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You can find a lot of Google Ranking Factors posts. However, not many do a good job of prioritizing by importance, or cutting out the cruft. Given there are more than 200, that seems like an important thing.

Cyrus Shepard thankfully figured that out and put out an amazing post on Google success factors that we discussed on the newest episode of Content and Conversation.

I asked him about the most controversial points the piece had in the weeks since it was published, including supplemental content, the value of a .gov link, the “E.A.T.” framework, freshness, and a whole lot more.

If you stay tuned till the end, we also talk about his skills in content curation and he drops a tip I absolutely loved that should help you all level up your social game, should you find that interesting.

Show Notes:

Cyrus was a great guest, bringing a lot of expertise around SEO, as always. He’s a must follow on Twitter and someone to keep an eye on as he works towards launching his startup, Zyppy.

Check out the audio version of this episode on our podcast feed which contains all past “Content and Conversation” discussions.

Video Transcription

Ross: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Content and Conversation. Today, I’m excited to welcome Cyrus Shepard, founder of Zyppy, which is a stealth startup in software as well as an SEO consultant. And today, we’re going to be talking about his great new post on Google Success Factors. Welcome, Cyrus.

Cyrus: Thank you, Ross. I was excited to get your invitation. Ross and I have known each other for years. And I remember the day you came to Moz in Seattle, where I was working, and you said, “Cyrus, I got something to tell you. I am going to start my own company.” And to see what you’ve done, you know, we follow each other on social media, we think alike about content and links, so I am happy to be here and meet your team and hope we have a good conversation.

Ross: Yeah. I appreciate it. I have similar feelings towards you, not to turn this into a bro sesh but I’ve really respected you and everything you put out is great. I’m excited to see what you do, broaching out on to your own with your new stuff. So, obviously, people will have more to learn there as we go.

But one of the first elements of that is, really, your “Success Factors”post that you put out. Looks like it’s been doing great so far. I’m just curious, as a starting point for this conversation, talking about “Success Factors,” what made you go that direction? Why not just another Google rankings factors post that we’ve seen a lot of?

Cyrus: Yeah. So, it’s interesting because I worked on the ranking factor study at Moz, 2011, 2013, 2015. And the word is that they’re discontinuing it in its current form. The correlation studies, the expert surveys, they want to do something more useful. But I want to do something more useful too because the problem with ranking factor studies is a lot of people are looking at them and they’re great for experts but, like, the millions of people out there who are doing SEO, you know, the people who are installing EOS plugins and, they have other jobs, they just want to know what works, you know.

In these correlations studies, you know, title tag has 0.19 correlation, that’s not helpful. So, I just want to make a list of things that actually work using the best research and knowledge of the, you know, entire industry. I also wanted it to be a big post. We just launched our site and I wanted something that would get, hopefully, a little bit of attention, and the response has been really overwhelming and wonderful so far.

Ross: Nice. Nice. Yeah, I think it’s great post. First of all, I think everyone should check that out, we’ll link to it in the description and comments, and yeah, get you that link.

Cyrus: Oh, thank you.

Ross: That is the goal and I’m sure, amongst other things. But yeah, I think it’s a smart angle. You see those other posts that if you Google “Google ranking factors,” there’s often a list of 200, it’s hard to prioritize. And I like the philosophy that you went there, it’s kind of like taking a prioritization kind of direction which, I think, is a lot better for people to put their minds towards that.

So, that was, I think, a good service and, hopefully, people will understand that and utilize that over other things that exist. So yeah, I wanted to touch on, having read the article, just some interesting pieces that I took out of it and would love to get more of your thought process on that. So, one of the first pieces that I thought was worth, kind of, like detailing was the concept of EAT.

Cyrus: Expertise, Authority, Trust.

Ross: And what made that interesting to me is, sometimes we use the SUCCESS acronym here where, if you’ve heard of that, it’s made from Made to Stick and credibility is like what makes an idea stick, and one of them is credibility. So, that kind of sounds familiar but it’s interesting to me that it’s defined as three things. So, I’ll be curious to hear how you’d, like, think about those three or what does that mean in action or in etc.

