[00:00:00] Barry Schwartz: But machine learning and AI is very, very significant in terms of, um, how Bing and Google use, you know, figure out algorithm rankings in search, figure out features in search also, like featured snippets and where to lay out different elements in search. It’s all done based off of these machine learning algorithms so it should make everything much more complicated.
In terms of using AI and machine learning for SEO purposes like generating content or stuff like that, that’s been fairly interesting ’cause this last Helpful Content Update seems to have hit a lot of machine generated, AI generated types of content. So, I found that very interesting, as well. I don’t know. And that’s, I just found it very, very interesting to see that.
[00:00:41] Bumper Intro-Outro: Welcome to Endless Coffee Cup, a regular discussion of marketing news, culture, and media for our complex digital lifestyle. Join Matt Bailey as he engages in conversation to find insights beyond the latest headlines and deeper understanding for those involved in marketing. Grab a cup of coffee, have a seat, and thanks for joining.
[00:01:03] Matt Bailey: Well, hello dear listener and welcome to another edition of the Endless Coffee Cup podcast. I’m glad you’re with me and I think you’re in for a treat because I’ve got a longtime associate friend from the, the SEO industry. If you have been in SEO for any number of years, you know the name Barry Schwartz. And Barry, thank you so much for being here today.
[00:01:26] Barry Schwartz: No, thank you so much for having me. It’s been a while since we, you know, met up and we’ve been I think in the SEO, search marketing community for close to, you know, probably 20 years now. So, it’s been, it’s been a fun space and it’s great to catch up with you. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:40] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Thanks for coming on. And yeah, like you said, it, it’s been 20 some years and it’s funny talking to other people in the industry and, and now we’ve hit that second decade and some of us have gone even a little past that. And it’s, it’s, you know, you’re starting to realize like, “Oh my goodness,” this, this group of people that were very early in SEO and, and kind of grown through that.
You have been a fixture in the industry because, you, you know, like the rest of us, you, you, you know, tried to figure out what’s this all about? But you took a different tack, and you started writing about these changes. If you could tell me what, what were you doing, what was it that caused you to be interested in search engines, and what inspired you to just start writing a blog about, about search engines?
[00:02:25] Barry Schwartz: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, um, I have and have still a software development company. We do a lot of web, uh, and mobile applications, mostly like software applications. Very little front end work these days. Uh, but initially building out stuff back in the old days was building out websites that just worked and a lot of people had, you know, really bad front page websites and stuff like that, so we built custom stuff.
And one of our clients was like, “How do you get into these like search engines?” And I’m like, “Oh, I’ll look into it.” And I researched it and, you know, look, looked online in different discussion forums and so forth, and I bought some books and so forth, and I found it fascinating, like discussions going on in some of these old forums, like the old WebmasterWorld forums, Jim World, SEOChat, High Rankings, Paid SEO forums, you name it. There was just so many smart people discussing how algorithms worked, you know, the, uh, patterns behind it, the algorithms behind it. And it was just fascinating to see the communities talk about all the different changes. Back then it wasn’t changing as fast. You had the 30 day Google dances where…
[00:03:21] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:03:21] Barry Schwartz: …would be jumping around in page rank. Uh, so it was very fascinating to watch and I’m like, “You know what? There’s so much knowledge here, I want to keep a log of this information.” So, I started something called the Search Engine Roundtable, which basically is a blog. Um, um, and I basically cataloged all the, I think what I, what I classified I mean important conversations that I found in the search marketing community over the years, and I kept doing it.
I just, I just loved doing it and I kept writing about it. It’s not, you know, it’s a hobby. It’s not necessarily where I make my money when I’m making my money doing the software stuff, but it’s definitely something that I found fascinating. I kept doing it for almost 20 years now, and I continue to do it today.
[00:03:53] Matt Bailey: Amazing. Amazing. And wow, you are bringing up some blast from the past with High Rankings Forum, WebmasterWorld, Jim World, oh my goodness. I mean, some of those…
[00:04:03] Barry Schwartz: Yeah.
[00:04:03] Matt Bailey: …wow. But that, I mean, that was, that was our social media back in the day, you know, turn of the, I think early 2000s and that’s where, that was really the one place we would meet and, and it’s fun. We would argue, we’d debate, compare notes about things we’re noticing, and I mean, what a world that was where you actually got to know people because it was, it was kind of the same group. Every once in a while, someone new would come in and, you know, but they would ask questions and, and contribute and it was really, I look at those discussions that we had back, back then, and they were very in-depth, very well-reasoned. You, you had your flare-ups once in a while, but, uh…
[00:04:42] Barry Schwartz: Once in a while. I think more than once in a while, but no, you’re right. And everybody had aliases back then. Nobody used their…
[00:04:47] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:04:47] Barry Schwartz: …real names. Then we met up at conferences and slowly we started to like get or put our real names out there. And then where Matt Cox was under the Google Guy name in WebmasterWorld, and, and we had people from Google actually participating in these conversations and saying, started to give us information, trickle in information, which is not just us making up our theories, it’s actually Google saying, “No, you’re wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about,” which is fun.
[00:05:06] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:05:07] Barry Schwartz: And then we had obviously social media, so a lot of that conversation now, not all of it, but a lot of it has moved from, you know, one that’s the world in discussion forums to Twitter, Facebook, and so forth. So, yeah, thank God we have these online communities ’cause it’s, it’s a great place for people to connect.
[00:05:21] Matt Bailey: Yeah, and it was interesting because, I mean, I remember reading posts that were four or five or six paragraphs, you know, with citations, with screenshots, because people were making a case that, “This is what I think is happening.” And then you would have just this long, long thread of debate and back and forth. You know, you don’t see that, you know, through Twitter. You don’t see that on the, the other social media. It’s more reaction, it’s more a one or two sentence thing. But I kind of miss those days where it was, it was paragraphs. It was, it was almost a, a dissertation of what I think is happening on the search engines right now.
[00:06:00] Barry Schwartz: I mean, for sure. You had people like Edward Johns, you had Bill Slosky, may rest in peace. Some…
[00:06:04] Matt Bailey: Oh, yeah.
