PPM 15 Stephan | Search Engine Optimization


In today’s aggressive digital market, it is important to be searchable, visible, and valuable. The secret sauce that your business absolutely needs is search engine optimization or SEO. Stephan Spencer, an internationally-recognized SEO expert, author of three bestselling SEO-focused books, professional speaker, consultant, and founder of NetConcepts, guides us on the fundamentals of SEO and shares tips on how improve your Google rankings. On top of that, he throws knowledge bombs on how you can improve by adding value to your podcast and grow your audience.

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Adding Value To Your Podcast Through SEO with Stephan Spencer

International Podcast Day Marathon

I’m excited to have you on. We rarely get the opportunity to share with our audience someone who has your level of expertise in their field, in particular, SEO and digital marketing. You literally wrote the book on this.

It’s a light read, 1,000 pages.

That’s probably going to scare a few people off seeing if they’re going to figure out SEO on their own.

I do have a smaller book that’s only 120-some pages but it’s not technically all about SEO. It’s all about how to be a power user of Google, how to find anything. That’s an easier read for a long plane ride. Whereas the Art of SEO, you have to take a few weeks off of work.

The Art of SEO, in your bio it says it’s in third edition. The natural question that comes to my mind about that is how much changed between the first edition and the third edition? Were there a lot of technological changes that required you to amend things in the book or not really?

People don't like reading transcripts, they like reading blog posts. Click To Tweet

Yes, we have to be very careful when we’re writing because we don’t want to put stuff in that’s going to go obsolete within a few months. You have to be very careful. Third party tools are very dangerous. Google-delivered tools are less dangerous. You have to include Google Search Console, Google Analytics and so forth. There are third-party tools that got bought out that go out of business so there is less focus on third-party tools. There are new innovations that come to pass like RankBrain and so forth. You have to do a significant update each time. We added 250 pages between the second and the third edition. The publisher, O’Reilly, is saying, “You actually have to go backwards because it’s too much. It’s overwhelming. People don’t want to buy the book. You need to cut it down to maybe 600 pages,” and that’s even a bit overwhelming. 994 pages is a bit much.

I’m sure because you understand the technical realities of it all, it is what it is. SEO involves all these different things. You have to figure out how you’re going to boil that down into something that’s useful and digestible for people.

There are different use cases, different target markets and industries that need specialized information. I would love to include a chapter about podcasts and SEO, but there is no room for it. I wrote a Search Engine Land article about it. There’s a good place to start if you’re interested as a podcaster in learning some of the specifics that would apply to you as a podcaster like optimizing your RSS feed. It doesn’t matter if you optimize your episode descriptions in terms of iTunes. It isn’t important. It doesn’t actually count, only the description of the show, then titles of the episodes and the titles of the show itself. That’s a nuance that doesn’t make it into a big book that’s all about SEO for everybody.

That’s an article you wrote on and posted on Search Engine Land, is that right?


PPM 15 Stephan | Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization: Content, technical, and links are the three pillars of SEO.


You do have two podcasts. You see value in the podcast. I would love to hear from you to share with our audience, what is the value to you of the podcast? Is it all within the podcast world or is it for your website as well? How do you feel about it?

If you think about, “Do I want to have a separate website for my podcast or do I want to add it to my main website? Am I going to get some SEO benefit for my main website?” Either way, if I have a podcast, “How do I get links if I’m a podcaster and do these links matter if let’s say I get a shout out from a guest on their Twitter feed?” Let’s start with the fundamentals. SEO has three pillars to it, content, technical, which includes the architecture and all the geeky stuff like XML sitemaps and robots.txt and all that stuff. The third is the links. Content, technical and links, those are the three pillars. If you have any one of these pillars being weak, it’s like sitting on a two-legged stool. You’re going to fall over. You need to have a solid set of three pillars there.

If you don’t have great links pointing to your website, you’re not going to rank. If you don’t have great content, you’re not going to rank. If you don’t have great technical architecture and everything, you won’t rank. Why would you set up a separate site for your podcast? In my case like with Get Yourself Optimized in particular, I want that to become a New York Times bestselling book. I’m working on a book and that needs to have its own separate presence. If you think about it, if you want to create a tribe or your thousand true fans and have them aggregate somewhere, it should be on a separate website. It makes your brands for the podcast, for the upcoming book and all that look more substantial. That’s a reason why I did it.

