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The ultimate guide to SEO | Ethan Smith (Graphite)

I think people under resource seo a lot of times and over resource ads so if you're zillow you're going to spend tens of millions of dollars on ads or if you're ebay you're gonna spend tens of millions of dollars on ads why would you not have a really great seo team like the amount of traffic you get is probably equal to that. So you're going to spend 100 million dollars on ads why would you spend fifty thousand dollars on seo that doesn't make sense welcome to lenny's podcast i'm lenny and my goal here is to help you get better at the craft of building and growing products i interview world-class product leaders and growth experts to learn from their hard-won experiences building and scaling today's most successful companies today my guest is ethan smith ethan is possibly the smartest person on seo you will find ethan has worked with companies like masterclass thumbtack robinhood medium and honey to develop and execute their seo strategies one of my goals with this podcast is to give you tactical and actionable advice for how to build and grow your own product and seo is one of the most powerful and least understood growth levels this episode contains more advice tools tactics and guidance on how to win at seo than anything i have ever come across and i suspect it will blow your mind we talk about when to focus on seo whether you ever should talk about all the things you need to get right to win at seo when to hire who to hire the most useful tools and so much more i will now stop talking and get right into it and with that i bring you ethan smith this episode is brought to you by coda is an all-in-one doc that combines the best of documents spreadsheets and apps in one place i actually use coda every single day it's my home base for organizing my newsletter writing it's where i plan my content calendar capture my research and write the first drafts of each and every post it's also right curate my private knowledge repository for paid newsletter subscribers and it's also how i manage the workflow for this very podcast over the years i've seen koda evolve from being a tool that makes teams more productive to one that also helps bring the best practices across the tech industry to lightly with an incredibly rich collection of templates and guides in the coded doc gallery including resources from many guests on this podcast including shreyas gokul and shashir the ceo of coda some of the best teams out there like pinterest spotify square and uber use coda to run effectively and have published their templates for anyone to use if you're ping-ponging between lots of documents and spreadsheets make your life better and start using coda you can take advantage of a special limited time offer just for startups head over to coda dot io slash lenny to sign up and get a thousand dollar credit on your first statement that's c-o-d-a dot io slash lenny to sign up and get a thousand dollars in credit on your account this episode is brought to you by mixpanel offering powerful self-serve product analytics do listen to this podcast you know that it's really hard to build great product without making compromises and when it comes to using data a lot of teams think that they only have two choices make quick decisions based on gut feelings or make data-driven decisions at a snail's pace but that's a false choice you shouldn't have to compromise on speed to get product answers that you can trust with mixpanel there are no trade-offs the deep insights at the speed of thought at a fair price that scales as you grow mixpanel builds powerful and intuitive product analytics that everyone can trust use and afford explore plans for teams of every size and see what mixpanel can do for you at and while you're at it they are hiring check out to learn more ethan welcome to the podcast thank you for having me it's my pleasure. So you're the ceo of graphite which is one of the top growth agencies in the world and you guys are especially good at seo which to a lot of people feels like this huge dark art and so i'm really excited to dig into a lot of the nitty-gritty of seo and the tactics and the strategies around winning at seo and i suspect this episode is going to end up being very rich and very tactical but before we get into that could you spend just like a minute talking about how you got into growth how you got into seo and then just a bit about graphite and what you all do over there. Yeah for sure so my career started in user research and user experience design so very different from seo and i would do user testing and ethnography and things like that and ux workflows. So i was working at this commerce company in 2007. And i made what i thought were pretty nice designs and nobody was using them so i wanted to figure out how to get people to actually come we were buying ads but they're really expensive and so by necessity i basically in my spare time decided to also learn seo on top of doing user tests and things like that. And so i got into it number one by we hired an seo consultant and so he sort of. And we hired several seo consultants but and several of them were not good but this one was great it was leo heriano from ebay so he kind of gave some playbooks and then we took that and did a bunch of testing and most of the tests failed some of them succeeded. And so we sort of iterated over about three years and came up with what at the time was the programmatic seo search page type of the strategy and then since then i went into growth and product broadly and seo was part of what i did and then four years ago whirlpool bought the company that i was at before. And then i decided to specialize in seo but most of my career actually was in product and growth broadly and seo is just a part of that which i think is interesting because to do seo. Well i think it needs to fit into a broader product context and a lot of what's effective in seo is actually making core product changes. So i think that's actually a perfect profile even though it was somewhat unintentional i haven't heard of someone's company being bought by whirlpool.

Yet you've you're the first can you talk a bit about graphite which is the company that in the agency that you run now sure so when i left my last company i was doing consulting as a as a solo practitioner. And i had been doing it on the side since 2014 starting with thumbtack. But then i decided to do it full time i actually didn't intend to do that because i always thought of consulting in agencies as sort of distasteful and you know not something that i wanted to get into and it was somewhat by accident where master class reached out to me honey reached out to me ticketmaster reach out to me so those are the first projects that i worked on. And i hadn't been planning to have that be my full-time role i was planning to sort of explore and maybe build a product those projects went really well.

And then i got more inbound from inbound interest from companies when masterclass did well and honey did well. So it decided to start an agency and we build out seo and content strategies so i thought broadly about all the different things that i could do and where the biggest need was were the most underserved market was and seo was by far more underserved than anything else that i was good at and so graphite focuses on building those ethyl and content strategies and a lot of it's inspired by the early work we did with masterclass and around editorial seo so that's graphite. And i think one unique thing about us is that i found that getting things done is actually more important sometimes in the strategy so a lot of what we've tried to do differently is to is for us to build as much as we can on those projects so i think the distinguishing characteristic is that we can get things done and that we can build stuff. So that's a bit about graphite awesome just off the bat what are some of the biggest myths about seo they've been number one biggest myth are technical audits so we have people reaching out saying we want to tech audit and essentially what that is give me a list of bugs to fix which is different from help me grow and so a tech audit is basically it's this strange thing in seo where you basically get screaming frog which is this tool you buy it for i think it's 150 you crawl the site and then you give a report and you say earbugs which is not that useful what the company actually wants is they want to grow them and so we'l try to reframe that in number one technical seo i think is misunderstood you want a strategy around your technical components and you want to general seo strategy to help you grow. But i think that's the biggest myth and then i think similar to that is that people over index on technical seo and not enough on editorial seo some companies can benefit from programmatic seo which is related to second bossio technical seo is mostly internal link architecture and a few other things and bugs but that's not how you grow the way that you grow is with programmatic and with editorial seo and i think editorial seo and by that i mean articles and content manually written content is underappreciated. So i think those are the two biggest knits. Okay i have a billion questions i want to ask and you're touching on a bunch of these things already before we get into that i just want to kind of frame our conversation and start at the top a little bit and come back to some of these things because this is really important foundational stuff there's kind of three things i want to focus on today one is when to seo as a company two is how to seo and three is just to cover a few important concepts that folks need to understand if they want to be really good at seo does that sound good as a as a kind of a base that sounds great cool and a quick shout out to brandon lee who's the co-founder of this company called power which i'm an investor in who is all about seo and asked them what to ask you and he gave me a bunch of great questions so those are going to be interspliced into our chat awesome plus one for power i'm also an investor. Okay. Awesome. Oh man. Okay great go power. Okay. So to start i want to help people understand when to focus on seo when it makes sense as a growth channel and timing around when to invest in seo so question for you what are just attributes of a product or a company that tell you that seo could be a growth driver and or a massive growth driver because i imagine seo isn't useful for everybody how do you how do you think about that there's two big things the first thing is the addressable market large. So the addressable market for seo large and for most categories it is the second is do you have authority do you have existing traction if you start from zero and you have no traction so we talk with seed stage companies and series a companies typically they don't have a lot of authority. And it's too soon and google doesn't want you to just be an seo site. And i want you to be a credible domain before they rank you and if you're starting from zero they don't have enough signals that you are so the way that we assess that is i will go into the first signal i'l look at is what's your traffic what's your current traffic and your non-seo traffic is actually an authority signal so i'l go into similar web i'l put the domain in i'l look at the total traffic. And i'l want to see at least i would say 1 000 visits a day roughly for non-seo at least you have five visits that's very little. And then the second thing i'l look at is the number of referring domains. So i'l go into ahrefs or semrush and look at the total number of referring domains i'l try to have at least 1 000 roughly referring domains you could grow with less than that and less than a thousand visits.