Cyrus: Well, it’s interesting because EAT is one of the things that Google clearly defines, and not so much publicly, but with their quality evaluator guidelines. So, if you don’t know how this works, Google has a team of thousands of contractors that all they do all day long is just go through search results and score them. And they have these scorecards that they submit electronically and Google uses this scoring against their machine learning algorithms.

They take the content that scores highly and they train their machines rank content that looks like this, higher. And they don’t necessarily know how that, you know, what goes into the machine learning, but if you can mimic what the quality raters are doing, you have a better chance of ranking higher. So, EAT, and they clearly define what EAT is.

Expertise, so, when you look at the piece, does this look like they are experts on the subject? Is it something that should rank high? And there’s like a scale of one to five. And this is just a gut thing, you know. If you look at a page and you’re creating content like you do here at Siege or anywhere, does this look like something you would want to share or trust, especially if it’s a money or life query?

So, that’s the first one. Second, is there a satisfying amount of content? Is it a blurb or is this a complete resource that you could link to as a resource, as a reference source? And finally, Trust. They actually have the quality raters go out and see what the website reputation is.

And they can be doing other Google searches, are other people talking about this? So, if you’re John Hopkins, obviously, you’re going to find a lot of information about John Hopkins and you’re going to see that they have a positive reputation. If you’re nobody, if you’re like me and just launching your website this week, you might find some tweets or things, but the information is going to be pretty scarce. So, what other people are saying about you is the third part of that, so.

Ross: Yeah, that’s a really interesting point and it kind of goes back to sometimes some secondary things can end up affecting your ranking that if you’re not realizing, like, reputation management, reputation online. So, you’re talking about trustworthiness of your making a high purchase or high-cost purchase, you go, hopefully, the page experience is good, maybe the price is relatively, seems a good amount for you.

But then, maybe, you’d start researching that company, you’d search “Zyppy review,”you’d search whatever, “LG microwave review,” and then if those aren’t good, additionally, your long click signals would bring you back to the same original searches, Google might rerank you for that. So, on the surface, it might be like, “Hey, we got a great page experience,”but if you have a bad brand, that will hold you back from ranking, right?

Cyrus: Yeah. Absolutely. And we don’t know how much Google is using that as an explicit signal or implicit but it definitely…everything’s connected. And not even Googlers can tell you, but it’s all there.

Ross: Yeah, that makes sense. Another thing, kind of, like, touching on the secondary factors that I found really interesting from your post was the idea of supplementary content. Something I had, I mean, I’ve read those posts and I kind of think let it fall to the wayside in my consciousness, but it’s interesting, kind of, like, another thing that goes beyond the single posts and I’ll love to hear your point of view on that.

Have you any specific examples of where you’ve seen that, maybe, people lacking that or what would be a situation where that might be a bigger factor than others?

Cyrus: Yeah. So, there’s two types of content that Google likes to find. Main content, which is why you came to the page. You did a search for “Early cancer symptoms,” going back to John Hopkins, and you’ll see the main content that answers your question, that’s called main content. Supplemental content is everything surrounding that that’s not related to the main question.

So, it’s going to be your navigation, it’s going to be your links to related articles, maybe some related videos, things like that. How I like to think of it is anything that’s going to increase engagement. And you can…that makes it very measurable. So, I like to look at supplemental content as those things on your page that aren’t going to increase your time on site, your pages per visit, things like that.

Are people exploring different pages? So, my whole philosophy on doing SEO is answer the question people came for and then answer the next 10 questions that they haven’t thought of yet. And if you can do that on the page, this is everything else that you’re looking for, you’re creating comprehensive resources with the supplemental content. And this is actually scored by Google, again, trained with their, you know, machine learning algorithm.

So, the better your supplemental content in engaging people, it can actually help you to rank higher.

Ross: Got you. It’s a kind of task completion, like, not just, wedding etiquette or like, wedding invitation etiquette. Then, maybe there are how to address wedding invitations, and then, maybe buying a wedding invitation. If you could give them an entire path from that starting point…

Cyrus: And you think about sites pages that don’t have supplemental content and they are typically spam pages, squeeze pages, you know, the sales page that tries to direct you into a funnel and like PC landing pages that don’t want you to get distracted at all by anything. And those pages typically don’t rank through really well, so.

