Joost de ValkFounder & interim CTO
Aleyda SolisInternational SEO Consultant & Founder Orainti
In this episode
This episode offers you a deep-dive into the mechanisms behind Search Engine Optimization. Aleyda Solis (founder of Orainti and co-founder of remoters.net) is an SEO consultant, author, speaker, and remote working enthusiast. She is an expert when it comes to getting found online by the right audience. In this episode, Aleyda will share her broad (international) SEO knowledge including tactics for optimizing your local or multi-language website and videos.
A glimpse of the discussed topics:
- The future of remote working now working from home has become a necessity for some of us
- How SEO is evolving into a general marketing strategy
- What to take into account when striving for better video results
- Difficulties regarding optimizing your website for local and language-based search
Enjoy this episode!
Transcript of this episode
Joost: Hello everyone. And welcome to the second episode of the Yoast SEO podcast. Where we interview people who are friends of Yoast the company, or Yoast the person or preferably both. Well, both are definitely true for today’s guest. Today we have with us, Aleyda Solis who’s an international SEO rockstar. I can not say anything else. She’s been a good friend for years. She comes to us from somewhere in the North of Spain. Welcome Aleyda!
Aleyda: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me, Joost! Yes, all the way from Santander.
Joost: Santander! So, you just said before we hit record that you’re relatively close to the beach. I’m somewhat jealous now.
Aleyda: Yes! That is one of the positives here. It’s a small city and actually nice because it’s surrounded by mountains on one side and then I have the beach like 500 meters from here, so it’s quite nice. Not a bad place to be in lock down.
Joost: Yeah. So the funny thing is I’ve discussed remote work a lot with Aleyda in the last five, six, seven years. And I’m not necessarily a fan of remote work. Well, Aleyda definitely was a fan of remote work, but I didn’t think you were a fan of remote work at home. Were you?
Aleyda: Yes indeed. I was used to this. I think for me, remote is about being in control. Location independence, right? It’s about acknowledging that work does not need to happen in a given place that you don’t necessarily want. You are able to work from whatever you feel like.
But realistically, unfortunately right now it is not like this. We need to be stuck at home because of COVID restrictions, mobility restrictions, et cetera. So, yes, I will say that this is one of the use cases or scenarios of remote work that definitely might work really well. It depends on the end of the day on your preferences and characteristics. Right?
I have spoken in the past with people who are so happy like this, because they are introverted by nature and they say: ‘Oh my God, finally I am able to be myself completely’. And they experience much more productive energy levels. Because they were actually tired by interacting with so many people at the time.
But on the other hand, all the people that are ambiverts or extroverts.. Maybe they worked remotely before, but they used to go to co-workers or they went to a lot of events like I did, for example.
So yes, it is a little bit of a bittersweet right now I have to say. Because realistically I think that, unfortunately, there’s a share of people who after this, will realize that they are able to work remotely. After this experience. But at the end of the day, experience has influenced them on seeing a lot of negative aspects of the remote work setting. That were not necessarily real if they were able to work from really whatever they wanted, right?
Joost: Yeah. I see it. So we have a semi lockdown now in the Netherlands where our kids still go to school. Which makes a lot of difference because in the first lockdown, everybody was forced to work from home with the kids being at home, which is like not a fair comparison to working in an office. Because working around with – I have four kids – your kids running around you.. it drove me absolutely nuts. But that’s not a fair comparison.
I have to say I was surprised about the productivity levels we could reach with people working from home. It turns out that some people indeed are a lot more productive working from home. Some are not. It really depends.
Aleyda: Yes, indeed. I think that at the end of the day, it depends on your character, right? Your characteristics, where you feel more comfortable. And 100%, I have no idea how people with kids are able to do it, while being stuck with them at home at the same time. And if your partner also works from home, how do you handle it? How do you coordinate this?