If you already have a fantastic brand that you’re using the podcast as a way to augment that, you’re looking for ways to flow more link equity directly into your main website, then a podcast on your site with the show notes and all that makes a lot of sense. That’s something that you need to weigh the pluses and minuses of. For me, with both shows, I wanted to have a strong enough individual presence, for Marketing Speak and for Get Yourself Optimized. If you’re trying to get links to your main website and you’re not doing very well with that, a podcast is a fantastic way to get great links. Then you would use the podcast as a way to get great content out there. You don’t want to have weak show notes pages that have a few bullets on them. You want to have extensive blog posts or at least extensive outlines of your episodes.

That’s giving the search engine something to sink their teeth into. Another thing too is if you put a separate transcript. That’s fine. That’s better than nothing. It’s much better to turn that into something that is much more consumable. People don’t like reading transcripts. They like reading blog posts. By taking the transcript, transforming it into a blog post, breaking it up with imagery and so forth, it increases user engagement metrics which is a signal that Google looks at. If somebody goes to the page that ends up being a transcript and it’s like, “Welcome to the show,” and then the next person, “Thanks for having me,” and it just reads terribly, they’re out of there. That bounce doesn’t register as a bounce. They’re not spying on your Google Analytics. Google doesn’t do that to hurt your SEO. Everybody would leave Google Analytics in droves.

If you want to create something that is valuable, start with a long post. Click To Tweet

What they do look at is what’s called dwell time. If nobody’s dwelling on your webpage, they bounced right out and then they click on another listing. Google tracks that. They can see that somebody has clicked on your listing and then come back, clicked on a different listing or done another search and that tells them, “That was not a quality answer to the user’s query. Let’s demote the site and the search engines so don’t slap up transcripts.” It’s better than nothing. If you don’t have transcripts and you have minimal show notes, at least do transcripts. If you can turn that into an engaging blog post that isn’t the back and forth, “Welcome to the show. Thanks for having me,” and it’s a wall of text that nobody’s going to stick around and read through, that’s going to hurt your user engagement metrics, the dwell time in particular.

I hadn’t heard it phrased that way as dwell time. I knew that it was important that when people come to a page on your site that the more time they stay on the site, the stickier that post is. The better it is, the longer it is as a positive factor.

On the other hand, there could be cases where it’s a very succinct and straightforward answer to the user’s query. Google can understand the differences between, “I want to consume a bunch of content” or “I just need to know some stats about the Eiffel Tower.” Stats that may not have shown up immediately as an instant answer and Google at the top, in the area where they put instant answers and features. You can put the question, “How tall is the Eiffel Tower?” Google would just tell you. You don’t need to go to any website but then you could ask questions that Google doesn’t give you an instant answer on. You have to jump to a search result to see a search listing, “There’s the answer. I can continue with writing my report for school or whatever,” and then you bounce right out. Google can understand the difference between those types of queries. They’re not going to hurt you for not making the person stick around and do a bit of a scavenger hunt to find the answer to some very simple, straightforward question.

Hasn’t Google’s preference, the length of content, meaning a written post that they want to see in terms of words, hasn’t the number of words that they want to see increased over the years? Meaning at some point you have a content of such a few amount of words, they’re not going to give it much weight. Is that right?

PPM 15 Stephan | Search Engine Optimization

The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization

It will work against you. There’s a point where it’s considered thin content. It’s not a straightforward number of words. Google is more nuanced than that. If you have a lot of words in a disclaimer and that disclaimer is on every page of your site and you’ve got three short bullets for what the show notes are for an episode, that’s still thin content, even though you might have a 400-word disclaimer. Google’s very smart at figuring this stuff out. If you want to create something that is valuable, start with a long post that’s straightforward but it’s more nuanced than that. If you need to count words, you’re missing the point.

If you think about, is this a comprehensive review of the topic? If you’re going to write about lawnmowers and all you’re doing is you’re repeating yourself, talking about lawnmowers and then lawnmowers and lawnmowers and so forth, you haven’t talked about grass. You haven’t talked about lawn care. You haven’t talked about weed whackers. All these are known as LSI keywords by some SEOs or just related topics. If you’re not addressing these related topics in your content piece, it might be 3,000 words but it’s still a shallow thin article because it’s not a covering all these important related topics.

It’s more one-dimensional in that sense. On the technical side, you mentioned the three pillars. Content, I think it’s very clear. You’ve got to have written content on your website, the right content. The more the better. The links, I think people can understand that pretty easily. The technical side, it’s as simple as if you’re building a new WordPress website with a decent theme that you’re going to be set up the right way. Does it take a professional to go in there from a technical perspective?