Ross: Yeah, it makes me think of this post that should be live by the time this publishes by our developer, Barbara, wrote this great post on “Sidebar Best Practices.” And it’s like the idea that everything in your sidebar should be something someone might want to click. So, I thought an interesting example of that is that some people might do recent posts or something like that as a, maybe, giant e-commerce site.

And say, it’s a proc review site that has a lot of reviews across many categories and you just have recent posts on the sidebar and you’re in, maybe, baby or something like that, and the recent posts are just the two most random things on your site. The most average user is not going to click that. So, to me, a more relevant would be recent baby reviews. So, it’s like more likely to actually get clicked and engaged with in every element on the sidebar.

Cyrus: And Google, through Chrome, through the user agreement, when you use Chrome, you have that, you know, 100-page user agreement that you implicitly agree to when you install the software. They track clicks through the Chrome browser, and they haven’t ever admitted it, but they can definitely see what people are actually clicking.

And if something is getting a lot of clicks, they can discover URLs and see the engagement and, you know, so it’s not something that you can easily gain.

Ross: Another thing that’s interesting and I think maybe needs a little more depth as a success factor, not for you, that’s a very in-depth post, but for everybody, is just the idea of freshness. Obviously, Google likes freshness, it’s valuable, helps pages rank higher. Another thing, specific examples if you see people doing that wrong, or maybe, a more advanced way to think about freshness beyond this just needs to be updated, or also do your own case studies of how you’ve seen that make an impact.

Cyrus: Yeah. If I can plug my post I wrote a few years ago. It’s called “Freshness Factors.” If you Google that, it goes through everything. But yeah, so there is so many different levels of freshness. You can…the cheap and lowest quality of freshness is just putting a new date on the post, which a lot of people do, and that might work, like, you know, a smidge. Actually updating the content is obviously the most helpful.

But what people need to consider is what they’re updating. Are they updating, you know, links at the bottom or are they updating content that’s more towards the top, in front and center above the fold? Because that’s going to carry a lot of weight. But the biggest thing I see people, sort of, not taking advantage of is, and this is listed in Google Patents, and I’ve seen it work myself on sites, is the cadence of freshness.

So, a lot of people just update their post once a year, or if it’s a, you know, a major piece of content, you know, that’s all they’ll do. But if you’re updating your important pages every month, and set up a regular cadence, that is much more effective and that sends a signal that you are paying attention to this page all the time.

That’s why I enable comments on all my posts, I always sort my comments by newest first. That’s a minor signal because that’s in the supplemental content, comments are supplemental content so it’s not a huge factor. But I think cadence is the biggest opportunity that most people miss out on.

Ross: Yeah. Something I’ve been thinking about recently is the idea of evaluation, so searching the result page, like, looking at every search result and taking it for its own quality or also how much freshness is needed. So, for example, most markets, you’ll see a ton of timestamps on the search result, but some, I think, will be more aggressive than others in terms of how fast they turn over.

Some require a year or less, some are two years or so, and in general, being more fresh is going to be good. But in certain markets like, for example, it might be “Best headphones,” if you look at that search result, I would bet most of the timestamps are two months or more recent. So, if you’re not two months or more fresh than that, you’re most likely, you’re not going to get clicked even if your result is good.

So, I think like a good process for people could be create like an inventory of all their posts, because obviously, people still have limited time so they have to prioritize. And like, do that SERP analysis, decide how often it needs to be updated, and then, also, maybe you need to decide like, maybe, it’s a last major revision, also last minor revision, because I think you could end up settling on that once a month update kind of thing.

Cyrus: Exactly. And those queries, like, that’s a great example of headphones, you know. Having the date, you know, with the title and automatically updating that every time you make a change, you know, “Best headphones November 2018,” huge. But again…

Ross: Yeah, that’s good for click-through rate. Yeah, for sure.

Cyrus: Again, it’s very query-specific. And looking at, you know, if I’m writing about the Magna Carta of 1429, those stay a little more stale, I’m not going to have a lot of new information this week, “Updates on the Magna Carta.” So, you know.

Ross: The Bible changed a lot today. So, one piece of, like, discussion around your post that’s come up is the idea of, like, are .gov links valued more than other links or less valued and vice versa? I’d say, with .edu. Maybe you could touch on that and your thoughts there.