Joost: Our oldest kids are 14 and 11, they were in calls for school. Marieke was of course working as well. And I was working and then we had four Zoom streams open all the time. It turns out that your bandwidth does not really take into account four HD zoom streams all the time. We have pretty good internet connections here, but four Zoom streams is a lot of data. So you literally get in each other’s way in that regard as well. There’s a lot of stuff that you need to think about when you’re in a situation like this that I hadn’t anticipated, to be honest. I hope this goes away and that soon we’ll be able to see each other at conferences again.
Aleyda: Hopefully indeed! It has made me much more appreciative of those moments that you took for granted. You know, they were like the usual stuff, but now it’s like, Oh my God. Yes, I miss them.
Joost: It’s incredible. We wanted to do a Yoast Con this year to celebrate 10 years of Yoast. You would have been there at that point. It’s stuff like that I really, really miss. Seeing your friends from all over the place and the WordPress ecosystem where you’ve spoken at a couple of Word Camps too, I think. So you’ve seen that ecosystem. There’s lot of friends that I usually speak to four or five times a year in person that I’ve not seen for a year, it’s really weird.
On the other hand, it must be good for some of your websites! Because one of the things you do is remoters.net right? Can you tell our audience a bit about what that is?
Aleyda: Yes. So remoters.net is a remote work hub that started in 2015. I started it with an SEO friend. She’s also an independent SEO consultant here in Spain, Alyssa. And we started it because we were already starting working remotely at the time. And we had been already working remotely for a while, at that point. And we realized that a lot of people that we knew and we talked with in our industry, they were not yet remote. And they were always asking and wondering like how do you handle clients or how do you get the clients? They don’t care or how do you get an in-house or employee job as a remote worker?
I actually started working remotely when I was still an employee in 2012 or so. So there were so many questions that we realized that there was a need for a resource. A place providing how- to’s, guides, interviews with people who had already done it in different ways. To inspire. Our job boards, featuring the remote jobs available for people to apply to. We have an events section to a tool section, a coliving section. But of course at this point that section and the physical events one, doesn’t do so well.
But the job section, I have to say I was so very impressed by the job section because it was already a growing trend that we had. And in the number of jobs that were uploaded on the website, which by the way is free. The business model of many of the websites in this sector is they require a fee to publish a remote at a job up there. We don’t want to, we want to monetize in other ways, but not like that. Because I think that we want to commoditize that that is so easy and straightforward and to empower people, to actually find jobs quite easily. We don’t want to put any roadblocks on that.
So, we already had our growing trend. But realistically it has boomed since then, right? Like, it was funny to see. In January, February, it was already a positive ride, but in March and April, the traffic of people looking for jobs in general went up. But the number of jobs that were published was down for these two couple of months. This changed completely after that. I guess not only the industries that were directly hit, like travel, transportation, et cetera during those times. But also companies.. The uncertainty doesn’t help a store to hire employees, new people. But after that it was a boom, right? Like already May, June, July. Oh my God. The numbers of companies hiring remotely, many of them, in fact, are completely new companies that registered at the time. It’s actually very straightforward to publish a new job on our job board when you are already with us, because your company already exists. So for me, it’s only to check, check that is a real job and approve it. We always validate by the way, because we only want real job adverts. But at that time, oh my God, I had to spend so much time registering new companies to connect with a new job out there.
So yes it is crazy.
Joost: I believe you. For us it’s been an eye-opener in a way. And I think for Yoast itself, we were completely office-based. Or, not completely. We used to have a remote team in our support team, and we were somewhat open to hiring remote WordPress employees who worked on WordPress core, but all of our dev teams, et cetera, were local.
And we were now switching to a slightly more hybrid model.
Aleyda: I think that will be the way to go for many companies. Especially those who are much more established and have really good established processes. Connected with offices across many locations even, that have reached a much more flexible model. And also realizing that – I’m sure this is not the case for you – some of the very school-minded companies that still require employees to be at nine sharp. This type of thing.
Joost: We don’t make people check-in in the morning that like, no. You know, what I’ve come to realize is that time zones are actually a much more problematic thing to stretch than home and office. So we have been looking a little bit more at which time zones can we comfortably work with? And figured out that California – as much as we like it – is really a stretch for us because of the nine hour time difference. It just makes working together really hard.