[00:06:05] Barry Schwartz: …some really amazing personalities that even to, even like throughout today, they still provide those long form stuff. It’s just, generations change. People are, want instant gratification. It’s TikTok, it’s not, it’s not long form stuff and it’s a kind of a shame, but at the same time, you know, we’ve got to kind of adapt to what people are expecting now and go with it. But it, yeah, you said it. It was just an amazing place to be back then.
[00:06:29] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Well, so you’ve been doing this for, for, yeah, almost 20 years now. What, what in your mind has been the biggest change or, in the search engine world in that time that, that affected, let’s, let’s say how it affected SEOs or how it affected businesses?
[00:06:48] Barry Schwartz: Right. So, there was a bunch of algorithm updates that actually directly impacted SEO companies as well as businesses that relying on SEO. So, the first one, most, I guess earliest one was probably the Florida update back in like 2002, 2003. It really like said, “Hey SEOs, you can’t just go ahead and like spam us and generate junk content. You got to really do something that was good.”
And SEOs were like, “Oh my God, I got hit. My business is dead,” or some other businesses that were depending on third party SEOs, their businesses were dead. And it was like, oh, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. You got to go and diversify and do other things like, you know, snail mail and you know, you know, whatever it might be like back in the old days, like TV ads and radio ads.
And now you see the same thing with like these other algorithm updates. I mean, probably the most significant and most well known outside of like the Florida update, which is almost 20 years ago, is, you know, was the Panda update and the Penguin update. The Panda update was targeting people who were generating really low-quality content just for the purpose of ranking well, right? A lot of people were generating that type of content, a lot of internal SEOs working at like these massive companies, Mahalo and, and so forth, got hit really hard and those businesses just failed overnight. And then Penguin was like, that hit the SEO, SEO business really, really hard.
[00:07:56] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:07:56] Barry Schwartz: ‘Cause Penguin was more about links and SEOs were really into links back then. And links worked very well. You could, you could rank for anything with just a few links, really good quality links, even if your site was not about that link. So, that was hit hard. I think that was in 2012, in 2013, or 2011, 2012, some, something like that.
[00:08:13] Matt Bailey: Around there, yeah. Yeah. I remember that because it was…
[00:08:16] Barry Schwartz: Yeah.
[00:08:16] Matt Bailey: …there was a whole thing about just get that link on another site and, and I remember there were a whole series of SEOs, I could name some names, who would write ridiculous articles and they would get picked up and, and I remember one guy tell me, “Oh yeah, I just made it up. You know, but it got picked up…
[00:08:34] Barry Schwartz: Right.
[00:08:34] Matt Bailey: …and I got a link and immediately,” and I’m just looking, I’m going, “Are you serious?” You know, “Why would you do this? But yes, you generated a link. You got this,” but this, this link at all costs or getting this, I mean the, the debates that came out of that.
But it was, it was an amazing, I think you mentioned this, it’s like this cat and mouse game between a lot of the SEO industry and, and Google, especially. I mean, have you seen where, where, in, throughout, outside of the industry, what’s the reputation of SEO? Do you encounter that much at all where, where people will share an opinion of it or what, what they, they view it as?
[00:09:15] Barry Schwartz: I don’t think it’s good. It’s never been good. I don’t think it’s getting any better, sadly. I thought for some point, at some point it was getting better, but from what I see, and I’m very, it’s hard to say to somebody, to somebody who’s so involved in this community, “What does the outside think of it?” ’cause I’m so inside of it, but it’s not good. I, I, um, obvious, you know, it’s not a good thing. It’s like we are known as, like, people that try to manipulate Google and try to drive people to, an old fashion was like, you know, you, you rank for a Disney cartoon character, and you send them to a porn site. That’s what people think of, of, of SEOs and it’s bad and it’s not true, but it’s what we’re kind of really known for.
[00:10:00] But again, I think it goes hand in hand with Google trying to build quality algorithms that don’t let that stuff rank, SEOs trying to build websites that are really generated for users first, which Google’s been saying for 20 years but nobody really believed until probably after the Penguin update and after these core updates.
And, you know, this stuff just tends to work well. I mean, you want to build something that’s good for users these days and it’s not going to be like one of those old debates on like, “Is content king? Is links, are links king?” Clearly, it’s content now and I guess that Joe Leland was, was right from day one, so.
[00:10:18] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. I mean that’s, you know, as someone who, you know, my, when it comes to SEO, my idea has always been user first and, “What do they want to know?” and answer the question rather than kind of going around and trying to, you, you know, trying to fool Google, trying to create that false relevance, even though there’s a significant part of the community that does that, and Google combats that.
But it’s interesting that you, you know, you look and see who tends to get tagged in these updates and who doesn’t. And I think you get your most vocal community or the ones that are, you know, trying to make that false relevance and those that don’t get hit by the updates just kind of stay quiet and, and they just do what they’re doing and, and not saying anything.
I mean, but when we look at the past updates, you know, you mentioned Florida, which I, I remember that was the first major sort of quality check where Google said, like you said, “No more,” you, you know, “We’re going to start,” that was the first major one, and I remember the fallout from that. People were angry.
[00:11:24] Barry Schwartz: Yeah.
[00:11:24] Matt Bailey: Angry about their sites just all of a sudden disappearing out of Google. But what’s the trend? I mean, where is Google going in all this? So, we can go all the way back to the Florida update, and now at the, at this point, while we’re recording, we’re, I just read your article about so far, the Quality update is a bit disappointing. What’s, you know, when we look back at Panda, Penguin, Florida, Quality, what’s the end goal? Where’s Google going with these updates?
[00:11:53] Barry Schwartz: Yeah. Right. It’s called the Helpful, the most recent one is the Helpful Content Update. It seems to be kicking in this morning. We’ll see. It’s too early to say so, but anyway. You see the trend is, is clear. The, the trend is Google wants to rank the most relevant, most useful, most helpful pieces of content that have the most accurate and most useful information for users.
