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Time for Marketing

Aug 2019

23 - Paul Shapiro - Redefining technical SEO

August 19, 2019

Another speaker from the Mozon conference, Paul Shapiro is the person behind one of the most important SO subreddits, /r/bigSEO, he has a very unique blog on Search Wilderness and runs a Technical SEO conference.

Here are his slides from the presentation, and you should go and check out his blog post, where you can find all the code that he talks about in the presentation.

Here is the transcript of the podcast:

Paul Shapiro: There are four types of technical SEO.


Peter Mesarec: This is Time for Marketing, the marketing podcast that will tell you everything you've missed when you didn't attend the marketing conference.


Peter: Hello and welcome to the Time for Marketing, the podcast that brings you all of the information from the marketing conferences that you have missed or were not able to attend. This is episode number 23. We are big into our second year of podcasting. My name is still, from the beginning to the end, Peter and I'm your host for the podcast. If you love the podcast, of course, go and subscribe. If you would like to be on our newsletter or mailing list, you can find it on our website timeformarketing.com. All of that just to start off because we have to go directly into our content. We have a great guest here with us today. Paul Shapiro, hello and welcome to the podcast.

Paul: Hi, Peter. Thanks for having me.

Peter: Paul, you live in or around New York. How is living in one of the best, biggest, and other great things, cities in the world?

Paul: It is the best. It's the best to be living in the best city. [chuckles] Actually, I just moved from Boston although I'm from the area originally. It's nice to be home.

Peter: Do you people from New York regularly take a stroll down the-- I just forgot the name of the giant park that you have down there.

Paul: Central Park.

Peter: Do you just daily go there or is that another thing and we just only feel that Hollywood movies show that to us?

Paul: It's not that close to where I am currently. Growing up as a child, I used to always go to Central Park. It was definitely a place where I spent a lot of time. New Yorkers certainly go to Central Park and it's been fine there.

Peter: One of the best things that I've thought about New York is that you are in probably the greatest metropolitan area, but you can take the subway, Paul, where you call the local train directly to the beach and you can go swimming. It's very close and this is a really great thing. Not a lot of big cities have things like that.

Paul: That's true. I think I probably take enough for granted, but it is nice.

Peter: Paul, right now, people probably know you. You've done a lot of great things on the internet, especially people that like to work on and about SEO. There is a nice quote they found about you on the internet. It says, "In a world filled with shitty blog posts that rehash the same info in different ways, Paul's articles are always a treat to read." You are the partner and head of SEO of the catalyst agency and you are the founder of the big SEO subreddit. Tell us a bit more about how you got into SEO and why do you think that SEO is if you do think that SEO is the best channel in the world.

Paul: I got into SEO by no spectacular means. I think a lot of people in the industry have much more impressive stories than I do. It was the job that I got into right after university. I'd graduated, had a mild interest in marketing, and actually was looking to get into social media marketing and couldn't find any jobs. At least no companies were willing to hire me for such a role.

It just so happened that in my formative years in high school and earlier, instead of working a typical retail job or McDonald's, I did freelance web design and development. I didn't even know what SEO was when I graduated, but I applied to one SEO job and I got that one. I was educated afterwards why it was such a great fit for me. I've been working in the industry ever since.

Peter: All right. You are known for a separated big SEO. It has become one of the important parts of where people go to find SEO-related questions. Do you think that reddit as a community has an added value compared to other maybe Slack communities or Telegram communities or even just websites?

Paul: Yes. It fills an interesting need. I'm on a lot of Slack communities and private chat rooms. They're great because you're only talking to certain people. It's completely private. That information is not going to be shared around. It serves its purpose and then there's much more public channels and there is reddit, which is in between. It is both a public platform. People can see what you're saying.

A lot of people tend to anonymize themselves. They don't use their real names. They use pseudonyms. They create new accounts just to ask a certain question. There's a level of privacy. People could be a little bit more real in a way while still making a public statement or asking a question in public. I think we've done a good job and we still try to make big SEO a place where we can have someone to facilitate that communication in the industry.

Peter: Yes, that is all true. Let's go to the topic at hand. You spoke at MozCon 2019. You're actually the second speaker for MozCon in row. I just spoke actually a couple of hours ago with Luke Carthy. He is the episode before you, the episode number 22. How was your experience of MozCon? Was this your first time at--

Paul: Yes. MozCon is a fantastic conference. It's one of the few in the industry that I would recommend. The other being in the conference that I founded TechSEO Boost. It's a conference dedicated to technical SEO. It was my second MozCon. I've been to MozCon once before back in 2015. I always had this yearning to come back. It was a pleasure for me to be actually asked to speak and present on technical SEO at a conference that I truly respect in the industry.

Peter: Okay. Your presentation was really finding technical SEO. Here are your five minutes so that you sum up your presentation and then we'll talk about it.

Paul: The presentation was redefining technical SEO. Started out painting the picture of the SEO, but we've been taught of having three different pillars, being we're catering to relevance, which is content strategy catering to authority, which is link building, link development, digital PR. There's this third one, which is "technical SEO." That traditional definition of that technical SEO is things that pertain to basically crawling and indexing, which in some ways is a limited definition and a definition that sometimes creates a schism in the industry.

