Expert Interview: Barry Schwartz on Google Search, title tags, and backlinks

Expert Interview: Barry Schwartz on Google Search, Title Tags, and Backlinks

Recently, we sat down with Barry Schwartz of SearchEngineLand to discuss Apple’s possible entry into search and Google’s newly released feature inside of Image Search that allows people to license images directly from the source. He also shares his take on title tags, backlinks, and tweets from the Google Webmaster team.

If you want to watch the full interview, the video is below, along with the full transcription.

Whitney:

Okay. Well, thanks for joining. We can just go ahead and get started on these questions that we have, so there’s been talk of Apple putting on emphasis on their own mobile search functionality, even going as far as potentially building their own search engine, what are the chances they take this direction and forego renewing their deal with Google. And what would the implications look like in the world of SEO, big dealer? Not so much.

Barry:

It’s a tough question. So obviously there’s been some rumors around Apple starting their own search service. Obviously they have Siri, which is built into the Mac and iPhone and so forth. They have spotlights with that, lets you search your own desktop and so forth. Your own files are obviously Siri is probably the closest thing we have to external search, but even there that I think serious searches is,  I think bang on some level and you know, Apple’s default search engine uses, at least for Safari,  uses,  Google. So right now I think Google is paying, I don’t know. I think in the UK they pay like 1.5 billion us dollars for that deal. I think globally there’s estimates that they pay over $15 billion, which seems like a crazy amount of money.  but if that’s across all Safari, you know, desktop and mobile and iPad and you name it, that could be obviously a big source of revenue for Google and a really, big expense, for Apple.

Barry:

So if Apple invested that own money into their own search engine, could they compete probably, I know Microsoft has done it with Bing and they have, what type of share do you think they have? You know, people being says up to 20, 30% internationally,  but that’s, if you look at certain types of segments, whereas if you look at your own analytics, you probably see maybe being sends you, you know, two, three, four, maybe 5% of your search traffic, which is nothing compared to like Google Google’s domination of about 95% of your search traffic comes from Google. There’s duck go and there’s other competitors. So could Apple have a chance at competing with Google on search? I guess so, but Microsoft and try for, well over a decade. And they made a small little dent. So I assume Apple knows that, I assume with Apple, does this, they’re going to go with a Duck Duck Go approach where it’s like, all your searches are private and so forth and we don’t share that.

Barry:

And we don’t use that in any way outside of making search better for you and not for anybody else. So yeah, I mean it would save Apple a tremendous amount of money, but they would have to invest that back into building their own search engine. And if, I guess the best way to look at it is, is has Duck Duck Go or Microsoft Bing made much of a dent in Google’s revenue or Google search share? Not so much. I think Microsoft took away or being took away much of Yahoo searches, market share.  and that’s through the part’s smart partnership delay did with Yahoo back in the day. So, I’m not sure, I’m not sure if it’s worth Apple’s time to try and compete in that area.  although search is a very important part of their strategy. Outsourcing is something that they’ve been doing it for a while and I don’t know if they need to, but there’s again, signs. I covered multiple signs that Apple has their own Apple bought. So they’re crawling the web, people see it in their log files. And there’s some signs that they’re building their own external search service, but we haven’t really seen tremendous evidence of that.

Whitney:

Great. Google recently released a feature inside of image search that allows people to license images directly from the source originator. Is this a trend you can see Google extending into other parts of search. And is there a time Google search becomes less of a discovery tool and more of a marketplace for media or content?

Barry:

Yeah, so I think technically, for sure you would see, you’d probably see Google doing that more and more right now. They just did it for images. It’s the, it’s called the licensable badge, which you can use schema to add licensable markup, which basically gives Google a way to say this image has license rights has certain type of kind of copyrights. These are the copyrights associated with them. This is what the source of the image, and this is where you could buy it and so forth. Google has been testing this for a while. They officially launched it. And I think a couple of weeks ago, the reason that they did that was there’s a lot of, a lot of pressure on Google from getting images and these major, image sites because Google image search pulls a lot of images from there.

