Here we are at the end of the second season of SEO Mythbusting, the series on the Google Webmasters Youtube channel in which Martin Splitt investigates, along with a guest, some of the main false myths that hover over the world of SEO, Trying to debunk them or at least contextualize them better from the perspective of Google. The final video is dedicated to a parallel theme, namely the true relationship between Google and the SEO community, and helps us to discover something more about the relationship between these two poles, often perceived as opposed.

The relationship between Google and the SEO community

Google is often accused of withholding the truth to SEOs or not being fully transparent behind public words, which might hide some other intent or intentionally omit some references. On the other hand, the SEO industry is decidedly lively and the various personalities do not hesitate to express the constant desire to know more about how the search engines work, even pressing of requests the public voices of the company.

Martin Splitt e Barry Schwartz

To clarify the terms of this report – and refute that there is some kind of bad name or distrust on the part of Big G – Martin Splitt hosted for a long chat on the subject Barry Schwartz, SEO expert, CEO of RustyBrick and editor for several specialized journals, as Seroundtable and Search Engine Land, also known for its social media activity.

What the it depends answer means

The first point of comparison concerns the use of the answer “it depends“, which has basically become a standard formula in the explanations of the Googlers. According to Splitt, in many cases this is the only possible reply to start a reflection, because the issues really depend on a lot of factors.

“It depends on many different things, it depends on the question that arises, it depends on the context of action”, says the Developer Advocate of Google, which then also enters into the merits – assuming a question about the declining performance of a site: “Was there a migration? Has the URL structure been changed or something like that? How is the server configured? How fast is the site? How is the content? Is there much competition around the topic? Could there be a duplication of content present elsewhere?”.

In short, the situation “really depends on so many different things, because the whole process on the site and the entire infrastructure of the site are very large, wide and complex”, as well as articulated are Google’s classification systems.

The case of the featured snippets and the impact on traffic

According to Schwartz, there is a point to understand in order to enter the perspective of the SEO community: “They are people who create content with the aim of getting traffic to their sites”, and in some cases they may feel that Google benefits from their work without a fair reward.

It is the case – very explicit – of the featured snippets, main suspects when it comes to the zero clicks trend and erosion of organic traffic: publishers “they believe you’re taking their content, and you put it in the search results on Google, and people do not have to click and land on their site because you answer their questions directly in SERP”. And so publishers are like, “Why am I doing this? Why should I go ahead and write content from which I receive no traffic, which I cannot convert?”.

For Splitt this aspect is understandable and has been reported several times, but there are “analytical studies and community experiences that indicate how featured snippets can address the site a much more qualified and better traffic for the site”.

But, Schwartz replies, there are also studies that show the opposite and therefore – in this state of uncertainty – a help could come from Google, through the publication of internal data or a specific report in Search Console dedicated to the performance of featured snippets – clicks and impressions – that would allow the publisher to really discover the impact of this feature on its organic performance.

The Googler does not totally agree (also because of the technical difficulties in providing this data, which have different angles), trying to put the issue back on a more theoretical track, saying that “if the site offers really useful content for users, and adds more value because it is full of other good content, then I think featured snippets can bring a lot of traffic”. Therefore, from its point of view, the complaints usually arrive “from people who lose traffic because the content is not of such high quality” and therefore the user, reading the preview in the snippet, loses interest towards other contents because not “has no incentive to really go” on the site.

Google’s intentions and interests

Splitt is even more clear in stating that Google does not want to steal traffic to sites, because its intent is “to make people and publishers of content meet”, which is “literally the fundamental idea of the search engine, and we are doing our best to make that happen”.

At the same time, however, Google also wants to limit the amount of zombie traffic sent to websites, meaning traffic that leads nowhere, which ends on the page and does not proceed further.

Google and transparency, a controversial topic

We then move on to discuss another controversial and very critical issue, the one about transparency: to Google, says the Developer Advocate, it is difficult to maintain a balance between too little transparency and too much transparency. On one hand, in fact, a lack of transparency exposes Google to criticism and complaints from the community; on the other, however, an excess of information could lead to bad interpretations or extrapolations of content (as happened several times) – as well as paving the way for attempts to manipulate the SERPs.

It is a lose-lose situation, admits even Barry Schwartz, who still believes that “being as transparent as possible in the end can be the best option, because honesty is the best choice that Google can make without shooting itself in the foot“.

“We are not trying to mislead you or lie to you, so how do we turn this into a win-win for everyone?” Splitt asks himself, who then anticipates that Google is “doubling our transparency, which is definitely the way we want to go, and we just hope that the community understands it”.