But we’ve added some colleagues to our team over the last few months. A couple from Italy, one in Greece, one in Benin in Africa. Which is really promising because it turns out that there’s an enormous WordPress community there.
So a lot of these new things that you see that, well, open up a lot of new possibilities and I am very happy to see that
Aleyda: One hundred percent. I do love that part. That opens up the opportunity for on one hand companies being more diverse and being able to also leverage the talents of so many people across the world. And on the other hand, they are able to not necessarily emigrate if they’re living in small towns or, development countries, et cetera. They will bring that value and they will keep that money in their own local community. So that, for me, there are a lot of win-wins all over.
Joost: Oh, absolutely. I think we totally agree on that. It’s an interesting experience. But I didn’t want to talk to you just about remote because you know a lot about SEO and it would be a waste not to talk about that.
I was wondering, what’s the biggest thing that has changed for you in the last year in terms of SEO? I know you’ve been doing a lot more YouTube. So let’s talk about that for a bit, but is there also anything in like on-site SEO or site SEO that has changed?
Aleyda: Yes, indeed. Well, in the last year, I think that.. Usually I have to clarify this. The type of clients that I work with tend to be big companies who tend to have their own in-house SEO team, or at least a digital marketing team. So my work usually it’s to help this SEO team on specific challenges that they have. Usually abroad, in international types of scenarios or specific challenges across certain markets or relaunching, rebranding, migrating, things like that.
But this last year I have felt, and maybe also because of the industries that I work on, that so much effort has been put to improve the experience on website pages. Regarding connecting much better with the user intent, much more content related work on two sides of things, leveraging search features, which has to do a lot also with videos, opportunities, carousels, and structured data.
Those are considered technical, but at the end of the day the value of it or the output of is not technical. It’s semantics and content. And then on the other hand, it’s funny. It’s maybe because I work with a lot of marketplaces and a few FinTech companies. And I have actually, speaking about YouTube, one of my top clients is a fitness company that generates huge traffic from YouTube. The EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) sort of thing that I know that a few people think of as not even a ranking factor, is this additional layer of sophistication and understanding that Google has about the assets. The meaning of your content, connecting with the actual intent and satisfaction of the user. I have had to put much more effort to take care of it, to try to parameterize and establish patterns. And to help on one hand copywriters on the other hand developers, to make sure that the experience of the user is aligned to that. So yes, I think that the layer, I will say it’s not the base of crawling and indexing issues so much anymore for many of these clients, like that is already solved, but it’s the next layer of content quality, user experience.
Joost: Think about it a bit more. About how you position yourself as an author and an expert, instead of as just another person or website talking about a topic. It’s funny because it looks to me as though SEO is turning more and more into general marketing strategy.
Aleyda: 100%. My work nowadays, it’s funny now that you mentioned it, it’s much more tight. I wrote about that a couple of months ago. With the product team I have so many calls lately with product people, not necessarily with the SEO people only on the projects that I contribute to. It’s now much more understood that everything should be aligned. And how SEO decisions or product decisions will impact each other. So they need to align themselves.
Joost: Yeah. I totally agree. My role at Yoast is chief product officer. I work on our product and what you mentioned earlier about structured data, being a technical thing, but in the end it’s very user-driven. My biggest challenge is making structured data something that people can do when they’re not technical at all. It’s one of the things that I work on on a day to day basis at the moment. How do we make using WordPress and the new block technology and everything that we have in there, making jobs or recipes or recognizing video content, how do we do that automatically without bothering the user with the fact that we have to add some structured data for it?
Aleyda: Yeah. And in a way actually at the end of the day, the way that the output is generated too is well connected and tied to each other that generates a natural, representative and good knowledge graph of your website. And not a mess. This is the issue for example that I have right now with remoters.net. We rely on WordPress by the way for Remoters. But unlike the clients that I work with, who can code or develop whatever they like, they will not rely on a third-party tool to generate this. Even those who can not code themselves. They will even rely at some point on Google Tag Manager as a workaround.
