Christi Olson, on Search Engine Marketing
Joost de ValkFounder
Christi OlsonGlobal Media SEM Team Lead at Microsoft
In this episode
In this very first episode of the Yoast SEO podcast, Joost de Valk talks with Christi Olson, Global Media SEM Team Lead at Microsoft. In an honest conversation, Joost and Christi discuss their views on Search Engine Marketing.
Here’s a glimpse of the discussed topics:
- 3:35 – Bing’s name changes and updates in the algorithm
- 6:50 – What SEOs can learn from SEA tactics – and the other way around
- 14:06 – How did Search Engine Marketing tools evolve? What changed for the better and which updates do not seem to make anyone happy?
- 26:53 – How can the current Microsoft toolset help you to rank better on Search Engine Result Pages? Both paid and organic.
- 32:20 – Christi shares some sneak peeks into Microsoft e-commerce tools that currently are being developed.
- 36:50 – Christi’s advice for business that don’t know if they should invest in SEO or paid search
- 41:20 – Important Bing Webmaster tools updates from the past months
Transcript of this episode
Joost: Welcome everyone to actually the first ever Yoast SEO podcast. I don’t even know whether our guest Christie knows that she is the very, very, very first guest on this podcast. We’re going to be recording a lot of podcasts over the next couple of days, which are going out over a slightly longer period of time. So, maybe I’ll call everyone the first. I don’t know. We’ll see.
Today with me is Christi Olson. A long time friend from the SEO industry and SEM industry actually, I should say. Who has just switched jobs and because she works for Microsoft, her job title is longer than the average one. So I’m going to let her explain that job title herself, because it has something to do with SEM. That’s all I know.
Christi: I’ll give you the shortened version because it’s much easier on that. So I am the head of search for global media. That’ll be the easiest way to talk about it.
Joost: The head of search for global media. And what is global media within Microsoft?
Christi: So if you imagine it has essentially a centralized marketing team that is its own marketing agency. So we do not line up to any one given business group. We work across every single business group. And so I’m responsible for any paid search effort that goes out on behalf of Microsoft globally. Nothing big there.
Joost: That is a lot. I can imagine not being a lot of different things. Is that also probably the single biggest, money flow from Microsoft to Google?
Christi: Yes, I would guess it is, yes. Although Google will never admit it.
Joost: So this includes LinkedIn advertising and stuff related to that?
Joost: Cool. So that is a lot. And you only recently started there, right?
Christi: Yeah, I am officially – I was going to say 30 – but now it’s 33 days into the new role. As you know, before I was the Head of Evangelism for Search at Microsoft. So the main difference between that role and this role is now I’m responsible for the execution of search campaigns, but I’m still doing a lot of the internal education of how search works and functions. And unfortunately, I also am no longer directly tied into the webmaster tools team. But I’m still syncing with them regularly and keeping abreast of all the changes and updates that are happening there.
Bing’s name changes and updates in the algorithm
Joost: The webmaster tools team has been doing a lot of great work. Honestly the last few months I’ve seen so much come out of it. It’s shown more. It’s really cool to see that. In general, I have to say having been in search for, I was just thinking about how long it’s been. I think it’s 15 years now for me. Probably somewhat like that for you? I don’t even know, to be honest, maybe the longer for you. How long have you been in search?
Christi: I started doing search-related activities in 2004, but I didn’t actually make a career change into search until too late, 2005. So I’m also on that 15-year mark.
Joost: Yeah. So for me it’s easy because I started doing it right before my oldest son was born. So it’s always like how old is he? And it’s somewhere in there. Having been in there for so long, I’ve seen Microsoft go from like cool to like basically, well, Bing has had like five names. It’s now Microsoft Bing again.
Joost: I’m anticipating a change to Microsoft search somewhere in the next two years.
Christi: No comment. I have no idea. I think my favorite was.. in February Barry Schwartz the coordinator was like: ‘Can you promise me you will not change this name again?’ I’m like: ‘I can promise you I won’t change the name, but that doesn’t mean anything for what they do at corporate.’
Joost: Yeah! It’s so funny. It’s probably the search engine that has changed his name the most. It hasn’t really changed in how it works. So that’s good in many ways. Although it has improved a lot.
Christi: It’s improved. I’d say the biggest change happened when we launched it as Bing back in 2009. I think it was in February when we launched Bing. And that’s why it really did a swap. Because that’s when they moved over to really – instead of being manual algorithms – to really focusing on the AI side of how they have created that algorithm that is no longer a manually adjusted component. That’s when we launched out there.
