The way Google presents search results is constantly changing. New features and snippets sometimes seem to appear before your eyes.
Geoff Atkinson, founder and CEO of Huckabuy, an SEO Software company, talks through how content marketers can get their content ranking higher in the SERPs and thus amplify the visibility (and ROI) of their pages.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- The impact of rich results on content strategy
- How to optimize your content for rich results
- The benefits of capturing rich results
- How to get quick wins to earn additional buy-in
Amanda: This week I am pleased to welcome to the show Geoff Atkinson. He’s the former SVP of marketing at overstock.com, and now the founder and CEO of the SEO company, Huckabuy. Welcome to the show, Geoff.
Geoff: Thanks, Amanda. Thanks for having me, it’s great to be here.
Amanda: I think we’re talking about something that has not been discussed in the podcast at all, really. So, this should be a very valuable episode for people who aren’t on the technical side. So, I will add this caveat because we’re going to talk about rich results, and how optimizing your content for them can help you drive up your ROI. So, i you are more on the technical side, and you’re like, “I do this all the time, this isn’t really my thing.”, maybe check out another episode, but if you’re more of a content person, who doesn’t dive into this side of things very often, we’re going to talk in a way that is easy to understand and will provide tips that you can use very soon. So, highly encourage staying tuned. So, Geoff, just to kick things off, you know, we’re going to talk about how you can optimize content you’ve created or plan to create, optimize if for the SERPs, right? So, can you talk about what rich results are? Just to start things off.
Geoff: Yeah. So, rich results are search enhancements. So, it used to be when you’d search for something, you’d get 10 blue links back, plus the paid ads, and now when you search for stuff, the search results are a lot different than that. So, say you’re searching for the weather, the weather typically will just show up or a sports score.; it’ll just show up, or a recipe will, you know have all these like enhanced ways to view the recipes that you’re searching for. And all those enhancements are done, are rich results. So, those are all enhanced search results that are basically creating an easier way for people to access information when they search, something like 50% of searches now or what they call zero click searches. So, if you look at your own behavior, you can get almost all the answers without having to click through to a website. So, that’s what rich results are.
Amanda: Yeah. And I’ve seen, you know, anybody who works, semi in SEO has seen all those discussions, at least on Twitter, I’ve seen a lot of them about the concern around that, or people aren’t clicking through as much and you have to be more strategic about how to get people to click through. So, I think that’ll be interesting to talk about here.
Amanda: So, now that people understand kind of what rich results are, how did that– how did the creation of those impact content marketing, what is the implication here?
Geoff: Well, the biggest implication is that, because so many search results are what they call zero click, there’s just one winner, kind of now. And so, you do have to optimize to try and capture those rich results and enhance search pages because, you know, one of the things that users have sort of changed to is, it used to be that your highest click through search result was sort of your most trusted source. Trust is lower now and the quickness– how quick you can receive the information is actually more important. So, yeah, very important to optimize for those rich results and try to, you know, get in the conversation. It’s definitely a concern for a lot of SEOs and marketers, because the amount of clicks leaving Google has dropped. But I would say that this is a macro trend, it’s not going anywhere, you either kind of play or you don’t play, and I encourage people to play because it’s important. It’s part of Google’s, you know, macro plan, and you got to sort of play by their rules unfortunately.
Amanda: So, there’s a lot of different types of rich results, which we were talking about, how can marketers know what pieces of content they’re creating or plan to create, can be optimized in this way? Like, how can they know, “Okay, this piece should have optimization for A, B, or C.”?
Geoff: So, the easiest way is, there’s actually tools that if say, you know, honestly, the easiest way, beyond a tool is just a search for something, what you’re interested in ranking for, and actually looking at the search result and seeing, what are they giving back to me? Are they giving back products? Are they giving back news articles? Are they giving back, you know, just analyze, what’s actually happening. If you want to do that at scale across lots of keywords, there are tools like Moz and Ahrefs that can, you upload your keyword list and it’ll actually tell you how the search results are breaking down in terms of what’s being featured, is it images that’s showing up first? Is it a question and answer? Is it a list? That’s really what you want to be looking for. So, with certain content types, especially like lists and Q&A, super important for optimization to be done, even if your content might not be a Q&A, you know, change it and make it so, that you can qualify and can capture that that rich result.
Amanda: Because there’s two things you’re learning from that exercise, right? It’s the structure itself, like you said, what actually, physically is Google giving you, but the intent too. So, you can make sure that whatever you’re trying to rank for, you can see what’s already being ranked, and like, “Oh, this is what users are generally searching for, or at least Google perceives them to be searching for.”, and you can kind of align it to that.
