Technical SEO with Geoff Kennedy
We are back in action after a little break… alright, a relatively long break. We said it would only be a week off and it was actually a month, but the good news is the studio move is pretty much done and dusted and we’re back in action.
This week we welcome Geoff Kennedy to the show. We came across Geoff in his previous role as head of marketing at SEO software tool SiteBulb. This is a tool we use pretty much every day in our agency business, so we thought it would be cool to get Geoff on to talk technical SEO.
Geoff has moved back in to the world of freelance SEO consulting post-SiteBulb and spends his days preparing technical audits for all sorts of websites – who better to chat to about the techier things in life.
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It’s time for the SEO show where a couple of nerds talk search engine optimization, so you can learn to compete in Google and grow your business online. Now, here’s your hosts, Michael and Arthur.
Hello, Hello, we are back in action on the SEO show. Now I say we, but it’s just me. ARPA was on what was he doing is on annual leave us down in Jervis Bay last week living it up. So it was up to me to do the first show back since we’ve moved to our new studio. And funnily enough, didn’t even do it from the studio. We had a special guest join us this week, and the studio wasn’t quite ready in time. So I recorded from one of the silent booths in our new office. But it all worked out pretty well. And I ended up having a really good chat with this week’s guest. His name is Jeff Kennedy. So Jeff, we first came across when he worked as the marketing manager or the head of marketing for sitebulb. Site bold is a technical SEO tool that we use a lot here in our agency to audit websites. So it’s a really good tool in that it will give you all sorts of technical recommendations, and then prioritise them and give you a little hints about what the recommendations are. So it’s a tool we use quite a lot. We used to use Screaming Frog a lot. But these days, we use sitebulb. A lot more. So Jeff, obviously, having worked there knows a lot about technical SEO. And, you know, he doesn’t actually work there anymore. He’s moved back into being a freelance SEO consultant, which he has done for the best part of 20 years, you know, like excluding sitebulb. He’s been really working in the digital marketing trenches for a long time now. So he’s quite knowledgeable about technical SEO, and we had a really good chat about all things, nerdy nerdiness, code servers, all that sort of stuff. So without any further ado, let’s jump into this conversation with Jeff Kennedy. Hi, Jeff, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you here.
Hello, good morning. Thank you for having me.
Yeah, look, no problem. Very happy to have you on excited to get stuck into the chat today about technical SEO. But before we get into that, it’s good for our listeners who may not have heard of you just to maybe hear from yourself a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Yeah, so my name is Jeff Kennedy. I’m based in the UK. And I’m a digital marketer and an SEO consultant. A few people might know me from time sitebulb, whereas head of Martin there for a while, until the start of this year where I’ve gone back myself again.
Okay, awesome. So the reason we reached out to you originally is because of that connection to site, Bob, you know, it’s a tool we use ourselves here at the agency when it comes to technical SEO. So we thought it’d be good to chat to you about the topic of technical SEO. We have done episodes in the past, but I thought we’d get the obvious thing out of the way at the start. What is technical? Yes, yeah, exactly.
Oh, yeah, I think I agree with you on that, you know, we normally say it’s, it’s all the nerdy stuff related to the code, the server, which I find is a good way of bucketing together. But you’re right. There’s so many different aspects to it, whether you’re, you’re working with a WordPress lead gen site or a million page ecommerce site, I guess, you know, a lot of our listeners would be at first end of the spectrum, you know, their WordPress site, they may be doing a bit of lead gen. So, I guess keeping that, I guess, hat on, what would you say are the key factors if it comes to technical SEO, where are the key things that people are sort of looking at or working on or trying to improve from a technical point of view?
Okay. And where would you start to try and fix something like this, that we touched on light bulb? I have a feeling you might talk about that. But like, what, what would be your process? Let’s say, you’re you’re starting from scratch, you don’t know if you’ve got technical problems? How do you uncover them?
