SEO Predictions for 2024 with Kate Toon and Cyrus Shepard (NEWBIE)

SEO Predictions for 2024 with Kate Toon and Cyrus Shepard (NEWBIE)
Reading Time: 27 minutes

What’s coming and what to focus on

So here we are, a fresh new year to grapple the Google beast and get our site found online.

But what should be our SEO priorities in 2024?
What’s coming down the pipe?
And what is old hat?

Today I’m joined by one of our favourite guests on the Recipe for SEO Success podcast, Cyrus Shepard.
We’re going to be rubbing our crystal balls together and chatting through what we think are the big things to focus on in 2024.

Will AI ruin SEO once and for all?
What algorithm updates do we see coming?
Can we finally forget schema?

We’ll answer all this and more in today’s episode.

 

Tune in to learn:

  • What impact Generative AI will have on the Search results
  • The importance of User signals in ranking
  • What Cyrus learned as a Google quality rater
  • Whether backlinks still matter
  • If you still need to keep using schema
  • The three-second rule and why it matters more in 2024
  • What Cyrus learned from the recent Google privacy trial

And so much more.

Listen to the podcast

 

 

 

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And big thanks to Theresa from securelydone.com for their lovely review:

“Kate has changed my SEO world! I discovered this podcast in the new year, just as I was launching my new website. I knew nothing about SEO, but Kate has changed that. Her podcasts are both informative and easy to understand for a Newbie. I love her so much that I’ve just joined the wait list for her Recipe for SEO Success course.”

 

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"Whatever happens with AI, social media or the web, people are still going to be looking for real experiences. Whether it's your personality, your brand, the pillows that you make, the avocados that you sell. The more genuinely you can help people, other people are going to want that. Helping people is never going to go out of style." Cyrus Shepard | Zyppy

 

 

Connect with Cyrus Shepard

 

About Cyrus Shepard

Cyrus works as an SEO and online marketer. As an early and long-time employee of Moz, he built his reputation by studying Google’s algorithm, researching and publishing scientific SEO studies, helping brands and businesses improve online visibility, and continually teaching new SEO best practices to others. Today he runs Zyppy, an SEO software company making smarter techniques available to everyone.

Fun fact: Cyrus lives in the small town where The Goonies was filmed.

Kate Toon and Cyrus Shepard screenshot on Zoom

Transcript

Kate Toon:

So here we are, a fresh new year to grapple the Google beast and get our sites found online. But what should be our SEO priorities in 2024? What’s coming down the pipe, and what is old hats? Will AI do away with SEO wants and for all? What algorithm updates do we see ahead, and can we finally forget about Schema?

Today, I’m joined by one of our favourite guests on the Recipe for SEO Success podcast, Cyrus Shepard. We’re going to be rubbing our crystal balls together and chatting through what we think are the big things to focus on in 2024.

Hello, my name is Kate Toon and I’m the head chef at the Recipe for SEO Success, an online teaching hub for all things related to search engine optimization and digital marketing. And today I’m talking to Cyrus Shepard. Hello, Cyrus.

Cyrus Shepard:

Hello, Kate. Happy to be here.

Kate Toon:

Hurray! Now, we wheel Cyrus out of his cupboard under the stairs once a year and ask him to come back on the pod. You may remember one of our most popular episodes last year towards the end of 2022 actually, was all around what had happened that year, but this year I thought we predict. So Cyrus is sitting here with a crystal ball in front of him, and he’s ready to tell us what he thinks is coming down the pipe.

But you may not know who Cyrus is. I do, obviously, but you may not. So let me tell you who he is. Cyrus works as an SEO and online marketer. As an early and longtime employee of Moz, he’s built a reputation for studying Google’s algorithm, researching and publishing scientific SEO studies, helping brands and businesses improve online visibility, and continually teaching new SEO best practises to others. Today he runs Zyppy, an SEO software company making smarter techniques available to everybody. And Cyrus lives in a small town where The Goonies was filmed. That’s very cool. That’s one of my regular Christmas movies.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. Weirdly enough, I never watched the movie until moving here, and then everybody’s like, “You have to watch it.” So yeah, I have, and now I like it a little bit in my heart.

Kate Toon:

Yeah. Well, it’s got a special place in your heart. Obviously, we’ve just had Christmas. We haven’t really, we’re recording this before Christmas. “What is your number one Christmas movie?” is a big question here.

