like we’re at this crossroads where, as you had mentioned, Google, really their entire goal is to serve up the best results possible and to make this user experience wonderful, and answer people’s questions without them even having to click through to a site. Yet as marketers and oftentimes as businesses, we rely on those clicks in, we want nothing more than to bring people to our sites. So we’re at a crossroads with competing interests. So how do we rectify that? How do we both do what Google wants so that we obviously get served and results. But then also balance our need to drive that traffic, because it sounds like obviously those are two totally different things.

  • John

    That’s where we blend the art and the science of SEO. Really what it comes down to is, there is technically a kind of a science to getting into these featured snippets. There’s a little bit of technical optimization, very little bit, a lot of content finesse. Okay, so let’s say we’ve used all of our skillsets to manufacture ourselves into the featured snippet. We got it. How do we get that click? That’s where the art comes in. It’s: let’s answer the question, but find a way to leave a hook. Then make them want to learn more. Here’s a quick answer to your question, but what your question is a bigger picture around that and you need this additional information. Because a lot of times Google will sometimes answer the question and end with an ellipses. So if we can find a way to rank in that featured snippet while still having that hook.

  • Randy

    That sounds like basic content marketing, right, Anna?

  • John

    Oh yeah.

  • Anna

    Yeah. I mean there’s only so much that Google can serve before truncating that answer. Which by the way, also going back to your earlier comment about having a very long intro, I’m a massive advocate, and any writer out there who is not leveraging web writing best practices, I sincerely urge you to go back and analyze your writing. Because a lot of web writing best practices are going to eliminate some of these issues like the extremely long lead in. That’s just best user experience, best practices. And it also is just beneficial for SEO as well.

  • John

    Yeah, absolutely. And if I can make a quick note on that, whenever I have writers write for me, I always give them very detailed outlines for that specific reason. And it is kind of a pet peeve of mine to have a long intro, but there’s this balance between, we want to have long, lengthy content cause there are several studies that show the longer the content the better you can rank, but you can’t really rank if your content is just fluff. So essentially it’s, quick answer than followed by supporting document, supporting evidence, but if you want to have a mixture of that fluff and the factual things, it’s short answer, supporting information, and within that you can have examples. And in your examples that people can relate to, that’s when you can mix your great content writing with answering with some more supportive information and being able to rank for more keywords.

  • Anna

    Very nice.

  • John

    Just a quick tool.

  • Anna

    Yeah, absolutely. Web writing best practices are so undervalued, and just answering, answering that question immediately and then driving into some of those supporting details. Absolutely agree. John, I want to get more into some of the SEO aspects of things like ranking jobs, and some voice search as well coming up, but before we do, let’s take a super quick break and hear from our sponsors, but everybody stick around because we have lots more SEO goodness after the break.

  • Jay

    Hi Friends, this is Jay Baer from Convince & Convert, reminding you that this show, the ConEx Show Podcast is brought to you by Uberflip, the number one content experience platform. Do you ever wonder how content experience affects your marketing results? Well, you can find out in the first ever Content Experience Report where Uberflip uncovers eight data science backed insights to boost your content engagement and your conversions. It’s a killer report and you do not want to miss it. Get your free copy right now at uberflip.com/conexshowreport. That’s uberflip.com/conexshowreport. And the show is also brought to you by our team at Convince & Convert consulting. If you’ve got a terrific content marketing program but you want to take it to the very next level, we can help Convince & Convert works with the world’s most iconic brands to increase the effectiveness of their content marketing, social media marketing, digital marketing and word of mouth marketing. Find us at convinceandconvert.com

  • Anna

    Everybody. Welcome back. We are here with John and we are talking about a lot of different SEO topics. So John, I’d like to kind of transition to probably the topic of search that is on everybody’s mind and it’s what everybody’s been talking about, which is voice search. Voice search isn’t necessarily new, but I think everybody’s really starting to pay attention to it right now. And there’s this insane shift with the adoption of a voice assisted devices and smart speakers. So where do people even start with voice search? Because I think this is something that, it’s so new, it’s so different. People are just kind of freaking out about it.