I think it’s safe to say we were first to market with having a fully automated AI-based algorithm. That when somebody asks: well, this happened, why? It’s like, well, we can tell you the main components of the algorithm, but we can’t give you the exact detail for every single site on the ranking side, because we have now essentially handed it over to deep learning. And let the neural net figure it out from there.
It’s not that we don’t know. It’s just when you have 200 to 400 different components that are modules against each other that are ranking, you can’t know the exact nuance of which of those 200 different components is causing the end on the full-page algo.
Joost: And one of the things that always surprised me about the difference between Microsoft and Google in this regard, is that Microsofties are.. Can I say this? Yeah, I probably can. Slightly more honest about not knowing stuff. You can’t say anything about that, I bet, this is how politics work.
Christi: Well, I think it’s part of that. I mean, it’s been around for quite some time. Trying to be completely honest and transparent about what we know, what we don’t know. But also one of the things I’d say – that I know in my role of evangelist – I really pushed our engineering org and pushed our PR teams to still allow us to speak openly. About what’s happening from a ranking standpoint. What’s happening within the algorithms. Because it doesn’t help us to build relationships with the search community if we just say no comment, no comment, no comment. Or: yes, there are factors involved in ranking. So it’s one that it did take some time to show like we are not giving away the keys to the kingdom. But by being transparent about what we are including and what we aren’t including, it actually helps other people engage with us better. And know how they need to be tweaking the optimizations on their site to improve their overall rankings.
What SEOs can learn from SEA tactics – and the other way around
Joost: Okay. So now we’re in 2020, you’re in charge of SEM and I find myself wondering, I know disturbingly little about paid search advertising. I’ll admit that. Every time I hear Google talk about paid search advertising, it feels as though more and more SEO stuff is seeping into SEA. As in tough more and more of the ranking factors we get that are important for us, are important for SEM as well. Is that true? Or is it actually still, if you spend more money you do better and it has nothing really to do with anything else.
Christi: Well, this it’s actually a great question. Because I think, what most people think, is that SEM is a little bit of ‘you just put money at it and it works’. But in all reality, in terms of rankings on search, it is a combination of money and then we have what’s called quality score.
So if you imagine there are three concentric circles that overlap. One is on the keyword to the query relevance. Then you have the ad copy to the keyword and the query relevance. And the third circle is your landing page to the query relevance. So if those three areas are aligned and you’re in the middle and you have a high quality score, then you pay less. So it could actually be possible to have the lowest bid, but the highest quality score and actually rank on top of the search results.
So it is a little bit like organic search, except there’s a lot more transparency on the quality factors. And it relates to those three core factors in addition to the bids. So you really can create your own mini algorithm. They’ll tell you the quality score. So you can look into Google and Bing and see here is my quality score and know based on these three components. There are breakdowns in Microsoft advertising. You get a report that tells you, do you rank high, medium, or low for each of those three components – to tell you it’s your landing page that sucks. You need to optimize your landing page. It is the relevancy of your keyword to the query.
So that’s when you need to go in and think about the longer tail queries or negative matching, et cetera, to improve on that side. So it is similar, but it isn’t. I think we just get a little more visibility on the three core components.
Joost: Does that mean you’re also telling people to optimize their landing pages purely for SEM all the time?
Christi: It depends on who you talk to. I tell people for the most part, no. But also, yes. So you should not be optimizing your landing pages solely for paid search. But for paid search campaigns it is helpful if you have some control of being able to give guidance of here’s the top words we are trying to rank for, so let’s make sure that the landing pages are relevant to those terms and phrases. When applicable.
Because let’s say we are Microsoft and we are doing Azure cloud computing. We are not going to be up to optimizing our campaign or landing page for AWS. Let’s just be transparent about it. So we would not. But there are ways you can add copy of comparing AWS to Azure in a side-by-side comparison. That can help improve your landing page. So there are things we can do from a landing page testing perspective and landing page optimization side that might end up helping with organic search, but will in the paid space can just net out in the long run.
Joost: If you have to choose, what do you prefer? SEM or SEO?
Christi: Everybody hates me when I answer this question. I love paid slightly more than SEO because literally I can go and I can make the change today and I can see the results in hours. And so you have a lot more control versus SEO. You sort of know what the main factors are.
You can make the updates and then you pray that in 3 to 6 to 12 weeks – sometimes even longer – that you start to see the changes happening. In paid search, you can make changes and see them right away. With organic search, you don’t know what changes your competitors are making also at the same time. So while you might be thinking that you’re going to be improving over competitor A, B and C, if they are also making changes and optimizing at the same time.. Everything you do could be new.
Joost: True. But at the same time, a lot of it changes – if you are working on Microsoft properties – a lot of the changes will reflect quite quickly in search, I imagine. Because they’re quite heavily crawled sites. And, well, Google comes by a lot. So SEO can be very effective. I know that on yoast.com stuff works instantly and yoast.com is quite smaller than Microsoft.