But realistically, if you rely on a CMS like WordPress. Yes I do use the Yoast plugin and there are certain types of structured data that I will be able to generate with Yoast. And I know my use case is not typical for a blog or typical website, but we’ll love much more support on those regards of the jobs, events and tools.
Joost: Yeah, working on literally most of those, I think. So jobs is something that we’re building at the moment where we will have jobs block. You heard it here first people! It’s a bit of a spoiler, but yeah, there’ll be a jobs block that makes things easy. Events are actually.. I don’t know what you’re using for events on your site, but we just merged an integration with an all in one events calendar. Their output is on Schema and it makes their Schema tie in well with ours. So we are trying to build these integrations with some of the bigger plugins in the space so that we can integrate what people already are using and make sure that the Schema output is correct.
But it’s hard to do this because there are so many different plugins out there and there’re so many different sites with different use cases. So you end up with like, okay, how do we cover the most used use cases quickly? But we’re working on that. It’s a nice challenge. But I do hear what you’re saying that you’re talking to product a lot more. It’s one of the things Jono and I have been saying a lot over the last few years in our talks. How we approach SEO is like, If you optimize your site, but your product is really bad. You might as well stop doing SEO because it’s not going to work.
Aleyda: Yeah. You need to live up to the expectations.
Joost: So you can’t just set those expectations. You have to actually meet them. And that is a hard job. But it also means that we get to marketing. The way we’ve approached SEO, basically always as holistic SEO, where SEO ties in with everything else, is becoming more and more realistically what’s left of SEO. In many ways, SEO is the thing that drives the business case for accessibility work and for good product work and for good branding work. It’s not necessarily anything different. It just drives the business case.
Aleyda: Indeed. And now that you mentioned SEO regarding branding. I think more of a point – and these are discussions that I have had much more lately in the last year for example – how there are many more searches that end in non clicks, right? These searchers are satisfied already by the SERPs directly. And realistically, this is something that if you are just an aggregator of other people’s data, and if you don’t add specific value to what can be already be given directly in the SERPs for a lot of factual type of searches, you need to be willing and agree that they will go. So it’s much more about establishing a strategy. On one hand, we charged those queries that you will still pay half cents for to appear on because of branding or share of visibility, just because of that. And then, on the other hand, which are the ones that are actually worthy for you to be shown and with which type of pages?
I have also seen, this is interesting, with the latest Google updates for queries that if you see the search results from three years ago, they have nothing to do with the pages being ranked right now because Google has much better understanding. These queries are raw or ambiguous and there’s no way for you, for example, to rank for a CRM with like a category page anymore. So how do you connect and evolve your content strategy to be able to be shown there in a way that really satisfies that intent of that user? And you have more chances to be shown through all of the different search features, right? Not only read through to a page, but with an explanatory video, for example, things like that. I think it requires you to level up and how you align all of the activities too. I believe that it’s not any more like I will add more content to the category page and that’s it. It will never rank for this type of queries anymore. So you need to have a much better understanding of intent, content format, type of contents aligned with the content strategy, the different queries across the customer journey, conversion funnel. That actually makes sense. And this is the thing, I remember a couple of years ago, many commerce websites are purely transactional websites. They will diminish the importance of having informational type of content or a block strategy for example. Not anymore! It is how they will be able to rank for broader terms that will ultimately bring value. They are very top of the funnel, but this is how they stay visible and show that they matter in their industry.
Joost: Yeah you have to establish a brand and work on that. Is that also the same in YouTube in your regard?
Aleyda: YouTube is a completely different base than Google. And I have to say something. This is the thing: even if you rank number one in YouTube for your relevant queries, for the relevant term. So for example, bodybuilding things like that, like how to increase your muscles. A lot of queries in YouTube are very informational. Like looking for a step-by-step guide, video guides and there are tons of videos. And if you rank in the first position, you will think it’s sort of Google winner-takes-all. It doesn’t really matter that much on YouTube, because most of the views and traffic to your videos won’t be brought by direct searches of people looking for that information. But will be brought from the recommendations of YouTube itself. It’s a recommendation engine! And 70%, I think, of the traffic of views within YouTube are brought like that. Those are not brought by direct searches. A user searches one query like this and ends up watching, I think it’s 60 minutes worth of video.