And you saw this clearly with these core updates, specifically in the YMYL, your money your life categories, and Google’s been talking about EAT, expertise, authoritative, and trustworthiness. That’s the trend. Google really wants to rank stuff that is super useful, that is accurate, that it’s helpful, that it’s not hurtful to people, and it just keeps getting better and better at doing that.
Even though everybody thinks their website’s the best, truth is there’s so much content out there. Google doesn’t want to index everything. Google doesn’t want to rank everything. Google just wants to rank and index the best of the best. And Google has so much to choose from, especially in the English language. I mean, in other languages behind you could probably, you know, get away with some spam. But when it comes to English languages, there’s almost nothing out there that you could write about that’s not been written about before multiple, multiple times. So, Google has a lot to select from. And Google’s only going to rank the most useful stuff.
[00:12:59] Matt Bailey: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So, I got to ask you this. Do you use Google, Barry?
[00:13:04] Barry Schwartz: Yes. I do.
[00:13:06] Matt Bailey: This is like maybe my quick fire round here. What other search engines are out there that maybe I, I mean, do, do, are there any search engines out there right now that are a legitimate contender as far as quality of results?
[00:13:22] Barry Schwartz: Yeah, Bing is up there. Microsoft Bing does a pretty good job. It’s just they, I honestly thought they would have more market share than they do now. They don’t, but they do a very, very good job. They’re, they’re serious about it. They index quick and they rank, they have pretty, really good ranking algorithms. They have this spam protection. It’s not as good as Google because they have a lot more data and machine learning to play with, but Bing is really up there. DuckDuckGo is trying, but their privacy first thing, especially after that privacy blunder a year or so ago is pretty bad.
[00:13:47] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:13:47] Barry Schwartz: So, I mean it’s, it’s really, it used to be, remember like when Bruce Clay had this chart of like all the different search engines and who powered who, that’s no longer the case. It’s really just, it’s Google. I mean…
[00:13:56] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:13:56] Barry Schwartz: …there’s Google, maybe a little bit of Bing. Yahoo’s dead. Ask Jeeves is gone by far. There’s DuckDuckGo which uses, I think Microsoft, actually. There is, there’s a lot of specialty search engines, as well. So, I’m not going to go into all of them, but, and it’s really, you only have to worry about really today is Google, maybe some Bing.
[00:14:12] Matt Bailey: Yeah. Yeah. And, and I noticed, even Bing though, they, they’ve been doing a lot as far as Webmaster Tools and really providing a lot of information. I, I really, I, I would say they’re on par with Google with the amount of the information that they’re enabling you as a webmaster to see about your site, the feedback that they’re providing, very serious about that. But like you, I, I, I do wish, like you’ve got to let people know rather, rather than just being a default browser or the default search on a default browser, you got to do something.
[00:14:46] Barry Schwartz: Yeah, you, you do. Also, I mean, Yandex has pretty good webmaster tools if you’re in the Russian space. So, there are other like vertical or like language based search engines that have a pretty good market share in certain regions. But like you said, Microsoft will, great job there and they’re also pushing this IndexNow protocol significantly, which was adopted by a number of many, many CMS platforms and providers, also adopted by obviously Bing, themselves, and Yandex and a bunch of other search engines.
Google has not adopted it yet. I don’t know if they will. Probably not, but, you know. ‘Cause indexing is important. It’s not like they, they want, Google doesn’t want to be just fed everything. They, them crawling the web is a signal of what’s important and what’s quality. So, it’s interesting to say, see what Google does with that if they ever do anything with that.
[00:15:26] Matt Bailey: Yeah, I mean that’s, that’s one of the things I think they have said from day one is, “We’d rather find your content than have you submit it to us or, or have you…
[00:15:35] Barry Schwartz: Yeah.
[00:15:35] Matt Bailey: …feed it to it.” And it’s really interesting to see, I think even, you know, back in the day we would run some tests about how Googlebot discovered things or if we launch a similar site at the same time without anything then, and it, and it seemed to prove out that they would much rather find it rather than use your sitemap or, or have it submitted. What, and, and like you said, it’s a quality signal. How does that work for someone who might not understand how the quality signals or indexing might go hand in hand?
[00:16:05] Barry Schwartz: Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s hard to like specifically say, obviously I don’t have access to Google’s algorithm, but obviously links are still very important. The content of this page is important, but Google does understand how your website is linking internally. Internal linking structure is very important. Are the pages that you’re linking to the most often linked to, you know, so often are, how, how, where are they linked to on the page? What links are you having in your content itself? What does your navigation say about your website?
So, the structure user experience of your website does play a larger role, especially today in terms of Google understanding what the most important, what you think the most important content on your website is, and Google will translate that to hopefully rank that most important content, you know, higher in the search results, as well as crawl more often because it might be updated more often. Uh, it’s not as simple as that. I just want it, kind of dumb, come, very much so dumbing it down, but I just wanted to give a quick overview of it.
[00:16:54] Matt Bailey: No, that’s cool. That, that, well, and anytime we’re trying to look under the hood, I mean, it, it, it’s, the lights are, we really can’t, you know, understand. We can just see the results and try and figure that out. What do you think about people, I mean, how many people have you encountered that, that, you, you know, maybe try to tell you they have reverse engineered Google? I mean, how many times have you encountered that and what’s your response to that?
[00:17:15] Barry Schwartz: I think it’s less so these days. It used to be a lot more in the early days and it was very easy to do back in the early days. It was really like, when Google came out, it was really all about the links. I mean, it was super simple. You just go to some underground link network, you know, buy some links or, or trade some links, or do something for links, and you can literally out rank anybody for even their own brand name.
And that’s not the case anymore. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different algorithms. Each algorithm is weighted differently based on different types of queries and so forth. So, there’s so, there’s so many different things out there it’s almost impossible to reverse engineer. I don’t see people saying that often these days. I mean, you definitely, people, people have like their list of what they rank, what the different signals are, what the different ranking factors are and so forth, and those ranking factor lists have kind of died down. We haven’t really seen many of those studies come out recently.