Cyrus Shepard:

Oh, number one Christmas movie. Probably A Christmas Story. I watched that a lot growing up.

Kate Toon:

I was going to say Die Hard, but I think it’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I like It’s a Wonderful Life, which is an oldie, but I love it.

Cyrus Shepard:

Used to watch that. That was always on black and white growing up because they could … And the story was they let the licence expire, so any TV station could play it without paying royalty. So for years growing up in the United States, that was just on whatever hour of the day.

Kate Toon:

Constantly.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yes.

Kate Toon:

So you’re probably a bit over that one. Totally, I get it. And I watched The Holiday last night with Jude Law and Cameron Diaz, far too good-looking, made me feel quite depressed.

But we’re not here to talk about Christmas because 2023 is gone. It’s done. And before we look forward, I’d love to have a little look back because it felt like 2023 was the year of everything and nothing in SEO. Google Helpful Content update, people wittering on about a lot of stuff, but it feels amorphous. What do you think were the big things in 2023?

Cyrus Shepard:

Okay. Well, I have three, and you named two of them. One of them is AI. Everything changed when ChatGTP-

Kate Toon:

Oh yeah, that one. That tiny little thing.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah, everything changed. And so far it’s exciting technology, but there was a lot of fear in SEOs when that was released. So far we haven’t seen a big impact on traffic, but things are very fluid, and we’ll talk a little bit about this in the prediction segment.

The second big thing that happened in SEO this year was Helpful Content update. Google released some huge updates in August and September that hit a lot of websites, especially affiliate sites, smaller sites, how-to’s, and we saw Reddit with this huge traffic increase. And Google’s still figuring that out, they’re still tweaking the algorithm and we expect some changes in the future happening with that.

What was the third thing? Oh, the third thing, which is for nerds, but here in the US Google was in this huge antitrust trial and we got a bunch of documents out of that where we learned better than we probably ever have, how Google actually works and ranks websites and how much user interaction signals are important for that.

So those are the three. I think we better understand how Google works than any other time in history, but also Google is changing faster than any other time in history, so no one really knows what’s going on.

Kate Toon:

Yeah, it’s one step forward, two steps back. It’s like when the documents will be released, it will tell us whether the moon landing happened or not. I finally got to see behind the curtain and what was really going on. But I feel like the Google Helpful Content impact, possibly the reason why it didn’t impact me in my world and the people in my world who are small business owners and ecommerce ones is because they were already doing great content. They weren’t doing shady, thin affiliate sites. They were already trying to provide useful good content. So maybe that’s why it didn’t hit so hard. I went through my content marketing module on my course and I had this list, it’s quite old, it’s from 2015, of what is great content. And it was very similar to what people are doing now, so it didn’t hit us so bad.

But looking ahead, I guess let’s start with the biggie. Generative AI. So Google changing the search results, these lovely little coloured panels that tell us everything we need to know about boiling an egg. No one’s going to get a click, no one’s going to get any attribution, and traffic is dead. Am I right or am I wrong?

Cyrus Shepard:

Nobody knows. But Google is releasing Project Gemini, which is their answer to ChatGTP, and they’re starting to roll that out. Google’s following the user, so as people get more and more used to using these interfaces, they’re probably going to roll them out more and more. And I think to your point, we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s probably going to be a very slow burn. But I think it’s fair to say in two to three years, it may be exactly what you described. Content becomes so cheap to produce by everybody, that there’s no reason to go to a website when Google can just generate an answer.

There’s still plenty of opportunities and SEO people are still real businesses, people want to buy things, people want experiences. But I think we see click-through rates go down and down and down over a very long time. No need to panic yet. There’s time to adjust all our businesses and realign our strategies. But I think there’s going to be fewer clicks to websites.

Kate Toon:

Can we dig into that a little bit? Because I think over the years there was a lot of panic when featured answers came out and then people realised that we weren’t really losing much then, “How old is Barack Obama?” is an easy answer. Then featured snippets came out and that changed traffic a lot, and people were worried that if you had that first result, people weren’t going to click through. So it’s been a sliding scale.

I had Jono previously from Yoast, and we were talking about the fact that Google knows enough about a lot of topics that it just doesn’t need your content anymore. So we never need another article on how to boil an egg unless some amazing laser egg boiler comes out. There is enough articles written on that in the whole world that nothing ever needs to be written on that again. And that’s going to become bigger and bigger and bigger. Google doesn’t need us anymore. It’s crawled us, it’s taken what it needs, it doesn’t need us anymore. Do you think that’s an accurate description?

