In this episode of Ignite University, John Lincoln and WooRank cofounder Nils De Moor discuss some of the biggest changes in SEO history: voice search, rich results and more.
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John Lincoln: All right, everybody. Welcome to another Ignite visibility University. Today I’m really excited to have Nils De Moor more on the line as my guest. He is the co-founder and CTO at Woorank and we also had the pleasure recently of speaking at Pubcon just a couple weeks ago on voice search. I really learned so much from him about the way the web is changing and had some great conversations. So really, really excited to have Nils on the line.
Nils, how you doing today?
Nils De Moor: Hi, I’m fine, thank you. And thank you for having me on the podcast.
John Lincoln: Yeah, thanks for taking the time. Where are you in the world today? I think you’re in Europe, usually.
Nils De Moor: Right. And yeah, it’s great to talk to you. So we’re based in Belgium and our company’s based in Brussels, but today I’m working from home.
John Lincoln: Oh, very nice. And you’ve been with Woorank for a while now, right?
Tell us a little bit about the history of Woorank and you being CTO and co-founder there, just so everybody kind of learns a little bit about it.
Nils De Moor: Yeah, sure. So it’s been more than eight years now. I think June of 2011 was when me and two other guys who were building websites and doing marketing and SEO kind of things for our clients, and we had this feeling that a lot of the work we did was kind of recurring and parts could be automated, so we built a kind of quick prototype tool to help us maintain clients and look for other prospects.
And during those couple of months, we used it and it worked really well for us. And then we figured, well, if it works for us it might work for other people. And that’s essentially how we started as a product and were born as a brand. So we cleaned it up, made it publicly available, and made it where people could just put in the URL of their website and then we grab that URL and go look for data about a website. We look on the website itself by crawling a couple of pages, looking at external sources like Google and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and a bunch of other sources.
We look at your website and the presence of your website is on the Internet, and we return that in a report where we try to not just show you data, but also give you actionable insights on how to fix things that are wrong and show you which things you’re doing well. That’s kind of been our core business for eight years, and that’s still what it today. Of course, we have a lot of other tools to help people get more actionable insights, but that’s been our journey for eight years.
For myself, I’ve been the technical co-founder. The guy writing the code. So I became CTO. That’s a no brainer. And I’ve been enjoying that ever since. I still love working on this stuff every day, more and more so. That’s it in a nutshell, my journey and Woorank’s journey.
John Lincoln: Very cool. I’ve been aware of Woorank ever since I got involved in SEO and if you haven’t checked it out it has a huge user base and it’s a really great tool to get a lot of information really, really quickly, and Nils is is definitely an expert in the field of SEO in general.
So Nils, one of the reasons I thought it would be great for us to talk is because there is this huge change going on in SEO right now and I’m ahead of it, you’re ahead of it, or at least on the cutting edge. And I feel like we had a similar philosophy.
Talk to me a little bit about this shift that you’re seeing that’s been kind of brewing for a while now, and where you see things headed with search.
Nils De Moor: Yeah. So, Google has changed its algorithms since its beginning, and it’s always been our job as SEOs and SEO experts to follow along with that and find ways of making it actionable for brands.
And I think especially in the last maybe five-ish years, we’ve seen a quite drastic change going on, especially in the field of the search engine results page itself. It’s not just the 10 blue links anymore. Now, there’s so much more on the search result page and Google really tries to give its users an answer to their queries in the most actionable way.
So, you see featured snippets now – blocks of text answering an actual question. You might see videos. You might see images. You might see game results like NBA, NFL, whatever; if you search for a team you just see their latest results. You get maps. When searching, maybe for a local kind of business or if you want to order food especially, it will suggest a local business. And the list goes on and on and on and it changes every day.
We’ve tried to make a list of all these special rich results, as they call them, that you can see in Google search engine, but it’s becoming a very difficult task because it seems like there’s something new every day.
So with that in mind, it’s becoming more and more important for brands and people who want to do business online to be aware of this fact and the fact that it’s not 10 blue links anymore. And Google tries to give its users answers straight away. It might be you’re providing that answer, but people won’t end up on your website anymore because they get the answer straight in the Google search results.
So that’s the kind of thing companies and brands need to need to be aware of. And they should try to change their mindset in this new era of search engines essentially.
