Wellspring Digital Chats – Jim Hedger, SEO Expert and Co-Host of the Webcology Podcast

Jim Hedger is what we like to call an FOK, friend of Karl. Karl Hindle, our fearless CEO is an old-school, hardcore SEO. As such, he’s friends with all the other grumpy SEOs who have been doing this for 20+ years.

Luckily, Jim Hedger is an absolute delight. So, we won’t hold the FOK status against him. 😉

Jim is a writer, webmaster, SEO, and social activist. He heads up Digital Always Media Inc., a search and digital marketing business based in Toronto, Ontario. He is co-founder, producer, and co-host of the live weekly podcast, Webcology, and is an announcer at WebmasterRadio.FM.

Jim and I dig deep into SEO where he gives me some great answers even after I call him by the wrong name. Sorry, Jim.

In this, we discuss…

  1. Does Google Hate SEOs?
  2. The QAnon Conspiracy Theory that Paid Search Impacts Organic Rankings
  3. How Does UX Impact SEO?
  4. Google E-A-T and Its Impact on Rankings
  5. Schema and Its Importance in SEO

That’s a lot. Let’s jump in…

Digital Transcription (Edited for Readability)

Introductions

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Welcome to the Wellspring Digital Chat, I’m Jon-Mikel Bailey. This is where we bring marketing experts on. We extract wonderful and useful bits of information from their brains and we share it directly with you.

So today we have a good friend of Wellspring Digital and an SEO with maybe, possibly more experience than Karl Hindle, our fearless leader. I’m going to go ahead and say it. I think he has more experience and is smarter than Karl. There. It’s on the record.

So Jim, if you could take a moment and introduce yourself to these good people.

Jim Hedger: Hi, everyone. Um, I don’t know if I have more experience than Karl. I don’t know if I’m smarter than Karl either. But, I love to tease Karl. That’s just so easy, right?

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Exactly.

Jim Hedger: SEOs are always looking for the low hanging fruit the stuff that you like, go after fastest effect, lowest, most quickly, and teasing Karl is so easy. It’s so much fun.

Karl Hindle, Chief Dufus

I’ve been an SEO forever for like 22 years or so, maybe 21. If you want to know officially ask Ross Dutton from Step Fourth. He was the person who first brought me into the industry. And Ross is OG, Ross was like Seo 1.0 back there with Bruce clay and, trying to think of some of the originals, way back with the Planet Ocean guys.

At the very beginning, when there were like 12 unique and major search engines, Altavista, Lycos, Northern Lights, etc. That’s when I started. Very shortly after that came along a search engine that nobody had heard of that, that had a really dumb name, Google. But everybody told you told everybody else that they had to use it.

And shortly after I started with step fourth, which was probably 99 or 2000, ish, somewhere in there. Um, Google came along and the organic search exploded. Two years later, you know how Google has the knowledge panel, it takes all the information off of your site and makes it available to everybody. So they don’t got to click through to your site.

They did that to a company called… Yahoo had bought them and they did eventually became AdWords. So they did that to… They stole the idea of AdWords off of Yahoo. And then, once they introduced ads, you could pay for, search exploded into the industry we have today. It’s been the most amazing ride.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: It really has. And we’re definitely gonna dive deep into it in this interview, I’m looking forward to it. I feel in some ways, I feel like you and I are old friends. I’ve been stalking you on Facebook. And listening to your podcast, Webcology, which I thoroughly enjoy your podcast with Dave Davies, I highly recommend it. You can get it on pretty much any podcast platform, I believe.

Jim Hedger: Yeah, I’ve actually stopped trying to figure out where we’re distributed because it just, we’re on any fine podcast distribution network near you. You got to find it.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So it’s Webcology. There’ll be a link in the description below (you just missed it). So I have some questions for you that I feel like our audience is really going to benefit from so let’s dive in.

Jim Hedger: Please.

Does Google Hate SEOs?