But it's much harder and the more you have the easier it is to grow and the faster you can grow the more you can grow and then in terms of the addressable market that's a little bit more complicated but most markets are pretty large actually in seo. But we want it to be large so with powers and actually an interesting example. So they're a clinical trial lead gen site they want to acquire people to take clinical trials how many people are typing online i want to take a clinical trial not very many but the number of people that could be taking clinical trials is very large and so if we target the persona like what's the key demographic of who might be a candidate for taking clinical trial it's very large and so we can then create content that targets that like gig economy or college students or people like that. And so if you think about targeting the persona most sites have a very large address of market but the way that i would think about the addressable market is that which is what's what product am i offering what are the use cases for that product what is the persona what's the size of that and then i would assess that typically by looking at external benchmarks so if i'm a shopping site i can and i haven't started yet i can look at other shopping sites i can see how much traffic they have so again i can go into similar web if i'm and i want to see what you know what my traffic potential is i can put in walmart and wayfair put it in similar web look at their total traffic you can get similar webs free for all of this. And then i can get a sense of how big i can get the one other thing i'l mention is that there are products competitors and audience competitors so for something like i'm at a wework right now so for wework i could look at the traffic for other you know rental office companies. Or i could look at companies that are ranking for the kinds of things that i would want to rank for and they may not be direct front of competitors so like fintech is interesting so for robin hood robin hood could look at other sites that allow you to sell stocks in crypto. Or they could look at investopedia doesn't allow you to buy stocks. But they have a bunch of traffic it's not a product competitor. But it's an audience competitor and so these competitors basically can tell you what the size of that market is so that's how i think about the addressable market so ideally it's large it typically is.

And then the more authority i have the more i can compete if i'm starting from zero it's probably too early but once i have traction seo can then multiply that traction. Okay. Wow there's so much there i'm gonna try to summarize because i think that was just like a million nuggets in one answer so the way to think about this if i'm just kind of reflecting back what you just said if seo is worth investing in he also kind of answered when it makes sense which is interesting one is just do you actually have you have like a thousand or more visits a day just organically through search is a sign that maybe it's a good time before that is that. Yes if i was in visits not from search from anything other than search okay got it and other than search meeting like what are examples that when you say that usually direct and paid but direct paid email social anything else and why is it that it's not from search so google wants to see that you're not just an seo site and if you're not getting any traffic from anywhere else and it's only from seo then you're an seo barn essentially got it so the more traffic you have that's not from seo that means that you're credible the more referring domains you have that means you're more credible more authority the more shares you have more authority so the more of these signals the more you're a known brand in google's eyes and the more authority you have and the better you can rank so it's the non-seo traffic piece that i that i especially want to look at got it. And then the other piece is that there's a thousand domains linking to you and some of you look for right. Yeah. Right. And you know it depends. But yeah those are my rough back of the envelope benchmarks and if you're not hitting these benchmarks is the idea consider investing in this so that you can eventually start doubling down an seo or is it just let it happen and kind of see if it even happens on its own you could do either usually people don't specifically focus on links or non-seo traffic for seo they just do it because they want to grow their company so usually that's what happens and it happens for free. But you could be intentional about it if you if you want to awesome. Okay. So that touches on when to start focusing on seo and i'm going to ask you if there's anything else you should think about the win but it feels like the other piece is even more important is should you even consider seo and the total adjustable market is a is a big part of that and you've mentioned the site similar web is it. It's just right type in your url and it shows you how much organic traffic you're getting from search how much your competitors are getting is that roughly a good way to describe that. Yeah it has total traffic. And then it has traffic by channel all. And it has countries and other things. But i'l look at total traffic and then by channel and then total times percent non-seo equals total traffic from non-seal. And you may have mentioned this but again what are heuristics looking at that data that's like. Okay this market is big enough for seo well it depends on you know how much traffic you want. But the heroes i mean the heuristic is to look at other sites that are your product competitor your audience competitor and you can get their totals.

And then you can you know say whether or not that those totals are meaningful but i would do totals times what i think my conversion rate is equals sales compare that with other channels so how much could i get paid how much could i get messier how much could i get from social and then that's how you would decide which channel and whether or not seo is the channel to focus on got it so the tam is like already is happening they're going to your competitors this is what you can eat away if you invest in seo. Yes awesome. Okay before i get into other attributes of when it makes sense to invest is there something about the actual product the way it works say generates content automatically like glassdoor or zillow or zapier is there something else that tells you this is going to be really useful this is going to be a good product to use for seo or the opposite ones like probably not going to work out for. Seo sort of so when we're looking at all of our different channels seo paid social other we want to do impact versus scope and we talked about impact scope is another one. So if you have no content at all and no ugc then the scope is higher to compete in the address of market if you have a ton of ugc like glassdoor the scope is lower so the more ugc you have the more like prezillo the more addresses you have for a shopping site the more skus more products you have the scope is lower it's easier to compete for those so definitely consider that.

But if you have no ugc and no skus you could still compete through editorial seo and through other ways so it's not that would tell you cannot if you don't have those things but those things make it easier therefore the scope is lower therefore impact versus scope ratio makes more sense this is a good time i think to introduce these buckets of types of seo you mentioned programmatically editorial can you just talk about what these buckets are and what they what they mean there's programmatic seo there's editorial seo and then there's technical seo so programmatic seo our pages that are automatically generated from a database of information so for ebay product pages are generated automatically from information in their database or for zillow home pages address pages are generated based on information in their database for a site with ugc like glassdoor that is programmatically generated as well. So that's programmatic seo it's usually category pages and item pages item page meaning product page about a home page about a video. So it's like an individual item and then there's category pages which are grids or lists of items so those are the two main page types of programmatic seo then there's editorial seo so editorial seos where a person actually sat down and wrote a piece of content like a writer wrote something like an article or a guide or a listicle and editorial seo is more and more actually driving more traffic than programmatic seo programmatic seo used to be almost all seo when i started and editorial seo has overtaken that. Wow. So that's editorial seo and then there's titan glacio so technically is just the infrastructure it's like. Internal link architecture tags redirects page speed that applies for everything but those are the three main types got it.

Okay. So these are basically three areas you can invest in also as a as a company that's investing in seo which of these is the best most lucrative you may have mentioned editorial maybe he's on the rise if you could choose because you can't really make ugc and. So i guess if you could choose is there one that's the best route if you could choose it depends. But the short answer is editorial seo is usually the best but it depends on your category given your address will mark it you want to see the page type that maps to the queries that you want to target and sometimes that's an article and sometimes it's not an article so for zillow that would not be an article it should mostly be programmatically generated pages or for an ebay it's also going to be programmatical generating pages or for most commerce companies but for most other companies it's editorial seo so editorial seo is always an opportunity for every single company if there's a addressable market and programmatic seo is sometimes an opportunity the nice thing about programmatic seo is that you don't have to spend money for each page that you create so zillow doesn't spend money for every single home page that they create ebay doesn't spend money for every product page that exists editorial seo every page has a cost so that's kind of how i think about it what are some examples of really good editorial seo-ish companies. Sites. Yeah. What comes to mind i'l give you a couple that i work with and then i'l give a couple that i don't work with so master classes is one of the projects that i'm most proud of and they do a great job and build a lot of content about their classes and it's stuff that's related to their classes another example is better up which is a coaching platform so people can get a virtual coach to improve in their career and build a lot of content around how to give difficult feedback how to create a five-year plan things like that so those are two projects that we worked on that i'm really proud of a couple other examples that i did not work on so nerd wallet is one of the top editorial seo companies and they have guides around credit cards and financial information and their stuff is top-notch hubspot does a really good job so they have a lot of content around productivity and i've done really well the other is dot dash dot dash is a conglomerate of many different publishers like all recipes and investopedia and they consistently over and over again perform really.