John Lincoln: I agree one hundred percent, and you know I’ve clearly been thinking about this a lot.
But one of the things that Nils has done iss he’s created a list of every single thing that creates a rich result. And then every single thing that creates a voice response. We met and talked about it a couple weeks ago, and since then I’ve been looking at it further and trying to find things that you can actually claim within Google. So, certain things can be claimed so that you can manipulate them and change them in the way that you want and then other things can be created by schema.
So what I’m seeing now is that they also map out a lot of the same stuff that Nils did, but it’s when you break it down and take the time, you can find out for any type of business vertical.
Now, what are the types of things that have extra elements inside of Google? And then what are the ones that you can control by claiming them? What are the ones that you can control by using schema and then what are the things you can do by using a Google Action?
Nils is really an expert and leading the way in a lot of the schema stuff. So Nils, on the schema side, what are some tricks for schema? Are there any important ones that you think SEOs should be looking at more because they create elements in Google? I think our listeners would love to hear a little bit more about your general thoughts around that.
Nils De Moor: Yeah, sure.
So I think, in general, it’s important to just look at first at what’s my brand? And how does my brand represent itself on the Internet?
I’m going to give a very specific example. The one I also gave in the talk I did alongside you at Pubcon. So we were at Pubcon and you asked Google, either through voice search or just by entering the query with a keyboard, “When is popcorn taking place?”
At that time when I did that little experiment, the answer you go back was “Pubcon 2018 is taking place on this and this date” and so on so forth. But the answer was for 2018 and we’re in 2019 of course, and there wasn’t a 2019 event.
This is the kind of thing we’re talking about. And okay, Pubcon might not be very interested in having lots of voice search answers and whatnot, because people will probably not buy a ticket through voice search or straight from Google, they will have to think about it and go through to book on website. But I guess as a brand and a brand organizing conferences, you’d want your people to at least know what the date of the upcoming event is. So just by adding a little schema.org piece that defines an event on the event page, that problem wouldn’t have been there.
It’s just a simple schema.org event entity that you put on your event page, and next time Google crawls it they will obviously be aware that there’s some event in 2019 that’s most relevant to the current timeline. So that’s probably the answer the user is looking for. It’s a simple fix for a not-too-complicated problem, but you just have to do it, of course.
John Lincoln: I love it and I think for everybody listening, that’s a huge, huge takeaway for SEO.
Okay, so what are the things that can create rich results that are pulled from your website that you can deliberately mark up with schema based on what’s the most important for the business? When we talked about that and I thought okay, I’ll go mark up our about page on Ignite with some schema.org so that it gets pulled into the Google Assistant, and it also shows as a featured snippet, and all that stuff and I went and did it and had some great success.
So brands are really, really going to need to be deliberate now with their schema, because it’s going to impact all the messaging in Google.
So Nils let’s shift gears a little bit. What is the Google Assistant? What is the Google Assistant Directory, and why do people need to be thinking about it? I don’t think a lot of people know about the Google Assistant Directory.
Nils: True. To break it down really simply, the Google Assistant is what drives Google Voice searches, but it’s also the app you might have on your Android phone or on your iPhone, where you basically ask a question either by voice or by typing into a keyboard, and it tries to serve your question query as accurately as possible.
Now, in many cases that means just running your question through Google search and finding the most relevant results, either through a featured snippet or a more enriched result.
For example, like I just said with an event date, if you asked for a date and the structured data is there, it will just answer with the correct date straightaway. Otherwise, it also might just say, okay, here are the most relevant results I could find in Google search. A little less actionable, but that’s it’s kind catch-all behavior.
But the Google Assistant can also be programmed to take actions and really work a little bit as an app. One of the examples of things we’ve been working on is a course, where you can ask, okay, I’m interested in a given SEO topic, and it will teach you some basic things. It’s a very small proof of a concept we built, so it will teach you a couple of things about SEO and then at the end, it will ask you a couple of questions to see if you understood what you’ve just learned.
So that’s not a simple Google search query. It’s more of an app we built specifically for the Google Assistant, and it’s something we can announce to Google that it’s there through their Directory, a bit like an app store. But it’s an app store specifically for the Google Assistant, and you don’t really have to download stuff. It’s rather true brand naming so brands become more important the more that you can enable that that assistant or app, let’s say.
