Danny Sullivan and Marshall Simmonds

Danny Sullivan and Marshall Simmonds got to sit down together in the RKG studio and talk about what's changed in SEO since 1997 and what's important now.  We got their take on the news_keywords metatag, disavowing links and social signals.

Stay tuned for part 2 where they discuss what's going on with the +1 button in search results and why Google+ is important.


Danny Sullivan:  Welcome! I'm sitting with Marshall Simmonds.

Marshall Simmonds:  And I'm sitting with Danny Sullivan.

Danny and Marshall: And we are Danny and Marshall talking about whatever we want.

Danny: Hey, Marshall! Brought to you by ...

Danny and Marshall: … RKG

Marshall:  Hmm, hmm.  It's good to be back.

Danny:  It's good to be back.  We are back here in Bend where we met for the first time in 1997.

Marshall:  I know.  That's right.

Danny:  So, Google, we've been talking all like what's been different since 1997 to 2012, 15 years.  Like in 1997 keyword tags were big, and keyword tags are back, baby.

Marshall:  Mm-hmm.  Keyword tags are back.

Danny:  And we got the Google News meta keywords tag.

Marshall:  Right.

Danny:  But, they couldn't use just the regular keywords tag, right?

Marshall:  Yeah.

Danny:  They couldn't use the one that's on everybody's pages, da-da-da-da.  Everybody's already done it.  So, what's the deal?  Why didn't they?

Marshall:  When we asked, too, can we use the meta keywords tag?  It's there, we use it.

Danny:  The existing one.  Everybody's got support.

Marshall:  Yeah.  Yeah.

Danny:  Every CMS in the world could handle it.

Marshall:  The Google search appliance uses it even.

Danny: For cloaking.

Marshall:  [laughs] No.  Not for cloaking.

Danny:  Though they did do it for cloaking?

Marshall:  Well ...

Danny:  I don't know what you're talking about.

Marshall:  Yeah, so we thought, "Why can't we use this tag?"  Well, it's a different tag as we learned.

Danny:  Simply because they made it a different tag ...

Marshall:  Possibly, right.  Because it does say, meta news keyword tag.  So, it's explicitly for Google News, and what it does is give editorial teams a little bit more freedom.

Danny:  But why couldn't they just change the meta keywords tag?

Marshall:  Well, that would have been a better scalability option for us.

Danny:  I don't want to get you in trouble with them.  I don't want you suddenly find that you're not ranking better …

Marshall:  No.  These were our thoughts, too.

Danny:  ... just because they made a boneheaded decision.

Marshall:  Well, this was our thought ...

Danny:  I'm not saying it's a boneheaded decision, just that it is, but …

Marshall:  Right, and that's where scale came in.  We didn't necessarily ... We, I say we, but the NYT and some of the other publishers that we work with, they weren't necessarily ...

Danny:  Consulted?

Marshall:  Well, they were concerned; with how do we populate this tag across an entire network?  And it's not easy to do.

Danny:  What do you do?  So, now you've got like 100-billion articles with no tags.

Marshall:  Right.

Danny:  So, are you feeding out an empty tag .. .

Marshall:  Mm-hmm.

Danny:  ... on the pages that don't have them?

Marshall:  Well, we've done a phased rollout at a lot of the publishers, because the publishers that we're working with are a little unsure.  You know, is this something we're going to go all in on?  Is it going to be like standout tag?  Is it going to be supported by Google News? And that's a question that we have to ask, and it's a valid question, too, so I think that we're rationally exuberant and cautiously optimistic.  I think it's a good opportunity for publishers, the best one that we've seen for a while.

Danny:  If you're in Google News.

Marshall:  Yes, if you're in Google News.

Danny:  As a reminder, if you're not in Google News it doesn't do anything to you.  It doesn't matter.

Marshall:  No. No.

Danny:  So what do you see?  As far as like, I know that you just gave the keynote at Webcam, and you were talking about the future, and I thought it was interesting that you were talking about how paid search is changing a lot and how paid inclusion is changing a lot.

Marshall:  Yeah.  Paid inclusion.

Danny:  So, what do you think, what's the next future step for web search?

Marshall:  I think the social signal is going to continue to get important.  I think that these linked signals are really, really creaky, and they're becoming more and more outdated, and we keep having to, as we were joking earlier, when you get to the point where you now have to ask people to disavow links, that's probably the point where you're like, "There's nothing more we can do."  We can't massage the link step anymore.  We need something better, so it's like we've been running on steam.

Danny:  Right.

Marshall:  And links are steam, and now it's time for fossil fuel.  Although, really maybe that's not quite, maybe it's more that we've been running on fossil fuel and now we need clean energy, solar energy, social energy.

Danny:  Right.

Marshall:  So, it's not like the social stuff is necessarily, "Oh, I can go with pure."  It's not like the social stuff is pure burning, right?  There's going to be some pollutants that get in there.  There's going to be some paid warming over the thing to try to stretch the metaphor out.

Danny:  Well and Google's been . . . yeah.

Marshall:  But, I feel like, for one thing, there's more of it.

Danny:  Right.

Marshall:  That anybody can send a social signal; not just anybody who manages to put together a link.  There's authority that's with it.  You can go back and look at the account and try to understand whether you trust that account, and I think you can do that more easily than you can try to look at some website and think, "Should I trust this website or not?"