Well they're probably the most successful editorial seo company so those are a few examples awesome i want to transition to how to be good at seo and how these operations run and how to do this well before i do that coming back to a question i wanted to finish asking is when does it make sense to invest in seo is there anything else to think about for a startup that's like not yet not yet that tells you that it's time other than these benchmarks you shared of a thousand non-search visits a day and a thousand links. Yes well we want to decide of everything that the company could work on what is the relative priority of seo versus everything else paid social and things like that so we want to compare it with these other things. And we want to look at the cost so depending on the cost and the opportunity and how that compares with other channels that's how i would how i would make the decision about when and whether to do seo got it. So. Yeah very specific to what other opportunities they have like if paid is working really well maybe not worth investing in seo just yet. That makes sense yes or airbnb brand is working really well let's you know dive into brands.

Yeah. Okay. So shifting a bit to how to do this well just broadly what are the buckets of activities that a startup needs to nail to be good at seo as a team as a company what are kind of like the investment areas that they have to do well at so it depends and here's the workflow that i would go through so first we want to define the addressable market and given the addressable market and what are the different topics and keywords that i want to acquire on and then what is the page type that i need for that so for zillow the addressable market is mostly address pages for master class it's mostly articles and so we look at benchmarks we see what keywords they're ranking on then we take those keywords. And then we figure out the page type then given the page type we want to figure out the product requirements so what needs to be on the address page on zillow then we want to figure out the content strategy what are the different subtopics and themes of content that needs to be on each page. And that's specific to the different page types and then last is the infrastructure. So how do we help google find all these different pages via links and so that's the workflow that i go through it depends on your addressable market what you know what that strategy looks like but those are the components for a for a high impact seo strategy to unpack a couple of these so there's a page type you got to figure out if it's you said that if it's a article or a address for zillow how do you do that how do you figure out what kind of pages that you should create so the short answer is you take a few keywords you want to rank for you put them in google and you look for themes of the page types that appear so for master class you type in how to poach an a. And you see that all the results are articles with a recipe that's a very clear correlation that if i want to rank i need a page like this so with masterclass is an interesting example they have classes and chapters and each chapter is like they have had a poach in a chapter for gordon ramsay and what we could do is we could have a chapter page and the chapter page is a transcript of what gordon ramsay said and that actually won't rank the page type is wrong google is not ranking chapter pages or transcribed text the ranking articles and so that's the short answer the longer answer is if you want to rank for how to poach an egg you would want to know well there's a thousand different keywords that this page is actually going to be targeting so i'l type in all thousand of those different keywords and then look for the patterns of the page types for all thousand keywords now that's impossible to do manually. But if you were to be very rigorous you would you would essentially do that. But you're basically looking for what are correlations and urls or page types that are that are ranking for these terms usually there's one or two page types so sometimes there's two different ones and you know it's like a fractured intent and so an example would be best cameras so you'l have a category page and a listicle page typically so you could have one or one or the other but you will need one of those if you have a product page you're not going to rank so you're basically looking for correlations of which page types are ranking for the terms that you want to rank for and that's how you come up with your page type and similarly if you want to know what should go on the page you again look for what are the correlations of the components of the pages that are ranking that are ranking for the terms that i want to rank or for example do i need a map or do i need an address or do i need a phone number a way to answer that is to see what are the patterns of the pages that are ranking for the terms you want to rank for so it sounds like essentially you're this detective trying to understand and reverse engineer what google wants out of this general topic is that the way to think about it. Yes and the only thing that i would say is i wouldn't have the goal be copy everyone else and just do you know do what we think the algorithm wants i would take inspiration and make a great page.

So if it looks like maps are useful and phone numbers are useful you should include that. But i wouldn't just optimize purely to get to get a visit and then stop i would take his inspiration users in general seem to want to be able to contact the business and they want to be able to find the business which is why there's a map so what are some other ways that i could help users do that's how i would how i would come up with requirements got it so look at what google is finding valuable see what makes sense what doesn't think about what else would make it even more valuable like the way to think about it isn't what's google's secret crawling algorithm. It's like what is going to be useful to somebody that is looking for this thing and google's probably constantly trying to make it do that even though it's not perfect and i imagine the more you're connected to what is this how is it going to be useful to a human the less likely an algorithm change is going to screw you in the future that and the better your engagement so if it looks like users really want to be able to find a business and you do that better than anyone else your engagement will be higher and your higher engagement will cause you to rank higher and it'l cause you to rank higher right away. So it's not only a way to be robust against algorithm changes it's a way to rank higher right now and engagement is click through on the page that google sends you or something else gets click through so it's if i typed in best camera what's the rate of clicking on my position versus somebody else so that's signal one related to that is. Did you go back so you clicked on my page. And then you went back. And you clicked on somebody else that's a very bad signal so that's engagement on the second part of engagement which is probably even more important. Is did you stay on the page and did you stay on the page for a long period of time so google's tracking everyone through chrome and android and they can actually see what happened after they left google and ultimately google wants you to end your session or find the answer find what you wanted on that page so the more you click on our url and then go to the page and then stay there and spend time and get your answer that's a key ranking signal. Wow i didn't know any of that's awesome what does the operation look like to generate these pages once you've kind of figured out i need say address pages with a map and a category what does it look like to actually generate and do you need like millions of pages thousands of pages what's like the order magnitude. And then how do you actually go about generating these it depends. But it's usually not millions unless you're ebay or a zillow. But usually it's less than a million.

It depends on the page type so for a product page typically you would index all of your product pages and however many product pages is the number of urls but you wouldn't want to index things that are thin or empty or we have a product that's out of stock and there's no description there's no reviews you might not want to rank all of those but usually for product pages or item pages you would index all of them that are of some threshold of quality for category pages you want to find all of the categories that go after keywords where the category pages are right page site. So what are all the queries where category page is ranking. And then you don't want a page for every singles. Keyword. So when i started in seo you would have a category page for every single keyword. And so i was at a shopping site we had 10 million plus pages so every single way that you could possibly search for a product had its own page and that worked really well the pages were of dubious utility because of that.

But but that worked well that no longer works well and google does not want you to do that so you'l see in their guidance that you should not have many minor variations of every single way that you could search you should have themes or topics and so a topic for best cameras best cameras is going to rank for the best cameras 10 best cameras best digital cameras all these things are going to map to a single camera category page. And then there's a bunch of other category pages. So you basically take the 20 million commerce keywords and then you group the keywords at the topic level. And then you launch just those so that's how you do a category page and then on for an article or listicle you would basically build out an articular listicle page type.

And then you would have writers write articles and then publish them through contentful or webflow or some sort of cms. Oh cool i want to talk about that just like the actual platform but this might be a good time to introduce this idea of topics you mentioned a few times i was going to ask you about that towards the end. But just this idea of i think topics versus keywords is i think the way you recommend people think about what to focus on can you talk about that when i started in seo again it was keyword based every keyword had one page and now many keywords have one page so if you're a commerce site and you have 10 million pages it has to be automatically generated there's no way for you to afford to write 10 million pages so you have to automatically generate it and that led to a bunch of low quality content so since 2008 with google pen and there's been a bunch of other algorithm changes google wants to again find a page that covers many different keywords and the algorithm is has improved so for best cameras they know that best digital cameras is the same as best cameras is the same as something else some other variation in that. And so the algorithm has improved and it can it has a semantic understanding so the algorithm is targeting topics whether that's our intention or not you are targeting topics and so there's typically about any given page is typically going to rank or be able to rank for about 200 to 2 000 different keywords and this is important for a few different reasons so the first reason is that the search volume for what we're targeting is not the search volume for one keyword so for best cameras the search volume is not just in search volume for best cameras the search volume for 2000 different variations of best cameras and so it's effective the search volume for best cameras is a thousand the topic of best camera is probably a hundred thousand there's probably 10x at least the search volume of the keyword and so when we're making prioritization decisions or should we go after this we want another right search volume we have the wrong search volume then where we're going to make bad prioritization decisions on a on a very large order magnitude the second is if our topic is going to rank for a thousand keywords we don't want to write a thousand articles and if we did we wasted a bunch of money so if you know for best cameras if i had best cameras best digital cameras best rated digital cameras we wasted money if we wrote an article or made a page for all of those and the order of magnitude can be substantial of wasted money and then the last is that the page that is actually ranking for that needs to fulfill the intent of all thousand keywords and that there's a theme that you're not talking about and didn't know about it then you're not fulfilling the intent and you're not going to rank as well so for all these reasons it's much better to think in terms of topics rather than keywords what's an example of a topic maybe from an example of a company you worked at versus a keyword what's like the how high level do these topics get sure i'l give two examples so an example with master classes butter lettuce and the keyword i think it ranks for about 400 different keywords and there are themes like health benefits and other kinds of lettuce and recipes so if we only define what it was what butter lettuce is. And we did not talk about health benefits then we had this gap and we're not going to perform as well and part of why master class early on was able to outrank food network who has way more who had way more authority in food is because other companies had these gaps they were not looking at all 400 keywords.