[00:17:59] Matt Bailey: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:18:00] Barry Schwartz: Uh, but those are fun to have, anyway. I still miss those, but people would focus on the wrong things. That’s the problem. Really, if you really build something that users really want and it’s helpful, you’ll get links, you’ll get, you know, people going to your website, you’ll get people enjoying your website and Google will be able to understand your content’s really useful.
So, it’s more nuanced than that, but, you know, it’s, again, it’s, it’s, it’s something that I think all you really need to focus on when it comes to SEO is obviously build, use a good CMS that’s search engine friendly. Almost every single content management system to use is search engine friendly. But really, after that it’s really building content that…
[00:18:31] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:18:31] Barry Schwartz: …really people, people want to consume in any format. Make it video, images, um, you know, blog posts, you name it. Google’s really good at consuming that stuff.
[00:18:39] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. I think that’s one of the biggest shifts I, I think if, if I could go back and look at the past 20 years, one of the biggest shifts has been the, the content management systems. You don’t see nearly as many technical, uh, indexing issues or, uh, programming or, you know, the, the crazy URLs that used to be out there. To me, that’s one of the things that I, I just don’t see much of that anymore. And probably one of the, the biggest shifts is now you’ve got more search friendly content management systems. You know, I think WordPress is, is over 40% of the internet, so it, it makes that part easier and now people can focus on the content more.
[00:19:19] Barry Schwartz: That’s true. I mean, in the old days it was very funny. Like you would, that’s why I was, I admit it. I would, one of the things we did was build search engine friendly front ends.
[00:19:26] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:19:26] Barry Schwartz: Like the platforms back then, every single time you clicked on a URL, it would generate some type of weird URL parameter. And every URL, every time we clicked it would generate a new URL, which is like death with SEO.
[00:19:35] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:19:36] Barry Schwartz: And you don’t, the funny thing is you talk to newer SEOs, by newer I mean SEOs who’ve got in the space 12 years ago is…
[00:19:41] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:19:41] Barry Schwartz: …newer, and they, they would have no clue about this. Like back in the old days, SEO was really about building websites that were search engine friendly and that was a challenge, a huge challenge.
[00:19:50] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:20:00] Matt Bailey: Yep.
[00:20:09] Barry Schwartz: …to 1999. But our generation, when we first got, that was really about building platforms that could be indexed, and that was a huge challenge back then. And now it’s like a joke. It’s like everything you publish is, is, is crawled by Google and indexed and understood by Google. So, I kind of find that funny, actually.
[00:20:24] Matt Bailey: Oh, absolutely. I mean, yeah, early 2000s I think, you know, I remember telling someone, “Just build it out of HTML. Just don’t do CMS, just build these flat pages.” But even then, so, I, I’ll have to tell you, like, like, I, I love to say, you know, I’ve never done black hat. You know, I’ve never done stuff like that.
But then I, I’d go back to, I think it was like ’97, I downloaded a program, and the sole purpose of that program was submitting pages to AltaVista, and I would submit the, I would submit the 50 pages of my website and the 200 doorway pages that I created all night long to AltaVista, and I would see my rankings change in the morning.
[00:21:04] Barry Schwartz: Right. That was old fashioned SEO. That was what it was which is, it’s funny, and then it became more about links shortly. Well, Google made it all about links.
[00:21:10] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:21:11] Barry Schwartz: Um, for sure.
[00:21:11] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:21:11] Barry Schwartz: Yeah, that, that was fun times.
[00:21:13] Matt Bailey: Well, it was, and, because people were saying, “Well, this is what you do. This is how you get the rankings.” I’m like, “Wow, okay. It’s, it seems pretty easy.” But yeah, absolutely. And it, and it was before, you, you know, and, and even to, you would see people, I’d tell people sometimes the worst place to go for search engine advice is to a search engine because you’ve got all these legacy articles, these legacy documents that are still floating around. I didn’t even know they were doorway pages. They were just help pages that were created by the software and then later I’m like…
[00:21:44] Barry Schwartz: That’s funny. Yeah.
[00:21:44] Matt Bailey: “Oh, I was making doorway pages.”
[00:21:47] Barry Schwartz: I got to give Google credit. I mean, Google did a massive reworking on their home documentation over the past three years or so, and it’s fabulous. They’ve done an amazing job kind of putting me out of business in terms of what I write, ’cause they pretty much write for everything these days that I would generally write for. So, they’ve done a great job there.
[00:22:03] Matt Bailey: Well, it, it’s, what is interesting, and I, I still kind of run into this today, but even in the conferences when I would ask people, “How many of you have read the Google guidelines?” Just simply, “Did you read the Google guidelines?” And I was amazed at how many people had never read them or even knew that they existed. And they were very clear, simple guidelines on how to build a site, how to do SEO, what to expect. But I was just very, always surprised that people had not read them or even knew they existed.
[00:22:36] Barry Schwartz: People just don’t know. They don’t know what they don’t know, also. So, that’s, that’s another issue. If they’re going to the conferences and they learn obviously, but a lot of people, they’re busy running their businesses, the last thing they think about are, you know, “How are search engines ranking my website and what, what do I…?”
They just think you press a button, and you rank number one, which again, if you, for us, it’s like, makes no sense. I mean, why should this website rank number one for AirPods versus another website ranking number one for AirPods? There’s so many people who want to rank for AirPods, but people don’t think that way. They just think, “Oh, I have a website about AirPods. It should rank number one.” And I think once they start digging into that, then they realize there are guidelines, there are best practices, and they could learn about it, but a lot of people just are so busy running their own, own businesses they don’t have time for it.
[00:23:17] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. I, I think I read a stat the other day that, that the average small business owner would rather go to the dentist than do marketing. And, and so, I mean, it just makes sense…
[00:23:25] Barry Schwartz: Oh wow.
[00:23:25] Matt Bailey: …because you’ve got to learn so much, and especially when it comes to SEO. It’s, it, it’s like a never-ending volume of things you need to know. And, and, and yeah, once you dig into it, there’s no bottom to it.