Cyrus Shepard:

Well, that’s a big debate in the SEO world right now because Google does need us because otherwise their content, their answers start to get stale after a while.

Kate Toon:

Yeah, they go stale.

Cyrus Shepard:

So Google needs to keep us alive by sending us some traffic, but it’s going to be very different traffic than what we’ve seen previously. And I think some of the sites that are going to get hit are some of those same sites that were hit by the Helpful Content update. If you do not have an original point of view or anything about your content or brand that is special, what’s to prevent Google from just generating its own answer for you? Companies and websites need that unique value proposition in order to distinguish themselves. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing, the free traffic ride is over.

Kate Toon:

Yeah. I think one way of putting it, which is if ChatGTP can write it with ease, it probably doesn’t need to be written. If the article you pull out of ChatGTP is sufficient, then don’t publish it, because what you then need to go through is put in your experience and whatever. It obviously expanded this year and the extra E was added for experience. The word human was added into Google guidelines. So do you think that the humanity is going to be an important part of producing content? The human touch?

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah, absolutely. Because people still want personalities like you at this podcast, and they still want brands and they still want trust. I think, let me go back to your egg example, how a boiling egg … because that was a great example. And recently we were trying to figure out how to boil eggs here to peel easier. And we ended up finding this article on Serious Eats, which they experimented with 24 different ways of boiling eggs, and they had pictures and graphs, and they obviously put a week into this article on boiling eggs. And that article probably gets millions of views a year because it has something unique about it. They just didn’t list all the different ways of what … They actually put in the work, they have videos, they have a brand. Articles like that are going to continue to get traffic, but that’s what people need to aspire to. Maybe not a week of boiling eggs, but putting some effort into it, doing things that don’t scale, doing things that are not easy because if they’re easy, everybody else can do them.

Kate Toon:

Yeah. Which has always been true to a degree. On the egg thing, because I just want to keep going with the eggs, I saw a TikTok the other day. So another search engine, TikTok is becoming very into its own SEO, and the tip was to just tap the egg on the work surface for a little bit until you hear a little pop and it breaks the air inside the egg, so then when you boil it, the shell just slides off. And it works, Cyrus, it works. Just tap, tap, tap, you hear a little pop and then the shell just slides off. So there you go.

Cyrus Shepard:

So going to try that.

Kate Toon:

If you do and it works, I need you to post about it on X, which I want to talk about as well. So we haven’t really, in Australia, seen the rollout of the coloured panels, the generative AI panels. Obviously they’re still experimenting that. You were talking a little bit there about Project Gemini. Can you expand on … because we’ve got Google Bard and now we’ve got Gemini. So tell us a little bit about that.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. So Gemini is going to start powering all of Google’s public-facing AI. So by the time it does roll out fully in Australia, you’ll be getting the Gemini experience. The interface may not change that much, but it’s supposedly a little bit more powerful than ChatGTP, which I don’t think is a huge selling point, all the models are advancing. But they’re going to be able to answer a lot of those ChatGTP questions a lot more easily, and finding ways to do it.

And again, I think it’s a user behaviour thing. As normal everyday folk get more used to asking questions this way, Google will figure out how to incorporate it into search results. I think we’re still going to see ads, we’re still going to see links to websites. It’s just going to be a different experience.

Kate Toon:

Yeah, fantastic. So AI is obviously a big thing and people are worried about it, but we’re still letting it roll out and seeing where it’s going to impact. You’ve given us a fairly long runway of two to three years before we’re utterly doomed, I’m only joking. But can we move to talking about sites themselves? So obviously we saw some changes with Core Web Vitals this year and the whole need for speed, but also speed in the context of user experience is Google’s big thing at the moment. Do you see any more changes around Core Web Vitals?

Cyrus Shepard:

I don’t. Google has been de-emphasising Core Web Vitals. Not that speed isn’t important. They just thought maybe people were focusing on the wrong thing.