And they didn't talk about health benefits and therefore they didn't rank as well because a google's content score said you're not comprehensive and b users who were searching for butter lettuce health benefits didn't get the answer and then left went somewhere else one other example that i'l give is with better up we have this article five year plan and if you look at that article i think it ranks for about a thousand different keywords and there are themes like examples and templates personal versus business five-year plan and five-year versus tenure versus one year plan and again because we have all these sub topic themes our content is comprehensive content score is higher and users who are searching for five year plan template get a template and now we have a better engagement score so those are two examples and one thing that i'l say is the way that we can know how we should cluster keywords like should we have one page for template versus examples or should we have two separate pages you can basically put in five year plan template five year plan examples and you can look to see how much overlap of the results are there so the if the results are completely different for those two keywords you should probably have two different pages but if they're all the same google's saying these keywords are essentially a single concept or a topic so that's how you can think about you know which the keywords should be clustered under one topic or another that makes sense i was going to ask you what the butter lettuce example is that how you how did you figure out that there was a big opportunity there it was like the light bulb so what we do is we'l look for competitors so we'l look at a food network all recipes other sites and then we'l basically get all of their pages and all of their keywords using a tool like ahrefs or semrush so if we're starting from zero and we have no information about food we just go to other sites who have who've already done this and get all their information and data and figure out all the different pages that they have all the different keywords that clustered to each page the search volume or the traffic for each of these. And then we can prioritize them based on search volumes so we have 10 000 food topics sorted by search one or traffic volume then we want to look at how competitive we can be which is topical authority then we want to look at conversion intent how does fluid versus comics versus photography convert. And then we have a prioritized list of topics by expected conversions so that's ultimately how we think about prioritization. Awesome i'm just going to keep bouncing around based on where this is going what are tools that you recommend and use most to help you in this you mentioned a few screaming frog sounds. Awesome what else what else do you recommend four tools so tool one is a google search console so google search console is free anyone with a website can get an account there's a bunch of really useful information you can get real traffic information you can do serp tracking and you can do serp tracking for free. So every single keyword you rank for you'l have that in there. So it's very useful that's my number one tool my second tool is clear scope. So there's a bunch of different tools for content analysis content scoring clearscope's the best one a clear scope will tell you what you know why i talked about subtopics and you know comprehensive content so that tool helps you understand whether or not you have a gap in your content that's the second tool the third tool would be a keyword research tool there's many of them sem rush and antrops i use the most ahrefs is my favorite but smrush is good there's a bunch of other ones they're all pretty similar so pick one of those that's like 100 to 200 a month i think google search console is free clear scope is based on volume and then the last tool or tools is that we have a bunch of internal tools a graphite that are not accessible but we used to power some of the stuff that i talked about where there's not already a tool so topics like i mentioned we have internal tools for that we have internal tools for things like what subtopics you need topical authority there's aren't tools for that.

So we basically built some in-house and we use that for when we're building strategies what about screaming frog you mentioned that spring park is good it's it's a bit niche. So it's not you don't have to have it the application is screaming frog is one crawling. So i want to get all the urls from other some other site so that's a good use case the second is you can audit stuff on your site so you can crawl your whole site and find error codes and redirect loops and things like that. And then another key use case for screaming frog is your internal length coverage so do your pages on your site that i have links pointing to them within your site or do they not so that's what screaming prog does screening frog will be number five i would just say you can build an seo strategy without screaming frog but but certainly useful. So it's got a place in my heart now screaming frog i use it every day. Okay. So if you're a real pro screaming frog if you're not using it you're not you're not.

Real pro. That's my conclusion one of the classic issues with seo that people often worry about is how long it takes to see anything to see if it's working to see results so it's always just. Like oh we'l get to it because it's going to take us six months or a year to even see any impact is that true does it sometimes show you results sooner how do you think about timelines on seo it depends but usually i'l say six to nine months. But it's a function of how much authority you have and how much existing seo traction you have the more authority you have the more traction the faster it is so if a company like netflix makes a change you'l see it the next day and if a brand new company starts from scratch it'l take probably a year.

So you start on seo today takes maybe three months to build the page types do all the analysis come up with a strategy build everything launch it write 20 articles so three months to actually launch stuff. And then three to six months to see it start to rank. And to grow so what's happening the earlier we are in less authority. We have google is testing our pages on keywords that are less popular to see if our engagement is good and then with better engagement we will rank more and more and it'l grow exponentially and so again back to the previous conversation google wants to see well when we rank for best cameras what's the click through it on google and did you stay on our page or did you go somewhere else the higher that score is the better engagement is the more we can now rank for more competitive keywords within that topic then we're ranking you know we have 20 articles and we're ranking for those things now we can rank for other stuff that's related to those 20 and so it sort of compounds and grows that way so the rough timeline is around three to six months post of launch. Having said that the larger the site is and the more authority it is it could take days so for you know for a large site i could take a master and ebay it's probably one to four weeks was the rough timeline once you're really optimized so as a founder you're probably listening to this and be like damn that's such a long-term investment that's not going to show impact and i have all these other things i got to work on should i be doing seo is there things that along the way say before six months that are pointing to you're heading the right direction keep going or just like okay this isn't going to work just stop now is there any kind of early signals leading indicators. Yes i wouldn't say that there are signals that you should well there may be signals that you should stop now. But we want to look for leading indicators and a leading indicator is or are we ranking at least number 20 for anything so usually what we'l see is we'l launch something and maybe in the first week we're ranking number 15 for something. And we get one click or no clicks. But we go from number 15 to number 12 to number now we're at position eight we have some impressions for this keyword we don't have that many clicks because most people don't click on number eight. But we're starting to see signs of progress then we go from number eight to number five now we get more clicks now we know if we can rank number five for these interesting head terms we can rank so let's say we have 10 articles we're ranking number five for keywords for these ten articles we're gonna write number five for a thousand articles and so you can see these leading indicators and signs of opportunity early on even with a small number of pages and i would wait until i see that to then scale it's common to have to incorrectly conclude failure uh. I listen to the yuri grammarly episode and he talked about false negatives like we tried this thing it didn't work therefore it won't work it's common for the first try or for several tries in seo to just not be implemented correctly.

And so if you're not ranking for anything at all either the strategy is wrong or there's no opportunity it's probably that the strategy is wrong or that you don't have enough authority but that's how i think about it this episode is brought to you by you've achieved product market fit you're able to activate engage and retain your customers but you don't have the engineers that you need to move as fast as you want to because it's hard to find great engineers quickly especially if you're trying to protect your burden rate meet will quickly match you with skilled senior developers who are all vetted results oriented and ready to help you grow and all that at competitive rates startups choose because they offer only handpicked developers with three or more years of experience and strong proven portfolios only one percent of canada to apply get in so you can be sure that they offer you only high quality talent and if something ever goes wrong offers you a swift replacement so that you're kind of hiring with a warranty to learn more just go to lenny and find your perfect developer or tech team in 48 hours or less and if you start the process now you can claim a special discount exclusively for lenny's podcast listeners 15 off your first four weeks of working with your new software developer grow faster with an extra pair of hands visit lenny when you're starting to invest in seo say founders listening to this and they're like yes seo let's do it how do you recommend they hire for this person slash have somebody take it on do you recommend finding someone that's like an seo god that has done this a lot and bringing them in-house or finding someone young and hungry that's going to learn at all or bringing an agency as an early stage startup. What do you recommend people do skill wise and people wise to start on this it depends on the strategy and it depends on the stage of the company and the opportunity and budget so in terms of the strategy programmatic seo is more specialized it's harder to find people who are great at programmatic seo editorial seo isn't easy but it's there's a much larger set of people who can do editorial seo than to do programmatic seo programmatic seo just has many different nuances around indexation logic and you know. I talked about the category pages and clustering keywords at the category level that's a lot of work it's hard to do it's specialized how to deal with ugc.