Jon-Mikel Bailey: On your most recent Webcology episode, you and Dave talk about whether or not Google hates SEOs, and the discussion hinted at a question that Karl wanted me to ask, which is around the idea that every year SEO dies a horrible death. And it’s like, it’s like Groundhog Day, it keeps waking up, refreshed and renewed and ready for the day. So what, if anything, could kill SEO? Or will it always be around in some form or another? In your opinion?

Jim Hedger: Ah, always is an awfully long word. Um, okay, first off, you know, who’s even easier to even touch here and easier to tick off than Karl? Google.

Google doesn’t hate SEOs. They don’t despise SEOs. They don’t think SEOs are funny. Um, they appreciate as SEOs as part of the ecosystem, they understand that SEOs know their tool, as well or better than than anybody else in the world, except the tiny number of Googlites who actually understand how their machines work together.

And that number is shrinking rapidly as AI comes in and takes over and creates knowledge structures that even its programmers hadn’t considered or hadn’t thought of. So Google appreciates SEOs, but we annoy the heck out of them. I think that’s fairly established. And we annoy the heck out of them, not because we’re trying to game them. They don’t really care about that. I mean, they do. But they don’t take it as seriously as we do. Because they can counter right gaming quite easily.

What they dislike about SEO is when we listen to an entire sentence, and only remember two or three words of it. When we cherry-pick information that they give us and come up with these like completely wild theories about how it actually doesn’t work. But we convince people.

Google is trying to build an ecosystem. Google has several, I like to say Google has a specific way it works, but that wouldn’t be true. Google has several specific ways that it works as a conglomerate of machines put together. But for it to work optimally, the web has to be built several certain ways. There’s not one way to do it. There’s several ways to do it. But there are parameters.

And Google wants us to stay inside those parameters. And they’ve spent like 20 years trying to tell us how to build websites so that it works best with Google, they give us these volumes of information. We like the best chapter and try to find all the shortcuts in it. And that annoys them. And I can understand that.

Does Google hate SEOs? No. Google appreciates SEOs. Look at Danny Sullivan’s history with Google. Danny very likely can be, is at least mostly responsible for popularizing the concept of search and search engine optimization and how webmasters can work with and affect Google. And they gave him a prize job as like communications liaison.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: It’s kind of like, you know, there’s a presidential election and you get a, you know, an awesome cabinet position.

Jim Hedger: Indeed.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I got politics on the mind, obviously, I think everybody does.

Jim Hedger: The cool thing about Danny is he earned that. And his job is a communications liaison. Which is neat. Because he crossed that barrier as a journalist. He’s now part of the machine he covered. And one day when he’s allowed to talk about it, I desperately want to have a conversation with him about what it was like to cross that barrier.

Will SEO Ever Die?

Jim Hedger: So the second part of the question is what could kill SEO, every year SEO dies. I think we’re spelling the word die wrong. We’re spelling a D I E and we should spell it D Y E. Because to dye something is to change it. You want to get all metaphysical, I will be definitely fairly on the edge of all things. It’s just a transformation to another state of being.

So, it’s the same with SEO, because things change on the web. I mean, when I started, if you wanted to place a link, you had to hand-code it, which is one of the reasons why Google, you know actually took links seriously at one time, because they were really hard to make, a good five minutes, you only get to do five minutes, like 12 times an hour. So that’s a lot of time.

But that’s changed. It takes like 30 seconds to phrase a link and have it up on on the web now. So the value of that time is decreased substantially. Trying to say things will change. We didn’t have social media back 15-20 years ago. Now we do that. That may or may not have a direct effect on Google or Bing rankings. But it certainly has a direct effect on people’s web habits.

And if anything is going to change or alter the practice of SEO. It’s how people access information and look for stuff on the web. Now, as far as we can see forward, people will have to look for stuff on the web. Google is trying to… and Amazon and everyone, for the purpose of the future of this interview, whenever I say Google can y’all imagine I’m also saying Amazon and the other really big houses who are messing with artificial intelligence?

Google’s got the lead massively, of course, but, um, AI is going to change the game in ways that we can’t even anticipate yet, but we got them to anticipate that it will do that. Until the networks can read our minds and anticipate our needs and just hand them to us with 100% accuracy, I can assure you, we’re all going to be looking for stuff when we need it.