Cyrus: Yeah. That actually ended up being kind of controversial. Some people calling me out, you know, online like, “Hey, I work with .gov links, I work with .edu links, they are awesome.” And I might not have been as clear as I could, because they are awesome, but I looked at data from three different correlations studies, Aras [SP], Moz, one other, maybe some Russian, I’m not sure, that studied millions and millions of .edu links did not look at .gov links.

And they actually found they correlated great with rankings but they actually correlated slightly less than total links in general. So, they’re hugely valuable but the data shows, across millions of links, there is nothing inherently more valuable, again, with .edu or government links. Still, get them. I mean, if you have a strategy, you can rank but, you know, some other people were pointing out online that, you know, a lot of people are getting notices from Google search console because of scholarship spam.

They’re building shady scholarship links, so they’re getting the .edu links but they’re actually being penalized for it. And maybe because the .edu space has been so oversaturated, maybe that’s why we’re seeing correlations but yeah. I think I go after government and .edu links in my own link building, I get them if you can, but nothing special about it.

Ross: I actually missed that part. Is that a new thing that people have been getting notices about scholarship going spam?

Cyrus: Yeah, that’s what I heard. I haven’t, but…

Ross: That’s good, it means you’re doing well. Yeah. I mean, it makes sense and I can see Google putting some dampening factor on scholarships. And I know some people have said Google, most likely, they were never going to come out and say, maybe they do through those notices like, “We don’t give money to schools and students and stuff like that,” probably because if they did that, tons of money would be taken from students, unfortunately.

But I would think they’re pretty smart people there, they could say .edu with scholarship and URL title devalued this slightly.

Cyrus: Yeah. And then, machine learning might pick that up too.

Ross: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, another thing…I mean, I generally agree with you. Also, the correlative causative thing, I think, more likely they’re just better links on average, I would doubt. I mean, again, I don’t have access to the algorithm that they would just say its .gov valued higher. They don’t need to because everyone’s linking to the sites already so that shouldn’t really be an issue, I would think. So, another interesting thing I found with your post is just like the structure of it.

And also, clearly you’re taking on ranking factors. I know there’s a little search volume behind it, and I’m not sure how much, but it looks like you’re kind of, sort of trying to rank for that. Maybe you can touch on your strategy and what you’re trying to accomplish here, I think it will be interesting for people, and how you do it.

Cyrus: Yeah. You give me a lot of credit. I really had no strategy. I was a little sneaky trying to rank for, I call it success factors because that’s the whole point. It’s not about what Google actually uses, it’s about what actually works. But no one is searching for Success Factors and I did want to rank when people were searching for ranking factors so I called it “100 SEO Success Factors Ranked.” So, I’m sneaking in the word rank and I think, some association.

But when I actually looked up the keyword volume for ranking factors, it’s not that high. A lot of people aren’t searching for ranking factors, you know, it’s not in the tens of thousands, it’s more like in the hundreds. But it’s a 12,000 6-page word post, it’s going to rank for a lot of long tail keywords. But more importantly, I’m not so concerned about the traffic volume at this point, I was hoping and confident that if the post did well, it would generate links.

And hopefully, a lot of links that can raise the visibility of the rest of my site up over time. So, we’re hoping that this is…we want to publish a foundational piece of content that was kind of like our beginner’s guide to SEO or something that we’re known for that can be evergreen, that we can update, that we can redo and push out once a year or more and, you know, build an entire content strategy off of this one piece of content that maybe last, you know, one to five years.

Ross: Nice. Yeah, that’s reminds me, and I remember doing this analysis of the search result, is it’s kind of a high-intensity link search. Because I remember seeing, like, the top four results all had hundreds of links to them, and we sometimes do this with other markets and recommend it like, on our own site, we have a best infographics post. And not many people search for that, but there’s just random people trying to…that are looking for that to reference in their blog post.

And that works for like keyword statistics, I find, a lot. Like, Student loan debt statistics, like, that’s just some reporter or blogger trying to reference that. And ranking factors is like that’s your version of that, I think, in some ways where maybe someone’s just trying to find that reference to that, and I’m sure you saw that, in general, people linked to those in droves.

Cyrus: Yeah. So, I have mad respect for you and everybody at this company because I suck at link outreach.