The usefulness of feedbacks

The activity of the Googlers in recent years seems however more inspired by transparency, confirms the expert SEO (which cites only as examples all the video guides on Youtube, periodic conferences, conversations on Twitter, interactions on forums and so on), as well as it is important that the Googlers themselves take note of the views of the SEO community and apply the advice (as evidenced by the updates to the Google Search Console, he says).

In this regard, Splitt reiterates the value that user feedbacks has for Google, and indeed, invites users to use more frequently the Submit Feedback button that appears on the results page, which is very useful and more direct than Twitter reports.

Sharing feedback on Twitter “will not take you very far”, even if it is submitted as a direct message to the Googlers, because they then have to report the information to the Search Console team, which only receives it as an “opinion” of a user.

On the contrary, the use of the Send Feedback tool allows Google to receive a report with quantitative (and not only qualitative) data on what users want. Of course, it is difficult to be able to respond to all requests, but “we are dealing with this, and the team tries to put into practice the indications that see be important, as happened with the Speed Report included in the GSC”.

Why Google does not use the CTR as a direct ranking factor?

Schwartz then move on to another question, asking why Google – which also has ownership of Chrome and Android, and therefore access to any kind of user data – does not use click data and the CTR as a signal for ranking.

It is a source of noisy traffic, says Splitt, but despite official denials no one believes the words of Google: “In part it is a confirmation bias, simple psychology – people like to hear things that confirm their hypothesis; on the other hand, it may depend on the perception that we are trying to hide the truth, as in conspiracy theories that are very popular today”.

However, the Developer Advocate once again states that “Google does not use the CTR for the ranking, and I mean exactly that”.

The controversies on AMP

Another case in which the community does not trust Google’s claims concerns the AMP pages: at the beginning of the framework, says Schwartz, there were conflicting statements by the Googlers, which hinted a positive effect on the ranking.

And even today, despite successive claims that the use of AMP is not a ranking factor, there are still those who do not believe in this version and that, on the contrary, accelerated pages can give a boost to organic ranking.

Again, for Splitt there is a fundamental misunderstanding about Google’s intentions: “The idea is not to break the Net nor create a web that is centric on Google. The idea is to create a web that is fast for the user and successful for the user”. Google’s goal is to make the web fast and accessible to the next billion users who live in countries where the Net is either “a bunch of mobile apps or a bunch of very private walled gardens”, and thus correct or alleviate the situation thanks to AMP, which is the means to reach those people.

Google is not the opponent of the SEO community

What Splitt wants to make clear is that Google is not an antagonist of the SEO community, but is “trying to do everything possible to bring good qualified traffic to people, and to spread as much information as possible”.

And this is also the meaning of his work as a “public voice”, an activity of dialogue that sometimes degenerates: “I do not like it when people become unjust, they distort your words and call you into question for things that you did not do or did not say”, for example, assuming hidden meanings behind claims that, Splitt assures, are never there. “I don’t spend 20 minutes sitting there on my computer or on my phone thinking of a sinister way to answer or to confuse people” and when “I don’t know a thing or an answer, I prefer to admit it and not answer it” (and if instead he cannot say one thing he admits it, he says).

Questions about ranking and what really matters

Schwartz’s last question is also very personal and refers to Martin Splitt’s decision not to have (too much) information about the ranking, the secret salsa that everyone chase.

The Googler explains that, first of all, that having a few details about the classification system helps Googlers to be truly representative of the SEO community. The second reason he does not want this information is “because I’m really bad at keeping secrets!” , and moreover the ranking system keeps on changing and there are hundreds of factors.

For him it would be better to focus on other aspects and issues: “What do our users want? What do our users need? How can we better understand it? And how can we offer a better web experience?”. The work to be done is huge, in terms of performance, content and strategy, so it considers it unprofitable to focus on algorithmic processes and neglect the really important parts.

What means to build the best site possible

In this regard, Schwartz recalls that Google often invites us to “build the best site possible“, an expression that the community does not welcome in a positive way because – in most cases – it already thinks it has personally created the best site. And so, question, what are really the priorities that can bring more effective results?

According to Splitt, there are some technical things that can affect ranking and that should be done, such as adopting HTTPS, making the website fast and so on, but also these factors “derive, once again, from thinking to the user first“.

The Googler would “like to see more companies testing users, trying to figure out who your users are, actually start a conversation with them, and understand that what I think is the best content for my users might not really be the right one for them”. In his experience, this work – done through Google Surveys – worked in all the companies that used it and those who “did the user tests learned a lot of things from a conversation of just five minutes with some of the visitors”.

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