And as long as things got to be described, as long as there is a choice of two different bars of soap you can purchase, the world will lead digital marketers, and a big part of digital marketing will be the technical clarity that SEO brings to a website.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s that’s a good answer, as I’ve heard, in the past few years, and every time I see a dismissive article about whether or not SEO is going to die, so I appreciate it.

Jim Hedger: Again, they’re absolutely right, SEO is gonna dye. They’re just spelling dye wrong.

The QAnon Conspiracy Theory that Paid Search Impacts Organic Rankings

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So there’s a persistent conspiracy theory out there. And I’m going to, I believe it’s coming from QAnon. But I can’t verify that. But the conspiracy theory is that paid search directly impacts search rankings organic. So Google is listening. This will be on YouTube. So Google’s listing so with that in mind, do you care to comment on or dispute this conspiracy theory?

Jim Hedger: Well, first off the origin of that conspiracy theory is wrong. It’s not QAnon, it’s close, it’s Spew Along. Very similar group, and this group has a nasty habit of hearing something then just spewing it out. Hence their name Spew Along. What do you mean by direct effect?

If I’m a consumer looking at a search engine result page at a SERP, and I see a well-crafted ad, in the corner of my eye, beside a well-written description on an organic search result, and that description and the paid ad somehow mesh with each other and give me a little bit more confidence in that organic ad or that organic listing, then I might be more likely to click that organic listing. But outside of that, I don’t see any direct effect.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I think what people are trying to say is or what the conspiracy theory may be, is that is that Google knows somehow if you’re paying Google money, they’ll give you more favorable rankings.

Jim Hedger: On the scale that Google works, I don’t even think it’s possible. Every once in a while you hear Google say that they made a change that affects like 1% of their search index, and you got to realize they have literally trillions of objects in their search index. I don’t even know the math of what percent of a trillion is. That might be like 100 million or something? I don’t know. But it’s a lot. And to match up. Which of those objects have the added monetary value attached to them is possible? I simply don’t see that.

Now. I do believe that an SEO and a paid search expert can develop relationships that can lead to them understanding the machine better. But the machine itself doesn’t try to assign favors based on… I mean, Google’s making money hand over fist, they don’t need to give that incentive.

And that would destroy the veracity, that would destroy people’s faith in the accuracy of the organic results, and believe me that shaky enough half the time anyway. Um, why would Google do that when they don’t need to? So no. There’s never been truth to that rumor. And that rumor has been around since 2003 when AdWords first popped up.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So there you have it, everyone from an SEO who’s been around longer than Google. The conspiracy theory debunked.

Jim Hedger: Well, as far as I know. I just have a very long memory. And I’ve never believed that there’s been a link.

How Does UX Impact SEO?

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So speaking of history here, I have a bit of a history with SEO. And I used to argue, back in the day I wrote a post a while back where I argued that SEO was nothing more than good UX. And that argument, got a lot of blowback from some of my more technical SEO friends.

Jim Hedger: I would think.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So I would I just recently wrote a bit of a mea culpa on this, because I now recognize, especially working with Karl, that there’s so much more to it than that. But with that admission, could you speak plainly, on how UX, user experience, may or may not impact SEO?

Jim Hedger: No, but I could speak complicatedly on it. See, it’s hard to speak plainly on it, because Google just made an announcement that changes the game. And we have yet to come up with the analogies that make it easy to explain said announcement.

So, as of March 2021, so five months down from the date of this recording, more or less, Google is going to only show results from information that’s inside of its mobile index. Now, I don’t think that there is a mobile index and a desktop index. But there is one big index and content is flagged, mobile cool, not mobile cool, mobile-friendly, not mobile-friendly, mobile-useful, not mobile-useful.

And if you’re in the not category, you’re in the lower part of the search engine result pages. Probably now, and most definitely after March 2021. That’s a user experience thing. And that’s a user experience thing about the mobile world.