Ross: But you’re good at link generation, so…

Cyrus: I’m okay at link generation, but I have to…it makes me up my content game because I want people to find the content and link to it because I suck at reaching out, which I’m trying to get better at. And I could probably learn some things from you guys. But yeah, I need my post to be so awesome that they find it and hopefully link to it. But yeah, not the best strategy in the world.

Ross: I’m sure of that one’s so great that even a B minus strategy, outreach-wise, I’m sure would do pretty well.

Cyrus: We’ll see.

Ross: Yeah. I’m curious, any other, like, discussion or thoughts around that concept that have come out in the last couple days as you published it that you think are worth commenting or talking about?

Cyrus: Well, the response has been great. I find most of the interesting conversations around the controversial topics, you know. We talked about the .edu and government links. Some people I said that keyword density was not an important factor, some people had issue with that. My response would be, “Keyword density is important, too, at a very entry level, the first two or three times you use keywords on a page.”

But then, after that, other topic modeling systems work just as well, synonyms, variance, semantically-related content. And some people think that…some people see it working because they add more keywords to their page and it actually does rank higher. So, yes, yes, they say, you know, it’s keyword density but they’re actually doing other things than…it’s more semantically related, things like that.

Ross: Got you. Okay, that makes sense. Yeah, and I would agree with that as well. You know, we thought about introducing and we are still playing with it, like TF-IDF and things like that in our agency.

I mean, there were instances where we do that but I think if you generally try and get the keyword in the first couple paragraphs, and the other main elements, the H1, URL, etc., and then just writing and actually making something amazing carries you 99% of the way in SEO. So, yeah. I think it’s a great post overall and, obviously, should be a great resource for people.

Since we have a little more time here, I think you’re an expert at content curation and also twitter curation. Maybe you could quickly give people some quick tips on the best practices there and how you’ve gotten that to work for yourself.

Cyrus: Yeah, it’s weird, you know. I just launched a site but I’m known for two things. One is Twitter, that’s where most people know me which is, if that’s your only strategy, that’s kind of poor because I have nothing to back it up. It’s great that people follow me, but it doesn’t build any link authority generally when I don’t have content to promote it. It’s really low ROI, you know.

My mom asked, “How do you make money on that?” And I said, “Well, that’s a great question, mom.” I don’t make anything. The other thing that I’m sort of known for in the SEO world is MCing conferences. But both of those things are related because they’re both kind of about curation in a weird way and I’ll explain how. So, I used to write The Moz Top 10 newsletter. I have Moz, which is a great piece of curation, it’s still going today.

So, my strategy for curation is three parts. First, you’ve got to pick the right content to share. And that’s where everybody understands that we’ve got to share great content, but then they stop. They think that’s all I have to do. The second thing you have to do is you have to provide context.

Where does this fit and who is this for? For example, if I’m tweeting something, the first thing I’m going to say, “If you do content marketing, blank,” so, with that statement, I put it in context, if you are in this target audience, which is generally everybody in my audience or whoever you’re talking about. The third thing is to assign importance, which is your emotional trigger or, you know, your hook, “If you do content marketing, this is an amazing resource that’s going to help you X.”

So, you have to put the value prop in the curation. So, content, put it in context, and provide the value prop, and then share. And with Twitter, or e-mail, or even on stage, using, you know, copywriting practices, I’m sure you have some great copywriters on staff here, using formatting, all that stuff.

The fourth thing is keeping your…I just did an interview yesterday and the person asked me some great questions about branding, “How do you do personal branding?” And this goes the same thing. You got to keep your signal to noise ratio low. People confuse social media and curation channels as their own personal social media playground, but they’re also using it, it’s this weird mix of business and personal.

So, they’re sharing their cat videos and tweeting about SEO, and that’s fine if that’s what you want to do. But if you’re promoting yourself as a brand or your company as a brand, you’ve got to keep the signal noise ratio low and continually ask yourself, “How do I want to be perceived and what value are people getting for being in my audience?” And weirdly, in our industry, so many people are not very good at that. For an industry of marketers, we have a lot of noise.

Ross: Yeah. I find, it’s interesting when I, like, share SEO content marketing stuff, it does well generally, but even if I go, sort of, close, like entrepreneurship or something like that, engagement tanks because, as you mentioned, like, you’ve got to be high signal and most people following are going to be there first thing and then the latter.