You have people that gravitate toward a creative content side of things and your people that gravitate towards the technical side of things. This results in some fighting. You have articles. One of the bigger ones that came out was this technical SEO is makeup by Clayburn Griffin on Search Engine Land, which was quite inflammatory. It was making the point that it's not too hard to get technical SEO to a point that is good enough, but content is in some ways more difficult to achieve.

I don't disregard that. I don't think it's wrong. I think the reason why people come to that conclusion is because they are defining technical SEO wrong. In my conference, we had speaker the first year, Russ Jones from Moz. He had a definition for what technical SEO is. I don't have the quote right in front of me, but I'll summarize it as, "The application of a technical skill set to other facets of SEO."

Clearly, this definition encapsulates a whole lot more. I posit even further that there are four types of technical SEO within that. The first one is what I called checklist technical SEO. This is things that pertain to crawling and indexing but are automatable. There are tools that can help get you there. In some ways, you can completely automate the task. There's general technical SEO which, again, are things that pertain to crawling and indexing, but they're little higher skill, less automatable.

For instance, finding a bug in the CNS that is hindering crawling. That would be an example of a general technical SEO versus checklist technical SEO, which would be checking the box. Does this web page have a canonical peg that's properly formatted? The third bucket is what I call blurry lines, technical SEO. There are series of jobs that often fall to us as SEO practitioners. They're somewhat technical, but they're not necessarily meant to be the job of the SEO.

I could easily fall to someone who works in content web development. I'm talking about things like page speed optimization, web performance optimization, advanced analytics implementation. Again, things that fall with a SEO practitioner but aren't necessarily a SEO and they're quite technical in nature sometimes. The last bucket, which I focused most of my presentation on, which was what I call advanced applied technical SEO.

This is really the application of those technical skill sets to all areas of SEO. I went through a series of examples of how you could write a computer program to do a natural language processing analysis to enhance on-page copy. Doing on-page SEO is not inherently a technical SEO task. When you start applying concepts like data science and other areas of engineering and these technical skill sets, it could be a technical SEO task.

I went through the gamut. I went through link building, how you can automate things with Wayback Machine and the Moz API and pull insights for content variation and apply machine learning, and when you start to look at technical SEO this way as being a source of talent and skills applied to all areas of technical SEO that it becomes much more important and certainly as a makeup.

Peter: All right. That was excellent, especially the last point of the three I think is very important for people. Every SEO should obviously, from what we had in your presentations. be a bit of a programmer. The main question usually is how much of a programmer should I be? Where should I go and how much should I learn to be a great SEO?

Paul: I would say this. There are some clear advantages to knowing some programming. By all means, I don't think it's necessary to be an expert programmer. Working an SEO, I do think it will help you if you are. What I do advocate for is understanding computer programming a little bit, understanding the underlying logic, being able to write very, very simple programs. There's clear advantages to having that as a skill. One is that you'll understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together.

When you're working with an engineering team or a developer on a website, you understand where they're coming from. You could communicate to them better. They'll have more respect for you. They're more likely to take you seriously. You'll make better suggestions and you'll be able to do some more of these more sophisticated things. Furthermore, getting these very, very basic skill sets is not that challenging. There's a million in one places to learn this online and, honestly, get the basics done in probably a 30-minute YouTube video. That's my position.

Peter: Of course. A lot of the things, you can just program with Google Docs and Google Sheets with a bit more of a technical knowledge that you need to go and check all the boxes in [unintelligible 00:14:46] to do your technical audit. Technical SEO is usually seen as something that is really important with big websites, especially e-commerce websites that have millions of URLs where crawl budget is important, et cetera. How important do you see a technical SEO for companies that have smaller websites, especially for B2B companies?

Paul: Well, I think it's quite logical when you look at it from a larger website perspective. You have all sorts of crawling and indexing issues that can emerge due to scale. When you look at that broader definition that I presented in my MozCon presentation of being the application of technical things in other ways, I think it's quite applicable to small pages. If you're writing a better web page, whether you have five pages on your site or a hundred or 10,000 or a million, being able to enhance what you're doing there, for instance, it doesn't matter how many pages you have. You're doing better work.

Peter: All right. Can you give us a couple of places where people can go and learn technical SEO? Of course, one of them is your website Search Wilderness. The subreddit, big SEO. What are the other places?

Paul: You can check out my MozCon presentation on SlideShare. My blog searchwilderness.com is littered with examples. There is an upcoming Whiteboard Friday on Moz where I talk a little bit about this topic. Lastly, I've mentioned my conference. My conference is free. We only have a limited space in person, but we make everything available online to these streams and all past recordings are also available. Check out that.

Peter: All right. This is our 17-minute mark and we should be wrapping it up. Paul, tell us where can people find you and what are your future conference plans so that people can come and listen to your presentations.

Paul: Yes. My personal blog is searchwilderness.com. The agency I work for is Catalyst. It's catalystdigital.com. My twitter account is by fighto, F-I-G-H-T-O. I'm posting there all the time. In terms of conferences, I am speaking at UnGagged in Los Angeles in November. In Europe, I am speaking at SMX Advanced Europe in Berlin and We Love SEO in Paris. They're both end of September and beginning of October.

Peter: All right. A couple of times, you're coming to Europe. Well, my next task is to go and check out all of the presentations or recordings that you have from your conference. I must say I haven't really heard about your conference in the past. I'm from Europe, you're from up there, so it's a big place. That's it. Thank you very much for being on the podcast and I hope to see you around.

Paul: Yes, it's my pleasure.