SEO has, for most of its history, been defined, the same way as the rest of the internet, by the desktop experience, what it was like on a laptop, or just like I at the business, the office, the place of work that somebody has gone to, because up until the advent, the perfection of home delivery, I’d suggest, most SEO has been primarily business to business with a good deal of work for retailers and business to consumer, Google, local, and all that sort of stuff that don’t want to take away from local search at all.

But SEO itself has defined itself in a business to business world, and that’s changing really, really faster. It was, I think, April 2018, maybe 2017, that Google said that like over 50% of searches conducted through Google were done via mobile devices. So for the techies at Google, for the engineers there, that changed everything, that’s the threshold 50% plus one, the majority is mobile, we got to throw our energy there.

The mobile world is not a business to business world. It’s a consumer world, a consumer-driven world. It’s going to be a business to business world, because our own use of devices is going to change rapidly. And one of the massive outcomes/changes from the pandemic, from COVID, is we’re all working from home now.

A lot of us are working from home, or if you’re like me working from the backyard, which is much nicer than my than this indoor office, you see me in here. And so I’m using my mobile device a lot more and goodness gracious, the technology is allowing me to use my mobile device a lot more.

So user experience was the question. It’s long. So I told you, I couldn’t give you a simple answer. I’m sorry. User Experience is one of the most important factors in SEO. Google doesn’t want to give its users a crappy experience by referring them to a page that’s going to like take forever to load or crash their Chrome browser or screw up their cell phone or have like printing is so small that only whippersnappers can read it. Even they get confused by it.

Getting old is so cool. I could go on for that about that forever, too. The only problem is you can’t read whippersnapper language font anymore, anything eight-point or smaller, gone. So, that’s the mobile experience for so many people. And it’s actually interesting getting to a certain age at this time of the development of technology because when I was in my 30s, I might not have gotten that as a problem. Right?

But I’m, I’m 52 now, and Karl will tell you, it’s the problem, he’ll, he’ll back me up on this one. I know for sure. I’m with you. As you get older, these things become real.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I’m 48 and it’s becoming a problem.

Jim Hedger: Dude, have I got some surprises for you, oh my God. User experience is really important. Google does want to give people crappy user experience. There are trillions of websites and objects in Google’s index. It has lots of inventory from almost any given search query, no matter what Bert tells it, you’re trying to say, it still has lots of inventory to fill in.

So, user experience is going to be again, especially after March 2021, critical to SEO. But to make a good user experience, and to make a website work function on the web, it takes a lot of technical know-how. There’s a lot of work in the background that well, you know, they say about the meat industry and democracy.

And people in America are getting a very, very direct lesson in how the sausage is made, it’s gross, you don’t want to see it, you appreciate the sausage. Sausage is great, but you don’t want to see it getting made. That’s very complicated doing a website, even a WordPress site gets complicated.

And in fact, you can use the same template on the same server and do the same builds twice, and you’ll still have different problems somehow. So, to say UX is the only thing in SEO wouldn’t be true. Although it might be true moving forward, as automation takes over the development process. These again, there’s nothing static in SEO.

So, the other thing about the UX being a marketing language is still incredibly important. I fancy myself a content SEO, as much as a technical SEO, in that I have to use persuasive language and descriptions. I have to use persuasive language and titles or even in the choice of anchor text, and links.

Um, now this might be descriptive language, but I have to somehow get that click, I’m trying to entice you to choose to do an action. And that’s language that that always comes down to use of language, or positioning of the of the Golden object, the big red button. And that’s an aesthetic, that is a creative. Good creative is good user experience, but I think those are kind of separate buckets. So it’s, it’s a team effort, I’m sure. Yeah.

Last point. Years ago, you used to be able to be a one-person band. You could you can have one person handling a client and they could reasonably be expected to juggle that client and all that client’s needs. Those days are so over. Anyone who’s working independently as an SEO, understands that you got to have friends, you got to have allies.

SEO is now almost about building interested teams unless you’re unless you’re already part of a team. And those skilled individuals going out tackling a project like a contractor, subcontractor relationship, and then moving on to your next one. And that’s kind of exciting. But the key here is teamwork. It takes a lot of people to do all these different things that are necessary to craft a strong and lasting SEO campaign.