It does. Here’s the sad thing about it. You don’t know what’s broken until a professional goes in and has a look. You might think that, “I followed the instructions on somebody’s blog posts. You said these are the settings that you should have,” and something got missed. Every single attachment that you add to a blog post or to an episode’s show notes page ends up becoming its own page, it’s own URL. It’s not just with the graphic but a separate HTML page with just the graphic on it. Those are attachment URLs. Those are very damaging to your SEO because we talked about thin content. You can’t get any thinner than that. No words plus the image and if every single one of your images that you upload to your media library gets treated like that, you’re going to end up potentially with hundreds or thousands maybe of thin content pages. That’s one example.

Another might be you’re going to town with tags and you don’t realize you’ve created thousands of tag pages because you’re not being consistent. You’re winging it every time you write a blog post, “Let’s slap a couple of dozen keywords in there,” and they are three or four-word phrases. They vary all over the place. You’re not consistently using the same ones over and over again. Every time you create a tag like that, you create a tag page and that tag page ends up in Google. Let’s say that you’ve only used that strange tag with five keywords in it once you’ve created again thin content. This is yet another way that you might do it. A great way to get a sense as a nonprofessional at SEO, if you’ve created a lot of thin content pages onto Google and do a search and then your domain, you scroll through the search results. I tend to prefer to switch to 100 results per page in my Google search settings. I don’t have to hit next too many times.

I’d keep scrolling until I get through the first 100. I go to the next page of results and I see the next 100. It’s a little easier. You can see if you have a lot of these tag pages or date-based archives. Those are another problem because nobody’s searching for January 2017 podcast episode or something like that. Date-based archives are only useful for the latest month. Even browsers, users who are browsing your site, they’re not going to say, “I wonder what happened back in 2016 when I wasn’t following this podcast,” and then they go to the first month and then the second month of 2016. I say remove the date-based archives. They’re not good for SEO. They’re not presenting the right keyword themes like January 2016 or whatever. They’re not good for users. Back in the day when blogs were all new and everything and people were consuming every single blog post and wanting to go back in time, it was fine then, but that was a long time ago.

You don’t know what’s broken until a professional comes in and has a look. Click To Tweet

There are way too many blogs these days that people don’t want to follow every blog post. They only want to laser in on the relevant blog posts that they were searching for in Google. Gone with the date-based archives, gone with the tag pages and using tags. Get very SEO-specific with your category pages and your categories. The choice of the category shouldn’t be esoteric, obtuse sounding or are very generic. The last thing you want to do if you’re an eCommerce site is have categories like men, women and accessories because that’s not how people search. They’re not going to type in Google men. They’re going to type in men’s clothes, men’s accessories, men’s belts or something like that. You need to be more descriptive with your categories and even think about subcategories. For me on Get Yourself Optimized where I have a whole pile of episodes about health, fitness and biohacking, it makes a lot of sense for me to have subcategories under health like biohacking, stem cell therapy, brain hacking and brain performance. Those would make sense if you’re covering a wide range of topics to go into the subcategory level.

You need to put your head in the mindset of the site visitor or somebody who’s going to be searching for something on the internet, what might they type in and what you have to offer to be relevant to that search?

Yes, and to the search engine spiders so you have to think about the implications from a user perspective, it might make total sense to have a category, then subcategory and then sub-subcategory. Realize that from a spider’s perspective, you’re three layers deep, three clicks away from a homepage potentially depending on how you’ve set up your navigation. Then you’ve demoted those pages in Google’s eyes because they’re farther away from the homepage.

How far your content is away from the homepage makes a difference?

Back to an eCommerce site example. Let’s say it’s men’s belts. You have to go into men’s. You have to go into accessories. You have to go into leather accessories. You have to go into belts. That’s four clicks away from the homepage. You’ve sunk that webpages chances to rank for men’s leather belts by doing that. I had a client’s REI, against my recommendations they went from having two separate categories, skis and snowboards to having snow sports. Putting skis and snowboards under there as subcategories. The rankings fell for both skis and snowboards, not surprisingly. If you are a publisher, an eCommerce site, a podcaster and you want your very best stuff whether it’s products for podcasters, episodes or guests, whatever to rank the highest, feature them on the homepage. You give them the best shot at ranking because Google sees how important they are. They’re one click away. Where are they matters and where they are matters too. If you put it down in the bottom of the page, Google doesn’t count it as much as if it’s in the main part of the page and the body above the fold where you don’t have to scroll yet.

PPM 15 Stephan | Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization: Get very SEO-specific with your category pages and your categories. You need to be more descriptive with your categories and even think about subcategories.


Would that work for a blog feed that’s on your homepage? Is that considered then one click away to that post? A lot of times those don’t go on forever, maybe it’s sometimes only the most recent ones.

Yeah, usually it is.