So if we're a ugc site like pinterest it's very complicated and you want to understand you know which pages you want to index and you need to build scalable systems so that's a specialized skill and there aren't that many people if you can hire somebody who's great at that i you know it. I'm biased towards in-house even though i run a consulting agency i'm still biased in-house. So if you can get that person that's great there just aren't that many of them but on that editorial seo side yeah. Getting someone young and hungry could absolutely work on the opportunion budget side. So if you're zillow and you have you know seo's worth a billion dollars to you just spend the money i think people under resource seo a lot of times and over resource ads so if you're zillow you're gonna spend tens of millions of dollars on ads or if you're ebay you're gonna spend tens of millions of dollars on ads why would you not have a really great seo team like the amount of traffic you get is probably equal to that. So you're going to spend 100 million dollars on ads why would you spend fifty thousand dollars on seo that doesn't make sense so i think it's based on the opportunity.

And you know how complex the strategy is that you want to focus on awesome that is really interesting the two routes that you talked about programmatic versus editorial what kind of person would you look for the programmatic is it like a growth pm is it an engineer something else it would be a gross person with technical ability and i would look for somebody who's done it before i would not look for someone who has done it before at a well-known brand name company necessarily what i would do if i were looking for someone is i would try to find sites that have had really good seo growth where the percentage of seo is really high almost too high like 80 percent of the traffic is seo company i haven't really heard of because that's harder to do it's easier to do programmatic seo at a well-known brand name company it's hard to do at a company that isn't well known and the people who are brand name companies everyone's competing to hire them and the people at companies that are not branding are less competitive so they've had a harder route to go through and you know there are fewer people recruiting them. So if i were to look for a program seo person i would basically you know scrape the web find all the sites that run through seo percentage is really high they're out performing they don't have that much authority so they've made a ton out of the small opportunity that they had that's how i would find a programmatic seo person that reminds me of go cool gave this great advice that when you're looking for a specific function instead of trying to just create for everyone that does this skill look for the company that is really good at that specific thing and then just try to hire those people so if a company's become really well known for seo that's going to be a great place to hire seo people. Yes what is it that this person does day to day so with programmatic seo it's not like us sitting there and writing it's basically building code and architecting taxonomies and updating sites basically working with engineers to just create thousands of pages millions of pages. Automatically right. Yes and they don't need the seo person doesn't need to write code necessarily i'l tell you what i did when i was doing when i was in houston programmatic seo so most of my time was spent a looking at other companies so that i that are performing well and trying to understand what's working so that involves finding the other sites basically auditing what they're doing going into ahrefs or lcm rush getting all their urls and keywords which pages are performing the best what are the patterns of the pages that are performing the best you know it seems like they tend to have these particular characteristics so a lot of my time is spent just looking at other people's sites even more so than my own site to try to figure out what's working and reverse engineer what's working then given that i'm trying to recreate that so for a food network how do i recreate a recipe page like what are all those different components i'm coming up with product requirements and then working with engineers to build them i'm spending probably a lot of time on programmatic on the category page side going through lots of keywords and then i'm probably usually manually clustering the keywords and coming up with those browse categories that i mentioned so a lot of my time just figuring out which pages are actually being created and coming up with that list or working with engineers to do that and then and then we're launching them and then i'm spending a bunch of time a doing data analysis to see what's working and what's not working and why and then last is tests but coming up with ideas of what to test what i'l say is that i spend more time and get more value on assessing other people's sites and assessing our own site than i do on testing validates a hypothesis but the hypothesis comes from analyzing other people's sites and analyzing my own site so that's where the valuable qualified hypotheses what is probably working comes from it's not from brainstorming the test validates the hypothesis. So that's what i'm spending most of my time on is there an example that comes to mind of what you just described where maybe you test it too much and instead of just like looking at whether sites are doing or learn something by just scanning sites recently well i try not to do that but sometimes companies test too quickly so let's say that you're starting from zero if you're starting from zero and nothing exists then you shouldn't be testing things it should be launching things you should be testing things once things have launched so testing. Is something i would do at like month six or later the beginning should be around building stuff. And you when you say testing basically writing a b tests right it could be an a b tester could be a sequential test and it depends on the tests but you could make a site-wide change and then see the entire page type you know went up or down and a sequential test meaning change the entire page type at the same time that's still data it's not as clean you're not controlling for every variable but it's still useful. But. Yeah you can do a split test the one thing that i'l say is some things are hard to test for example there are domain-wide things like google panda or google has a bunch of domain-wide scores and you can't split test that you could only split test that if you had 100 sites and you change 50 of them and you don't you know you don't change the others but you can't split test everything there are also things that are hard to decouple so internal link architecture a lot of times it's a you know very interconnected graph and to truly separate you know parts of the site can be hard so usually split testing is the best route but you could also use sequential tests and some things just can't be tested are there any tools that you find useful for testing seo or is it just the same old a b test we usually build them in a house you could use tools what i'l say is the main effort is bucketing. So what's in the control versus the test bucket or you have five different buckets but bucketing actually is not hard especially if you have thousands of pages. So i don't think the tools do you know as an especially great job at bucketing beyond what a human could do so for zillow just take a random sample of whatever percent you want and that's a perfectly fine bucket you don't need a tool for that you might want to like compare the tropic composition of both buckets to make sure that they're roughly equivalent but that's basically bucketing and then in terms of the implementation of bucketing it's actually not that hard either to build a house there are testing tools they're perfectly fine i just typically will build it in the house we're about to do it in-house.

Okay coming back to the two types of people that you want to look for we talked about the programmatic person on the editorial side what i think of there is i saw this story that datadog hired an engineer and their job was to write blog posts and that was really effective for them early on to build their seo cred is that the right approach how do you think about hiring someone to run your editorial seo strategy that's a part of the right approach so that part of the approach is writing really useful content and information which is probably the most important part the other parts are what should i be writing about what are the topics that i should actually be writing about a lot of topics maybe nobody's searching for maybe they're interesting but are not searched for so selecting which topics we want to go after is important and it goes back to what we were talking about earlier what are the most searched for topics though what's the search volume by topic what is our topical authority where can we actually compete within that set of topics where is there conversion intent all of that multiplied out equals expected conversions and then we prioritize that way then we want to so then we have our list of prioritized topics then we want to make sure that the article is comprehensive and we cover all of the subtopics that is not intuitive typically to a writer so the engineer datadog that you mentioned probably just had a really good intuition about what should be covered but a lot of people don't so a lot of times you'l have a gap and so again you won't you won't cover health benefits of butter lettuce on that article and you have a gap so having the outline and the subtopics is really important and a writer is not going to a writer will guess that and they may be right. But they usually are not so you start with your prioritized set of topics then you have your outlines your structure of your article and then you give that to a writer so that's an seo person then you give it to a writer who's ideally a domain expert has expertise then they write it then it gets published and then you analyze it. And then you feed that back into the strategy so seo manager does topics and an outline writer does writing seo manager manages publishing or midi content manager manages publishing and then seo manager looks at results and then that's kind of the workflow amazing this seo person so it's still a dedicated seo person who's running an editorial seo strategy and they have people that are doing the writing they're not usually doing the writing and to your point maybe the most important part is figure out what to write about and what it needs to touch on yes. And the only thing that i would say is that predatorial seo i've seen multiple examples where the person doing that seo manager stuff has no experience in seo prior and will show them some of our workloads. And they'l pick it up like at masterclass that's what happened and the team didn't have prior seo knowledge and we shared our workflow. And then they became great.