Um, a quick note, if you don’t mind.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yes, please.

Jim Hedger: This interview is being conducted on November 11. Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day Canada and the Commonwealth, Australia, England, New Zealand etc. Our interview is straddling the hour of 11 am. And for my entire life in Canada at 11 am, we pause for one minute and just think on November 11. And it’s an important thing to me and that’s just about to happen.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I’m honored to do with you.

Jim Hedger: Okay, if you don’t mind. Um, there’s just a few moments just to consider what people, people who fought and lest we forget. Important. Thank you.

Well, thank you. I appreciate the indulgence. I hope I didn’t erupt you.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: No, that was powerful we should do that in this country. I appreciate that.

Jim Hedger: Across Canada, 37 million people just stopped. Buses stopped. Subway stopped. Banks mid-transaction. And it’s not honored by everybody but those who do. It doesn’t matter. Your boss could be yelling at you, and you just stop.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: We should start coming over here because that’s a powerful thing.

Jim Hedger: I truly believe that we need warriors and every society has the absolute right to defend itself, of course. But we got to remember the horrors. The horrors that people go through. The horrors that war brings to civilians, to women, children, and the people who fight them. And in that memory, we have to do what our damnedest to make sure it never happens again.

Jim Hedger: So we just talked about UX and SEO.

Google E-A-T and Its Impact on Rankings

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So I wanna, if I could, I’d like to talk about Google E-A-T, not Google eats. Not Google will eat you. But Google E-A-T, which is an acronym that stands for expertise, authority, or however they say it, and trustworthiness. I got a brain fart there for a second. So Google E-A-T. So I spoke to, I don’t know if you know, Lily Ray. She’s awesome.

Jim Hedger: She’s awesome.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yeah, she’s awesome. That’s all you gotta say.

Jim Hedger: I have danced to Lily Ray. I’ll have you know.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Oh, I have too. So we talked a lot about this, and she’s been writing a lot about it, which I’ve found to be incredibly useful. But you talked about it with Dave, on your show. And I wonder, if you could share with this audience, your thoughts on E-A-T and if it is some sort of ranking signal or not. In other words, does authority matter in terms of rankings, which you guys talked about on your show, but I wondered if you could maybe share some of that here. (I must have been afraid to ask this question)

Jim Hedger: Okay, um…

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Another deep one for you.

Jim Hedger: Yeah. First of all, SEO Disclaimerville. Anything said from this point forward is 100% educated speculation based on the educated speculation of a bunch of other people who I think know what they’re talking about, including

Jim Hedger: So, this includes Bill Slawski. This includes Lily Ray. Um, this includes people from Google. A lot of commentators in our industry. Includes my friend Dave Davies. But here’s the deal. None of us actually know, even the people on Google don’t entirely know. They just know what their intentions are.

Because “expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness” is not a direct ranking factor. It is an instruction given to Google Quality Raters in the guide that helps them do their job.

Now Google employs a whole bunch of people who look at websites and look at search engine results pages. And they grade the quality of the search engine result pages and they give that feedback back to Google as part of that grading system.

Part of how they have to look at websites is, is this website showing expertise? Is the content produced by somebody who can demonstrate authoritativeness? Is there a whole bunch of other signals, links, citations, etc, anything Google can find to verify the accuracy of information? Is this a trustworthy website?

What’s the history of this website, you know that Google keeps a dossier and has since like the early two K’s on every object in its index. Google keeps a file on everything. And those files. I mean, they’re digital, so there’s no actual size to them. But those files can be the size of a Mack Truck for really old websites with all the action that happens around them.

So all of that information, all that data, Google has said “does that data show that it’s a trustworthy sort of website?” And that’s the thinking that has to inform the quality raters.

Now, the Google Quality Raters guide is the closest thing we SEOs have to the inner brains of Google. This is their intention. It doesn’t tell us how the algorithms are written, it tells us what they want to see. And this is where we get E-A-T from expertise, authority, and trust.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: It’s available online. Right? It’s like 160-some pages?