So you could say “Woorank, teach me something about SEO” and then if that’s trigger words that signal the app in the assistant, it would start up that app and and take that specific action in teaching you SEO.
John Lincoln: Excellent. So everybody needs to be claiming their brand in the Assistant directory and then kind of starting to build out their Action strategy.
One thing that I noticed is that there’s really easy ways to do stuff and hard ways to do stuff, and they do have a lot of pre-built templates in there. One of the ones that I used was a quiz. We did a quick digital marketing quiz on what you know and what you don’t, and you could talk to Ignite Visibility. It’s still in the approval process but I just think it’s good for people to get involved now and then.
So there seems to be this connection, and Nils I agree with everything you said there, there seems to be this connection now between schema and Action. I have a question for you and maybe you know this, maybe you don’t. But are they going to make it so that if you mark up your website with schema that it gets mapped directly to the Google Action that you create inside of the Assistant directory? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Nils De Moor: Yeah. It’s not the case entirely right now, but my feeling is that it’s indeed the direction they’re going.
As I also stated in in in that talk, search engines still need our help in understanding what we mean. They just see pages and links on pages, and pages that link together or that link to another page, but they don’t necessarily understand the meaning or why one page is linking to another. There’s lots of AI going on and it’s doing a good job, but it’s never perfect. The use of schema.org and tagging entities on pages and stuff like that is really helping them understand the meaning of what we’re trying to say, and why we’re linking to other resources.
And so, yeah, it’s my feeling that the more and more they evolve and get better at this, it might become so that even Actions will be driven from a website itself. And in some cases, it’s even already the case in simpler examples. I call it the Renaissance because schema.org has been around for many, many years now, but it seems that this year
Google is really putting a lot of effort and a lot of emphasis on the fact that it’s there and people should use it on their websites to help them understand what a page is about and what the intent of it is, and what that page tries to answer for a user.
John Lincoln: Hundred percent. You know when schema first came out, I really kind of ignored it for a long time because it didn’t do anything. And I feel like they were just testing it and building the framework, but now it really does.
I kind of have a follow-up question for you. And this is interesting to me because you’re in Europe and I’m in the US, and one of the things I’m seeing a lot is that now they gave us different markup for schema. They gave us AMP, they gave us Accelerated Mobile Pages, which is a way to code up a page, and then they gave us ways to deliver different featured snippet length, which is all brand new technical SEO stuff, but for publishers and people writing content you can deliver different features snippet links. They also gave Stories. That’s within mobile, you can do Google stories. So all of these are things that you basically give to Google, kind of handing them information saying, hey, here you can take it from my website. My website will still be there. But you get to use this info from my website.
And one of the things I heard was that in France, they kind of shut it down and they won’t allow certain types of these featured snippets, and in Europe they’ve been tighter on Google with regulations regarding what they’re allowed to take from different websites. So I wonder, what goes through your mind? Should Google be allowed to take this information from websites? Is there going to be pushback? Is there more pushback in Europe than we’re seeing in the US? Do you have you have any thoughts on that? I’m just curious about your perspective.
Nils De Moor: Yeah, that’s always a complicated question. The Big G – how, how big are they getting? And aren’t they monopolizing not just the search engine world but almost the entire internet? Because if they just start pulling stuff from our websites and serving it within their walled garden, so to say, people don’t have to go to a website anymore. So then what’s the incentive for a website owner or someone who has a brand online to still put their website up if Google is just stripping it out and answering queries straight away?
It’s a new era, and we need to rethink the way we’re doing SEO and digital marketing for search engines, and really work hard our brand and to get the brand in people’s minds when they search for something. If you have information, if you have entities and you mark them up really well and you do your job in the schema.org, your brand will automatically bubble up in the in the search results. And so it will get in people’s mind.
So there’s always this weird kind of balance. Google needs to find with website owners and content and information providers of taking a lot but not taking too much. It’s a difficult world and especially for Europe, indeed, we’re maybe a bit more regulated. I don’t know if that’s the right word to use, but maybe a little more scared of a big American corporation that’s being used even in Europe. Also, I don’t know what the market penetration of Google is here, but it’s it’s probably as high as it is in the US. I don’t see much difference there. So they’re trying to keep some sort of control on that. But at the same time, we don’t want to get wiped off of Google’s radar. As a euro European website that doesn’t make sense.
