ENX2 Photographer and Graphic Designer Keith R. Stevenson is joined by Senior SEO Specialists Jeff Mirro and Michael Flaherty to discuss the down and dirty world of search engine optimization.

Keith R. Stevenson: Hello and welcome to “5 Questions With ENX2.” I’m your host, Keith R. Stevenson, photographer and designer and a newcomer to the world of digital marketing. I’ve got a lot of questions about the ins and outs of the business, so I’m sitting down with a member, or two members, of the ENX2 team to pick their brain and learn more about this dynamic industry. And today is a very special episode because I’m joined by the Fine Gentlemen of SEO, Senior SEO Specialists Jeff Mirro and Michael Flaherty. Thanks for joining me, guys.

Jeff Mirro: No problem. Thanks for having us.

Michael Flaherty: Great to be here.

Keith: All right, so, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the format. Basically I have five questions I’m going to ask you. And every so often I’m going to throw a curveball in there just to make sure you’re listening.

Jeff: Sounds good.

Keith: All right. So, starting off what we’re talking about here is why is it so bad to buy links? I mean besides Breath of the Wild. I mean, that’s a good Link.

Michael: I don’t think Jeff, did you get that nerd humor?

Jeff: Uh not really, no.

Michael: It’s Legend of Zelda.

Jeff: Oh, ok. Link building is still an important thing in 2020 but buying links is very bad. It has been for a long time. It used to work about 10 to 12 years ago, it used to be an effective strategy. But now, Google and the other major search engines like Bing and Yahoo are on to that practice. And they will penalize your website if they catch you purchasing links. Link building is supposed to be a very natural thing. Backlinks are supposed to be acquired to a website through high quality content And there are things that you can do to promote your website, of course — social media, natural organic SEO, and things to that nature. But to actually go out to link farms and websites and different individuals, freelance people that offer to sell you backlinks is a terrible practice in 2020. It has been for at least 10 years.

Michael: And it also takes away from the client as well. Like if they expect you to do well by them, and then you’re buying shady links you’re eventually going to hurt their website. Though that’s another thing to think about, from an agency perspective.

Keith: Why would someone want to buy a link? What’s the advantage there, what does it do?

Jeff: It used to be where the quantity of links you had, the backlinks you had running to your website was beneficial. And the quality as well, that’s still true today, at least in a quality perspective. So somebody wanted to go out and just not do the grunt work of actually acquiring the link in an ethical way, it’s just an easy way out, basically. You just go to a broker and just buy them. Guest blogging is another thing that is still pretty popular. so it’s just basically going out and taking a shortcut. And Google can see right through that.

What it really is is that your website is not naturally acquiring these backlinks through the merits of the site itself, through the high quality content and the user experience. So Google and Bing can see that the website is not gaining popularity naturally, it’s just you went out and forced the issue.

Keith: All right, well that explains that for me.

Michael: Very good.

Keith: Very good, yeah. Nice job.

Jeff: Thanks.

Keith: So local SEO. What is local SEO and how is it different from normal SEO?

Michael: Well local, you have to build citations through citation websites like Yelp, Google My Business. So think about it, if you search for something local, so what would you search local?

Keith: Guess maybe restaurants.

Michael: Restaurants, ok so. Say like a mom and pop restaurant wants you to find them, you’re searching for “restaurants near me.” You would want to build a Google My Business page so that would come up first in the local pack. So when you search something on Google, you’ll see the local pack comes up with the map, and it will usually have three businesses under it. You want to populate there because that’s the first place searchers are going to see, usually on mobile because they’re out and about. I mean Jeff knows more about local citations than I do, he can probably explain that better.

Jeff: Yeah. Directory citations and local citations have always been a big part of SEO. But we were just talking about backlinks, that’s really one of the only things you can do at this point to actually purchase backlinks in an ethical way. But it’s not really purchasing, it’s really getting your site listed on important citation sites on the internet, such as Yelp, for instance.

Also with local SEO, I think it’s important to mention on-site optimization. There’s things you can do that you can rank locally in each different location that you’re looking to get business from. Say you’re looking to get business from Scranton, tere’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, or Philadelphia, you can add what’s called geomodifiers to your keywords. Geomodifiers are just cities or locations.

Keith: Yes it’s not like terraforming.

Jeff: No. It’s just locations added to the end of the keyword. For instance, if you are purchasing a car and you’re looking in Scranton, you would type in “New car in Scranton PA.” You want to optimize your website for that rather than trying to rank nationally for a raw keyword for “used cars” or something. You want to have a location attached enough times throughout the site, also with the citations pointing to it.

Michael: And Google is smart enough now that if you search it within the location, so say you’re in Scranton and you search just “used cars,” they will populate it locally, instead of putting in “used cars Scranton” in the search result.

Jeff: It is based on where you’re searching from.

Keith: I know years ago in the early internet, you would search for a used car dealership, you might get somebody in Washington state.

Michael: Yeah you would have to specify it more. Now it’s smart enough to pick up where your location is.

Keith: Oh sneaky, sneaky. All right, I really don’t have any knowledge of SEO. I’m a photographer. I know about meta data, but that’s about it. What are some ways someone who doesn’t have any knowledge of SEO can improve their rankings in the search engines?

Jeff: Everything, especially today, starts with good quality content. So if you’re just a good writer or even if you want to outsource to a good writer, just have your website set up in a way that has great quality content that people want to read. Even if it’s written text, if it’s video, images too.