Jim Hedger: Absolutely. Yeah. Jennifer Slegg is probably the industry’s foremost expert in what’s in that guide. Every time there’s an update to the guide, she publishes. TheSEMpost.com is Jennifer’s news site.

Okay, and it was really popular a couple years ago, but doing a new site takes a huge amount of commitment and her career went in a slightly different direction.

But every time there’s a Google Quality Raters Guide update, she produces like a hurking long post and post it up at theSEMpost.com. It is a must read for every SEO.

So what all the stuff I just said does not in any way negate the stuff that Lily Ray has been preaching because what she’s saying is absolutely right.

A lot of commentators have been hearing her wrong, because again, SEOs are always looking for the great shortcuts that don’t exist.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yep, there you go.

Jim Hedger: Lily is explaining what Google wants to see. And she’s explaining what you got to do on your website, and in creating your content and distributing your content and getting links and… listen to what she has to say about that because she’s absolutely right.

But don’t for a second think that any of this stuff is a direct ranking, some of it will be a direct ranking signal. Some some individual pieces may be direct rankings he knows. We don’t know. What we do know is Google…

When is the last time, in this age of COVID, when’s the last time a cough or a shiver sent you to Dr. Google wondering if you were if you were sick or not? Oh my God, I’ve just learned from Google that I have impetigo. All my decisions have to change.

How many times have you like had a question about taxes? And you got into Google? And you got an answer? The implications of that is kind of scary, huh?

And so this information has to be accurate. This is your money, your life (YMYL). And Google actually has a category of website called your money or your life. And these sites need to demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. Or they’re going to end up somewhere south of here south of Argentina, in the searche pages.

I can go into long explanations on each of the letters E, A, and T. But I think a better thing, especially because this video is probably getting to be at least an hour long by now is read Lily Ray, listen to what she has to say.

And when she’s DJing and raising money for restaurants and bars and stuff that had to close down in New York because of the pandemic, shoot somebody to her GoFundMe campaign.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Amen. Amen. And I yes, I agree. Everything that she writes very effectively breaks down you know, all this E-A-T stuff that I think gets so misconstrued, and so misquoted and misused and whatever.

Jim Hedger: Here’s the thing, we got to keep in mind that there’s like, oh God, thousands, probably 10s of thousands of points that Google can use as ranking factors. I don’t know how many uses on average, when considering any given web page, or object in this index, I couldn’t tell you, lots.

What I can tell you is if you do the right things, in building a website, and you write short, clear, concise content, and you have people… I am never going to write medical content. Never, never, never, but I will edit the hell out of it. But I can’t write it. I’m not a doctor. I’ve never been in med school. I don’t know.

I won’t write legal content. I’m not a lawyer. I’ve never been to law school. And I will not do that to my clients audiences. Because my clients are coming to me to give them a product that they can give their audience, their users, whatever, that is going to benefit everybody, including them getting better search rankings.

So I’m going to get somebody who knows because… quick, self indulgent anecdote, the anecdote from the origins of the web. It’s hard to take what we do seriously until you actually realize the implications of it. Because we work in our like our own little home offices, or we used to go to offices where we gathered with like 5, 10 to 15 other individuals who all shared our little regional local concerns and all cheered for the same sports teams and stuff.

I used to go to the office, very similar to this back in the early two K’s with Ross Dunn and Step Forth. And we were some of the first people putting out daily columns on search. There wasn’t organized search media back then as there is now, mostly it was just individual blogs and websites and newsletters and stuff.

And Loren Baker got Search Engine Journal together, Danny Sullivan got the original Search Engine Watch together and you know, slowly media congealed.

But we were putting out like an article a day newsletter style. And one day, I saw one of the things I’d written translated into the Czech language online. And that blew my mind. Like, this is like probably 2002, 2003, or something.

And yeah, just the implications of what we were doing became very, very real. Then, like, it occurred to me that people were betting their children’s scholarship money, or the children’s college funds on their businesses 10 years before their kids would go to college.

And what we were writing was directly affecting whether that kid was going to go to college or not. That’s important.