So yes, like the first five minutes are brought by that search, but the rest are pure recommendations. So you don’t only need to make sure that you have the relevance going on with the titles, descriptions, hashtags, tags, the typical relevant signs of optimization, but how do you engage the users so they keep watching?
I call this the retention of the user and the engagement of the user. How do you keep that user watching more? How do you make the user to like your video? To add a comment to the video? All of these types of interactions are what will tell YouTube refer to this video, suggest this video to more people from the sidebars or through other people who have watched videos similar to yours. How do you make people also subscribe to your channel? So next time you publish a video, by default they will be alerted that you have a new video and they will come directly to you.
So it’s a very powerful sort of social channel. And if you think about this.. Like with Google Discover, right? Which is potentially like the evolution of search. It’s a little bit of how Google will like to move like that, to be highly like a recommendation engine, pretty much. Which is just highly how YouTube works nowadays. It’s a very blended type of platform right now.
Joost: Google Discover in a way, ties into what Google did with Google Now as well, where they want to recommend you something before you’ve even searched for it. So they wanted to be there a bit more before that.
I have to say that even on my iPhone now I’ve enabled the alerts for Google Discover and sometimes it recommends articles to me that I literally hadn’t known anything about, but are very interesting. And I go like, how does it know me so well? Because it really is doing that very well.
Would you say that means that you.. I mean, we all notice this from watching YouTube, right? Everyone’s saying: Hey, subscribe to my channel or leave a comment or all that stuff. Would you say that that is the most important thing that you can do next to actually making good content?
Aleyda: For YouTube you mean to try to give that engagement? Yes! To be a good community manager on YouTube, yeah!
Joost: It leads to very funny things though. So my eldest son is 14 years old. I think he subscribes to like 400 YouTube channels. Which means that he gets pings all the time from different channels and he’ll never watch those. So the same thing is happening there as what happened with email and with every other channel that we have.
Aleyda: Attention. It’s essentially the same with newsletters, right? How many newsletters are out there, whatever. But I have to say they are powerful and they work well. And I have these, I think when I started to grow and do my own experiments. Realistically, the clients that I have had where the YouTube and video were already established. So they had their existing community already when I landed the opportunity to optimize their video to also leverage them for SEO, et cetera. So the hard part of the work was there.
If they have already 50K subscribers in their newsletter and like 100K social following and other channels beyond YouTube it’s very easy that whenever there’s a new video, everybody will be alerted. They will come, they will like. So again, the spiral comes in and YouTube will start recommending that video much more because of the first treatment. Five minutes after it has been published, so many people have already watched, liked and commented. So the powerful become much more easily even more powerful like that.
But I have to say that it is much harder when you’re starting from scratch. So for example, in my case – Crawling Mondays – I have 3K subscribers. I started to see which are the SEO players, main SEO players, who have more views, more following. And you see people like Neil Patel or Backlinko, or bigger brands that end up publishing webinars or videos of whatever topic there is in SEO. And more than SEO! PPC, social, whatever. Like SEMrush, for example, they are very strong on YouTube.
This, I think for me as an SEO for example, at the end of the day, it’s about branding too and expertise. And I, sorry, but the type of audience that I want to attract are not necessarily the audience that will necessarily talk about SEO for bloggers or SEO for blogging. It’s a little bit more sophisticated, right?
So realistically, how many people search for or are interested in how to implement hreflang annotations?
Joost: So in that regard, the size of your audience is something that really should depend on what’s your target market. So we build a plugin that we tried to build for a very, very large audience. I mean, there’s 11 million websites that are now running Yoast SEO. It’s a lot of different things and a lot of different people. Which also means that you have to be a bit more generic almost in how you do some of these things. I think the chances are for a lot of people that are using our software as well, if you want to optimize for something start small and start in that niche. Start really specific and with what you’re really good at, because there’s so many websites out there that try to rank for everything and will thus rank for nothing.