Kate Toon:

I wonder why, because they banged on about it and told us to. Okay.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. And then they said, “We’re going to punish you if you don’t get perfect scores in all the …” then they couldn’t do that because they realised they were going to be punishing great sites. So I think speed is terribly important, but maybe not as a direct ranking factor. But sites should still focus on speed because that affects everything else. Whenever I work on sites, all the metrics improve when you work on speed. Bounce rate goes down, time on site goes up, everything improves. So something we should still focus on, regardless of what Google says.

Kate Toon:

I hate to use this phrase, but I also love to use it. It’s that causation and correlation. Maybe speeding up your site doesn’t improve your ranking, but then if you do that, then maybe your ranking will improve. It’s a win. And the thing I like about improving speed is it’s relatively easy. At least it’s black and white, it’s not subjective. Your site either loads in three seconds or it doesn’t, and there’s easy things you can do to fix it. So I think speed is a great starting point when it comes to tech SEO because it’s doable, whereas some of the other things are a bit more abstract and … picking it up by keyword or whatever.

Cyrus Shepard:

Absolutely. And if you don’t know where to start with speed, I always tell everybody, just sign up for a free account on CloudFlare or do some just basic WordPress optimizations if you’re on WordPress, the basics are really easy, even if you …

Kate Toon:

They are. And I think, what’s the word they use for it? They’re taking down their speed test and pushing people towards Lightspeed, which is a bit more confusing. I love Pingdom. I think Pingdom and GTmetrix are really easy tools to give you a breakdown of what you need to fix. So that’s a good one. I was really hoping that an algorithm update would come around, accessibility. That Google would use their power for good and encourage mixed media and improved fun and better contrast. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but what do you think around that kind of thing?

Cyrus Shepard:

I like that idea, because Google wields incredible power and they could make … all they would have to do is hint at it, and the entire web would jump on it and be adding better alt text, better video captions, better … It’s really not an area that I have a lot of knowledge in, but that’s a great idea. Implementing better web standards.

Kate Toon:

I had John Mueller on the podcast and I did suggest it to him, so he’s got it. He’s said a great place to look for suggested upcoming algorithm updates is webmaster tools, like what has been discussed in the forums, because they do watch the forums and they do listen, and they do take that on board. So maybe me and you can just go and flood the forum with some accessibility stuff. But I think-

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. If you’ve got John Mueller’s ear, if this happens, we’re going to give you credit.

Kate Toon:

Okay, cool. I’ve maybe got his elbow. I don’t have his ear. So we’ve talked through AI, we’ve talked through some sites speed stuff. I mentioned in the intro the death of Schema. We saw the death of AMP, that died a death. I don’t think Schema is going away, but what I meant by that is I do think all the platforms are getting a lot better at doing Schema for us. So it’s not a thing that normal hairdressers and real estate agents need to be sitting there going, “Oh, what’s new for Schema?” Obviously Schema’s still important, but what do you think about that? Because I think it’s one of the bits that scares people about tech SEO, beginners.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. So one of the things that happened this year was Google stopped showing FAQs for a number of sites. And millions of websites had put FAQs Schema on their sites and now it’s like-

Kate Toon:

You were counting.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. And then they said, “Oh, we’re not going to show it anymore for most sites,” they’ve been bringing it back a little bit. Since we don’t always know what’s happening, my recommendation is to keep putting Schema on things, especially if you sell a product, putting product Schema, maybe not help your rankings, but it helps qualify for Google Shopping and other Google surfaces. And authorship markups might help Google connect the dots between your different author profiles and things like that. I’ve seen no evidence of harm of including Schema, and only potential benefits. So until we learn differently, I think people should continue to put as much Schema as they can on their sites. That’s what I do. I just push all the Schema possible. It just makes it easier.

Kate Toon:

Again, not necessarily a direct ranking factor, but it opens up the doors to other parts of Google’s world. I added a lot of event Schema to my recent conference and it started popping up with all the details and the calendar and the whatever. So it gives you access to rich features that you might not usually get, which I think is a great reason to do it because the more you’re seen, the more traffic you’ll get, yada, yada, yada.

So what else do you think is coming, Cyrus? And I’ll just say one of the reasons I love having you on the show, because you do say that you do all this deep work and look at scientific studies, but one of the things I love about you is your ability to summarise great swathes of information in 10 point Twitter/X summaries. So you’re very good at-

Cyrus Shepard:

Oh, thanks.

Kate Toon:

One of the reasons this podcast exists is to humanise SEO and make it accessible. I should have said that at the beginning, but I forgot, so I’ve just shoved it in there. What else do you think is coming down the pipe?