And they were actually great at content more so editorial and editorial strategy. And then they learned seo and then they're able to do that really. Well so it doesn't have to be someone doesn't have to be a you know an seo expert with deep expertise programmatic is where you'd want a lot of expertise over years and seo but on the editorial side you can actually pick it up if you have the right workflow and the right tools what does that operation look like initially and at scale like how many articles do you have to pump out a day a week initially and then later on like how do you structure this and what does that look like operationally we'l usually do 10 to 25 articles a month but it depends essentially you have your addressal market how many topics exist in your dressable market and how long you want to take to go out to them and how many of them do you want to go after so if you have 10 000 topics like masterclass probably has 20 000 topics let's say so if you're doing kind of months i don't know how long that'l take it'l take 200 years or something do you want to wait that long or do you want not want to go after all ten thousand you want to only want to go up to five thousand you have diminishing return over time but how many topics do you ultimately want to compete for and how fast do you want to take to get there what i would usually do is i wouldn't write a thousand articles a month one i would start small i would write 10 to 30. Assuming that i'm starting from zero 10 to 30 maybe we'l usually do 25. But you know do some volume around there and try to get those leading indicators that i mentioned before you go really deep on seo once you have those leading indicators then you say okay over three months we wrote 50 articles here's what the performance looks like looks like they're ranking number five you know half the articles are performing they're ranked number five for these different keywords. Okay now we know that we can rank for a bunch of other stuff. And then we just it's our. It's an roi question of what's the cost of writing each article what's the return and how much do we want to spend how fast versus ads versus other channels so that's how i would think about it what i'l say is that other companies once they get those leading indicators we'l write 100 plus articles a month because again they don't want to wait 100 years to go after all the different topics what is the mvp of that initial team look like is it an seo person and a writer person is it just one person can do it all initially what do you suggest there probably someone doing strategy and someone writing you could do both but usually the seo person does not want to write because people love writing is a is a is a special group of people and also they're you know domain experts as well the seo manager is probably not a domain expert in what the article is about. So i would say one seo person and one writer is the smallest group that you could have that would be able to do this effectively you could obviously have more when we do projects we usually have more we usually have three to five people working simultaneously but that's because we want to go faster and we don't want to wait too long.

So if you want to be more cautious minimum would be one seo person and one writer. Awesome. Okay there's a couple things i wanted to come back to that i skipped one is the page types you mentioned there's these very there's types of pages you can write category pages address pages are there like a set number of types of pages for people to put into their head there's a few pages that cover probably 90 percent of all use cases so on the programmatic side there's category pages which is a grid or a list of items like 20 products there's an item page which is a single item which could be a product and address a video so those are the key page types of programmatic underneath category there's brand subcategory a bunch of different ways you could slice categories but it's essentially a grid of items so that's a category page and a product page those are the two main page types one other one. I'l mention is like a question and answer on quora or a forum. So ugc pages so those are the primary page types on programmatic and then on the editorial side it's essentially a page with content and that can be an article a listicle a listicles and it is like a list of items packages and article you could have a guide you can have a product marketing page like a landing page for a feature that you have so those are the i would actually break out product marketing pages and home pages as sort of a separate miscellaneous bucket but like product marketing page home page support those are the main page types there are a few those are the main page types are like eight and ninety percent then there are special cases so a special case would be tool pages like a mortgage calculator or a body mass index calculator for zapier has integration pages google sheets plus gmail. So that's a special page type for them so those are the main page types and coming back to how you decide which of these page types to do you basically look at what is google finding most valuable within the space that you're coming after right. Yes what's your whole addressable market by page type which ones have the most opportunity which is essentially impact what's the scope of all these different page types.

And then you prioritized based on impact and scope awesome the butter lettuce example say you want to win butter lettuce as a topic do you have one page that becomes like your butter lettuce page that you're driving all your traffic to or do you try to have like a hundred variations of it to win the broader butter lettuce topic the way that i would think about that would be again i would take all the different keywords that i want to rank for and i would look for the same results seem to be ranking over and over again or they don't so is there a significant overlap of the keywords that i have or is there is a completely different set of results and if it's completely different then i would separate them out the other thing that i would do potentially is if let's say the butter lettuce page is ranking number six for health benefits and we talked about it. But maybe if we and that's a huge search line if we really talked about it we might be able to compete even better of this spin out sub article and you could do that by again looking at the keywords that you're ranking for and if there's some theme where you did cover it. But but you're not ranking quite as well as you want to break out that section of health benefit and then have a separate article for that awesome man there's so much meat to this.

I'm just my brain is full but i have many more things i would ask so let me let me ask a few more things one is just like a meta question it feels like there's a lot of conflicting advice about seo everyone's always kind of giving you different opinions about the way to win seo and things are always changing do you have any advice for folks that are trying to learn how to get better at this they'l listen to this they'l learn a ton they'l probably hear different advice any advice for like how to know what to believe what's real who to listen to. Yes. So i think it's based on doing data analysis of your site of competing sites to generate hypotheses of what you think is working and then testing them and validating those hypotheses which is different from google said something. And therefore i will believe it completely or somebody told me something so google is a source of hypotheses to test analyzing other sites stumping that someone said something that another seo person said these are all hypotheses. But ultimately you want to test them of the hypotheses of the sources of where you would generate your hypotheses i would focus on looking at other sites and looking at your own site so find what seems to be working on other sites and do that by again putting them into age rest putting in industrial rush getting their top pages trying to glean with what patterns you think are correlating with success and then same on your own site so which pages are performing well which ones aren't like an article that's two thousand words doing or the word count seems to be a correlation longer is better and shorter is worse maybe that's maybe that is causal then go test it and then validate it i think also i spend a lot of time.

So when i look at other people's sites one thing that i'l do that i've had a lot of success at is to contact the person who runs seo at that company and then set up a meeting and then ask them a bunch of questions about i think that this is what's what happened is that correct or what have you tested what's worked and what hasn't worked i i remember i was trying to come up with an international seo strategy so i did an analysis where i looked at every company and which companies had repeated success outside of the united states so ebay trip advisor a bunch of other sites and there were clear patterns that tripadvisor consistently outperformed over and over again so then i analyzed tripadvisor and tried to come up with what i thought was causing that and then i tapped my network and tried to find the person who's running an seo tripadvisor which is hard to do. But i eventually found luke levesque who was running all seo including that and then i asked him a bunch of questions and he answered some of them and so now i actually i actually know the answers and so i don't even need to test some of these things like somebody else already built this and tested it so they can just tell me so finding the seo manager the people at these companies and just asking them the questions is actually a great way to to get the those answers awesome luke's coming on this podcast actually and not too distant future looks great i'm looking forward to it. Yeah he's a big deal now you mentioned that some companies get a little blocked on thinking about strategy and just like planning and don't actually get anything done. And i think you had some thoughts to share just like how do you get done without being blocked if you can't get all the things done you want to get done the dirty secret of seo and seo consulting is that most of what is recommended never gets launched so we we interview people from other seo agencies or recruiting seo at other companies and the common thing that will happen is i'l say what did you work on what was your strategy describe your strategy and then they'l describe it in detail. And i did all these different things. And then i'l ask what happened and they'l say oh well actually almost none of this got launched because i couldn't get resources so the common problem is resources and you know every company's resource constrained i think a key part of why seo especially gets disproportionately blocked is number one it's not part of the product org and the changes are oftentimes product changes so eli schwartz has this book about product led seo which is how it should be done and it usually is not done that way it's usually the product org has their stuff. And then there's the seo team over here. And they're saying please do this thing and the product cube says well i have all this other stuff that i need to do. So i'm not going to do that or i'm going to do that in a year and so having the org design and having things prioritized through product i think is really important also having buy-in at the executive level is really important usually when we get locked i'l just try to ask the executive there's this really big opportunity may we please get this thing launched i think the other part of why seo doesn't get resource as it should is that it's mysterious and it's hard to describe it and people will say well how do you know that this is going to work. And you actually don't know if it's going to work. And so the fact that there's this mystery around it versus something else where there's not mystery the non-mysterious thing will get prioritized over the mysterious thing and then the last is that it's just a lot of work the stuff that i've been describing to you to your point about there's a lot of meat there's a ton of work to do you know at scale like a zillow you need a large team to do a whole bunch of different things so you need a lot of resources to actually do all this stuff. And so it's just high scope a lot of times to do it so for all these reasons they're getting things done part is actually more of a factor of success or not than the actual strategy a lot of times there's a bunch of topics i want to touch on before we wrap up this is already i think going to be the longest episode we've done but well worth it because rarely have i heard this much depth on such as you said mysterious skill and growth opportunity.