  • John

    Yeah, so I think right off the bat when people need to understand is a fundamental difference between voice search and voice assistance. And I’ve written about this a lot and so essentially voice assistant is asking, hey, what’s the time? What’s the weather? Set an alarm for me. It’s asking your device to assist you with a simple task. Versus voice search, which is more self explanatory. It’s searching the web for an answer or to do an action. And so where marketers are gonna want to really focus on here is voice search. Now, it’s kind of interesting. A recent study I just read from Path Interactive, that voice search actually isn’t working very well right now and it turns out 37% of the respondents say that the voice devices don’t understand what they’re saying or asking. It’s causing a lot of frustration.

  • John

    12% are saying that they don’t really answer the question very well and really only 16% said they didn’t have any complaints. There’s a lot of issues around voice search, and the reason for that is we’re still in the early stages. It’s been around for a few years, but we’re still very young and it’s still developing. Which, not to be a downer just means that we have a lot of opportunity to improve it. We all can work together and make a better experience. Now, we’re talking a lot about featured snippets earlier. It’s important to note that when you’re asking a simple question on voice search, nine times out of 10 those answers are coming from one of the top three results in the feature snippets. So how do marketers, what do we do from here? Well, yeah, we can answer questions, but is that going to drive business? Really has voice search become that shiny object in the room right now? Yeah, we can get a question answered, but how can we drive business?

  • Randy

    Right. I couldn’t agree more with you John. I think that’s, that’s the part that a lot of marketers are, they’re very curious about this right now. I’m sure we’d love to even know in all that research, if they know who’s more accurate between Alexa and Google and Siri. That’s more of a laughable stat, but I’m truly interested as I buy my next home device. But I think the question is, how is this going to transfer into work?

  • Randy

    And you know, as much as I kid about buying my next device, I have too many voice devices in my house now that I just got another free Google home mini and I have nowhere to put it. And I instantly thought to myself, what if I just put it on my desk at work? But then I reflected and I said, what am I really asking it that’s going to help in my work day at this point, versus the stuff that’s more social and casual? So what I always like to do is not get caught up on that and say it’s never going to happen, because then we’re not forward thinking. What do you think are going to be some of the shorter term wins for businesses, to start to move towards, where we’ll see early uptake that then later will lead us maybe to more comprehensive…

  • John

    Right. I actually find that interesting that you mentioned that for your work because the majority of people, about 42% which is actually the majority of, are using the voice search either at home or at work. Now, really where it comes down to, and what a lot of marketers don’t understand is that you can actually create apps and get them on these voice devices. And so finding a way to creatively create commands that people can know about and use practically. So let’s say you are a large enterprise company and you have several internal processes going on, you can actually probably create some apps … Sorry. They’re called skills. That’s the word I was blanking out. They’re called skills, and have voice search assist you there. The key here, is yeah, you can do it for the consumer audience but that also requires a new level of education. And recently I’ve been seeing it on my Amazon home that they’ve been saying, hey we have these skills. Come check out our library of skills that you can use. They’re trying to help educate people here and there. But if you can educate your audience on how to use their devices for voice search for your brand, that’s where you can win.

  • Anna

    You know, it’s interesting ’cause we are at this new, this frontier in new technology. I it makes me wonder just how it’s going and the direction that it’s going. And you know, it seems like just being there and being present and optimizing our content to even just be available. So, even though it might not drive that click today, it might not drive the business today, I think being there and being present because on my Google home hub it tells me where that piece of content is coming from. And so even just raising that awareness.

  • Anna

    But every time I think about where we’re going with this, and what it could be used for, and what the potential could be and what it’s limited to today, I think probably about 10 years ago, maybe a little less than that, like nine years ago when really iPhone started becoming adopted and I had an executive at one of my very old agencies hold up his phone and say, you know what, it’s great, it’s never going to take over the Blackberry. And every time I am like, I don’t know if this voice assistant thing is great, I dunno, I don’t use Siri that much. Or I dunno, my Google Home Hub is great, I’m always like, yeah, that dude literally doubted the iPhone. And then so I just have to keep that in mind. And be like, okay, well maybe just being there and being present is the answer.

  • John

    Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And it’s trying, right? It’s not something that we can wait for the development. Everyone has to put their input in and make it happen. Right?

  • Anna

    Yeah.

  • John

    And find where it can work. For example, I’ll say Google themselves are trying to help businesses do this. Late last year they actually piloted some restaurant reservations in New York, I believe. I think it’s in Brooklyn. And so you could actually reserve space at a restaurant on your Google home.

  • Anna

    Interesting, yeah.