Would that be helpful because then even if you had things within a hierarchy of a menu structure, but it was also available this other way, I don’t know maybe that’d be all right? I see what you’re saying. That’s interesting. I didn’t realize that because when I think about from a user perspective, searching for something on Google, finding an article or post whatever that I ended up clicking on, it sends you directly into that page. I don’t even see the homepage of the site unless I intentionally go to it after the fact. It’s not necessarily about how you’ve gotten to it from Google search. You’re saying when it’s buried between layers of menus in a site, it won’t rank as highly in the search results. That’s illuminating.

It makes sense though, when you think about it from a logical perspective, links or votes, links that you post or publish on your site or votes too. When you don’t link it all to, let’s say it’s an episode, you were embarrassed by that episode, “That was my worst episode,” I’m not going to even link to it for my own website. Google knows that you haven’t linked to it. There’s no vote from your own site. It’s an orphan page. That’s the name of such a page. When you don’t link to something that’s an orphan. Google knows that and it doesn’t think very highly of the page itself. If you link to it but nobody else links to it, then that was also a signal to Google that it’s probably not amazing. Try and get an inbound link directly to those episodes so that you get the episode page to rank better and not just focus on link building to the homepage.

Enter what we affectionately call Ego Bait™. Creating that little embed code that we create that hopefully your guests will use and populates an image on their site and links back to your post. That’s was one of the reasons why we did that.

Most comments are garbage, link comments are garbage. Click To Tweet

It makes sense too when you think about like, “What are the motivations for somebody to link to your episode page?” This is another strategy that we’ve implemented that’s been very effective. Any tools that are mentioned on the show, we reached out to the tool providers and say, “Heads up, my guest mentioned your tool on the show. We called it out on the show notes page.” We’ve gotten a lot of links and we’ve even gotten free use codes to the tools, “That’s awesome. If you want six or twelve months for free of our tool for yourself or to give away to your listeners, here’s a code. We’ve done a shout out on social media. We’ve linked to it from our press page.”

That’s the next level. A lot of podcasters understand about trying to get links back. When it’s a link that’s not directly related to your guests like a tool you mentioned, whether it’s software or anything that’s mentioned that there is a link for on the internet, tell that company, to do that outreach and say, “You were mentioned here on this post. You might want to link to it.” They’re going to want to link to it, aren’t they? It’s another place that they’re getting exposure.

It’s another level. Ego bait, for many podcasters is another level they don’t even think about. They’re like, “Here’s the episode.”

“Please share it on Facebook,” that’s not going to help them other than maybe they find new people that might want to listen that way.

From an SEO perspective, it’s indirect at best because social media links do not count for SEO. They’re a nofollow. Every single social media platform nofollow’s external links. Everything from YouTube to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus and Wikipedia. That’s actually a social platform because it’s a social community, it nofollow links. You might think, “I got mentioned in a Wikipedia article,” which is great. From an SEO perspective, there’s no link equity that flows through that because of the nofollow. If you go back to this idea of how can we go another level with what we’re doing to get links to our episode pages, to our show notes pages? Ego bait is one and going to the tool providers and all the different resources that were mentioned is another. A whole other one is to go to peers in that industry, peers to the guest and ask for expert insights to weigh in on their opinion on something that was discussed in depth in that episode.

PPM 15 Stephan | Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization: Where you get into trouble is when you approve low-value comments that are patting you on the back.


It becomes almost like a survey or an expert roundup in addition to all the show notes. Let’s say that the episode is all about getting links to your show notes pages. Let’s reach out to a few other SEOs and ask them for their opinion about what are some of the best strategies that you’ve utilized to get links to show notes pages beyond the obvious of Ego Bait™. Besides the five things that we’ve discussed in the episode, do you have any more that you want to include? We will add these to the in-depth blog post. It’s not just a show notes page, it’s an in-depth blog post. If you add expert insights to that in-depth blog posts and you call out the person who contributed that insight with a nice headshot, their title, their company and a whole little paragraph inset that’s separate and prominent, that’s Ego Bait™ too. It’s a whole other level.

You have to do the homework to go out and get it or have a VA help you do that maybe. That is very exciting and a fantastic idea. It brought a question to mind. I have been reading in some articles online. I’m curious to know your opinion on this that comments on blog posts are not worth it. Some people are saying because so many bots are trying to get comments placed on your blog post to try to get links back to them and things like that. It’s the hassle of going through and finding the ones that are good or not worth it. There’s even been some speculation that comments that are genuine and relevant are not helping the blog post in terms of SEO and ranking. Would you tend to agree with that or not?