Geoff: Yeah, that’s what they’re trying to achieve with these is, satisfying the intent. So, if it’s like a product specific query, you’re going to see tons of products above the fold, if it’s a recipe or a news query, you know, you’re going to see a recipe, you’re going to see news results, that’s what they’re trying to satisfy, is the searcher’s intent.
Amanda: How can somebody, if something’s already ranking for that, what are some tips you would share to outrank people who have already, kind of captured those rich results for themselves?
Geoff: So, there’s some sort of old school tactics that still works. So, back links are still very important. Rich results are primarily powered by structured data. So, structured data is this language that’s been around for 10 plus years, it’s really like the language that Google likes to be speaking with websites. It’s structured, and it’s uniform across all websites, so that that’s how they, you know, are able to use it; it’s an authoritative language, unlike metadata that’s more like suggestive. So, you do need to have good structured data, unstructured data can come in– can really represent almost anything, it can represent, you know, product structured data is the most used, but you can you know, whether it’s a person, whether it’s a question and answer, whether it’s a blog post, they’re structured data, almost for everything, and that ends up being a really important factor when trying to capture rich results is, having really good content and structured data that basically helps communicate that content to the search engine, and then they can grab that content and actually display it.
Amanda: So, just making sure it fits that structure and is as relevant and useful as possible is the best way?
Geoff: Yep. And still acquiring backlinks so that Google sees that people care about this content.
Amanda: Right. So, you mentioned before that it’s a little trickier, though, to get people to click through. So, what are your thoughts on the value of the zero click like say, you earn that rich result, but people aren’t really clicking through but you’re getting the awareness side, versus the benefit of capturing that click through and how you can kind of increase your chances of getting people to be captivated enough or need a little more information that they do click through?
Geoff: Yeah. So, almost all transactional type searches are going to require a click through because just the purchase, you have to get to the website. Fortunately, Google has not gotten to the point where you just don’t even have to leave anywhere to do almost anything. So, most of your revenue-based queries are still going to require that click through. If you’re trying to get people to read on your site versus read on Google, you know, they’re just usually capturing a little bit of your content, if they’re just searching to learn something, for example, and they learn it really quickly, like, you know, who’s the senator for the Celtics or something like that? Yeah, you’re probably not going to get the click through, but you’re also going to be the brand that provides the answer. And if it’s a more detailed answer that requires some reading, they’re just featuring sort of the beginning of your answer, and by capturing rich result, you’re actually going to get a very high click through rate because you’re going to be featured as the you know, it’s not just one blue link at the top, it’s an enhanced result that will lead to click through. So, one of the cool things is that, rich results actually have a very high click through rate, abnormally high. And so, that’s one of the benefits of capturing them is that, you know, typically you will get high click through rates on a rich result.
Amanda: Well, how do images play into all of this?
Geoff: Yeah, so, images are interesting. So, images, obviously have been around for a long time, Google Images has been a big, you know, I think it’s a very large percentage of their actual search results are images. There is structured data for images that help sort of captured you know, the ability to get high in their results. It’s kind of a different algorithm, though, than, you know, some standard things, some sort of standard old school things like, naming conventions being accurate and making sure you’re, you know, you have a URL that represents the actual– what the image is about, those are all really important still. You know, that’s still what they use to sort of figure out what images are about, they don’t really have a way of actually analyzing the image itself. You know, they’re starting to, where you can upload an image and it’ll look for like images, but it is still sort of bait their computer, right? So, they’re still using the image name, the description, the structured data, and then file size, you know, matters because they want a fast loading experience. So, it’s a different algorithm, it’s different than rich enhancements, although a lot of rich results actually include images, but it is a different algorithm than, you know, what would work for trying to capture a recipe or a Q&A box.
Amanda: But do you think it’s still worth people trying to get the images to rank? Because you know, a lot of people use stock photos or they pull whatever they can use just because they don’t have the budget for it or what have you, is that like a big missed opportunity if they’re doing that?
Geoff: It’s– so, it is important if your business is very image heavy, you know. So, if you’re like allposters.com, or you know, it’s a site like that that’s trying to not just get people to view the images, but actually transact, then yes, image optimization is really important. For the rest of us, unless it’s, you know, real estate sites, it’s important for, anything that’s kind of visual, it’s important, but for most of us, and honestly, most of Huckabuy’s customers, it’s not really a big, it doesn’t have an impact on their business to be able to rank number one for an image. So, just keep in mind dependent on– and you can actually use those tools to see how dependent your business is on images by actually entering in your keywords and you’ll see that images are featured very heavily, and then it’s important, but for most of our customers, it’s not a priority.