Google has to think like that. SEOs have to think like that. We’re building an information ecosystem. And I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s important. And that’s what Google’s trying to do trying to impose by demanding authoritativeness and expertise in web content.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s great, that was a brilliant way to button that up. So I appreciate that. Definitely. So speaking of technical in Google and the size of it and the scope of it and all the crazy things that go in with it. Let’s talk schema.

Schema and Its Importance in SEO

Jim Hedger: Yeah. Schema is so cool.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So, we mention schema to clients and we, you know, we get the sideways look. They kind of tilt their head like “Huh, what are you talking about?” And schema can even seem to confound some SEOs. But I wondered if maybe for some of our audience you could, in lay terms, explain what schema is and then talk maybe about its role, its importance in SEO?

Jim Hedger: Well, first I can tell you what it’s not. When you’re sitting talking to your client, now he put yourself in your client’s chair for a sec, okay, they’re running a business. They got so much stuff they’re concerned about.

You know, their banker’s screaming at them, but they got to pay their mortgage, COVID is closing in around them. And all this stuff, right? They don’t know jack about what’s happening on their website, no matter what they tell you.

And maybe they do but for the most part, that’s not their expertise. That’s why they’re coming to you. You’re their expert. And so you’re sitting there, you’re throwing out all these like very smart industry buzzwords, and you say the word schema. And they hear smegma.

And I don’t know what you think smegma or if it was a real thing. But it’s gross, I can tell you that much. And that’s what they hear like, seriously that, because you just toss out all this industry jargon, stuff that they’ve heard before. So they can comfortably turn their head off, because you’re just saying something that they’ve already heard.

And something you just said, “smegma.” Like, you can imagine, like conversation stops, the dust settles, and everyone is looking to see what the hell is this? Do I have it on my arm?

So you have to say “Markup Language” after schema markup language, you have to make the client appreciate that this is something that’s new and kind of funny-sounding. You yourself see that it sounds really funny. And then you tell them, it’s as effective as it is funny.

Schema markup language is a way of informing Google on the fly about stuff it’s looking at. Think of it again, I’ve said this several times, and I apologize for being redundant. I’ve said that several times in the interview, there are trillions of objects in the index.

Google is trying to keep up with the expectations of its users. And you and all of us expect answers now. We don’t expect answers 15 minutes from now. We don’t expect answers tomorrow. I’m not looking for stuff tomorrow. I’m looking for it now.

Google, on the other hand, if you post a sports score, that the game just ended, like five minutes ago, Google has to go retrieve that, get the information, phrase it, and put it up online. That could take three or four minutes. That could take an hour.

In the olden days when it actually had to spider every individual website, extract its content, and then figure out what that content meant against the queries coming in. That could take weeks. Now it takes seconds.

To do that Google needs to be informed digitally, everything’s digital, Google needs to inform you need to be informed in the code immediately, not in such a way that it renders the site and then and extracts the information, the information has to be fed to it.

This is why we have XML sitemaps, which John Mueller came up with yesterday and said XML… and you know what, let’s start the whole thing about schema with XML sitemaps. This might make it easier. XML is not schema.

But Mueller said yesterday, that an XML sitemap is the basic indicator of a well-made site. So you don’t get an XML sitemap or, say you’re using some e-commerce content management system that pumps out a PHP version, that’s an equivalent that’ll work.

But if you don’t have a sitemap that is feeding information to Google rather than Google having to come and retrieve it, Google doesn’t think you have a basically sound site.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Which was amazing to see. I was actually surprised by that, that he basically just said, you know, “we’re judging you based on this little piece.” Which is such a simple little piece to create.

Jim Hedger: The cool thing, most most content management systems just do it now. In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons people were using Yoast, Yoast, three or four years ago was because it was one of the best XML sitemap writers.

So schema is the markup language that you can put around, pretty much, describing any object on your website. Now, one of the problems with the tech world is we use words interoperably. Object and entity can mean the same thing.

Although I think I should use the word entity more than the word object because entity describes more things than objects, entities can also be ideas. Schema is used to describe every entity on your website and please interpret the word entity as liberally as you possibly can.