Barry:

And there’s been lots of lawsuits, lots of, copyright claims and activists, as well as the EU government and regulators breathing down. Google’s neck about this saying, why are you showing these images? They have copyrights and people are just stealing it and copying it from Google images, thinking they could copy it. So this is Google’s way of saying, Hey, here’s a little thing we could do for you to kind of give you schema that you can add to your site that will then, so that there’s a copyright or some type of a license required for this image and even more. So here’s a link to go ahead and buy it. So it’s interesting strategy by Google, to do that, we’ll expand the videos probably. I mean, videos make sense because there’s lots of video content out there that could be as licensed, like video images and stock video for photography, articles and subscriptions.

Barry:

They had the canonical tag. So, the canonical tags basically say, Hey, this is the original source of this, subscription sites. I haven’t really seen many complaints about, you know, AP or different types of content that you can subscribe to and pay for, being ripped off so much, but I don’t know if there’s always complaints about scrape content. So, it’s possible. But I’m not exactly sure if Google is going to release it more outside of like images or, at least you see with images, but I don’t think so much. So outside of that, at least for the time being, it is interesting in terms of the commerce angle that you asked about the marketplace and discovery tool, as well as like people buying, from directly from Google. So now Google is kind of emphasizing that. So it might show the price of the image and so forth and kind of give you a way to quickly buy it.

Barry:

And you see that a lot with Google shopping, where you can like buy now, at least in the U.S. you don’t have to go to the merchant site to buy, you could buy it directly to Google shopping. And you also see it a lot with local search where you could actually do online ordering for restaurants, or delivery or curbside pickup, or Google’s kind of acting as a quick go-between where you can actually just click on a button and not have to go to the restaurant’s website to actually place an order. So, I see Google taking the trend where they’re going more transactional question is there’s taking baby steps of baby steps. And soon before you know, it, you know, you be able to replace any transaction you want. You even saw with duplex where talking to Google assistant to book a reservation at a restaurant, he was just telling the Google system, please book me a reservation for this restaurant on this day. And this time, even if the, even at the restaurant, didn’t actually have, a way to book a restaurant online on their website, it would actually call the restaurant for you using the machine to actually book it for you, which is pretty cool. So I think, yeah, Google is definitely looking to do transactional stuff directly from search. And this is one of many ways of doing so schema and other methods can be done many, many ways,

Whitney:

Right? Title tags have emerged as a what’s old is new again, item of optimization that has shown promise billowing publishers to improve traffic and even rankings over the course of your career. Is this something sites should always be consistently testing and optimizing for SEO, or is it a trend that matters in some periods more than others?

Barry:

I mean, it is if there’s one constant in SEO has been titled tags that’s even before Google, most of the original search engines were content based search. I just not looking at link structure or, or external factors. So it was about what the page said. And one of the strongest signals of what a page that was from the actual title tag of the page, mostly because that was, that’s what you see in your bookmarks when you bookmark a page with people, they’ll do these days of back in the old days, people actually bookmark and the bookmark would have contained the title tag. It’s also what the search and just show in there almost all the time show when they’re snippet, in the title of a snippet. So titled things are very important. I don’t think that’s ever necessarily going to change.

Barry:

Searching is, like I said, we’re using it well before Google and Google uses it a lot. You don’t need amazing title tags to rank a Google. If you have a lot of great links to your website.  but if the easiest thing you could do that you could control and make changes to very quickly and then see how those changes impact your rankings almost immediately after it’s crawled and indexed by. So, yeah, I don’t think title tags, it’s going to be the one constant in SEO. Obviously SEO is constantly changing, but I think that’s been one of the many, many, few constants in SEO that really has not changed.

Whitney:

Okay. So there is a lot of money spent on backlinks in general, in the world of SEO, but the removal of toxic back links to something many continue to invest in, despite Google’s declaration, they are good at ignoring unwanted links and they don’t have any internal measurements of toxic domains is spending time on removing or disavowing backlinks time well spent or a waste of resources.