Amanda: So, it sounds like in general, a good best practice is to see what’s already working to get a sense of what to prioritize?
Geoff: Yeah, I mean, that’s always a great strategy with working. And also, with images, I mean, just naming conventions is honestly the best way to start capturing image searches is just naming your images properly and not just by numbers and letters.
Amanda: Right. So, say somebody sets all this up, you know, they’re listening to this and realizing they haven’t done it, maybe it’s worth doing for them, how does this look on an ongoing basis? Are you checking back to see, it sounds like click through rate is going to be one of the biggest indicators of the impact that it has to have a rich results, but is there any other way that you, on an ongoing basis, measure the impact of that? Make any tweaks, you know, really understand the value?
Geoff: Yeah, so, I think it’s important to have some structured data health checks, because both websites change frequently, and that can break structured data, as well as Google actually changes their requirements pretty frequently. And so, having some health checks or at least just you know, once a month, kind of checking on your structured data to make sure that it’s good, is a great way to kind of make sure. I mean, Huckabuy is automated, which is nice, but for most companies that aren’t using an automated solution, to be kind of auditing your structured data and making sure it’s working is important. And you will see a benefit, by just adding good structured data to the site, almost always will increase traffic and all sorts of good healthy things. But yeah, and then, it’s really just analyzing the traffic that’s coming through, is it converting at a good rate? You know, your sort of standard analytics is the best way to kind of measure the success, but it is important to have some, like, checks in place to make sure that you’re doing it properly, and it’s up to date.
Amanda: And is there, I know you said that it’s pretty product heavy, this type of stuff, or it can be like really beneficial if you sell products, is there a certain stage of the funnel for content that it’s the most beneficial for? Like, how about, I feel like those lists are things you see a lot for top of the funnel stuff, or, if you structure correctly, at least you’re seeing the gist of what the list is about and then people can click through, but do you see that there’s more of a benefit in any specific part of the funnel?
Geoff: It’s more you know, we usually start with like, the keywords and then actually build the pages and you know, our companies build the pages and build the structured data according to what they’re trying to rank for. But lists are, you know, lists and Q&A’s are featured, Google loves those, I don’t know quite why, but they’re always being featured. And structured data, to be honest, touches every section of the funnel from, you know, discovery down to conversion. So, keep, you know, almost every search result is now featuring some sort of rich card, rich snippet, whatever you want to call it, and that’s, you know, going to come into play no matter what stage the customer is in their sort of discovery.
Amanda: Right. Is there a mistake you think people make often when they execute this, or have you seen something when you take it over for a client or anything like missed opportunities that happen often?
Geoff: Yeah, the biggest mistake is just misalignment between content and what you’re trying to achieve. So, one of the things that I see happen all the time on the content front is, say it’s like a software company and they have a big content marketing strategy, which almost all of them do. Often, that content will reside on the blog, and it’ll be you know, they’ll be writing blog posts frequently, and they’ll be putting a lot of energy, time, money into it. But their pages that actually sell their product and get conversions will be left alone for like months and months and months on end, where like, they’re not converting anything really on their blog, but they are in their core site. So, on the core site where you really care about the rankings, and hopefully have some rankings, think about that as the place to be putting content, putting this sort of rich enhancement type content so that you get the conversions and proper revenue out of it. I’d say the biggest mistake we see is, just a misalignment with what are your actual goals? Which are typically to drive revenue, and then, where’s that content going and how is it being, you know, what are you writing about? And is it supporting your actual goals? Or, are you just sort of writing for the sake of writing? So, that’s– I think time spent researching what you should be writing about, where it should live on your site, where do you have the best chance of conversion? That’s time really, really well spent versus just sort of churning out content for the sake of it.
Amanda: Right. It speaks to just general content strategy, right? Like, don’t just be producing things, and– because this isn’t something that exists in a silo, optimizing for rich results, hopefully you’ve done the work before you even created the post. But if you’re listening to this, and you wrote it, and you’re just going back and auditing it, and you didn’t think about that, it’s probably a good opportunity to do a check in and see what intent you’re meeting and why you’ve put that piece of content where you did and why, etc.
Geoff: Yeah, I’m always kind of shocked how little time is spent on what like, the content strategy versus just actually churning out content and time spent thinking about that and putting it in the right place and writing, you know, correctly with the right– going after the right keywords, those aren’t really well spent. So, I’d encourage your audience definitely to do that.