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Go to Slack if you’re there and look for us at endlesscoffeecup.slack.com. Connect with us. I’d love to hear from you, hear what ails you in the realm of digital marketing. Are there courses you need, information that you’d like to hear, or maybe some past guest that you’d like to hear more from? Thanks again for being a listener of the Endless Coffee Cup, and I look forward to hearing from you.
[00:24:37] Barry Schwartz: The cool thing is really, I mean, the fundamentals have not changed…
[00:24:39] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:24:39] Barry Schwartz: …which is pretty cool.
[00:24:40] Matt Bailey: Right. Absolutely. Well, let’s, let’s shift a little bit into the search results, themselves. Over the years, I mean, that has been a mass, I, I, to me, that’s one of the biggest changes that have happened over the years. I think it was, I want to say it was probably 2005, 2006 when Google started putting paid ads on, and I remember in the forums that was like, that was death. People were, people were declaring that Google was going to die because they put ads on and, and that was just, you know, it was almost like, “This is, this is, this is sacred. You don’t put ads here.” But look at what we’ve got today. I mean, how, in, in your reporting and, and your view over the years, how, how have you seen the search engine results pages and how they’ve changed?
[00:25:25] Barry Schwartz: Yeah, so I think Google started to launch, and they launched AdWords in like 2000. So, even before I started writing about it. So, Google Ads were really always there from my perspective in 2000, at least when I started writing about it. The dynamic engine in terms of keyword rankings, key, keyword, basically like flat ads. These are like something they would just buy and stick a banner on top of. That was the early days.
[00:25:43] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:25:44] Barry Schwartz: And AdWords was really like, you know, a keyword based off, and that was like, you know, was, it was, we had in to me back in the old days and so forth. So, so it wasn’t fairly, it was, people expected it and that’s how…
[00:25:53] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:25:53] Barry Schwartz: …Google obviously monetized and that’s where they make most money even today. But in terms of the biggest like UI change that I remember early on was probably the universal search release, I think in 2007-ish, whenever that was, where Google would not just list the web results, the, the 10 blue links, but it would actually show video or images or news or sometimes audio, and you name it.
And now when you do a search today, you expect to get all this information. Google, like if you’re looking for a video or you do a search for, you know, something image related, Google’s going to show you that at the top. And it was a way for SEOs to be like, “Oh, I no longer have to just optimize for my website for temporal links. I can optimize this video. I can optimize this, you know, this piece of multimedia data or, or this audio file or a PDF or whatever it might be, and I can rank in vertical search or universal search a little bit easier than I would be able to rank for in web search.”
So, it was just another opportunity. It was, SEOs were not happy about it when it happened ’cause we change, but it was another opportunity for SEOs to adapt and get better at other things that they could go ahead and utilize to rank and get traffic to their websites.
[00:26:53] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. I, I think actually, I, I think Ask was doing that before Google implemented it. I think Ask was adding more and more multimedia or more, we, we would call it rich results. That, I, I’m, I love Jeeves. I, I absolutely love Jeeves. It breaks my heart that they are no longer around ’cause that was, that was my favorite. I was pulling for them, but I, I think they kind of shot themselves in the foot.
[00:27:17] Barry Schwartz: That reminds me like when Ask Jeeves retired, when they retired him, I thought it was in their Jim Lanzone’s reign, who’s now like a top executive at, you name it. He’s been top executives across Yahoo and lots of different websites. Anyway, I think he’s doing well, but I remember like he had a whole like askjeevesretirement.com website and they let that expire after a year and some porn site took it over and that had so many links to it. It was just so funny to see. So, Ask Jeeves became a porn star in his later life.
[00:27:43] Matt Bailey: Oh. Oh, yeah. I remember, yeah, they rebranded it to just Ask and, and it was still pretty good for a while, but then it’s like, Google did what they did better. They took…
[00:27:52] Barry Schwartz: Yeah.
[00:27:52] Matt Bailey: …what they were doing, just made it better, made it easier, and, and yeah. Now, I mean, what we’ve got now for universal search, it’s amazing how much is on, I, I think I was, I was putting together a, a training program on SEO the other day and I’m trying to get a snapshot of the results page, and it’s just amazing how many things now are showing up for different types of searches that actually, to get to the organics, it’s, it’s pretty low on the page.
[00:28:19] Barry Schwartz: Yeah. I mean, yeah, that’s, that was the, that’s still the biggest complaint. Also, the one click, the zero clicks, the, you know, people, it’s kind of exaggerated with Rand Fishkin’s studies and stuff, because again, if you search for how old is Barack, Barack Obama, you know, you’re not converting on that.
[00:28:31] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:28:32] Barry Schwartz: But if you do a much detailed query and detailed comments related queries, you can convert on that type of stuff. So, in everything, that’s, that’s the beauty of the space, again, it’s like SEOs look for ways to optimize and to take advantage and see an opportunity in the change. Even though they might complain about it, they always find an opportunity in those changes.
[00:28:49] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Absolutely. Let me, what’s, so since you’ve been reporting on this, I mean, what’s, what’s been your perception of, of SEOs over the years? I mean, has that changed, the people that, that are consuming, that are reading your articles? What, what’s kind of been the change over time in your perspective?
[00:29:07] Barry Schwartz: So, the perception about SEO has always been poor from outside the SEO community. That has not changed. I don’t think it’s getting any better. It’s sad, but it’s still the perception SEOs make, it, it’s basically we try to manipulate the search results to show things that were not meant to be shown, and that’s not true. SEOs mostly try to just, you know, make sure their client’s stuff that is relevant for a query is ranking for that query and try to push that up…
[00:29:30] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:29:31] Barry Schwartz: …as best as possible, but they’re not really trying to hurt the web. I mean, most aren’t. There are some black hat SEOs that do. But that’s still the perception. It, it’s, it’s, the perception is, is negative outside of the SEO community about the SEO community and hopefully that will change, but it hasn’t changed in 20 plus years.