Aleyda: Yeah. 100%. And this is the thing, right? I do believe that – and I have watched a few people talking about this – even if I right now say ‘ah whatever I won, I won the numbers’. And I start all of a sudden, talking about why do you say SEO in general? Something like that. Or content marketing, or digital marketing for newbies 101, whatever. Since already my community, like the little one that this 3K people who are already subscribing, watch me. They will be the ones that will tend to be recommended these videos. But they will see these videos and they will say: oh, what the heck? And: these are not for me. They will dislike, or they won’t watch, et cetera.
YouTube won’t recommend them to new people. These videos will have less chances anyway, to be recommended. So again, you want to build expertise on a single specific area or topic that actually you add value, is unique to you and makes sense to you business wise rather than chase numbers.
But I mentioned this because vanity numbers, everybody that follows YouTube is like: oh how many subscribers do you have? Or how many views? And we’re like, that doesn’t necessarily matter. At the end of the day, it depends on your business model. Why do you want to build? Why are you doing the video thing, right?
Joost: Traffic numbers are not necessarily things that you need to worry about that much. One of the things I often tell people – and I mentioned this to Christie – we used to rank with yoast.com for the term Google analytics. That makes your search numbers look very cool because you get a lot of traffic, but most of that traffic will bounce because they’re not actually looking for you. They’re looking to log into Google analytics. So ranking for that term is absolutely useless. And it doesn’t really help.
So, and this is for all, I saw a lot of SEO that will consist of have you done your keyword research and have you really thought about what you want to rank for and what you’re good at? And that ties back to what is your product? What is your branding? What is the thing that you’re good at?
Aleyda: And why we shouldn’t focus on vanity metrics or desk metrics that should be indicators and some sometimes are tied and relevant and consistent with what you actually want to achieve. And sometimes that’s done. I think that a lot of people are also stressing about this.
You just made me remember this client that I used to have in the FinTech sector. All the sudden – after one of these rule updates – they started to rank for a very prominent bank name somehow, in the top position. And of course their traffic went crazily high. But then – this was one of those cases that you see tweaks two weeks after, you know, Google potentially doing some testing right there – and they falling again and not ranking for this anymore. And the client coming in like ‘Oh my God, such a pity, this traffic was amazing!’. I was like what the heck? This traffic didn’t convert at all! This didn’t make sense, it only made you look cool. It doesn’t matter.
Joost: If it doesn’t lead to conversions – whatever your conversions might be, whether that is selling someone or subscribing to your newsletter or whatever it is – then maybe it’s not worth optimizing for it. It’s probably one of the oldest lessons in SEO, but also one of the hardest to learn well.
Aleyda: But you know what, it’s one of those things that you still see. I have to say that I don’t have this issue with more established, bigger types of companies that have their own in-house SEOs, because they have done their evangelizing already in their organization.
But I do see it, these struggles for the shiny numbers. Yes they have all the money to spend because they have raised lots of money, but they have this pressure to grow crazily. And you still see, if I ask ‘for which keyword do you want to rank?’ and they tell you like CRM software, something like that. And I’m like yeah, let’s be realistic. It’s your first SEO process and iteration here. So you still see this issue. They will tell you the top term in their industry right there, right at the start, then go crazy about it.
Joost: It’s also a bit how VCs watch that market and often don’t know anything about SEO, but they do set the metrics that these startups have to get to.
Aleyda: Growth for growth. It is like this. Market share and yeah.
Joost: Yeah. Which can be quite meaningless if it’s not sustainable in the long term. Yoast as a bootstrapped company has certainly suffered a bit from that. So we’ve seen others come into the market with a lot of money from outside and then go away again because their business model was never sustainable. But it leads to very weird situations sometimes.
Aleyda: Yeah, 100%
Joost: So you do YouTube SEO, but there’s one other topic that would be remiss if we didn’t talk about it. You’re probably sick and tired of talking about it now, but you’re very good at international SEO. Basically all the stuff that I’ve known you for for the last few years.