Barry:

So that’s one of those, like it depends quite pantsers. So algorithmic, I think like it looks like it’s like a Google search algorithm update core update. Any of these algorithm authors, even Penguin, Google no longer will penalize or hurt you for bad links. Meaning back in the old days, if you had bad links, maybe penguin would actually demote your website. So if you were in position, I don’t know, too. And then Google found you have bad links. So automatically he will put you down to like, I don’t position 50 or something. That’s no longer the case. Google’s just going to say, Hey, these bad links, we’re just going to ignore and pretty much treat them as no follow links, not count them at all. So, there’s no real purpose to spend time and money on this evaluating links for Google algorithm, updates, core updates, and so forth.

Barry:

 but when it comes to manual actions, like the penalties you get in Google search console, where a Google human reviews, your website and penalizing your website, Google says, yeah, there’s still reason to actually go ahead and disavow links and spend time and money on removing those backlinks, not just disavowing them, just to actually try to get them removed. But for the average webmaster, the average SEO, the average website, I personally would not invest much time at all. In doing any of these disavowing or removing links strategies, less, you hired an SEO company that did link building efforts. And those link building efforts turned out to be somewhat shady. In general, most sites have not done that. They haven’t hired SEOs to do link building.  but the ones that have, if you’re worried about a manual action and you see links that are probably about counting anyway, it wouldn’t hurt to ask for those links to be removed.

Barry:

 but I would do it slowly. If you have no manual action. Now do that slowly remove one website at a time, see if it actually hurts your website’s rankings or not, because that’s kind of like, you don’t want to remove links that are actually counting very well. And that Google actually says, wait, these links were actually good. At the same time, you don’t want those links eventually hurting you, by a human reviewing it and saying, Hey, these links are bad and we’re going to go again, go ahead and give you a license, like a link scheme penalty in the manual actions section.

Whitney:

Right? Okay. And then John Mueller tweets are the subject of careful review and analysis from across the spectrum of digital web stakeholders. Even the tweets he likes are often scrutinized and evaluated carefully. Recently, he suggested that it’s not a good idea and that even his own where it should be taken lightly, what value do you place in the knowledge and advice he shares on Twitter? And what types of info would you advise taking into consideration versus ignoring completely?

Barry:

So, yeah, I mean, John Mueller has, like you said, said this, like people just really rip apart what he says, but at the same time, John is generally pretty careful about what he shares and what he tweets. He tweets a lot, he shares a lot. And you know, in my religion, I’m sure other religions we study are, I guess, religious texts. So Bible, whatever it might be. And we kind of break apart, like every single word we scrutinize every word, what’s the value in each word. And obviously that’s kind of godly texts wherever we want to call it. And obviously John is a human, he’s not a God.  so it’s yeah. Cause I had to like rip apart his, what he says at the same time. The purpose behind that strategy is to take something that might be complex and to break it down.

Barry:

And as you scrutinize words that people are saying, especially people who have closer access to certain algorithms and certain information within Google, it really kind of helps bring clarity to what somebody might have said. So, John says, this type of strategy is not good or this type of strategy is not recommended. Why did he use the word not recommended versus not good versus that? Or maybe what type of strategy are there some strategies in there that you want to go ahead and break out? Guest blogging versus writing at a site monthly as contributor and not having like all these types of things all could be looked at and scrutinized. And I don’t think it’s necessarily wasteful in terms of looking at those statements and trying to break them down. If anything will make you a better SEO to kind of try to understand it better, but at the same time, not only should you probably challenge those statements that John saying, you should probably be aware of those statements, listen to them and then try yourself.

Barry:

So John says, do X, and you do Y you want to test that as an SEO and you want to use different tools to try to test those things and see if what he’s saying is true. And not only that things that you could test today for site, abc.com might not apply to things you test today for a site, you know, xyz.com and it might change in three months from now, or it might change in two days from now. So SEOs have to constantly test their ideas and hypothesis, constantly have to challenge what John say or what other STLs are saying, what bloggers are writing. And that, that’s what makes us, that’s what makes us even better and better by just listening, reading, and then testing it out on daily basis.

Whitney:

Yeah. Right. Well, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your morning to sit and chat with me. We appreciate it and we will hopefully be in contact.

Barry:

Sounds good. Alright. Thank you.

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