I mean, yes, definitely. You mentioned different tools there. And there’s a bit of a debate going on at the minute about how much you should be relying on tools or not. But for technical out here, you need tools. And, I mean, I see you need tools. I use Google Search Console, a lot rely on that these days. And that’s usually one of my first places that go to because I mean, that’s Google telling you what their problems are. That’s how they’re interpreting your site. So Google Search Console, the coverage report in there is really good for telling you what’s indexed, what isn’t indexed any errors that come across. And then you’ve got crawlers. So I mean, sitebulb is the one I use most of the time, because I know it well. It works well. A lot of people are familiar with Screaming Frog, which is similar in that it’s a desktop based crawler. It doesn’t give you quite as many pointers, as sitebulb does say Bulger’s up bit further in doing a bit of analysis for you. And trying to point out where the issues are, of course, then you’ve got the cloud based tools, so sem rush and H refs, which are all good in their own right as well. But the the audit inside tends to be a little bit more basic. So the issues that they’re flagging up, it’s a bit more cut and dry, it doesn’t let you do as much of your own investigation on there as the likes of sideboard and Screaming Frog that give you all the data to look at. Yeah, so my go to would be a desktop trawl like Seipel, just to figure out the big issues there. And from that point, it’s a lot of manual investigation and double check in what they’re seeing.
And so when you run those sorts of tools, some of them will prioritise things. Yeah, your general process to sense check those recommendations? Or do you sort of just hand it to a developer and say, Go fix this? You know, what, how do you sort of get the most bang for your buck out of what these tools are recommended? Yeah.
So I mean, that’s what I’m doing in order to that’s probably the biggest part of the job we’ve gone through and sense checking, double check. And what these are, because there’s two sides to that there’s one, you get sort of false positives in there or false negatives, rather, when there’s like issues flagged up. tools don’t know your website, they don’t know your business. So what might it look like it important set pages or a big issue on there, it might be something that’s intentional, it might be a set of pages that really aren’t a big deal use or they’re not high priority. But sometimes you just get it wrong. I mean, I’ve come across more and more recently, where the websites are behaving differently when you crawl it in different ways. So as soon as you put it on the load, using a crawler, it starts behaving strangely, which it might be a problem in itself, but it might just be, it might just cause the crawler to start fragen issues. So I mean, that was something we spent a lot of time looking at sitebulb of how much we should be telling people. This is an issue. This is a high priority, versus we think this is an issue. Here’s your starting point for investigation. Here’s the day that here’s where you can go and start looking at so that prioritisation site is a massive part of it. And just understanding the issues as well. So as I mentioned, there’s two parts to it. The other is finding what’s causing it. That’s all very well, knowing that you’ve got an issue you’ve got the URLs that aren’t linked to from anywhere on the site or something like that, but it’s only when you start digging into what type of pages Are they are they actually meant to be on the site or not? And investigating the the root cause behind the symptoms, that you start being able to give a recommendation, because there’s no point saying, we’ve got these orphan pages, you should send loads of links to them. If you’d never intended having them pages in the first place, it’s something that the that your CMS generated automatically. So you’ve got to understand why the issues are happening as well.
Yeah, so it’s not just coming at it from that technical SEO point of view and having your blinkers on, it’s more thinking about the business objectives and goals and reasons behind things.
Yeah, it’s very easy for businesses spend a lot of time fixing things that aren’t very important, trying to get pages ranking that don’t matter, or just going down rabbit holes, fiction, stuff that isn’t very important to them in any way.
And that would be, I guess, a pretty common thing when it comes to technical SEO and technical audits, you know, it’s very easy to sort of have the the fear of God put into you, so to speak, when you see this big list of things that have been recommended and technical mumbo jumbo, and as a business owner, you might not know, you know, if it’s important or not, you might think I don’t have breadcrumbs, my site leaves breadcrumbs, when it makes no sense in the you know, the structure of your site to even have them. And a business owner probably doesn’t know what they are. But the reports saying you need that. But I would imagine, you know, having done so many audits having worked at site, Bob, you probably see Common SEO Mistakes or technical mistakes popping up from site to site or areas that have really big impacts, if you can improve it from a technical point of view, so if any of them that come to mind that would be useful for our audience to sort of think of as a, I guess, an important area to focus on.