So i'm really excited about all the stuff that we're talking about there's a few things that you'd already touched on in my notes but there's a few that we haven't one is topical authority which you talked a bit about but i'm curious is there anything more to share about just the importance of becoming an authority at a topic as the core of your seo strategy versus say keyword focus and things like that this is probably the most important least understood part of seo so pagerank was a key thing with google where google would prioritize things based on page rank that's based on academic publications where the public the journal article that was cited the most is better than others so they applied that to to their search engine and that was a key part of why their search engines better and so it started with links so the more links you have from other sites pointing to you the more important you are the higher you'l rank and so people would build links and focus on that and over time that's gotten a lot more complex so there's more inputs the links is one and i mentioned referring domains that's part of links there's other inputs so non-seo traffic like i mentioned how much traffic are you getting from other channels is a signal and google's looking at chrome for that as well. So google actually knows your traffic sources and android so non-essiotropic is an authority signal shares and social activities of the fourier signal branded search so number of times people type in your brand name into google how many times people type in masterclass is an authority signal so authority is more complex so there's more inputs the second thing is that it's topical so it's not your total domain authority. It's what you're known for and you'l see in the most recent google helpful content update they talk about domain experts or taught they don't use the word topic but they refer to people where there's a specific narrow expertise versus we can rank for anything like a wikipedia and so google's looking for which sites are disproportionately known they have disproportionate authority for certain themes versus others and so those themes come from what is the anchor text of your backlink does it say chicken recipes it doesn't say digital camera what is for shares what has been shared the most what is the content of what got shared the most branded search so master class plus gordon ramsay is authority for gordon. Ramsay so these are the inputs and that's how google's determining those keywords and then they'l give you authority for the things that are semantically related or adjacent to that so an example that i'l give is. I was working with this a recipe site. And we had a viral blog post about jello shots 10. Jello shots worth the hangover and we got four million likes and millions of pins it was hugely successful and so that posted really well i think it ranked around number six for jello shots but the entire domain then started to rank for vodka recipes and whiskey recipes and things that were semantically related to jello shots and it and those pages were not even linked to from the blog post so the blog post did well but the entire domain benefited from jello shot topical authority and from things that are adjacent to jello shots which are other types of alcohol.

And so it was sup adjacent and it was entire domain rather than single page so that was a really interesting example. And we see that a lot an example with master class is early on they had authority for the names of the instructors like gordon ramsay but not for food in general and so we knew that if we had authority for gordon ramsay then we'l have authority for things that are adjacent to. Gordon ramsay so gordon ramsay is known for beef wellington sand and how to poaching egg steak so we focused on things adjacent to. Gordon ramsay. And we knew we could rank there versus something like a butter lettuce where we did not have authority for that yet we would not rank for that early on so we started for stuff that was adjacent to our topical authority was. And then we branched out from there and this is actually a great way where earlier companies can actually rank even if their competitors have way more domain rank than they do because again google's saying for a fintech site maybe you don't have as much authority as investopedia but you're really known for you know. Iron condor crypto i forgot i forget what it was called. But like you're known for that thing. So what's your authority or for. Gordon ramsay what's your authority for just gordon ramsay relative to your total authority and you're disproportionately known for.

Gordon ramsay. Then you have very high top bull authority for that and you'l outrank other sites that have more total domain authority because you're disproportionately known for that thing when people think about the idea of a topic you mentioned a bunch of examples butter lettuce gordon ramsay is usually just like a topic versus a keyword a topic is like a one word or two word description of like a broad thing versus like caesar salad with sardines and croutons what's like a good mental model for thinking about here's a topic that i can win versus like here's just a keyword a topic would be again we want to find keywords where the results are the same over and over again so those keywords are now a group that group of keywords 300 keywords where the same results are showing up every time that's now a cluster of keywords and therefore it's a topic the label of that topic is essentially you know what do you think is the primary theme of that it's usually the highest search volume keyword within that keyword cluster like a butter lettuce so that's the name of the topic and then the way that you think about adjacent topics you can kind of think of adjacent topics is for food what does an ingredient graph look like so for jello shots there's drinks meat vegetables produce underneath drinks there's juice and coffee and tea. And then there's alcoholic drinks i don't eat alcoholic drinks there's whiskey and vodka in this eventually lower down there's jello shots so jello shots what's adjacent to that or other types of alcohol then you have other types of alcohol you rank for that what's adjacent to that other kinds of drinks what's adjacent to that something else but that's kind of how you can think about how the graph or sorry the topic lives in a in an overall graph is an ingredient graph or same with commerce. You know home goods versus cameras there's a whole tree structure. So that's how you can think about adjacent topics i wonder if there's a big map of these somewhere with all the traffic to each. So i so there is and there isn't there is there are expert define taxonomies and google has them. But they typically don't use them. And they typically will generate grass somewhat on the fly because things will change and so i think people over estimate the amount of expert curated taxonomies that google uses. And it's actually a lot of algorithmic dynamics definitions of the graphs that are generated constantly and again they change so that's typically how it works so how google would actually find these adjacencies i think it's by doing large crawls of the web and looking for co-occurrences and then structuring and graph that way looking at search refinements looking at co-occurring results within so for butter lettuce here are all the results what words co-occur on the results there. So google's basically i think creating a graph out of that part of why i say that is because we have some data suggest that. And then also there's a good seo the best seo podcast. I think it's called search engine on the record or something like that. But it's with gary iles and john mueller and actually give quite a bit of the information there's one episode with gary iles basically does what i just said where google crawls the whole web looks for co-occurrences and search refinements and all of this sort of feeding into how relationships are understood cool we'l definitely link to that that podcast a few more questions i definitely want to get through.

And then we can wrap up one is. I know you're a big proponent of internal links and the power of internal links and how that's often a under appreciated lever for growing seo can you talk about that. Yes so i mentioned i worked at this e-commerce company in 2007. And in 2007 google search console had a report of all of your pages and the number of internal links and they have that now but the data are not all available so it's not it's not clean data. But then it was actually real data that was comprehensive and complete so we could literally download and we had millions of pages and millions of products and i could download the entire set of every url and the number of internal links that google found and we had a bunch of product pages that were not getting traffic. So i wanted to understand. Why so i got that all the urls all the internal link counts then i got traffic. And then i basically did a correlation. And i found that pages with more links got more traffic fewer links got less traffic so again to the earlier question of how do we generate our hypotheses we analyze data we look for patterns we generate a hypothesis i think that links cause traffic test. That hypothesis. So we made a change where we added more links to these products that had no links and by links i mean links from within the site so within the site we're looking at these products more and then we saw a huge increase i think it was 300 increase entropic to these product pages. And so then we were able to draw clear causal relationship and that was in 2007. That still works and that's still a thing. So i would say probably 90 to 95 percent of sites have this problem right now.

And the reason why this is a thing is google is crawling the web and your site through links and if you don't have links then google doesn't have paths to find all of your pages and it's not enough to put it in the sitemap you need it that's one link you need many paths for google to find pages and the more paths the better up to a certain point usually at least 10 links google needs to find a page and crawl it regularly enough to give it enough credit and 90 plus sites don't have this the reason why is because internal link algorithms are typically either basset-based recommendation based or popular based so for facet base what i mean by that is for thumbtack plumbers in san francisco they'l link to other cities and other service types or related will be. And basically you'l have silos you'l. So you'l have pages you know you'l have cities maybe they're not popular enough they didn't get linked to you'l have other services they didn't get linked to and so you'l have these gaps in the site where you didn't have enough links to some of the some of the pages popular. You're always going to have the same 10 most popular posts on every single page and the other posts that are not the most popular don't get linked to most recent same thing you'l only link to the most recent ones and not to the ones that are not the most recent related similar so related algorithms are based typically on people who viewed this viewed this other thing and if you have a post that didn't get viewed a lot you don't have data for that.