Cyrus Shepard:

Okay, so I’m going to preface this with a story. So one of my big projects for this year, of 2023, was becoming a Google search quality rater. So if you don’t know, Google has this army of 15,000, 17,000 quality raters who work around the world. Every single language, Australia, every single country, and all day long they just rate queries and websites. “Is this result relevant? What’s the quality of this website?” Because Google has trouble doing-

Kate Toon:

That’s a lot of responsibility.

Cyrus Shepard:

It is.

Kate Toon:

You could be really … Do you get a beret when you become …

Cyrus Shepard:

No. But I think it’s a good idea.

Kate Toon:

Okay, cool. But that’s a lot of power, isn’t it?

Cyrus Shepard:

It is, yeah. I was surprised how difficult it was to get the job. I failed the test the first few times, which my ego as an SEO took a big hit. But I wanted to get this job because I realised how much Google was using this information in its algorithms. Now, quality raters can’t effectively impact your website ranking. That’s not how it works. But they do feed the algorithm in machine learning. So you rate a website, that goes into a machine learning model and then the machine learning model can rank millions of websites like a human.

So it’s been an incredibly eye-opening experience, and it’s made me pay attention to Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines in ways that I haven’t before. And so by looking at the Google Quality Rater Guidelines that they publish about once a year, you can get a hint of changes that are going to be coming in place. And so that’s been an eye-opening experience.

So one of those big change that I think is coming in place, so the last edition of the Quality Rater Guidelines was some language about big brands not having advantages, big brands not getting a pass, because I think we’ve all had this experience where you do a Google search, maybe it’s a travel search, and you know who’s going to be in the top 10 results. It’s Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak, or whoever’s popular in your country. Because as quality raters often give, “Oh, it’s Amazon,” or-

Kate Toon:

“That’s a great result.”

Cyrus Shepard:

“It’s Microsoft, it must be a quality website.” That’s no longer going to be the case, that even if it’s a big site, it gets graded just like everybody else. So I think this is good news for smaller publishers, smaller businesses that have great content, to compete more in some of these hard queries. So I think this is good news for everybody and I’m excited about it.

Kate Toon:

Yeah. I think they’ve tried to do that a few times. I remember, God, even eight years ago, you’d type in any shopping query and it would always be eBay as the top result, which happens a lot less. It’s often Amazon, a bit of Etsy, but you can get a few smaller businesses in there. So that is amazing news, not just for big brands, but e-commerce brands, because e-commerce, for example, just feels like a closed door for a lot of brands. They’re like, “We just can’t compete. We can’t compete on shipping, we can’t compete on turnaround times, we’re doomed.” And so I think that’s great news. Anything else we’ve discovered in those rater guidelines? Any other numbers?

Cyrus Shepard:

Well, combined with that, and the trial that we talked about earlier, with all the evidence coming out of Google, is understanding how much they rely on user data. What searchers are clicking on, what they’re scrolling on, if they enter another result. We thought for years, this last decade, Google had this great system of understanding our content and it was all a magic trick because they don’t really understand our content as well as we think they do, but they understand what users are doing, so what users are clicking on. So providing those great user experiences, it’s always been important, but now we can prove how important it is and how people need to focus on that.

Kate Toon:

In the SERPs or on our sites or both?

Cyrus Shepard:

Both. Both. So in the SERPs, they can track people, what they’re clicking on, but if users are on Chrome, Google’s browser, which was a big issue in the trial, they can track everything that that user’s doing on your … Not Google Analytics, which a lot of people worry about, but Chrome. Everything that happens in Chrome is tracked. And so you want to provide good experiences. You don’t want people going back to the search results and Googling another answer. You want to be the last question they ask.

Kate Toon:

Yeah. We used to talk about that as pogoing, didn’t we? If you go to a site and you come back to … that’s a signal to Google that maybe you need to be de-ranked. And I guess that ties in again to Google Helpful Content, but the kind of content we produce should answer all questions. That is the definitive. You don’t need to go anywhere else. You’ve written your article about quiche or avocados, and that is it. It’s bookmarkable, it’s shareable. You almost want to download it as a PDF and keep it under your pillow. That’s the level that we need to get to. And I guess people will freak out then, and go, “Look, I can’t produce content at that level. I can’t produce, not click-bait, but click-stopping content.”