Christi: Well, I’d say it’s not that it’s not effective. It’s just, I love the fact that we can see it in real-time and see the levers. The other one that I appreciate with paid – and again, it goes back to one of the reasons I came back to Microsoft to do search and I love paid search – is we have the opportunity to use a lot of different tools. So we have some testing tools where essentially I can own content modules on a page and I can run, 40 or 50 variations of copy and text on a given page. To see what works from a quality score standpoint and what works best for conversion and doing just on-page optimization.
So landing page optimization to me is a lot of fun that you don’t necessarily, you can’t tweak it quite that much in organic search. And I have to say, and you know, I’ve done organic search. So I was the search person for Windows way back in the day. And it was one where I came from a paid search background, I thought I was managing paid search. Then they handed me the keys to the website and said: congratulations, you’re now doing SEO. I was like: Oh, I’ve heard about this. So I got my feet wet in SEO by taking over all of Windows during the migration of four domains down to a single domain. So everything that I’ve been hearing my counterpart in search, Dwayne Forester, talk about, I actually then got to do myself and get very hands-on to learn it.
I had a lot of fun with that project and I’ve still managed to keep a foot in the door for organic search. Paid is where my passion has been since I started. It’s what I started with.
Joost: It’s fine! For you to be the first guest on the Yoast SEO podcast, and then talk about SEM basically tells everything about what I want this show to be. Which is wide and in all her actions.
Christi: What I would say on this – and I tell this to paid search professionals and SEO professionals. We are in search. You might specialize in paid, you might specialize in organic. I really strongly recommend if you’re in paid search, understand how organic search operates functions. Get to know the algorithms, get to understand how whole page algorithms work. Because that determines how content and the different types of content show up on the page in order to entice individuals to click.
For organic search: understand paid. Because you can get a lot of really great insights into the different queries and keywords that people are looking for. That you then take into your organic search strategy for creating new pages, optimizing your content, and looking at where you go and develop themes and/or topics, based on what users are looking at and engaging. You just get it a little bit faster I think, during the paid search side. Because if you have a budget, you can ratchet that budget up and you literally can get – well, you used to literally be able to get every keyword under the sun – on the paid search side, in a report available to you.
How did Search Engine Marketing tools evolve? What changed for the better and which updates do not seem to make anyone happy?
Joost: Thank you Christi. I really liked that. It used to be able to get every keyword. I mean, you pay people to get everything right? Oh no, wait, Google changed that, right?
Chrisi: It got changed. So, and this is where I sometimes I’m going to take my Microsoft hat off and put my paid search hat. So don’t view me as a person speaking on behalf of Microsoft. This is my own personal opinion.
So if you weren’t aware, in the paid search community our world got rocked in the early September timeframe because Google made an announcement. They are no longer going to be giving all query data in the paid search query reports. I know within – and Joost you and I were talking about this before we started. I think it was 2012, maybe 2013, when ‘keyword not provided’ showed up. In paid search, we’ve always said: Hey, we get access to all of our data. Well effective. Pretty much this month, Google has said, you know what? It’s pretty costly to store all that data. Especially when you have these queries that are getting searched once or twice, or it might not be driving a lot of clicks, but they are driving impressions across your accounts. So we’re just not going to send them to you anymore.
Joost: Yeah, I honestly don’t buy that. It probably has a lot more to do with the GDPR reasoning and other stuff that drove the whole organic search decision eight years ago. But it must still not be very pleasant on your end.
Christi: No. And I’d say on the paid search community, it has not been well received across the board. Again, we were talking that I am more likely to stand up when I disagree with the decision being made both at Google and at Bing for my paid search expertise. Cause I’ve been in this space so long. And on paid search side we are spending money in order to drive traffic to our site.
So when the fact that you are giving money in and then you can’t see, even though they are tail terms. Depending on the account, some of these tail terms are driving anywhere from 15% to 30% or 40% of the traffic. To your campaigns. So if you imagine you’re optimizing to a very specific revenue target or revenue goal, or cost per acquisition goal, and 30% to 40% is now a black box that you can’t touch.
It really hinders your ability to make your site or to do it profitably. If it makes it hard to be profitable, then how do you then justify the spending going on that backend now?
Joost: Right. It’s insane. I remember one of the clients I used to work for a long time ago, over a decade ago. So I’m going to assume that NDA is long gone by now. They sold hospital beds to hospitals. Which is not like the most searched for query in the world. Well, these days that is slightly different, but it used to not be a very highly trafficked query. I think they got like two conversions on three clicks. Those were very, very relevant queries to them as they made them tens of thousands of euros on just a couple of clicks. And now you’d not be able to see what that traffic came for and what they were actually searching for.