An entity can be, again, a phrase that matches up with a phrase on another page. It’s a concept. It could be an image, it could be a block of text, it could be a little passage.

It’s a, I hate the word object, because object makes you think of like, you know, something physical, this is an object. Schema is the data language used to describe all those entities and you can apply it to virtually anything.

Go to schema.org and one of the first things that will confuse the living heck out of you is the almost unending number of classes you can apply a schema to.

Class just sort of means, how would they say that in botany, a genome, a genus, a species. That’s what class means. So a class applies to like, a time, a location?

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I mean, it can be anything.

Jim Hedger: Yeah, and all the things that you describe in the product. It could be anything. Yeah. But there there is a schema markup code, very likely to correspond with that.

Schema.org, go to that. If you’ve never been there before. If you’re totally fresh to schema, go to schema.org. Don’t get intimidated, read it five or six times.

Go type schema, Slawski into Google, and see what Bill’s had to say about patents that involve involve schema. Give it a couple of days, and just keep plugging at it. And a light bulb will go off in your head and you will become a master SEO.

You’ll go “oh my god, I get that! Oh, I’m gonna use this all the time.” And your clients will think you’re a genius. Because you are.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I think schema to me, and this is going to be a horrible oversimplification. But schema to me seems like, it’s like what, you know, a rocket ship is to say a Model T Ford. They’re both modes of transportation, but very different. You know, it’s, it’s well saying the schema is the rocketship and say like meta tags, maybe is the Model T.

Jim Hedger: Yeah. Well, if I could even add to that. Schema is now the flatbed truck and the engine and the thing that you’re sitting in that you’re towing the Model T Ford to get to the next show.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s perfect. Perfect.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Well, Jim, I absolutely appreciate you being on here. There’s so much in here that I know some people watching this are going to get a lot out of this. I will put links to your podcast because there’s great information in there with you and Dave. So again, I really appreciate your time.

Jim Hedger: Can I just quickly throw in a plug for the podcast? Because in doing so I want to also throw in a plug for Webmaster Radio itself.

You mentioned the podcast, Webcology. Thank you, by the way. It’s, of all the stuff that I do, Webcology is one that I like the most. I appreciate.

And I think it’s a contribution. So that’s important because I think we all need to contribute like this Wellspring Digital Series, its contribution. Thank you for doing this. You’re bringing information and making it a better industry.

Webmaster Radio has been on the air for 17 years now. Daron Babin and Brandy Shapiro Babin started webmaster radio and it’s a gift to the SEO community, to the digital marketing community.

And it’s a labor of love. They don’t make very much money at it. In fact, I think they’re supporting it rather than it supporting them. But webmaster radio has several long-standing podcasts. I mean, our podcast is 16 years old.

Webmaster radio has several podcasts of similar length, SEO rockstars, PPC rock stars, marketing tips, just tons of great shows. I urge people in this audience please go check out Webmaster Radio.

SEO 101 with Ross Dunn and John Carcutt, two other ancient SEOs check out the content there. It’s very much worth the listen, WMR.fm or again, find the shows at any fine podcasting distribution service.

We’ve been doing it for years. And we strive to bring good information to the digital marketing community.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That is one thing I love about SEOs is that you all are just a wealth of useful, great information that, you know, all you need to do is search for it. And it’s there. So thank you for all you do. Thanks to everyone, all the rest of you, SEOs, I really do love you, I swear. So, thank you so much, Jim, for being here. And stay safe up there in Canada. And we’ll try to do the same down here.

Jim Hedger: Be well stay safe and stay safe everyone out there.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Thank you so much.

Jim Hedger: Thank you.

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Jon-Mikel Bailey is the Chief Development and Marketing Officer for Wellspring Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in SEO, PPC, Marketing Automation, and Content Marketing. He has been published in MarketingProfs, Business2Community, SpinSucks, {Grow}, Social Media Today, and more. He has spoken at the Digital Summit Series, MarketingProfs, ITE, Grant Thornton, and others.

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