But I think the thing we really need to vanish is the fact that Google, it does not reward new, regular consistent content. It doesn’t really care. It rewards the best. So even if you can produce 10 or 20 really quality cornerstone pieces of content, that could be enough. And then you update each year. Maybe that’s an argument for less content, but better content, which is what we’ve always wanted, right?

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. Yes. And let me go on a tangent here for a second. One thing I realised working as a quality rater, you’re looking at these sites, and users are only looking at your sites for a few seconds and they’re making a judgement on you really quickly. And so you want to get those trust signals in there and realise most people are looking at, on a mobile phone, if just glancing at your page, can people tell, “Who are you? What do you do? Are you going to answer my question or not?” and “What else do you have for me?” And you need to do that in a very small space very quickly. But if you can communicate those things, I look at so many logos these days on mobile and say, “Do I understand who this company is and what do they do?” And it seems more often than not, the people who are very clear on this are winning in the SERPs. And if it’s confusing, if I don’t understand who you are, I’m more likely to not trust you and click another result. So those signals are so important.

Kate Toon:

Yeah. And then we come down to really the first bits, what’s your domain name? We used to worry about shoving keywords in, but does it say, “I make cakes.”? And then you’re like, “Oh, okay, I get it.” And then the logo is a picture of a cake, and then on your homepage you have some cakes. And that sounds really obvious, but all the people who come on my course, I review their sites, and you’ll be amazed how many people I get to their homepage and there’s a big picture of a girl with an umbrella jumping in a puddle, and no copy. And I’m like, “What do you do again? Do you make Wellington boots?” “No, no, we’re insurance.” “What?” “No, no, no. We’re interior designers.” I’m a copywriter, I worry about words, but the visual and the logo has that massive impact, doesn’t it?

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. Kate, thank you for making my nerdy concept delightful, with, “I make cake,” and make it … I can understand it now, so that’s brilliant. I might have to steal that.

Kate Toon:

It’s just clarity. And sometimes clarity over creativity. Web developers and graphic designers, they like to put in the wiggles and the fades, and they like things to parallax shift as you … Don’t, God it’s so annoying. Cut right back and just be clean and simple. Okay. So we’ve talked about user signals both in the SERPs and whatever. The question that comes up a lot always is traffic in and of itself is not a ranking factor, and yet your old mate Rand, I remember one of his little shticks at a conference was to get everybody to Google something at the beginning, click on it, and then at the end of the conference it would’ve moved up the ranking even on not personalised. So where do we still stand on that?

Cyrus Shepard:

Rand was totally right. So again, this came out of the trial documents that what people click on is a huge signal. And now it’s not just that, it’s very hard to manipulate, but what people click on tells Google it’s a good result. And if they stay on that page, it’s a good result, if they don’t go back and do another search, that’s probably a good result. And they collect trillions of click signals like that to tell them what’s good and what’s not good.

Kate Toon:

Yeah, it’s still part of it.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. You’ll often see a page stuck on page two, and then maybe Google will put it on page one for a day or so, and they’re testing it. They’re testing to see if people are clicking on it, if they’re happy with it. And then if not, back to page two. And you’ll see this dance a little bit.

Kate Toon:

Yeah, I love the dance. Again, I asked John about that. Sometimes some random person pops up and they’re brand new and they’ve got no authority, they’ve never done anything, and they’re on page one. He’s like, “Yeah, yeah, we just like to mix it up.” And I’m like, “Brilliant. All right, then. Thank you. That’s really helpful.”

Can I ask a question about the perennial issue of backlinks?

Cyrus Shepard:

Yes.

Kate Toon:

Someone writing the other day, “Google has definitively said that they don’t use backlinks to do anything,” and then everyone goes, “Ha ha ha ha.” What do you think?

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah, you definitely need backlinks. You still need backlinks. It’s part of the core Google system. But the way Google works is you type in your query and they look at what pages are relevant. Maybe they have 10,000 pages that are relevant and, “We have to sort these somehow. Let’s use some backlinks, let’s sort them.” And that may get you to page two to five of search results, but it’s not going to get you higher. It’s not going to get you to number one. So backlinks are still important, but they’re not the end-all, be-all of everything. You still need those user interaction signals and good content and everything else like that. So Google’s kind of right, they’re not as important as they used to be, but you’re going to have a really hard time ranking without them.