Christi: I have to say – like part of it, there’s a lot of people in the search space that are nervous about speaking up, especially individuals at agencies. And for the individual agencies, Google is their lifeblood. They need to have Google ads out there so they can advertise. Cause if Google says, you know what, you disagreed with this and were very vocal about it, we’re turning you off. Their agency’s gone.
I’ve talked to a handful of other people that I’m friends with in the paid search space. And so I’m willing to stand up, because what are they going to do? Tell Microsoft you can’t advertise? I’m pretty sure that would be a lawsuit in and of itself to say like: no, the person that runs search on your side said something we didn’t like. They’re not going to be able to do that.
Joost: I think it’s good for you to speak up about that, honestly. Because we don’t do SEM much. We don’t talk about it much. But I’d be relatively happy to speak up about it. The good thing about being Yoast SEO is that with 11 million sites that run Yoast SEO saying ‘we throw everyone running Yoast SEO out of the search results’ is no longer really an option for them.
Well, we are in a position where we can sometimes say: this is a bad idea. There’s a lot of these ideas that come out of Google, that sometimes you just have to push back on. And sometimes you have very good ideas too. It’s just like they’re human.
Christi: When I put a tweet out there that – like 20 minutes after the announcement came out – saying this is a terrible idea. This is horrible. And I had our PR person and my manager called me and said: ‘Hey, we saw you tweeted negatively about this. Do you know if we are planning on doing something similar at Microsoft advertising?’. In all honesty, it’s not that I don’t care. I will stand up to our engineering team if they say they’re going to follow suit and I will give them all the reasons why everybody in the industry is making similar comments. Like saying this is a horrible idea. I do somewhat get it and where this is headed.
It’ll be interesting to hear your thoughts on this. So in the paid search space, what we are also hearing as part of the reason this decision is coming down, is because the search engines and I’ll just do this broadly. I won’t go specifically to Google. The search engines have invested heavily in AI on the backend, to essentially help with the optimization of accounts. We no longer have exact match. We no longer have phrase match or broad match. They’re all –ish. So it’s all –ish matching. So it’s exact-ish, which could also be phrase and exact at the same time. Broad is no longer broad.
So with all of the AI adjusting how optimization happens. What they’re saying is: because it’s no longer exact match, it’s all -ish matching. And we have smart bidding, for which you give us the conversion pixel in the backend of your site and we optimize it for you. We will drive the queries we think are relevant. Like everything is going to the pact of ‘you just give us money until the goal and that we will just run it for you’. I understand the value of AI. I understand how it can help. I’m a little bit more leery on the ‘you just give us the cash and you tell us the goal and we’ll make it work in the long run’.
Joost: So I come to this with two different perspectives. One: doubt of an SEO. But two: doubts of a European. I don’t believe those tracking pixels will work the way they think they will work two to three years from now. Because there’s a lot of legislation coming and there’s a lot of tightening of what they’re allowed to do on what they can and can’t do. Which I think is a good thing as a European, because I don’t really like being tracked everywhere all the time. The fact that is out there. And for instance, in Germany, a large percentage of people run ad blockers and stuff like that. It makes all of these systems a bit weird if they’re only optimizing for that for the end goal. When a quarter of the traffic doesn’t ever get to that end goal, because they can’t measure that. So that’s weird.
And from a SEO perspective. I actually think we got slightly less good at SEO as a community when we lost that data. Because we were just not able to optimize pages for the traffic it got. And it worked the other way around as well. It often worked to we’re ranking for a term that we don’t really want to rank for. And you’d optimize away from that I remember. We had a Google Analytics for WordPress plugin at Yoast for quite a long time. And we used to rank number four for Google Analytics. Which would be very funny in your impressions, but there’s no clicks. All the clicks you got are nonsense because people are not looking for you when they search for Google Analytics. So you’d optimize away from that.
Christi: You spend time optimizing something that doesn’t help your business because you can’t give the right guidance on that side.
Joost: Yeah and this is what happens to a lot of people. So it’s a shame and I think it’s not necessarily a good idea. Now they have given that data back somewhat through Google search console, which is useful. It’s not to the granularity I’d like it to be. But it’s better than nothing.
Christi: I think I would be less vocal if they would give us the criteria for when they are going to restrict. Cause the phrasing – and I don’t have it in front of me, normally I’d read it so I could be exact – it was fairly broad. It says: if the volume isn’t enough or there aren’t enough clicks. I’m like, well, what does enough mean? Define enough?