And, yeah, I mean, I mentioned earlier on just about index ability, and that sort of thing. So that’s obviously the one of the most important areas. And I’ve seen a lot recently of incorrect canonical tags, and sort of duplicate URLs and that sort of thing. And Google deciding the canonical themselves, whereas a canonical tag not present it decide, well, this is the true version of the page. And luckily, they’re quite clear about that in the coverage report. But very often, it’s not the page that people are intending to be ranking. So being careful of that sort of thing is really important. And a lot of the time that’s caused by internal linking, as well. So if you’ve got a duplicate version of a URL, and your CMS automatically links to the duplicate, rather than the real one, Google suddenly decides, well, this is the page we decided the true one, where as you’re focusing on the other version to it. And those sort of things are often a tangled mesh of URLs and links and horrible things. But the more you can understand your own website, the easier it is to unpick them sort of things and then able to go to a developer and say, This is what’s happening, this is what I need you to do with it. So yeah, that’s one of the things I’ve seen on a lot of sites of audit recently,
we actually have just run into that issue ourselves with a client, their online retailer, and they had a page up for like a seasonal sale, and then the page comes down. And then it came around to that time of year again, they put the page up and there was a canonical tag was pointing to the wrong page. And Google started favouring that page, and we updated the canonical, and we’re getting it read crawled, but we couldn’t get Google to accept that we’re telling it, you know, this canonical payment, you want to it can cause problems, because time is ticking by the sales coming up. And if you’re not on top of that sort of stuff, we can month, you know, week to week, month to month that can it can hurt your sales when it comes down to it. Yeah.
And you get all sorts of weird stuff going on as well. 101 not too long ago, where there was they had staging pages that they’ve set up and they canonicalize them to the live versions. But then they’d also put a new index on the stage and versions and it carried over the new index directive to the live pages. A normal worker why these live ones weren’t ranking. And I mean, it’s not something I’ve even seen before. So no, no, it was a bit of a weird one. But, yeah, you’d think things would get simpler, the more advanced we get with stuff, but there’s just more ways for it to go wrong.
You’ve just touched on something there that I feel like as well like staging website being indexed. Net might be on staging dot domain, name.com or whatever. That’s very common with, you know, business websites, or they might have old pages and stuff. Probably something our listeners can be doing is just a site colon, and then that domain name searching Google and seeing what’s in the index, or, as you said, using Search Console to try and identify when that’s happening like in your cave. That’s very extreme where the canonical Passing over a noindex. Yeah, but I’m just having extra pages in the index. And maybe there is no canonicals. And you’ve got the staging and the live site, and then they’re competing with each other, I guess. Yeah, that comes to mind that that’s probably a quick area to focus on. If you’re looking to make improvements.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, that’s one of my questions, when ever I’m starting to work with a client is, have you had any websites in the past? Have you had a different version of the site or try and get an idea of that? Because there’s usually remnants, kicking them out of staging sites, or old sites and things like that, where the migration hasn’t been done quite right. Or redirects aren’t doing what they should and things like that. And it can be a bit of a minefield in that way. Yeah. And I mean, on the plus side, though, there’s usually something to begin there by fixing them things. So it’s often it’s more of an opportunity, rather than something that’s actively holding them back.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And another thing that’s come to mind, then in the world of technical SEOs was two parts, the site speed and then call with vitals. How have your travels in that space? At the moment, you see much by way of like, impacts results, negative or positive?