When we started meeting each other, you were talking a lot about hreflang and all that stuff. I want to get your opinion on something. We are working on Schema a lot these days. And one of my dreams is for hreflang to change a bit and to be tied into Schema. Because it makes a lot more sense than what we’re doing right now. Because the Schema standard is a bit of a mess and is pretty hard to implement well. So what we’re thinking about is how can we tie Schema and hreflang to each other in a way that would make sense to everybody?
Is there anything that you think in hreflang that is very valuable that we should be using on the front end of our websites more? Have you ever seen an implementation of hreflang for instance, where they use it to power the language drop-downs on their site or stuff like that? It always feels to me as though these things are very separate processes and that feels so stupid.
Aleyda: Yeah. Well there is the thing. I think a lot of people, the way that they still see hreflang is like it will solve their internationalization issues and the lack of a correct and aligned international targeting. Because what they have at the moment, it doesn’t necessarily even well validate it or make sense of how their audience is split.
So some websites still.. When I start auditing a website and I see that they have an English version for Spain or a French version for the UK and things like that. Or an EU version as a whole in English. But we know that in the Netherlands you will be searching and Dutch and here in Spain we will be searching in Spanish. Or versions that overlay with each other and that don’t make much more sense. So I think that most of the issues with hreflang annotations come from that. In the first place they have a mess of a targeting and their hreflang annotations won’t fix that at the end of the day. They will only reflect that, unfortunately.
So that is the first thing that I see. Then, on the other hand, what I see as an issue with hreflang is that people think that they need to tag every single URL, because otherwise Google won’t be able to sort out their target market. It is not like this. Google has many methods and mechanisms to understand that you are using a ccTLD. It’s an alignment of signals. You’re using ccTLD or you have geo located this subdomain through the Google Search Console. Including your NAP data across your pages for your specific target market, things like that. So it’s not a one off type of configuration.
And then, by thinking that I need to implement hreflang annotations in every single URL, they end up doing it on pages that don’t have alternates in other countries or languages in the first place, or are highly dynamic URLs that are changing all the time. On eCommerce websites or marketplaces and product pages. It doesn’t make sense for you to go through that effort, realistically, because these are not the pages that we’ll have issues on being shown in different markets. At least in a way that is beneficial for you to go through the effort to implement that. So this is a problem.
I think that still the communication or the standing that a lot of people have with hreflang annotations, is thinking that they need to tag it all and it’s the only way to go, et cetera. The way that I have seen potentially that a lot of people have been able to leverage hreflang in a good positive way is when they are targeting only certain markets and they want to specify a version to be the default for all the markets that they don’t target specifically.
So for example, you have only a US or UK version, but you want to push strongly your Australian audience – for which you don’t have a specific one – to go to the UK instead of the US. Because of, I don’t know, the warranty or certain conditions that apply much more. To show that one instead of the US one, that will be the one that will tend to rank there better just because of popularity and authority and history, right?
So I have seen that it has been leveraged in that positive way, on many occasions. In many others.. In general, it should be one additional layer or signal or channel for you to communicate which are the right pages that should be shown in which markets.
For example, one area that I remember very well is that I had this company, this client that had – funnily enough – a Dutch version but they hadn’t been able yet to translate to Dutch. So it was in English. Within the HTML code everything was in English and the content was in English and also the HTML was specified, the meta language tag was in English. Everything was English as it should be. But then they were mad and worried that when you will search for something – even their brand that is going to be the same in English as in Dutch – the right version was not shown. And I was like, you know what it is, maybe it is because the user that is searching for this, their search engine version is not in English, it’s in Dutch. So Google is not identifying this as the right audience for your content, because your content is in English and they are looking for information in Dutch. So it’s not only about trying to push them. Some people try to push things that don’t make sense and even if you specify with hreflang or not, it won’t make sense. So it’s thinking more about tying those dots with your audience.