Because I run campaigns that are in the tens of millions of dollars a month. And I know people that are also.. it was funny. We got a request this last week to run a campaign in Canada for $192 a month. And we’re like, okay. So I’ve got people working on tens of millions of dollars and then: 192.
Joost: The funny thing is, that sometimes the 192 probably has a lot more impact in some ways than the tens of millions of dollars. With the tens of millions of dollars it often doesn’t really matter whether you spend $1 million less or more. But on 192, $10 more or less is a really big difference.
Christi: Yeah, it makes it fun. But I think one of the things you’re alluding to is just like the usefulness of data and insights and tools. Like I’ve used the Yoast plugin for my own personal sites, which – please don’t look at them guys as a reflection of my ability to do SEO or my ability to write content, because I literally will post something like every three years. And then I go back to having to write for other publications and coming back. But at one point I did it much more regularly, frequently, and I was using the tools to get insights and to help with the optimization side. The tools that we have access to from organic or paid really are our lifeblood. And they tell us and guide us for what we can do or should do.
Joost: Yeah. So we recently launched an integration with SEMrush and I really liked those guys. We’ve been working well together, but the overall quality of keyword data in the industry is going down and down and down. Because all the data it’s just going away. It’s a shame because nobody has very good keyword data anymore. Other than all being in some places and some people that have access to a slightly larger size, like the people working from Microsoft. But for normal people, there isn’t all that much good data anymore out there. And especially not in non-English. That is very painful.
It seems like almost every SEO tool out there neglects the non-English market for a lot of things. It’s one of my pet peeves with the industry that we have. People spend money when they’re Dutch and German as well. And while German is still relatively big.
Christi: Well I bet there’s a tool. What is that called? Ryte? I bet focuses on German quite well.
Joost: They do German quite well, yeah. I am willing to back that as a certain Ryte founder will show up on this podcast at some point, because he’s a very good friend of both Christy and myself.
There are absolutely tools that do some of these languages well, but it’s hard. If you’re Dutch, like I am. I mean the Dutch market is a negligible part of Yoast SEO in terms of size. But you will you look at it and you go like: okay, so where is the Dutch keyword data? It’s basically nowhere to be found anymore, other than scraping Google suggest. Which is the most annoying thing ever to do.
How can the current Microsoft toolset help you to rank better on Search Engine Result Pages? Both paid and organic.
Anyway, we mentioned Google analytics, but Microsoft launched a new analytics tool as well. Clarity. We were emailing a bit about that. I’ve played with it. You haven’t, you said.
Christi: No I haven’t. I’ve gotten the live demos of it. So the team has met with me multiple times. They’ve given me live demos. I made introductions to get it on the Microsoft advertising website. And I know that we are in process.
I don’t know if anybody else out there can resonate with this. But sometimes when we start to say there’s new technology, we want it to get integrated on the backend of our website. Sometimes the queue can take longer than you would prefer. So I know we started the conversations about integration. I think it was probably about a year ago. I don’t know cause it’s a different team and I haven’t followed up if they actually did the integration. But clarity is a type of analytics to give real-time insights. It’s not analytics like Google analytics in the sense of here are the keywords coming in. It’s how are individuals engaging with the content on your site and the content in different locations on the site?
Joost: Yeah, and it has the most hilarious metric ever called rage clicks. Which I absolutely adore already. And I’ve only looked at it for my own site and for my own blog (joost.blog) and yoast.com. But it’s actually very insightful.
Christi: Where did you have rage clicks?
Joost: Well, it’s literally things where you see that people are clicking, thinking that it’ll go somewhere. Where something is not a button where it should be a button. And it’s the most stupid, simple insights that you actually overlook on your own site. So this is already more useful than a lot of the analytics I look at. It’s also hilariously simple to use and it records sessions as well in a way that Hotjar does and a couple of other tools out there. It’s free. They allow you to send more than a million page views a day and then it’s still free. It’s ridiculous that you all are doing this. But I’m very happy that you are because it basically means that there is an alternative in some ways to Google analytics. Which I think is good for everyone.
Christi: It’s interesting because when you look across the Microsoft ecosystem. There are so many different teams that are creating these amazing tools and platforms that people just aren’t aware of. Even internally, a lot of people aren’t aware of them. I’ve heard about them because when I was doing the evangelism site, the teams would come to me and be like: what can we do to get in front of these audiences? Can we do a blog post? Can you go out and speak and add demos to this at conferences and events. Because there are so many different facets of the tool.
There’s one that’s pretty interesting as well. We are working with Instagram influencers. And there is a SERP module that you can boost your Instagram posts to people who are interested in the topics and categories you most often post on Instagram. To help drive your influence ability. So drive your likes and drive your followers.
Joost: Did you use it for your own Instagram?