  • Randy

    Oh yeah. Have you seen that video? There’s an amazing video. More recently, maybe in the last six months, where someone from Google is actually setting a hair appointment, but it’s a back and forth conversation with the real person at the hairdresser, and the Google assistant is completely managing it, even using um’s and ha’s and very casual conversations.

  • John

    Yeah. So I’ve seen that, and this is actually a setting you can set in a Google my business. Allow yourself, they actually set everyone to default to allow it, but there’s a lot of business owners that are complaining that it’s a little buggy and a lot of people aren’t aware of it. So it took them by surprise that businesses or getting phone calls from robots, and they’re just throwing it back. It’s going to be a learning curve basically.

  • Anna

    That’s so funny. We haven’t even touched on local search and I feel like this is a whole new level of local search to come. Like how do you even deal with this type of presence as a business?

  • John

    I mean …

  • Randy

    I mean …

  • John

    But, yeah. Local search is a whole another topic, and it’s another thing a lot of mom and pop shops struggle with. So learning that, oh, I’m having to start talking to robots now? Is a whole other curve.

  • Randy

    Absolutely. John has been a lot of fun. We actually had a podcast about four months ago I’m guessing, on local search, and talked a lot about a lot of similar things that we talked about today, more from what to do to optimize your page from that perspective. So definitely check that out as people dig back into our podcast history here on the ConEx podcast. John, what we’re going to do, this has been a ton of fun learning from you around the ideas of SEO, but we’d love to learn a little bit more about you as we do with all of our guests. We’re going to get you to stick around for one last segment. If you got time listening, you want to hear all John’s got to offer on the grill. We’ll be right back here on the ConEx podcast.

  • Anna

    Hey everyone, I wanted to take just a few seconds today to talk to you about Emma. Emma is an email marketing platform that helps you connect with your audience and grow lasting relationships. They’re awesome. They offer a really intuitive tools to build and automate emails with powerful segmentation and reporting too. And the big difference is they’re focused on you. Between their award winning support and their pro services team, they make sure every customer has success with their email marketing. Seriously, they are amazing. You can learn more and request a demo today at myemma.com/jayisawesome. Again, that’s myemma.com/jayisawesome.

  • Randy

    All right John. So we know how you optimize for the web. Now we want to know what do you optimize on the grill? And this is the part where we get to know our guests a little bit more. You’ve shared, you being from Texas, loving the grill. We’re right in the heat of summer right now. So what’s your go to when you’re out there?

  • John

    Ah, burying the lede, man. I’m a huge barbecue nut. It’s a huge barbecue culture here in Texas and believe it or not, Texas has started doing something really interesting over here that I’m real excited about, is that high schools, there’s a lot of people doing collegic, competing to do football, basketball, baseball. There is now competitive barbecue down here in Texas between high schools, and I cannot wait for my kids to be in high school so I can be the coach, because I’m big on the barbecue man. I’m also a massive basketball fan. Mavs Fan, Boston Celtics. I’m huge into the NBA right now.

  • Randy

    Amazing. Well I’m also into the NBA, but that’s cause I’m from Toronto.

  • John

    Oh, congrats man!

  • Randy

    How can it not be?

  • John

    I was real happy to see that win. That’s great to be there.

  • Randy

    Well by the time this podcast airs, the Kawhi Watch is probably going to be done and we’ll probably all know where he’s landed, but until then …

  • John

    He should stay.

  • Randy

    He should stay.

  • John

    I’m about it.

  • Randy

    It’s a good thing.

  • John

    Toronto’s a great place. Yeah.

  • Randy

    It’s just like good SEO practices. If it’s working, why change it, right?

  • John

    There you go dude!

  • Randy

    John, this has been a ton of fun. On behalf of Anna over at Convince & Convert, I’m Randy from Uberflip. John, maybe you can give us one place that people can go learn a little bit more about Cardinal Digital Marketing.

  • John

    Yeah. You can visit us at cardinaldigitalmarketing.com. If you want to learn more about SEO, or just ask me your one off question, you can follow me on Twitter at SEO Counseling, and I answer all the questions come to me.

  • Randy

    Amazing. That’s a great resource to have for everyone, and so is all the past episodes that we’ve recorded here on the Content Experience Podcast. Go check them out, leave us a review, let us know what we’re doing well, what you’d love to hear. Until next time, thanks so much for tuning in to the Content Experience Podcast.

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