Let me distinguish a couple of things with regards to the comments. There are links in the comments. There’s the comment text itself. Most comments are garbage like, “That was an insightful blog post. Keep it up. I’m enjoying your blog.” It’s a bot. It’s not even a human that wrote that. The user’s name, the commenter’s name happens to be Used Cars, San Diego. “Used, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog.” It’s garbage. The link is garbage. It’s not real. It’s not a real name. It’s going to a website that’s usually spam or it’s purely commercial. It’s not adding a lot of value in terms of informational content for the web. The comment itself is thin content. Whereas let’s say somebody writes an insightful comment to your insightful blog post. They might not even care to include their URL. Maybe they don’t even have a website. They just give their Hotmail address or whatever for their email. There’s no link there. It’s like, “This seems legit.” You read the comment, “That is insightful stuff. That’s good. That adds value to my content,” so you approve that.

Now you’ve increased the value of the content of the overall blog post. That’s searchable content along with the rest of the blog post. Where you get into trouble is you approve low-value comments that are patting you on the back. It’s complete nonsense. This was a great blog post. Maybe you think, “Used Car San Diego is clearly not their name, so I’m going to remove the link and I’m going to change their name.” Most of the time they remove the link. It’s still Used Car San Diego and that looks super spammy. You’re better off not having that at all. Anything that looks like you’re not checked in at home, “Let the termites have at my house. I’m going to be on vacation for six months.” You have broken images. You have broken links on your website. You have all the spam showing up as comments on your blog. Maybe you’ve done a minimum amount of work to keep the spam out. There’s still stuff getting through. That looks like you’re not tending your garden. That looks bad to Google.

You might be better off to solicit to your podcast listeners or to even your blog listeners for comments submitted through an email. Any that are worth it, you could put up yourself in a different way. Maybe that’s only in the case of these expert insights.

98% of the comments you get are probably spam. Click To Tweet

I don’t believe in turning off comments on your blog. That becomes a one-way platform and there’s no community. There’s no dialog. It’s just you on your soapbox. I don’t like that.

That’s helpful because that’s what some of these articles have been suggesting is to turn off comments that there’s not a benefit to them.

Keep them on and recognize that 98% of the comments you get probably will be spam. Many of those will be caught by Akismet or some other spam filter. You don’t have to ever see those. You might only get a couple of comments for a blog post, for a show notes page or whatever and that’s totally fine. Be very discerning about what you allow to get posted as a comment on your blog.

Thank you. That is very insightful and very helpful. I do appreciate it. This may be tactically the best session for people getting some real value out of it, understanding their own websites and SEO and how it relates to podcasts obviously, which is what we’re here about.

One last quick thought on this. LSI keywords, those related topics, what have commenters are chiming in with some of those related keywords that you weren’t even thinking about. By all means those comments that will improve the quality of your overall page.

Thank you so much. To everyone in the audience, please go check out Stephan’s podcasts, Marketing Speak and Get Yourself Optimized. They’re well-worth spending some time on. You will learn a tremendous amount if you enjoyed what we’re talking about here especially, definitely do that. Stephan, thank you so much for joining me.

I’ve got one free gift page now for your audience if they’re interested. It’s at MarketingSpeak.com/PodcastDay. They will find Chapter Seven about link building in The Art of SEO. They’ll find an SEO Myth white paper, 72 different SEO myths that you should know are not real. SEO Hiring Blueprint, which is how to hire a good SEO because not everybody’s going to be able to afford me and that’s totally fine. You need to know enough to hire a good person not to get snickered. An SEO BS Detector, which is related to that topic, not getting snickered. You can work in these trick questions that I’ve included on the BS Detector into the interview process and into the initial job advert if you’re looking to hire an in-house person, an employee, or a contractor or an agency even. You just work these trick questions and you won’t get snickered by somebody who sounds like they know what they’re talking about, but a real SEO would know that they’re blowing smoke.

Separating fact from fiction is very important. Thank you so much, Stephan. It’s always a pleasure to speak with you. I look forward to speaking with you again soon.

Thanks for having me.

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About Stephan Spencer

PPM 15 Stephan | Search Engine Optimization

Stephan Spencer is an internationally recognized SEO expert, internet entrepreneur, consultant, and professional speaker. He has keynoted and spoken at hundreds of conferences including American Marketing Association (AMA), Shop.org, Internet Retailer, IRCE, and PubCon. He contributes to a number of marketing journals and blogs, including Search Engine Land, CNET, and more. He currently hosts the Marketing Speak and The Optimized Geek podcasts, both of which have appeared in the iTunes New and Noteworthy.



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