[00:30:00] In terms of like SEOs themselves, I think they have more chilled out. It used to be much more, I think we’ve, we’ve had so many battle scars over years our, our skin has grown thicker. I think we’ve been through a lot of penalties over the years. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. I think we are much more, we’re able to tolerate those changes better than we used to be in the old days. So, I think we’re so much more mature industry, a lot more people in the industry, and it’s more legitimate. There’s a lot more budget out there, as well, and, and I think that’s a good thing.
[00:30:13] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. It, it’s, so, I did a, a podcast a couple months ago with Greg Jarboe, um, and, and it was about, “Why doesn’t SEO get as much credibility? Why, why is it not seen as, as critical as like a social media or some other areas?” Because it just seems like over the years, you know, different technologies, social media being probably the biggest one, it’s kind of supplanted SEO as, “This is the latest and greatest,” but yet, when you look at the data, SEO is still responsible for the greatest amount of traffic to your site. Have you seen that, as well, as you, as you write about it and, and get feedback from the industry?
[00:30:52] Barry Schwartz: Yeah, and the issue is it’s also a way of how people have changed. They just want things quicker. They just, people are on TikTok and Instagram and they don’t have patience to read stuff. So, like even my family members, it’s, they see something on, on Instagram and they believe it, and I’m like, I don’t know if you ever read any of the SEO advice on Instagram or TikTok. It’s horrid. It is bad. It is wrong. And that’s the topic, you know, it’s like you’re listening to Congress or the senators talk about how SEO is this or Google is that, and they have no clue what they’re talking about.
[00:31:23] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:31:24] Barry Schwartz: It’s just completely wrong. And it’s, and that’s the problem with this types of areas is you can’t really prove yourself on a TikTok, in a 20 second TikTok or a YouTube Short or something like that. Yet, that’s how quick people consume content and maybe that’s our fault. As educators in those areas, we should probably be out there more in those areas to kind of educate people. Maybe you are, I’m not sure if you are not. I’m not. I, I’m not.
But, it’s, it’s an issue and I think when it comes to why this is the case, I just, I think just people, it’s, it’s the way people are. I think people are just more, it, it’s a different personality these days. People aren’t willing to sit down, print out something, and read it or read it on the screen for too long. They need the answer now. Instant gratification.
[00:32:01] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:32:02] Barry Schwartz: And that’s not going to change.
[00:32:04] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. I, well, it, yeah, it is. So, I’m doing a lot of training in SEO and, and digital and, and kind of the whole breadth of digital but I find it interesting when I go to different countries, especially where, you know, the internet or devices really didn’t make their entrance into that culture or that region until around 2000s or kind of the end of that first decade there. I’ll go into some countries where Instagram is king, and it’s mainly because when the internet really started gaining momentum there, it was all on mobile devices. So, it was all about apps. It was all about social.
And I remember someone asking me that, you know, “I’m doing really well on Instagram, but what’s the next level?” And I asked them, “Well, how many times a day do you use Google?” They’re like, “Oh, I use it all day long. I use it every time I want something.” I’m like, “Have you ever thought about getting a website in there so that when someone searches for you, they’ll be found?” “Oh, that’s amazing.” Like, it had never occurred to them to put their business where, in Google where people would look for it, because to them Instagram was the world. Instagram was where I find things, it’s where I, I discover new things.
And so, it’s really interesting getting into different areas or regions where, like we grew up with the PC and internet, like together, and so website was our first prism through seeing the world. It was the first way of seeing that. And then, you know, running into this in different cultures, it’s really amazing. Like you said, there’s so much out there and people are getting information just in little tiny sound bites off of some social media rather than, and I think that was the value to those old forums. It was debate. It was argument. It was, “You need to prove this. You just can’t say it.” It, it, it was absolutely amazing how that’s changed. I really love that observation about we’re chilled out, but yet, other people are taking the conversation over.
[00:34:03] Barry Schwartz: Yeah. I mean, yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s a different industry than it was, but again, there’s also people, there’s like, there’s SEO departments in Wall Street Journal, there’s SEO departments in every Fortune 500. So, we’re out there and I think it’s definitely more legitimate, but we’ve, yeah, we’ve experienced a lot more, more scars over the years and we’re getting to handle that now.
[00:34:23] Matt Bailey: I, very true. I, I was hearing someone who, uh, they’d been in the SEO and kind of making fun of the social team when Instagram made their change to video first, kind of like standing back to the side going, “Haha, it’s happening to you now. It’s, it’s not fun, is it, when there’s a change in the algorithm?” What has been your, let me just ask, what has been, you know, what are some of the events in the SEO world or, or some of the things that have been, I, I, you know, either in person at an event, or anything that it’s really kind of caused, I, I would say a shift in the industry or a different way of thinking?
[00:35:02] Barry Schwartz: That’s a good question. A shift in the industry. I can tell you one thing I had a, a private meeting with, with the head of search back, Amit Singhal, who was the head of search at Google for many, many, many, many years, he worked at Google for the past several years. And we were talking about when I think featured snippets just came out and the featured snippets didn’t actually have links, visible links to the sighted sourcing. Like, it was basically just have the answer and no reference.
I’m like, I, I, I’m like, I, I said, “This is going to be upsetting ’cause people, this is content from people’s websites and you’re not linking to it.” They eventually added a link, and every SEO now wants to be in a featured snippet, since nobody will debate that. But what he told me was like, and it kind of like pushed me back a little bit. It was like, “We care, our fundamental thing is, the number one thing we care about is to make the searcher happy.”
And I’m like, “Oh wait.” I didn’t even think about it from that perspective. Maybe SEOs should really think about, “How is Google going to go about making the searcher happy? Forget about how Google’s going to make me, the web, the publisher or the site owner or the SEO happy.”
[00:36:07] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:36:07] Barry Schwartz: “Obviously they’re using our content. They have to make us happy, but they don’t really have to.” All they really care about is to make the searcher happy so they come back for more searches, click on more ads, and come back more for more. So, that kind of like set me back and like, wait, that kind of changed my mindset. This was early, early on. So, that was one of the things that I think really…
[00:36:23] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:36:23] Barry Schwartz: …you know, set me straight.