Keith: Ah yes, I know much about that.

Jeff: Of course! So yeah, content has always been king but it’s more so now than ever before. So if you just start there, you’re probably looking to do pretty well. Then you want to throw in a little bit of basic SEO knowledge with the kind of the stuff we were just talking about. But also so on-site technical things such as title tags and meta descriptions, which we could get into more if you would like to. But yeah it’s really all about writing good, quality content, including some keywords that you’re trying to focus on, that you’re trying to write for. And trying to draw users to the site and getting the visitor to stay there for as long as possible and taking the action you’re looking for them to take.

Michael: The content has to be contextualized to the subject that you’re writing about as well as the website that you’re writing for. And you don’t want to just throw in keywords all over the article because keyword stuffing is bad.

Jeff: That used to work too.

Michael: Yeah a lot of places use to throw like a million keywords, like: “And if you want to buy used cars in Scranton then you should go buy used cars in Scranton at the used car dealership in Scranton.”

Jeff: When Google first started in the late ’90s, early 2000s, you could put a bunch of keywords in your footer and it would kind of work, kind of rising it to the top.

Michael: Meta keywords.

Jeff: Obviously those days are gone.

Michael: And then you want to make sure the content is high quality on your website. You don’t want it to be….

Jeff: Just content for the sake of content.

Michael: Yeah content for the sake of putting it on the website. It needs to be contextualized, as I said. High quality and relevant so that the search engine could find it more reputable.

Jeff: Something that people actually want to read. That’s why I said before don’t just write in terms of SEO. Write for the reader, then optimize it afterwards.

Keith: So you know, people like Sarah and Wendy writing content, they’re very skilled at that.

Jeff: Yes.

Keith: So my next question, question number 4, what is zero-click search and why should we fear it?

Michael: Zero-click search is Google’s solution to answering questions. So give me a question that you would search in Google.

Keith: Let me see here. Where are alligators from?

Michael: Where are alligators from, ok. So, that will pop up and it will populate. Have you ever seen an answer box answer? It’s either at the top of the search result in mobile or desktop or even voice search. If you ask Alexa or ask Google, it will read that top zero-search result. Google is becoming more of an answer engine than a search engine, and you’ll see, even in 2019 last year, even in some of our clients and some of the business that I worked for before this, you’ll see clicks dropping because people will be asking questions and they don’t have to click into a website, they can just find the answer on Google.

So why we should fear it is that we’re losing clicks but in order to combat that we just have to, as Jeff said before, it has to be quality content. And we have to optimize for that, we have to optimize for voice search and zero click. And that something that I’ve always been working on, even since last year. Like there are so many methods that you can do in order to hit that zero-click mark and to rank for it.

Keith: Yeah I see that a lot. I play a lot of Minecraft, so every so often I forget how to make something in Minecraft. So I have Google Home next to me, and I’ll say, “Hey Google, how do you make a furnace in Minecraft?” And it says, “According to such and such website, it’s three stone across around the outside that will make a furnace.” So that’s what zero-click is.

Michael: Yep.

Keith: And now because it’s just pulling that data out, and putting it into an answer box, you don’t actually have to click or anything. That site is not getting any credit for it.

Michael: Exactly. Well, they’re getting credit on Google, they’re at the top of the search engine. They still get that exposure, but they’re not getting the click and that interaction.

Jeff: They still have to pull it from somewhere so they’re picking a site. They are attributing that to that site, you just obviously don’t have to click to read the answer. But it’s a little snippet from that website.

Michael: But year over year clicks across the board are, across the internet even, dropped significantly because of zero-click search.

Keith: So zero-click is the new thing. So question number five kind of builds upon that. Where do you see SEO going in the future? What do you think is going to happen in the short-term or the long-term for SEO? And how are we preparing for it?

Jeff: I think we’re moving more and more towards that zero-click search, as you just said. Voice search as well, of course. And then more towards high quality content and less towards backlinks, unlike what we’ve seen in the past influencing the rankings of the websites.

Michael: Because Jeff and I worked previously and now here and year over year we’re seeing less relevance with backlinks. Again, they’re helpful but it doesn’t really matter as long as the content is there and the quality of the content is there.

Jeff: And the technical SEO.

Michael: Yeah obviously the technical SEO has to be sound. But we’re seeing less and less influence, in our opinion. We’ve discussed this at length before. I’m not seeing the significance of it.

Jeff: It’s a great idea to get a few high quality backlinks in a natural way, as natural a way as possible. But to go out and get hundreds just for the sake of getting them, it’s actually not a benefit. It’s going to get you hurt.

Keith: It doesn’t help.

Jeff: Yeah.

Michael: If you’re an agency and you’re doing that, you’re hurting your clients.

Keith: See I don’t even know where I would begin to try and optimize for a voice search.

Michael: There’s methods, I’m not going to go into it because I don’t want to give away our secret sauce. But there are quite a few methods to optimize for voice search.

Keith: Well I’m sure, once we turn the microphones off, you’ll tell me all about it. Well thanks so much for answering my five questions, you guys. This has been a lot of fun. That’s all we have for this episode of 5 Questions With ENX2. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave a nice review wherever you find your podcasts. And be sure to join us next time when our guest will be Social Media Assistant Mariah Curtis. Until then thanks for listening and we’ll see you later.