And then it doesn't show up in the related algorithm so related algorithms tend to skew towards a subset of pages and so typically what you'l see is if you crawl so you can look at this by getting screaming frog so this is this is a good use case for screen frog scrape the whole site you'l get an internal link count it's called unique and links and screaming frog and you'l see a power curve where you know five percent of pages are getting 95 of links it's very extreme usually then you can see that a bunch of pages on your site get zero links or one link will usually look for at least five links ideally 10 to say that this this page has enough and frequently they won't and none of these algorithms that i just described are going to solve it so facet based related popular recent none of those are gonna spread enough links everywhere and so then when you fix it and you spread links everywhere then traffic goes up and essentially what you want is you want a shortest path from crawl point. So what i mean by that is a crawl coin is where google enters your site google enters your site at your home page. But it also enters your site on any popular page so if your mobile app page gets lots of links so you have a press release that gets lots of links all of these are places where google is entering your site frequently and it has a lot of authority and what you don't want is you don't want every page to be very far away in your length graph you don't want to be very far away from these crawl points you ideally want the as few hops or as few levels of your site from those crawl points you don't want a hierarchical tree structure you actually want a very flat wrap. So how do you actually build this is a lot of work so back to getting things done this takes a lot of effort so we actually built our own at thumbtack.

I worked on their internal link algorithm. And then we and then at the shopping site that i mentioned 2007 we did the same thing so we've rebuilt that a few different times but regularly the scope was too high so we basically built that in the house so we have an api that can powered this on any site we have it live on a bunch of sites we have it live on upwork and other sites seen really good lift from that but consistently we'l see if you don't have good link spread fixing it has significant opportunity typically 25 plus opportunity even like 100 opportunities sometimes if your links are really under optimized so this is probably anything that i can recommend to companies as the quick win the thing to do at the at the start it's this what a nugget to have towards the end of this long conversation folks that are still listening good job continuing to listen and you found a great opportunity instead i understand how to how this actually ends up being implemented is a simple way to think about it there's a bunch of links in the footer and you smartly decide what links to include in that footer uh. Yes and no so footer lengths are not equal to body links so links in the nav and on the footer are navigational links and they count they don't count as much so google will look at your page and separate out navigation but body links count a lot. And i think that the way google is doing that is they're basically looking at the same pieces of information over and over again or is it different and so we'l usually put it at the bottom of an article or a bottom of a category page you could put them anywhere really it could be in the body it could be at the top it could be the it could be at the bottom. But i wouldn't put it in the footer i would put it above the footer got it just hearing you talk about how this space works and how detective oriented it is and scientific but also creative.

I imagine it's very fulfilling to work in this space just like intellectually is that what you find it's fulfilling now. But it wasn't when i started when i started i tested a bunch of things that didn't work. And it's very demotivating to do a bunch of work and none of it works i think that's part of why people either don't go in seo or when they do they go out of best deal is that they try a bunch of stuff. And it doesn't work. But if you can persevere through that and start getting things do work and start getting wins and eighty percent of your company's traffic comes from the work that you did that's very fulfilling i think the other fulfilling thing is there's a certain profile of a of a growth person or an seo person who really likes to do things they're not supposed to do and to break things and to do things that are unconventional and i'm that way and so for those reasons it's very fulfilling a couple more questions i want to get through and then i'l let you go one is i've noticed this proliferation of startups that are using gpt3 basically to generate pages and to win seo through just auto-generated ai driven pages do you think this is an effective strategy for a startup do you recommend it do you think it's long term gonna last how do you think about ai and seo i mostly don't like it and don't recommend it but there are exceptions so a couple things on this the first thing is the content should be good and it should be useful and we've played around with gpt3 so gpt3 is basically generating sentences that are similar to other sentences that have been written by somebody else though gpt3 takes common crawl and very large data sets so a large snapshot of the whole web so tons of sentences and then it trains the model to generate new sentences that are similar to other sentences that have been written so they're grammatically correct or spelled correctly sometimes they sound like they are written by a person sometimes they're not but a lot of times they are a lot of times it's indistinguishable from a human the problem is that you want the sentence to be factual you want there to be underlying wisdom in the sentence. So i'l give you an example we were playing around gpt 3 to generate a description of a product of a soap and gpt3 said the soap was oxide free. But it was not oxide free but gbt3 doesn't know that.

And some other thing was oxide free on the web and so just said it was oxide free so it made this false claim. But if you're a user you would never know that it was written well it was spelled correctly it was grammatically correct and it was just factually accurate and so to have a content be useful and to use ai in a useful way there needs to be underlying wisdom that the ai is communicating so if you have structured data then it can be useful so it let's say that you're writing an article about a basketball game if you have structured data about each thing that happened in the basketball game somebody scored this point at this particular time and then this happens something else you generate sentences that are factual they're based on actual information or knowledge and the sentences are therefore useful with power is actually an interesting example so they're extracting structure from from clinical trial information and generating sense based on that structured data so in that sense it's useful but most ai generated content is just sentences similar to other sentences that have been written and so in general. I recommend it that's ji an example would be how should i save for my retirement if i have an article about that. And it's just not truthful and i'm making decisions about my retirement based on this article the gpt throat that's really bad or if i'm you know if i have cancer. And i'm researching cancer options and this ai content suggests some treatment that is not a good treatment that's a big problem. And so i think we want to be really careful about how we use ai for content generation where ai is really useful is actually all the other stuff that i talked about so if you think about the workflow of creating content you start with what should i be writing about what are the subtopics so like 300 different keywords what are the sub themes what's that outline how is it performing all of these things can be done really well with ai so ai can extract structure they can help me decide which topic to write by going through these thousands of keywords and clustering them looking for overlaps and things like that it could tell me what my topical authority is they could sort them it could go through the keywords and find these subtopic themes it could do that. All that really well and then a human can write a piece of content so given all that information human can write a piece of content they're a domain expert they have wisdom. And they can they can write an article based on that structure that's a great application of ai what's not a great application of ai is writing an article to just in cancer treatments based on no underlying wisdom that sounds dangerous say someone is listening to this episode and they're like. Okay. I'm excited seo is something we should be thinking about what is the first and second thing they should do after finishing this episode to explore the opportunity first thing that they should do. Is assess the size of the addressable market so is it large do that by finding again product competitors and audience competitors how much traffic do they have is that meaningful the second thing that they should do is they can i compete do i have enough authority.

So how much traffic do i have that's not from seo how many referring domains do i have what is my total authority how much traction do i have then they would want to ask of all the things i could be working on how does seo compare with all of my alternative things that i could focus on and then what's the scope of that so do i want to spend my money on that or do i want to spend it on something else with that amount of money does that make sense that's what i would do ethan this episode is bonkers i think there's millions of dollars worth of value in this last hour and a half that we've been here i am so appreciative of you making the time i'm gonna go eat some butter lettuce for sure before we wrap up where can folks find you online if they want to reach out or learn more about graphite and you and how can listeners be useful to you absolutely so our website is and my email is ethan grassite So that's where you can find me and one thing i'l add is i talked about how i learned a lot from asking other people at companies what worked and what didn't work and what you're doing with your podcast is essentially getting those people on a podcast and sharing it with everyone. So you know when i was starting in growth i had no information or no guidance other than that consult that i mentioned to point me in the right direction. So it was really painful. So the fact that there's an operator who's talking to other operators and practitioners and getting that information giving access to everyone is really meaningful. So i just wanted to thank you for that it's my pleasure man it's really fun for me too. And i'm learning a ton so thank you thanks for being here absolutely thanks for having me thank you so much for listening if you found this valuable you can subscribe to the show on apple podcast spotify or your favorite podcast app also please consider giving us a rating or leaving a review as that really helps other listeners find the podcast you can find all past episodes or learn more about the show at see you in the next episode.

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