Amanda: Well, it’s funny, I think there’s still a lot of companies that operate under just a volume, and you know, like, sometimes marketing people are held to a certain number of posts per month. And if it’s a lot, you know, there’s pressure to just kind of put something out there, if that’s what they’re being measured by, right? So, a question that I tend to ask a lot of guests is related to the buy-in side of this. So, you know, we can talk specifically about rich results, but with content strategy in general, if somebody is listening to this, and they want to make these changes, but they have to get buy-in for it or some kind of approval to spend their time on it, what do you think are mistakes that people make when they go to pitch say something like this? And you know, that could be like the way they communicate it or they don’t– they’re not good at explaining what the value is, but what do you think are some mistakes that people make in that area?
Geoff: Well, there’s a lot. I think, you know, what I’ve found with getting buy-in is, nothing argues like success. So, if you can start getting some small wins, like keyword ranking in the top 10 or, you know, start establishing the channel as one that’s experiencing success and can you can prove the ROI, nothing gets in the way of– no one’s not going to approve something that’s growing and successful. So, I always try to think like very agile fashion early on, no matter what you’re doing, how do I get a quick win so that I can get people behind this? And that’s always been in my career, kind of the best way to get buy-in is, showing a path to success and actually then communicating that success so that people start getting behind it and supporting you. So, that’s kind of my overall, yeah, there’s a lot of, people don’t get buy-in and I think some of the mistakes are sort of like, you know, it’s like kind of content for content sake. It’s like, well, if you’re just writing without goals, and without outcomes that you can predict and can achieve, it’s just going to be really hard to get buy-in. So, I think having that, you know, how are you actually going to be successful doing this? And being able to communicate that, and then when the success starts to happen, making sure you’re transparent and showing people what’s happening so that people can get behind it. That’s sort of my my biggest piece of advice when it comes to getting buy-in is, get some success under your belt.
Amanda: Yeah, well, people are probably much more, less fearful at that point, if you can show them that even the little things that you’ve done, have made some kind of an impact. How, if somebody puts this into place, like they set up the structured data, and they want to start seeing rich results, what is usually the timeline for that? Like, how long could it take for your efforts to actually result in something?
Geoff: So, if the content’s already in place, for example, and then you layer the structured data on top of like a large site with tons of content, it happens really quickly, you can see rich results getting featured within like a couple of days. If you’re starting from scratch, you know, it can take six months to sort of get the domain authority and the trust and the indexation, and all the things that you need Google to go through before you get those wins. So, it’s very variable but if you already have great content, layering structured data on it, can get you wins, like within a week, which is kind of crazy. But it doesn’t work that quickly, think of it as like, Google’s very thirsty for this information, they really care about structured data, when they see it on a page, it’s like, that’s what they want to see. So, one of the things we see when we layer our structured data on top of a new customer’s site, like the crawl rates jump, Google’s just thirsty for this information. So, they really suck it up quickly once you’re doing it correctly. So, if you have a good Domain Authority and good content, layer structured data on top of it, you’re going to see some success pretty quickly.
Amanda: Awesome. I think that’s great for people who, sometimes content initiatives take a little longer to show the results. So, to have something like this or report on, it’s probably pretty exciting, if it’s only a couple days turnaround.
Geoff: And CEOs and leaders love it, because it’s so visual. So, you can really tell your boss, like, once you’ve achieved a number one rich result, it’s so visual that you can share it throughout the company, and everyone’s like, “Oh, that’s so cool.”, you know, that’s always a good sort of, talking about getting buy-in, like once you get one rich result that’s doing well, you should have plenty of support behind you.
Amanda: Absolutely. So, another thing I ask people is, knowing the objective of this show, who do you recommend to be future guests on the program?
Geoff: Oh, man, there’s so many great, well, you know, I’m kind of SEO heavy so, i i love great content strategies that results in severe business impacts like, great business impacts from a content perspective. You know, Neil Patel, obviously he’s like, kind of the king of that. But I think, yeah, people that have a track record of real success and real ROI when it comes to content, those stories in my mind are just like the best. We have, example at Overstock, we had like 30 people generating content, man, did it just drive things through the roof. And the content was all targeted based on analytics and where we needed content on certain pages. So, you know, I think, you know, content marketers that have an ROI story would be great. Obviously, Neil, maybe I’ll make an introduction, but he’s a great sort of content SEO person that really knows his stuff.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the show, Geoff and sharing your tips for people who have not kind of delved into this world of rich results. I appreciate you taking the time.
Geoff: My pleasure, Amanda. Thank you so much for having me.