Kate Toon:

Yeah. It’s got to be something, hasn’t it? I think as we all know, as I say it’s a holistic thing, we’re always looking for the magic nugget, the thing that’s going to move the needle. Is it getting our site under three seconds? Is it getting all green on Core Web Vitals? Is it 700 backlinks from fabulous high authority sites? Well, it’s a bit of all of them. And a site that’s nice, and a message that works and a human voice and a brand that’s relatable and a personal brand possibly with a human fit. It’s annoying.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. Let me give your audience a practical SEO tip on this. In the trial, they confirmed something that we’ve always suspected for a long time. They often didn’t refer to links as links, they referred to them as anchors because the anchor text was more important than the link itself. And we did a study a year or two ago at my company looking at anchor text, and we found links were important, but the variety of anchor text, meaning the many different ways that your content is linked to internally and externally is much more important. So the tip is, when you’re internally linking on your own site, make sure you link differently every single time. Don’t use the same text ever. Every single link differently every time. And that’s going to push your rankings up higher than just raw links.

Kate Toon:

Yeah, I’m just going to explain that to some of the beginners. Sorry, but when you’re putting a link in, you can put it as a naked link, so you can literally see htt blah blah blah blah. You can put dub, dub dub, blah blah blah blah blah. But the best thing to do is wrap it contextually around some text within your content. Ideally not “Click here.” or “Read more,” but if you’re writing an article about Badger underpants, you wrap the link around the words “Badger underpants,” And then somewhere else in the article you wrap it around something else and also wrap it around images and other things, so there’s multiple links, anchor text type content. Cool. Because I think not everyone knows what anchor text means.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. Thank you.

Kate Toon:

No, but I think with Google, they call popups intrusive interstitials. They always try and find a way to just obfuscate the message just enough so there’s vaguery and confusion. And as you said, they push us down a particular path of, “Everyone should do FAQ Schema.” And we all do it and it works for a bit, and then they go, “Yeah, no.” Which is frustrating. Obviously what they’re trying to do from their position is make the best experience for the user, not us. Not us people building websites, even though we are also users, but for the end result. And that’s why we all love/hate Google. Biggest market share, it’s something like 95% here in Australia. Bing had a bit of a resurgence, didn’t it? Briefly.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah, they came up and they might come up even further-

Kate Toon:

They might again, yeah.

Cyrus Shepard:

Because what’s happening with Apple, and looking forward to 2024, there’s a very good possibility that Google may lose its default search status with iOS devices, which means when someone signs up with a new Apple device, right now Google is the automatic search engine, but in 2024, or maybe towards the end of 2024, it’s very possible that the US will sever that relationship where users will get a choice. So next year on this podcast, we might be talking more about Bing SEO or DuckDuckGo or ChatGTP SEO. I don’t know, but users might have a little more choice, which is exciting and scary at the same time.

Kate Toon:

It is, it is. There’s a lot to take in. Any more big predictions that you think are coming down the pipe? What’s on your pad?

Cyrus Shepard:

We talked about AI a little bit, I think we’re going to see more AI search assistance on our phone where people are … New ways of doing things with your Android and Apple devices that incorporate AI. We’re going to see some wonderful commercials this year to buy these products. I think also the industry is changing so much. You were talking to John Mueller at Google. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some resignations at Google this year. A lot of the people who have been working there 20 years when it started, the industry is shifting towards AI. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think we’re going to see some big shakeups this year, it could be interesting.

Kate Toon:

I work with a lot of copywriters, and those copywriters are towards their end of the career, and, “I’m done now. I’m hanging up my hat. I do not have the energy to take on this whole new generation. Let’s leave that to the next one.” It’s got not so much to do with SEO, but you are a big Twitter user, a big X user. How has that been? Because I must admit I don’t use Twitter at all anymore. Are you still there? Are you moving more towards LinkedIn? Are you-

Cyrus Shepard:

Well, yeah. I’m definitely doing more LinkedIn. I’m trying Threads, which it’s fun, but when you shift platforms, it’s like shouting into an empty room at first, and you feel a little silly standing up on top, “Hear ye, hear ye,” and no one’s listening to you.

Kate Toon:

Especially when you’re used to having such adoration on Twitter. I’ve done a great job on Threads by just not showing up at all. I just get new followers every day. The less I say, the more followers I get. It’s a fantastic strategy.

