Marshall Simmonds Interview

Marshall Simmonds was kind enough to sit down with Adam Audette in the RKG studio and talk about SEO for publishing including Google News, the news_keywords metatag and more.

Next week we'll wrap up our interviews with Danny Sullivan and Marshall talking about whatever they want, including what's changed in SEO since 1997 and what's newly important.


Adam Audette: Hi, everyone. I'm Adam Audette, President of RKG and with me today is Marshall Simmonds. Marshall, it's good to have you, back in Bend.

Marshall Simmonds: Love this town. It's beautiful outside right now. We're inside filming.

Adam: Looking out at the mountains covered in snow. Absolutely gorgeous out there. So Marshall, long history in Bend. Long history as an SEO and lots of different areas, especially well known in the publishing area and work a lot with the New York Times and all kinds of other publishers over the years.  So let's talk a little bit about Google News and what's going on with that.

Marshall: Yes. Google News is, we've always used that as not necessarily a back door because it's getting more and more prominent, especially in the one boxes that you see at the universal search results page, but publishers it's a great media for publishers. Not only as a service content but to get into the web results. Because a lot of times you'll see with freshness sometimes those news results will get integrated into where the previous first, second, third positions were.

So we use that as a way to take advantage of the freshness update that happened about a year ago actually. So it's a good opportunity if you're optimizing content because it's a different beast all together, and that frustrates editorial teams a little bit because you've been telling them for so long titles are so important, how you're writing the content is so important. It's a little bit different. So there's some scalability and education obstacles that you have to look at but we really like the traffic results that you get, not from the universal because it's very hard to track but from even just the News.Google sub-domain.

Adam: So are they continuing to innovate in Google News and add new kind of product features and stuff or is it pretty much the same as it has been? Is it kind of established in terms of what you need to do in order to maximize visibility there, or are there still a lot, kind of, nuances and tricks?

Marshall: I think it's a good question because they're not too forthright with how Google News is changing. And I think that they are putting some time and effort behind Google News. We recently saw about a year ago they changed crawlers to the actual Google Bot crawler, which kind of gave us some insight that maybe, they are putting some technology or some programming power behind the product. It's really hard to say. Sometimes, you find that it's really rudimentary as far as what it takes to rank or to surface content in Google News, so it's a little bit, like I said before, it's a little bit of a different beast.

Adam: Is it also based on relationships and kind of authority and so forth? So in other words, so if I'm the New York Times and I want to get in Google News, I probably don't have to do very much because Google needs me to be in Google News as the New York Times but if I'm the Bend Bulletin and I'm not known in Google, doesn't necessarily automatically put me in there. Is that going to be a different thing, is it could be more challenging?

Marshall: Well, Google would say no to that, but I'm sure there's got to be some authority established within Google News itself. They used to, because you do have to apply to get into Google News. So there is a level of scrutiny, and so that's probably the first line of defense that Google would talk about. But yes, there's absolutely some authority rank that's involved with ranking the news.

Adam: So you talk a lot about title tags are super important and making them topical, making them relevant, also use keywords that people are searching for. Sometimes, authors and journalists don't necessarily want to do that, right? So as Google came out with this new keyword tool, it's a meta tag for news publishers so talk about that.

Marshall: Yes. So we've come full circle back to 1997 all over again. And Danny was talking about that, too, where the meta keywords tag used to be a pretty substantial rating factor that you had to take into account in ‘97 through 2000, whatever. And that has since been more or less removed from the ranking algorithm.

Now, Google News introduced just recently the Google News keyword tag which gives news sites and publishers that are in Google News the opportunity to add in keywords in a meta tag that's behind the scenes in the source code that actually helps with ranking within Google News. And the idea behind that is Google News realized that for everybody to compete for a specific event, you more or less have to homogenize these headlines. And so everybody was writing headlines that were very similar to each other and Google News was saying, “How are we supposed to rank?” A lot of what editorial teams were frustrated with was that it was taking their voice away; they were taking the integrity of the site away, the editorial voice. That's why people come to our site, it's because this is the way that we write.

Google News is attempting to reach across the aisle and give you your voice back and say, “You can write whatever headline you want. You just need to make sure that this news keyword tag actually has the person, place, or thing that you're attempting to optimize for.” And it's a relatively weak signal right now but as adoption happens, they've assured us that they'll turn the dial up.

Adam: Is it confusing for teams when you're talking about this now and they're thinking, "Wait, meta keywords, those are worthless. I don't need to worry about those, right?"

Marshall: Yeah.

Adam: But now you do because there's a new kind of keywords.

Marshall: Well, it's hard because of scalability you have to take into consideration, too. It's how do you get this meta tag, how do you get it implemented across a huge domain, which it could be millions of pages, especially if you want to go back and rework some content, which we don't really recommend doing, but every piece of content now has to have this tag outside of these other tags, outside of these other things that we're asking editors to do, and they just want to write. They just want to create content in the voice that they were asked to speak in.

Adam: It's great that Google is adding new features and stuff like this, new tools for us.

Marshall: Yeah.

Adam: But at the same time, it can be pretty challenging. So the standout meta tag, what happened with that, because...?

Marshall: Well, it's still around. I feel like it's going to be deprecated if I were to look into my crystal ball, and you see some of these things happen with Google News is they'll put it out and there's not a lot of adoption. There are a lot of releases that Google News has done that haven't necessarily been adopted, at least, to the level that they wanted. So it's kind of fallen by the wayside. I think this one will stick. I think the news keyword tag will stick because it's easy. We'll say relatively easy. That's the marketing guy saying it. I've never had to implement a tag like this across a network, so I don't necessarily know. But there's going to be a WordPress plug-in soon enough that you can just push the button and it will take the meta keywords tag and repurpose it or something like that.

Adam: This really kind of addresses a pain point for the journalist, where they want to have headlines according to their own kind of creative journalistic integrity, right?

Marshall: Right.

Adam: They don't want to write it for SEO.

Marshall: Right.

Adam: I know there's a tension always there probably when you're dealing with those teams.

Marshall: Yeah. It doesn't scale. You can't have an SEO person being the chokehold of all articles have to go through this person, who has to rewrite these keyword tags. It just doesn't work like that. So the editorial teams are going to have to be involved. They just have to be involved in this because they're the subject matter experts anyway, so you want that with some guidance from the SEO team.

Adam: Cool. So what else is working for you guys in the publishing space for visibility? Talk about video and these areas.

Marshall: Yeah. Well, there's no better time to be a publisher right now because video, if you look at some of the universal search results data that's out there, video by far is the one box that's showing up the most in blended searches. Search Metrics does a great report. They haven't updated it. They haven't updated it. You guys should update that report since last September because it's fascinating to see how many one-boxes spawn.

So you get news is up there, but video overwhelmingly is obviously showing up in results. So if you are a publisher, you've got the money to put together a little studio like this and do high quality video, and Google rewards that. They absolutely reward that because even if you don't host it on YouTube - but that helps - but if you want to host the video on your site, if it's high quality, if there's a good community around it, if you're doing your social outreach, this is the time to be pushing video. It absolutely works. It's one of the best avenues that we've seen. Not necessarily, again, a back door, but you're just leveraging all your assets that you have available to you, especially if you have enough money to put together quality content like this.

Adam: Very cool. Thanks so much, Marshall. Awesome having you here.

Marshall: Yeah.

Adam: Appreciate it, and we'll see you guys next time.