[00:36:25] Matt Bailey: That, yeah. Great advice from that. I mean, that’s, that’s their customer so, absolutely. That, that is a really cool, really cool experience there. Any other experiences with, with maybe SEO execs or, or search engines that, what is, what’s like your career highlight in reporting on search engines?
[00:36:46] Barry Schwartz: I was in Brian Williams before he was a scandal.
[00:36:49] Matt Bailey: Ah.
[00:36:49] Barry Schwartz: Um, so Brian Williams on channel four I think, NBC Nightly News. And this was kind of with the universal search. When it came out, I kind of found it before anybody else found it and I got a call from his, his team saying, “Do you want to be on, you know, do, you know, want to come out to…” listen to this, “…our team to you or go out to Indian Rock,” or what’s it called? Whatever that place is in, in downtown, in midtown New York City.
[00:37:12] Matt Bailey: Okay.
[00:37:12] Barry Schwartz: So, I went to their, off, I went there. I had massive cameras all over me. I spoke to them maybe for like an hour, and it was on…
[00:37:19] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:37:19] Barry Schwartz: …prime time TV. And then something happened, and my segment was cut down to like maybe like three seconds. So, I was on prime time TV for like three seconds, which is pretty fun.
[00:37:30] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:37:31] Barry Schwartz: That was, I’ll never, I’ll never forget that. And then my fundamental shifts, I guess, is Matt Cutts leaving Google. That was pretty significant. Danny Sullivan joining Google, that set my world upside down…
[00:37:39] Matt Bailey: Right?
[00:37:39] Barry Schwartz: …when Matt Cutts…
[00:37:40] Matt Bailey: Right?
[00:37:41] Barry Schwartz: …never saw him going. So, those types of, those are the, like, those things that kind of like fundamentally shifted everything in, in the industry for me.
[00:37:46] Matt Bailey: That, yeah. You, you just laid out a couple of things there. Yeah. The, the, the changes and the moving around and, and yeah, Danny going to Google. Seeing his name come up in articles when they want to know something about Google and he’s like the spokesperson is just such a, it, it, it, it shakes me. It’s like, “Wait a minute. How, how?” I’m used to Danny being quoted as, you, you know, as, as editor, and now he’s spokesperson. So, it, it’s, it’s a real paradigm shift to see that happening.
[00:38:16] Barry Schwartz: For sure.
[00:38:17] Matt Bailey: Well, what do you…?
[00:38:17] Barry Schwartz: Well, and Matt Cutts is like totally out of it now.
[00:38:19] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:38:19] Barry Schwartz: He, he’s not even, I think he’s just enjoying his retirement, so.
[00:38:22] Matt Bailey: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and that’s, I think we’re getting to that stage now where I think we’re go, you know, those that have been in for a couple decades now, they’re, they’re either kind of starting to retire, they’re finding other things. It’s, it’s, I don’t know. We’re going to have to have like retirement parties or something for…
[00:38:38] Barry Schwartz: Yeah.
[00:38:38] Matt Bailey: …some of the, the older ones as they’re going and we’ll see who’s still going.
[00:38:43] Barry Schwartz: Sure.
[00:38:44] Matt Bailey: What do you see maybe in the next five years in search? I, I, you’ve got a wealth of history to draw from, but where do you see things going?
[00:38:55] Barry Schwartz: Oh, that’s a tough one. That’s tough. I mean, it’s, it’s really tough. I think voice search has been very interesting, but it hasn’t grown as much as I thought it would. I mean, it’s all about the devices. Whatever’s changing with these devices and not just computer screen, it’s more about these devices and what’s changing. And the iPhone hasn’t changed in a long time. I mean, having folding phones and what are we going to have? I don’t know. Honestly, I, I, I, I thought voice would be everywhere, in your ear, I have AirPods in. I thought that would really trigger everything.
I don’t know. We have these, I have these devices on my desk, like these Google Home devices, Apple Siri devices, HomePods and so forth. So, I thought for voice it would be more, it’s in my car, it’s on my fridge, it’s everywhere, but I don’t know. I, I really don’t know what the future is. It’s still always been about those, that, that search box, that typing in a search query into that box and getting results and as John Mueller said numerous times, that’s no different when it comes to voice search. It’s no different when it comes to using Google Lens and stuff like that.
So, I don’t know. I’m not sure what’s going to be the next, I think, you’re going to see more quality improvements through Google and more, better qualities can make it harder for people to build websites that compete in search. That’s always going to be the case. But I don’t know what the next, like, “Oh my God, this is going to be the next big thing.” I, I don’t have a good answer for you. Sorry.
[00:40:00] Matt Bailey: No, it’s interesting. I, I, because so much has been tied to the device. It’s been the, it, it, it’s been the success as well as the downfall when the device doesn’t match the intent of what’s happening. But yeah, I mean that, that’s, it’s all about that search box and yeah, it’s, it’s interesting. Yeah, I don’t see that changing much either as long as people are using it. Unless we have a new device hit the market we don’t know about, I, I really, I, I love that answer because that is, there’s a hardware limitation. It, it’s the latest piece of hardware, the iPhone, that changed I think a significant amount, like you said.
How is AI moving into search more and more and, and I’ve seen things on both side about how MUM is working, how MUM is not working. Where are you on that and what have you observed?
[00:40:45] Barry Schwartz: So, MUM is in very, very specific applications and MUM is just one of many AI, machine learning algorithms that Google uses. So, a lot of people make a lot of big deal about it ’cause Google’s been making, making, making a big deal over, over the past couple years now. But MUM is very, very limited use. Super limited. It’s, it’s ridiculous how little they use it.
So, I wouldn’t focus on MUM, but machine learning and AI is very, very significant in terms of, um, how Bing and Google use, you know, figure out algorithm rankings in search, figure out features in search also, like featured snippets and where to lay out different elements in search. It’s all done based off of these machine learning algorithms, which should make everything much more complicated.