Cyrus Shepard:

Oh, I’m going to try that, because it’s not working very well for me.

Kate Toon:

But when you’ve been big on one platform and you start again on another, it’s humbling sometimes, isn’t it?

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. Very humbling. But fortunately, I never logged into LinkedIn. I rarely posted there, so I was very happy to see that like you on Threads, I had a pretty large following there. So that’s been a pretty easy transition. And I won’t get into the politics of Twitter, but it’s been pretty disruptive-

Kate Toon:

A bumpy ride.

Cyrus Shepard:

And it’s been a bumpy ride, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m still posting there, we’ll see.

Kate Toon:

But I think often people talk to me about what the interplay between social media and SEO and the impact of it. And I think it’s a great example of not building your kingdom on someone else’s land, a lot of people lose their Instagram accounts. But also the importance of social media to really build that trust and human connection, which then will drive branded search. And then you circumvent all this nonsense because you’re not going after how to boil an egg. You are going after EGO’s laser boiler, and everyone knows about EGO’s laser boiler because Cyrus is presenting it, and they … “I love him. I love the EGO dude. He’s amazing.” So I still think that social media has a huge role to play, possibly more this year, in building that human touch. Do you? Do you think that’s super important?

Cyrus Shepard:

Yeah. Absolutely. And I want to counter all the doom and gloom I’ve been talking about, that marketing is not dying at all. People are still looking. I do SEO consulting. One of my favourite clients makes trowels for concrete, and they’re one of the best at it in the world. And they’re not going away because as long as people are using concrete trowels, they’re going to be searching for this company, their website, their videos do great on YouTube. People want businesses, they want to be entertained, they want videos, they want knowledge. And whatever happens with AI or social media or the web, people are still going to be looking for real experiences. Whether it’s your personality, your brand, the pillows that you make, the avocados that you sell. And the more genuinely you can help people, other people are going to want that. So the tricks, the shortcuts may not work, but helping people is never going to go out of style.

Kate Toon:

It does not go out of style. Telling stories doesn’t go out of style. One of my favourite things to watch at the moment, which is embarrassing, is a dude who pressure-washes driveways.

Cyrus Shepard:

Oh, I know that guy.

Kate Toon:

Speed pressure washing. Do you watch him?

Cyrus Shepard:

Oh, I’ve seen him. Oh, yeah.

Kate Toon:

God, that guy could literally sell me anything now. I was just thinking yesterday, I was searching for something that makes little holes in your lawn and pulls out little plugs of lawn, because it might be good for … This is where I’m at with my life, people. I’m middle-aged. And I Googled and I got the big brands. I got Amazon and I’ve got Bunnings. And then I read the reviews and they weren’t so good. So I went further down the results and I got a company that specialised in this. Loads of review, a video of this amazing dude doing it, which I watched about an hour of his content after that. And guess which one I bought? I did not go back to Bunnings. I bought the dude’s one because after that hour, I loved him. I would’ve given him my firstborn child, let alone buy his law aerator. So I think you’re so right. And we know this if we think about our own search habits,

Cyrus Shepard:

I think you’re watching him in a different way than I am, but yes.

Kate Toon:

He was inspiring. I’ll send you the video, you’ll be buying one as well. Cyrus, it’s amazing, always, to have you on the show. We can now … I’ll put in links to your X of course, but I’ll put in your LinkedIn profile and maybe even your Threads, and …

Cyrus Shepard:

Oh, thanks. Yes.

Kate Toon:

And get you some followers there. But what are your plans for 2024? Anything big on the horizons, or are you going to be too busy rating websites?

Cyrus Shepard:

Oh, I’m really getting back to my roots of writing about SEO. For all the talk we just had, I’m investing in SEO in my own business, going full throttle. And I’m also launching some things to help other SEO consultants and SEO agencies help themselves, because I did that for many years at Moz and that’s what I really want to get back doing, is being that focal point. The client work I love, but it doesn’t scale very well. So I want to find ways to help more people. I’m being very vague. Yeah, big things in 2024.

Kate Toon:

Okay. Well, I’m writing a book about that one to many model, Cyrus. I’ll put you on the wait list. Awesome. Thanks so much for coming on the show.

Cyrus Shepard:

Thank you. My favourite podcast of the year.

Kate Toon:

Oh, hurrah!.

Cyrus Shepard:

Yay-