eric-enge

March 16, 2015: It’s been almost a year since Didit last interviewed Eric Enge. But given that there’s a lot going on in SEO right now, we wanted to touch base with him to get his take on the latest developments. Eric Enge is the CEO of Stone Temple Consulting.

Didit: April 21st 2015 is shaping up to be a “day of reckoning” for site managers who’ve failed to make their properties mobile-friendly. There appears to be some confusion going on, however: Google’s Gary Illyes at SMX West recently stated that “responsive design will not have a ranking benefit,” which seems to contradict what Google is indicating in its recent blog announcement and in its recommendations for phone-friendly sites.

How quickly do you think we’ll see the impact of this update on web traffic?  Who will be the winners and who will be the losers? Are we going to see howls of protest on April 22 or will things go smoothly for most?

I have no doubt that many will be howling on April 21st.

Eric Enge: Actually, I think that Google has been pretty clear that they will treat all mobile subdomains, dynamic serving, and responsive web designs (RWD) implementations the same. Yes, they do recommend RWD as an implementation path, but from a ranking perspective, these three approaches will be treated the same.

I have no doubt that many will be howling on April 21st. I expect that this will be a fairly significant rankings change. However, one of the things that Gary Illyes clarified about this at SMX West was that the rankings of sites in the “desktop index” will not be impacted when the searcher is on a desktop device.

The impact will be in the rankings in the mobile index. However, if 40% of your SEO traffic comes from mobile devices, there could be a very significant decline in your overall SEO traffic.

I expect that impact to be significant within the mobile index, but sites with critical information are not going to simply disappear altogether either.

While we are at it, let’s look at the impact from another perspective. If you have the world’s best information on some topic, it’s not likely that Google is going to move you entirely out of the results just because you are not mobile friendly.

They will need to strike some sort of balance. The point is, that I expect that impact to be significant within the mobile index, but sites with critical information are not going to simply disappear altogether either.

Download free ebook: SEO for 2015Didit: Google has also announced that App Indexing will be a signal. How heavily do you think this will change search results? Do you think that advertisers and developers will create “junk apps” to game this feature?

Eric Enge: I watched a panel on App indexing while I was at SMX West. On the panel, Googler Mariya Moeva clarified how that will work.  As I understand it, this ranking benefit will be specific to the mobile index and will work like personalization does.

I.e., if you have the app on your phone, and it has a good quality piece of content that matches up with your search query, you may well see that piece of content rank higher in the search results.

So the net-net is that it’s all tied to the searcher having the app installed on their device. However, this can still be a significant benefit for you.

However, junk apps won’t really get anywhere unless potential customers get duped into installing them. Without a doubt, I am sure that people will try to figure out how to game this signal, but I think Google will make it pretty hard to gain a ton of traction.

The key part of the gaming of the system will be in getting the app on people’s phones, because otherwise you are dead in the water. And, even then, Google will be doing things to measure the quality of the user experience, so gaming this one will be hard.

Didit: Let’s talk about Google Plus.  We’ve  known for awhile that the Google authorship experiment is dead, in which Google Plus figured prominently. However, back in a 2013 Eric Schmidt confirmed in an interview that what we call Author Rank is very much alive (although Google is being typically vague in terms of how it works). Is it still important for webmasters to pay any attention to Google Plus. Why? Also in the news, Google Plus is becoming Google Streams and Google Photos, with the popular photo product being spun off. In the age of Snapchat and Yik Yak, what value do you think Google Streams still offers to marketers?

Eric Enge: I recently wrote at on Copyblogger length about my thoughts on the fate of Google+. I don’t think it will go away anytime soon, even though we may now think of it as Google Streams.

For marketers, the main benefit of Google+ today is in the way it can cause people who connect with you there to see your results higher in the SERPs as a result of personalized search. That personalization can be quite powerful. However, this depends on your audience being present on Google+.

For marketers, the main benefit of Google+ today is in the way it can cause people who connect with you there to see your results higher in the SERPs as a result of personalized search.

Regarding Author Rank, the statements from Eric Schmidt predate Google’s decision to retire their use of rel=author tagging to influence their results in any way (including the author photos they used to help generate). That does not mean that Google is not identifying authors and potentially taking action on their reputations and relationships with people to the degree that they can measure that.