Now I have to say, with what you mentioned about trying to leverage Schema, to try to avoid an additional implementation like hreflang. I can totally see how it will make sense to specify the language of the information of a certain entity, for example. The other day I was being asked about this. And it was that question that I have never been asked. It was like: if I have this product in Japanese, should the information within the Schema for this product also be in Japanese? I was like: of course!
So it might be interesting or useful to specify the language. But then the problem will be that – since not everybody uses Schema – to tag or to specify all of the even potential types of elements out there or objects out there. There will be a lot of information that won’t be tagged or specified or annotated, right?
Joost: Well we’ve seen that, right? In a couple of markets. So in the recipes market, basically if you have a recipe site not using Schema is no longer an option because you simply won’t rank. And I think that’s going to happen for a lot more markets. One of the things that doing this – if we tied it a bit more to Schema – would actually be.. If you have a page and you have a fairly large quote from a book – and this happens a lot in sites where people are generally bilingual. So you’ll have Dutch sites that give large English quotes on a page that is otherwise in Dutch. If we do that well and we do it in a block-based markup thing where we can say: this quote is a quote and it is in English, but the rest of the page is in Dutch. You can actually help Google and other search engines to properly distinguish and say, okay this page is in Dutch even if a large section of it is in English because that’s actually just a quote.
That’s the sort of thing that Google will sometimes trip over that I think we can now properly fix with proper markup. And I just dream of a future where we can tie those things together and then do hreflang in the Schema so that we can actually have really cool graph instead of all these separate systems that are all related to each other.
Aleyda: Yeah. I do think for example now that you mention this.. You specify you have a product in this language and you have a sister version or another version of the same product that can be found across all these other languages or targeted to these other countries. It can certainly also make sense as a way to connect the dots of relationships between them.
Joost: Yeah. I just get really excited about thinking about it like that. And thinking Schema could be so much more. I think of Schema a lot more these days as the thing that maybe could be used as a data source for a lot of the functionalities on a page. So if I had the Schema on a page that knew about the other languages that this page existed in, I could have a language dropdown that is fed by the Schema, instead of the other way around. So I could make that language dropdown work automatically, because of that Schema on that page. I wouldn’t have to maintain two implementations. I think stuff like that is what makes me, as a developer, really excited about doing this better and making those standards better. Because I think that will, in the end, make our lives a lot easier. And it will make it a lot easier for everyone to implement this well.
Aleyda: Let’s see up to which point, because still today, Google hasn’t moved the international targeting report from the Google Search Console to the new version, to the new interface. Let’s see what happens. Because maybe they even say: you know this hreflang thing has happened in the past with others..
Joost: To be honest, it took me a while to figure out how hreflang works. I think fairly well how it works now, we have done quite a lot of big implementations now on projects we helped. So Jono and I built it on WordPress.org for instance. If you search for WordPress Plugins in Spanish, you’ll probably end up at es.wordpress.org. We’ve been working a lot on sites like that. I wouldn’t mind that standard going a way that much. Because it’s quite horrible.
Aleyda we can keep on talking for hours. I know that we can. But it’s been very great to have you on. Is there anything specific that you’d want to say to our audience? Other than that they should listen to you on Crawling Mondays on YouTube? You have an awesome newsletter people should subscribe to if they are really into search.
Aleyda: SEOfomo yeah, also known as SEOmofo too. I am used to changing the name.
Joost: Very good! Is there anything else they should know?
Aleyda: No, thank you very much for the opportunity. It was nice to be able to have this conversation about a little bit of everything. And of course, I am also very active on Twitter, you can follow me there! If you want anything regarding remote work you can go to remoters.net. We are in a moment that I would like to push and leverage as much as possible and we are more than happy to feature your job adverts for free, completely!
Joost: Very cool! Thanks a lot for being here Aleyda!
Aleyda: Thank you very much!
Read more about the topics discussed
Want to dive deeper into one (or a few) of the topics that we discussed in this podcast? Make sure to check out:
- What is local SEO?
- Video SEO: How to rank your videos in Google
- Our articles on international and multilingual SEO
- Our training course on International SEO