In terms of using AI and machine learning for SEO purposes, like generating content or stuff like that, that’s been fairly interesting ’cause this last Helpful Content Update seems to have hit a lot of machine generated, AI generated types of content. So, I found that very interesting, as well. I don’t know. And that’s, I just found it very, very interesting to see that. So, we’ll see.
[00:41:39] Matt Bailey: Alright. Good. Yeah, it’s, I, I’m looking forward to this Helpful Content Update. I, I, I’ve heard many people kind of complaining about results and how you’re seeing sort of these directory sites taking over that if I want a plumber, what I get is directories taking up all the organic results rather than actual, you know, the actual websites or the actual people that I would call. So, I’m hoping sites like that are kind of filtered through, as well. But like you said, the, the, your money your life, a lot of things hitting, as well.
I, I, yeah, so the AI generated content, I, I had a question about that the other day about using AI generated content for your website. I was like, we’re, we’re eventually going to have robots writing the content and robots evaluating the content and maybe robots doing the searches. But how, as in terms of the quality of results, are we, I, where have you seen, and, and I have seen a couple of articles complaining about Google’s quality maybe going down or going different or different than it once was with all of this AI coming in, where do you see that and, and how is that affecting the results?
[00:42:45] Barry Schwartz: Well, it’s a good question. So, AI content is not there yet. I mean, there’s been some examples of content, you know, ranking fairly well with AI, but I think that’s why Google came out with this Helpful Content Update. I think Google’s, like, Google, we see this often, especially with Panda and Penguin and, you know, how like a lot of people were writing about how poor the quality of the results are, then Google comes out with an algorithm kind of to like target that, as well.
So, I think, I think, I’m not sure, I think it was targeting some of those efforts to generate, the ability to generate fast, what appear, appears to be quality content really isn’t. A lot of SEOs are using it for mitigate purposes, like to help them supplement a lot of their content. So, ways to get, fill in content and add more information to their content that might, they might not have thought about.
But I think overall, you could leverage the AI and machine learning to really build a great piece of content as long as you have a human kind of fill in the blanks and, and update it so that it’s not just generated by a machine completely, that it’s actually reviewed and fixed by a human. ‘Cause it’s not there yet. It will be at one point, and it will rank pretty well, but it’s not there yet.
[00:43:48] Matt Bailey: How is that in the results? Do you see the, the machine learning being effective in creating good quality results?
[00:43:56] Barry Schwartz: I haven’t seen much of it. We’ve done some XMX sessions on how to use GPT-3 and different types of machine learning and AI generated things to create content, but there’s not, hasn’t been really something solid yet that works perfectly. There are some SEOs doing some really cool stuff. I don’t want to like negate it all, but I don’t think we’re there yet in terms of mainstream, streaming it. I don’t see a lot of it. I mean, I can’t tell you if I see it or not because if it’s really good and I see it, it might not, it might be machine generated, but it might be written by a human. I don’t know. So, it’s hard to know.
[00:44:24] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Oh man. Barry, it has been such a pleasure catching up with you and, and checking in and seeing what, you, you know. Congratulations. I mean, you’re almost at 25 years now, you, you know, or 20 years at 23. Yeah, that’s right. 20 years doing that, so congratulations. What’s been the most rewarding of, of doing this?
[00:44:43] Barry Schwartz: So, the most rewarding part probably for me is helping people, I guess new jobs, really. I mean, I can’t tell you, I, I’m surprised. I mean, I help them just get a job, speaking gig at, at XMX or I mention them on a article or I share something that they write and it ends up helping them promote their career and maybe get a job they were looking for or maybe get a raise or something. Having networking conferences, people can network with each other and find jobs, that, that’s the probably one of the most rewarding things. So, it helps them and their families move forward a step. Helping people, obviously with any questions they might have. That’s always rewarding. So, it’s all about the help.
You know, people reach out and say, “Hey, you helped me here and there,” that’s great. Most people don’t tell me anything, but some people will be like, will see me at an event and say, “You don’t know this, but,” and I’ll be like, “Oh wow.” It, it, it means a lot. When you hear that it keeps you going, it keeps you wanting to keep doing what you’re doing. So, I appreciate the community. They’ve done a lot for me and hopefully I’ve done a little bit for them.
[00:45:35] Matt Bailey: That is awesome. I love hearing that. That, that is so cool that, yeah. When you’ve been instrumental in helping others and, and their success, that is an amazing, amazing reward. I’m, I’m glad to hear you say that. Oh, man. Barry, it has been a pleasure talking with you. Where can people find you if they want to know more information? Where can they also subscribe to your articles?
[00:45:57] Barry Schwartz: Yeah, good question. So, I’m very active on Twitter. My handle is @rustybrick, r u s t y b r i c k. My website is rustybrick.com. You can learn more about me there at rustybrick.com/barry. My sites I write at are Search Engine Roundtable, Search Engine Land, you can Google those things. I also have a YouTube channel, which I produce two pieces of content every single week. One is a recap of all the SEO changes that happened over the week.
[00:46:18] Matt Bailey: Wow.
[00:46:19] Barry Schwartz: And also like I vlog, I do a vlog where I interview different personalities in the industry just like you’re doing with me. So, maybe I’ll get you on the vlog one day. It’d be fun to do it.
[00:46:26] Matt Bailey: Alright.
[00:46:26] Barry Schwartz: So, definitely check out that and thanks for so much for having me. I appreciate it.
[00:46:30] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Well, dear listener, I hope you have been taking notes through this interview. This has been an SEO information dumped from the fire hose here. You can’t get, I think, closer to the search engines than Barry Schwartz, uh, if you’re wanting to know how SEO works or what’s going on in search. So, I highly recommend you follow Barry, read his stuff, watch his videos, because you will know what’s going on and be prepared hopefully for just about anything that Google can do. Barry, it’s been a pleasure having you here. Thanks again for joining us.
[00:47:01] Barry Schwartz: Thanks for having me.
[00:47:02] Matt Bailey: Alright. Dear listener, I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of the Endless Coffee Cup. Look forward to having another cup of coffee and a conversation with you.
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