How that might work, I don’t know, but if someone has a track record of reading content written by Danny Sullivan, for example, and Google was able to determine that, perhaps they would show other Danny Sullivan content higher in the results. They don’t need rel=author tagging to determine that.

Spinning off Google Photos and Google Hangouts is actually a win for Google+.

Keep in mind too, that spinning out of Google Photos and Google Hangouts is actually a win for Google+. The tens of millions of people that are active (by my estimate) there provide Google with a wonderful test laboratory for these types of features.

In addition, I’d expect that the commenting system related to these new spun out platforms will remain tied to the new Google Streams, much as Google did with YouTube.  I do think that they want to have that asset available to them.

It may not be huge, but they can still personalize results for people that are active there, and they can still use it as a test laboratory for new social features.  Also, I suspect that there is still something brewing there.  Check out this article to see a hint of one of the things that Google is planning to do with Google Streams 6 to 12 months down the road.

This is the key quote from that article: “In six months to a year’s time we’ll start seeing some aspects of what we’re doing embedded in Google Plus, natural language and maybe some recommendation systems.”

They are not done here yet!

Didit: Much has been written about the academic research paper published by Google researchers outlining a new way of ranking sites based on their “factuality.”  While KBT isn’t slated to become part of Google’s algorithm any time soon, people are already predicting the demise of the gossip industry. Others are complaining that Google is setting itself up to be a “ministry of truth.”

How should webmasters prepare themselves for the day when facts become as important as links in determining authority?

Facts are not going to become as important as links in determining authority.

Eric Enge: Well, to start, facts are not going to become as important as links in determining authority. The New Scientist article was off base. The research paper cited was only a research paper. It’s important to not get into Chicken Little mode over it.

There are ways that they could use fact checking however. If they find erroneous information on your page, they could lower your rankings based on that. However, let’s illustrate the complexity of that in three ways:

  1. What if the site is a very popular satire site? These sites would still be very popular and Google’s search quality would suffer if they demoted it due to fact checking.
  2. What if truth is subjective? Here in the U.S., how Tea Party Republicans and Democrats see the truth is quite different.
  3. What if there are 5,227 sites that all contain accurate information? You still need a way to decide which of these to rank first, which one to rank second, etc.

In any event, John Mueller already weighed in on this concept in this Office Hours Hangout and responded to a question from Barry Schwartz and said that fact checking is not something they are currently using in their algorithms.

Didit: It’s been just about a year since we have talked to you last. There have been some big changes in the industry. Please share with us what has been on your plate and what has been happening at Stone Temple. We’d love to know what you think the big issues are and what webmasters and marketers should be worrying about.

Links are not going away. They will remain a very important part of the mix too, it’s just that other signals are going to take a bit more of the ranking pie.

Eric Enge: For me and Stone Temple Consulting, it’s been a year of dealing with a lot of growth. That’s a good thing, but it does bring many challenges with it. However, I have been quire fortunate to have a phenomenal team of people working with me. They really help carry me when I need it.

As for the industry, I do think that the area of content quality is one that people are not paying nearly enough attention to. The fact checking concept, while greatly overblown in the way people reacted to it, still at least got people thinking about being accurate.

But, we really need to dig much deeper. Google is working on many different ways of evaluating content quality. Think of it this way, if your big keyword is “blue widgets” and Google sends you 100 visitors to your page for that search query, how many of those visitors are going to find what they want on that page?

I have no doubt that this is something that Google is trying to determine in one manner or another. Once you get this, it impacts your site architecture, your content, your page design, and more.  You need to get this right, or all the links in the world won’t help you.

I do think that this will impact the value of links.  But, links are not going away. They will remain a very important part of the mix too, it’s just that other signals are going to take a bit more of the ranking pie.

Think of it this way, if your content/pages are killer pages, and this is a big reason you are netting so many links, these two signals will reinforce each other in a way that is very potent indeed. This is the critical path to nailing SEO success in 2015 and beyond.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

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Eric Enge on 4/21
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Eric Enge on 4/21
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Holistic SEO expert Eric Enge comments on "mobile-geddon" (the big 4/21 algo update), Google Plus, and Google as universal fact-checker.
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