Christi: What’s funny is I actually didn’t have a big enough base and I really didn’t have a ton of posts. So I’m starting to do that. Now, if you guys follow me on Instagram, it is not about search. I decided I have enough about search in almost every aspect of my life. So if you follow me on Instagram, it is all about makeup or my children. So it’s a very niche audience. Most search people follow me and then they send me a message like what is this?
Joost: Well, I love it. But it’s also like, the children part sort of resonates with me. The makeup part doesn’t really resonate with me. If you’re listening to this, you can’t see us, but we have quite different skin complections. I would describe Christi as ginger and well I’m white. I tend to turn brown in the sun quite easily.
Christi: Yeah and I do not!
Joost: It’s fun to see though. It’s hilarious because you’re actually engaging with Instagram in a way that’s actually fun. You’re just trying to do something there, which is awesome. I just see a marketer trying something, which is cool to see. Your own experience.
Christi: And I don’t have a ton of followers, but I do think it’s somewhat hilarious. I’ve had six or seven different companies send me free products to try, which is amazing for somebody who only has like 500 followers.
Joost: That market is so good. The margins must be incredibly good. And so everything is about marketing. It’s very interesting. I’ve heard the same from people blogging about beer, that it can be very beneficial for your beer collection.
Christi: And not beneficial for your waistline.
Joost: Yeah. So I tried to go to the gym three times a week to offset all these ideas.
Christi shares some sneak peeks into Microsoft e-commerce tools that currently are being developed.
Christi: No, but that influencer tool is a really cool one that literally has gotten virtually no press behind it. There are tools coming out right now, it is on Edge. So I know maybe people have not heard of Edge. Edge is a Microsoft browser.
Joost: It is by far the best Chrome type of browser out there. It’s super fast. It’s hilarious how fast your browser becomes if it doesn’t send all your data to Google. It’s super fast and it runs on Linux too now, which I was very surprised with, to be honest when that came out.
Christi: Yeah, you asked me a lot of very tough questions when I talked to the SEO Oktoberfest group about the swap of Edge and how it’s going to be running on Linux and Chromium. There were a lot of really tough questions that came at me on that backend that I could not necessarily answer all of them.
But with Edge, there’s a new feature coming out. In the USA, there’s a competitive product called Honey where it goes out and finds all the different potential shopping discount codes for a given website. And they’re launching it with like a hundred+ websites. That if you’re using Edge, it’s literally there and you can hit a button and it’ll show all the discount codes to try. To get your discounts while you’re shopping.
Joost: So, what this means is y’all have to stop using these discount codes when you shop. Because it basically becomes absolutely bloody useless.
Christi: Well, because it becomes so easy! To me, it just baffles me. I’m like, why do people not search for the affiliate code or the discount codes? Like they’re out there, you can use them. I’m pretty sure that Papa Murphy’s in the US must hate me because I use the 40% off code every single Friday.
Joost: Yeah, but the thing is: either you are still making money with that or they don’t care. It’s so weird how these things work, but it’s one of the first things that I’ll always suggest. Like, have you tried taking the discount code field out of your checkout and see what that did to your revenue? Because I mean, very often it’ll do very good things to your revenue if you just don’t show that box. It drives me nuts. It’s a fun improvement, but at the same time, that’s also the power of search engines and browsers, probably even more in a way shown just by that, right? I mean you can do that now because Edge no longer has the market share that of Explorer used to have way back in the days. But if Google did that, then the whole world would be crying.
Christi: I don’t know if they would. I mean, right now there are Chrome extensions that do the same type of thing. It’s just not Google pulling it and surfacing. It’s interesting because within Bing itself we have a different layout, to begin with, and when launched Bing than Google. Google was still just the search box and it was the 10 blue links on the page with the ad module up above. And that’s where we started introducing like knowledge graph that are the knowledge panels off to the side, instant answers on the top. Pulling some of the location information and the local search modules into. So even now we have coupon ones where we have modules, depending on the query somebody types, that will pull the coupons directly into the SERP.
And so now it’s just making it so that, instead of just pulling it to the SERP, it’s in the browser itself. So that if you have this widget essentially added on, it just tells you what they are. But it’s this idea of within Bing and Edge as a whole, it is trying to make search relevant where you are. So it’s relevant results that you can trust at the ease of your fingertips. So Edge – while it is a browser – it’s relevant results to what you are doing.
Joost: If it’s relevant, I assume it’s good for the user. But at the same time, it is sort of disintermediating a whole industry.
Christi: We have a lot of friends to fill in the space. I think they’ll love it. They will, but I think it also goes back to.. Again, instead of this being an SEO podcast let’s talk about this as a marketing podcast. Because there’s a lot of companies that do discount codes and they don’t think about the adoption rate of the discount code and what that does to their margin. It goes back to the Groupon and is Living Social still around?