It’s, it’s a really tricky one. And I mean, this is another one we spend a lot of time on when I was at sitebulb, how much? How much emphasis we should be putting on this issues? And where does that line stop between SEOs and developers? And we never came up with a definitive answer. I mean, myself, as an SEO, doing audits tend to push quite a lot of that towards developers, because that’s fine is not for me, I can give a lot of pointers, I will say, your site is slow, or these pages are slow. These are things that are causing problems. But in terms of solutions, I’m not in developer the higher long way. And I have had quite a few sites that have had big issues. I mean, some of it has been across the whole site. So it’s sort of, you just need to make this faster, there’s not a like tweak these things, there’s do the whole lot. Here’s where you can find your testing tools, you just need to sort this. Versus sometimes it’s a bit simpler. It’s like I don’t know, your images need improve, and you’re serving massive images, reduce them down, here’s a few ways you can do that. In terms of issues, its cause and results, it’s got it been a bit underwhelming, it blew up in the A, it was pushed as a really big issue, and everyone needs to solve it. But it was always going to be relative. So if everyone else in your SERPs is slow, then you’re gonna be measured against them. If, if you’re slow, but a bit faster than them, then that’s probably going to be enough. But if you’re in an industry where all the other websites are lined and quick, then that’s not going to cut it. So it’s, it’s one of the things that where everyone just assumed you need to be a fast website really fast. And to a degree, that’s true, but in practice, it’s, it’s not quite as big a thing that it was made out to be. But then on the on the flip side of it, there’s a lot of slow websites that are just bad for usability. They’re not usable sites. And that’s never gonna go down well, with Google.
Yeah. So the users that are actually accessing the site, right?
Yeah, that’s what I mean. I mean, it’s, I’m not naive to think it is the same thing. But it is kind of the same thing in that Google is trying to figure out what users like. So they want fast websites, give them the fast website. But on the scale of things, it’s most of the audits are due and even when they have got sort of slow pages or slow parts of the site. It’s usually one of the least of their problems. Because if that’s been neglected, they usually a lot of other stuffs been neglected. That’s more important. Yep. Absolutely.
And so when you’re auditing sites, what is the general mix? So is it largely ecommerce sites is that local lead gen type sites, WordPress, Shopify, Magento, sort of working across the board or you’re finding yourself working on the same types of sites,
and a bit of all sorts. I used to focus a bit more on E commerce. You should do quite a bit in travel because he used to work with Scottish Tourist Board was Scotland. And just there’s a lot of E commerce about as well. These days, doing quite a bit on SAS websites so much Image sight ball, which kind of led me into looking a bit more on that side of things. But it varies quite a lot. And in terms of platforms, it varies a lot as well. And that’s, it’s almost one of the reasons why I’ve been brought in to do audits. I’ve been most of the recent ones I’ve done, the bad multiple platforms that they’ve been on, for various reasons. And that’s where a lot of the problems lie from. They’re sort of one part of the websites on one platform and others another where they’re joining up, it’s a bit mishmash, because they don’t work the same way. I’ve also worked on a couple of recently, progressive web apps. I don’t know how much you’ve dealt with them, but I kind of wish they’d go away. They’ve been horrendous so far. I can kind of get the logic behind them from a development perspective and just extending an app to work as a website as well. But they take a lot of work to get all right, the developers I’ve spoke to that worked on them. They’ve underestimated a lot of the time how much it takes to take an app and make it into a website. And there are a lot of problems. What works with one doesn’t necessarily work as the other. And it would be nice to get to work on consistency ms as a while. WordPress is usually quite nice to work on these days, because at least it’s a familiar platform. It’s something you can diagnose quite easily. whereas all the other CMS is out there different quirks and things that are consistently wrong. And there’s no point me making recommendations on something that can’t actually be fixed within the CMS Excel. So yeah, I think I’ve strayed away from the original question a little bit there. But
Nana, totally, totally covered it. I’ve heard you touch on a couple of times, you know, working with developers dealing with developers getting developers to do things. And there’s, I guess there’s a bit of a, there can be conflict between SEOs and developers in our world. And now it’s one thing to find out what’s wrong with a website and do the audit and get this list. And then getting it implemented is a whole nother thing. So what’s your process around I guess, prioritising and communicating with developers and getting buy in and that sort of stuff to make changes?