I do know that for the past couple of weeks or months in Google Search Console, there’s been a setting. Now you can actually set your website to not serve featured snippets to Google. It’s a checkbox that you say okay, they can’t strip information from our website, people have to click through. But it’s one of those settings that when people have asked us, what should I do with it, it’s like, well, that’s up to you. But do take into account that if you check that and say, okay, Google cannot use my content in featured snippets, your brand automatically gets pushed down to the normal blue links. And our even people even still using or seeing these blue links? These days, if there are lots of rich results on top of that, , it’s a very tricky subject. I know it’s not a good answer I’m giving here.
John Lincoln: No, I appreciate it. That’s the context I was looking for. I’m right with you and I think this is a very pivotal time where either people are going to play with Google or we’re going to start seeing, I believe, some major class-action suits against stealing things. It’s so interesting to me that there’s a lot of hey, websites, you can’t do this if you want to be in our index. But then, of course, Google does the same thing. You can never switch sides, you can have too many ads above the fold – that’s a whole other conversation.
Nils and I, in particular, we’re so far out in front of it. I can tell. I feel like we see the future. I mean, YouTube directly integrated these Actions. Directly integrated schema. As marketers, we have the ability to get brands in front of this stuff and see a big impact. But there’s always this part of me, frankly, as somebody who’s seen the web for so long it’s hard to see the data taken and see Google continue to do things to get more impressions and more advertising, but that’s definitely the conversation and Nils, I did not know about that checkbox for not having featured snippets in Europe. That’s great information and must be pretty new, and I’ll bet that comes it to the US at some point. That’s really interesting.
Nils De Moor: Yeah, it is. And yeah, it’s, it’s actually indeed because some of our users highlighted this to us. So I have of course not being very vocal about it, but it’s a setting somewhere deep in your Google Search Console settings, where you can literally say okay, don’t strip my content. I can send you a screen screenshot afterward. They give a little preview of what a search result will look like if you check this, and it’s literally just the title and then the the green link and nothing underneath.
So, again, it’s up to you if you want to use that.
John Lincoln: Yeah, please send it over. I’d love to check that out.
So, a couple things. We’ve got this big update just went out today, BERT. It’s basically this idea that Google says that they’ve restructured everything and now it’s more entity-based. So that’s interesting. But other than that. I’d love to warp up some of the things we talked about today. What are some final tips that you have for people going into SEO and 2020? Anything come to mind?
Nils De Moor: Yeah. To give it in the context of this conversation, I think schema.org is definitely something to look at because again it’s not new, but not many people were using it, and Google is putting a lot of emphasis on it. Since not many people are doing it, it’s really beneficial for your brand to start using it because it will help you rank higher and get those featured snippets.
I actually worked on a little research piece for certain industry verticals and looked at all the rich results you can have in Google and which are the ones you can influence with schema.org. I can send you the link afterward. It’s also pinned to my Twitter profile, but that’s one where we really went deep on your different verticals of the industry, like if you’re in publishing, if you’re in e-commerce, which of the rich results are interesting, which schema.org types to use. So it goes really deep on those topics.
But for me, this is, again, it’s a renaissance moment. I definitely think there’s a huge opportunity in working this out because the other, the more typical SEO types of parameters that everyone is doing, there’s not much opportunity there. You have to do them, of course, to stay relevant. But the opportunity is slowly getting less and less, so schema.org is really the one to go for in 2019 in my opinion.
John Lincoln: Awesome, thanks Nils. For everybody who’s listening, if you could send over those additional assets I’ll put it all inside the blog post. Nils we’ll make sure we link to you and you get your reference for all that stuff.
So Nils, thank you so much for being on today. I feel like everyone listening got a glimpse into this new world. everyone. That’s why I wanted to have Nils on. He is very, very deep in it.
Nils, where can people find out more about you? Where’s the best place to follow you online?
Nils De Moor: Twitter will be the main place. Nils De Moor.
John Lincoln: Nils De Moor on Twitter. I’m sure you’ll be able to find him. Thanks so much, again, for taking the time today and I will talk to you soon.
Nils De Moor: Thank you for having me.