But I mean, I love those tips at the beginning, I had never thought about that way. Can you give any more specific examples on how you’ve done that?

Cyrus: Oh, that’s…well, it’s also the way I introduce every single person when I MC. The person is the content or their presentation. So, if I was introducing you, I would say, if you do…”Ross Hudgens, I’ve known him for years,” I make it personal, I establish my relationship. “If you do content marketing or link building, Ross has new data from studies he’s done at Siege that shows how you can do X.”

I’m already excited by that, and it doesn’t even matter what you say at that point because we have set you up for success, this is important. The funny thing about marketing that people forget is people want to be told…when people follow someone on Twitter, or they sign up for your newsletter, or whatever, you’ve already captured their interest. At that point, they’re engaging you because they want you to tell them what’s important. They don’t want you to just push out information, it’s your job to tell them what is important and why.

And people often don’t do that, “This is what you need to do.” You are the expert, that’s why they became part of your audience. You have to not be afraid to use that expertise and stand up and make yourself be seen and share your expertise. Even if you’re wrong, you know, you can engage, no one’s going to be right all the time but don’t be afraid to show up.

Ross: Yeah. I love that concept, how do you apply that back to SEO or does that ever apply, like, on page curation? Or is it done differently? I’m just curious. Maybe, it’s a completely different approach.

Cyrus: That’s a really interesting question because so many people’s…I’m not going to call out anybody by name even though I want to, so many people in SEO and content marketing just copy other people. They rewrite or sometimes just steal content, rearrange it, use different keywords. And I think you and I both probably don’t like that.

When you’re creating something, you have to add value and make it better than everything else that’s out there. So, I think, when you’re actually producing content, you have to go a little beyond the curation, to an extent, and actually add value, whether it’s data, analysis, the ranking Success Factors post I just did, a new way of organizing things that people haven’t thought of before.

Ross: Design.

Cyrus: Yeah, design. Call out to my wife, Dawn, who did the design.

Ross: Yeah, we try to use Dawn a while ago. She said no to us. She’s pretty popular. It’s fine, she’s in demand.

Cyrus: Try again.

Ross: Oh, okay. All right. All right. Yeah. So, this has been great, Cyrus. Maybe there is be interested to hear if there’s, like, one main thing you want people to take away from that post or something you’re excited about or some actionable thing that people would use or that you find most interesting or not used to make you useful, people would love to hear that.

Cyrus: You know, people are always searching for the latest SEO data and secrets and inside information. But the truth is, 95% of everybody out there can’t get the basics right. You know, the top SEO agencies that I work with, when they start working with clients, they’re generally changing three things, and these are top SEO firms.

They’re changing title tags, meta descriptions, and internal linking. And the reason they do those things is because they’re almost always done poorly or there is room to improve. They’re easy to do, you have control over it, you don’t have to do any outreach or anything, and they move the needle. And even today, when I work with clients, those are the top three things that I address.

I think internal linking is probably the biggest opportunity where I get the biggest wins. And there are so few good resources, I need to create something and write something. So few good resources on site architecture and internal linking best practices and I think those simple things are what people should focus on and not the secrets, not the ranking factors, just get the freaking basics right and you’re going to win.

Ross: Yeah, that makes me think of a consulting philosophy I have that kind of relates to that. And I think, to a certain extent, you can probably go through a list of 200 ranking factors and start recommending, like, “Fix this one broken image from three pages of a million-page site,” is that really going to move the needle? And I think, as a consultant, sometimes, you recommend that at a small level, they’ll start thinking, “Hey, this person is recommending these things that aren’t doing anything,” even though it’s technically an improvement, you just spent four hours of consulting time to find that one improvement, you’d be better off not making that suggestion sometimes.

But yeah, Cyrus, I really appreciate you coming on. This has been great. And yeah, people at home, definitely check out Cyrus’ new site, that rankings factors post. We’ll make sure to give it a good anchor text link in the comments.

Cyrus: Natural.

Ross: Natural, yes. Thanks, everybody, for listening to another episode of Content and Conversation. We’d really appreciate it if you go to iTunes, give us a five-star rating, this helps us put out more content like this to get more great guests like Cyrus. I would really appreciate it. And of course, let us know what you thought as well.

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