The Groupon deal. People would go and they’d give these amazing discounts without thinking about the margin impact and what happens if you sell without putting limitations on them. And – at least in the States in the first couple of years that they came out – businesses went out of business because they couldn’t keep up with the demand for the discounts versus regular customers. They had all these one-time customers and they didn’t have a model in place to entice them to come back and entice them to use them.
Christi’s advice for business that don’t know if they should invest in SEO or paid search
Joost: Let’s go one step back. You do a lot of SEM. You’ve done a lot of SEO. If you were to invest now as a business in these times – because for some businesses, it’s rather hard times – what would you invest in? In terms of search marketing?
Christi: So number one, I would look overall on the SEO side. I would make sure that you have your website really up and running optimized first before you start investing in the paid search side. Because you have to have a solid website that loads quickly and gives individuals the right type of information based on what they’re looking for.
So understanding that user intent, understanding what your customers need, want and desire and making sure your site answers that. Then, after you have that solid basis of SEO, if you have budget and when you have budget, use that to essentially help subsidize your SEO. So it’s never, to me, it’s never an either or an or. Do you ever do just SEO or just paid search? I think it’s actually really smart to do both. And you have to think through what is your strategy going to be? Because organic search is the long game. It is the marathon that you’re running paid search is more like the sprint.
Do you have something launching that might not appear in the top results of in the SERP right away? That you want to get eyeballs in front of? Are there audiences that you are trying to go after that might not know of you or be looking for you? Then you can use the audience targeting and audience remarketing within search to reach those individuals. You can do competitor conquesting within paid search in a way that is very expensive but can get you in front of your competitors’ eyeballs at the right moment in time. So that you are a part of that consideration set and that you can sort of disrupt a purchase flow in a way, if you do it the right way.
So do your SEO first, but then think about where are those inflection and injection points that if you have money that you can use them? I’m not saying you need to target thousands of keywords. There are actually campaigns I’ve run where I’ve come in and they had a couple thousand dollars a month and they had hundreds of keywords. I’m like: nope! 15, we’re going to target 15, very targeted terms and phrases. We’re going to be very specific with how we do this based on your goals and what you trying to do. The goal isn’t everything under the sun. Let’s get really specific with what you’re going to do on that end. But then make sure you invest in the organic search side. Because as I said before, the landing page quality is a third of your quality score. So if that landing page, which then hits the core SEO like site speed. Does it have interstitials? Can they find what they’re looking for on the page? Is it relevant to the query into the search term? That still has to happen. SEO has to be there.
Joost: In a way you’re telling me SEM has become harder than SEO.
Christi: I don’t know I’d say it’s harder. I’d say it has gotten incredibly complex with all of the different targeting that you can do. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing with the complexity that comes in.
What I am sad about and you actually touched on this earlier is GDPR. And the fact we’re moving toward this cookieless world, but that we rely on cookies and cookie data to build our audience and audience targeting. There is so much super cool stuff you can do with audience targeting that most people are not doing. At least to the granular I like to run them.
I put on my Jono hat. Jono during his evil life. I may do something the way they hadn’t thought about it. But organic search is still complex, because of the algorithms on the organic side. Google doesn’t fully disclose its algorithm and they change the weighting of things regularly. And they will occasionally just add something completely new in there. Then you see the giant dance happened with all the search results. And you have to go back to okay, what was the change? What was the thing I had done in the past that was acceptable? That is now not acceptable? And go back to rejigger years worth of strategy.
Joost: Although it has been a while, to be honest. I find myself going back to my old slides every once in a while. And then I realized that my slides from 10 years ago are actually still pretty relevant to a lot of what we do today. With some new technical stuff added by Google, but that’s mostly it.
Okay. We’re gonna wrap it up because I know I can talk to you for ages. And that probably means you just shoot me back at some point during a later podcast. Is there anything that you want to touch on that we haven’t touched on?
Important Bing Webmaster tools updates from the past months
Christi: So I do have one thing: webmaster tools.
So Bing’s webmaster tools. Joost mentioned this early on, but I am so proud of Fabrice and Frederick. And I am now going to mention everybody’s name Michael, the entire master tools team. Kata who’s done such a great job of listening to the feedback and input that y’all within the search space have given them. One of the feedback we heard is ‘I don’t use the tool because it’s not fast, it’s not easy to use, it’s not as intuitive’. So Joost said: ‘Oh, in the last few months, there’s been an update every month’. We’ve been working on this for years to completely change the backend and the infrastructure. So we could release this brand new version of webmaster tools. It really is the idea that we are trying to figure out how do we help you with your indexing, your crawling, your discoverability, and what you need to do from an optimization side on the backend of your site.
So if you have not checked Bing webmaster tools out or you haven’t looked at it in the last 10 months. I would really challenge you to go back and look at it. Because we updated webmaster guidelines. We updated webmaster guidelines and we’re more specific in telling you here’s what we use for ranking. Here are the different factors.
Joost And the funny thing is that a lot of the data that you find in Bing webmaster tools also applies to Google. So what I found looking at it again, was that it crawls slightly differently than Google. But if it finds a lot of errors, Google will have those errors too. So you need to fix them. It’s basically the only really free SEO tool out there that does a pretty good job of crawling your site and telling you where it’s broken, et cetera. So think everyone should be using it.
Christi: Well the principles that the engineering team went back with, they really wanted to say: ‘Let’s keep the design cleaner. Let’s make it responsive with faster, more actionable toolsets.’ And we knew that there were issues on mobile. We had to fix the mobile side.
And I don’t know if the mobile is a hundred percent fixed. I’ve still seen some screenshots come through of this one’s acting a little wonky. We’re still working on that. Previously, I wanted to say we had 50 navigable links of ways you could interact with the toolset. Too many. People couldn’t figure it out. So let’s reduce that down to the core set of functional tools that help you get actionable. I think right now we have 15 to 20. It might be 17 right there in the middle.
And because of the crawling differences.. Fabrice announced this, it must’ve been at Pubcon, so it was early last month. We re-released essentially the SEO Explorer. It used to be the site Explorer. We had a version of this and the original webmaster tools, but let me tell you, you needed a PhD and you really had to understand discoverability crawlability to get it to work.
Now it is really easy to essentially see how Bing is crawling your site. How are the sub-directories, what is the traffic? Pulling everything into a single screen to make it easier to understand.
Joost: It’s very useful. It’s really well done and I have to say it’s refreshing to see that happen from Bing. So, we’re very happy with it. That joke I tend to make – and I’m sorry for making it Christi – is that I wish people would see how good Bing the search engine is and would actually use it a bit more. Because then the tool would even be more useful.
Even if you’re just doing optimization for Google, it’s still a very useful tool for everybody. It’s free. You can just try it, click around, play with it, and then get frustrated because you see all the errors on your site. The average webmaster that logs into a tool like this for the first time, will go like: ‘I have this many 404s on my website’ and yes you do.
Every single big site I’ve consulted on in my past, I stepped in and I was like: ‘Okay. So we have like a half-million 404s. Let’s fix those and then we can work through some other stuff.’
Christi: I’m going to poke you a little bit. Cause the other thing we released, which I love, is the ability to push your updates directly into Bing. So that we are real-time indexing. I know we had talked about getting the Yoast plugin integrated.
Joost: Oh the problem with these APIs, is that they’re not built to be shipped to open-source software. So they require an API key and they require a registration process for that API key, I can’t put a normal user through. I desperately want to build it and we have a way around it now. I think that that will work, but it’s hard. It’s one of the things that you.. if you look at Google’s site kit WordPress plugin, which is very good as well. They’ve been doing a really good job and well, Google has a team on WordPress specifically now. Which is something I hope we all get Microsoft to do at some point as well. They’ve built a lot of infrastructure on google.com to be able to support that plugin. Because they need an API key for every specific site, which makes life incredibly hard. Shipping stuff out to 11 million websites sometimes takes them a bit more thought than I wanted to take.
Christi: Well I shouldn’t say.. I’m just going to poke on this side. We’ve been talking about it for two or three years now..
Joost: Yeah and I want it. And honestly, I want it for Google too. Because Google has an API like that as well, which they have only opened for jobs and a couple of other things officially. Which seems to work for more than just that. But the thing is if we integrate stuff like that, it has to work completely and for everyone. Because if I do that on 11 million sites and it breaks, I’ve taken down Google already once and I’m not willing to do it again.
Christi: I’ll give you 5 dollars!
Joost: Yeah, so there’s some caveats there. And from a technical perspective, for the geeks listening, oAuth2 is hard, I want oAuth1 back because it was a lot easier for us to ship that in open-source software. Anyway, with that Christie, I want to really thank you for your time. I hope you’ll be back someday.
Christi: I hope to, as the pleasure is all mine, I always have fun talking with you.
Joost: Very good. Thank you and talk to you soon.
Want to know more about the topics discussed during this podcast? These blog posts might be interesting for you:
- An introduction to Microsoft Bing Webmaster Tools
- An introduction to Microsoft Clarity
- Elements of the Google Search Engine Results Page (SEO and SEA)
- Complete beginner’s guide to SEO