It’s, I mean, it varies for me, on a client to client basis, I mean, I have some clients where I’ve spoken clients where there’s an internal stakeholder that is dealing with it, I develop them deliver the audit to them, I give them the list of recommendations and explanations, and they go off and deal with it. And that’s quite nice at times, and when you’ve got that in between, but a lot of the time, I’m working directly with the developers as well. And that’s what I’ve been used to more in the past. And found the biggest thing is just working closely with them as you can and explaining why you’re trying to do things why this is an issue. Because the whole thing of this is an SEO issue doesn’t go down? Well, because SEO doesn’t really mean anything. For most developers. They’re not being measured on it. It’s not a big thing, that they’re not bothered about Google, what they are bothered about are the users usually, I mean, if you explain to them that, like the whole site speed thing, of, well, this isn’t something we’re doing for Google directly or kind of edge. But we’re doing this because user get really slow experience. This is the thing that slowing it down. And if we make it better for users, then Google recognises that we could potentially rank better. So going through that thought process, and that explanation is usually a lot better than just saying we need you to do this. And also not. I mentioned before about specifically about the site speed stuff, and performance is not always trying to give them the solution. So talking them about like, this is the problem. I know, this is maybe a potential way of sorting it, but they are the developers. I mean, I’m not a developer. I’ve not worked on the website. I’ve come across ways. Things can be solved, but they know the website better than me. They may have other ways of solving it. Yes. But it’s also very careful to keep an eye on how they are going to do things and having that discussion because I’ve had in the past where sometimes you can give the issue and say we need this fixed and the fix can be worse than the original problem. So understanding what They’re gonna do about that couldn’t be a big thing. And sometimes they’ll go over the top and do a fix that goes well beyond what your intended and it spends additional time and resource. And yeah, that’s nice. But you didn’t need to do all that. It was just a flick this switch and it’s sorted sort of thing. Yeah, yeah, communication is a big part. And sometimes just understanding the work involved, there’s some things that I would recommend like, say, the client, you need to fix this, this is something I’d consider relatively important. If they come back and say, Yeah, that’s six months of development resource that is going to change my priorities. I say, right, well, if I had six months of resource, you should spend it elsewhere. Because it’s going to get better result fixing all these other things versus this one that isn’t even quite as important anymore. Yeah,
absolutely. And that happens. So often, you know, you find there’s a report, let’s say, someone runs their site through the PageSpeed Insights tool, and it spits out all this stuff you should be doing, like, compressing this and minifying that and an SEO agency might hand that over, they go off you go and do that. And this client is working with a developer on retainer that charges 150 bucks. Now I just reply to a message and it just, you know, you’ve got to, it’s a case of prioritisation, isn’t it? Like what is going to have the biggest bang for your buck? From an SEO point of view? And from an outcome point of view for the business? Yeah, sorry. Sorry to interrupt.
No, I was just gonna say I think something like the relationship with the client or yourself with the developer is really important, but that as well, just being able to have the discussion, because I’ve come across some cases where you give them recommendations. And the developers like, Yeah, great. I’ve just got a year’s worth of work there. And we’ve worked through all of these, and they’re not going to question it, whereas development question and stuff isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because they’re trying, if they’ve got a limited amount of resource, then they’re gonna want to get the most out of it as well.
So um, I guess, in an ideal world, from an SEO point of view, we’re trying to avoid these technical problems, right, popping up or creating, you know, fixes creating even more problems for typical business owner. Or maybe let’s stay on the lead gen side of things. And then the E commerce side of things out of the box, what what one sort of ticks the SEO boxes best, do you think?
Yeah. And I wasn’t looking forward to this question, because it’s a really tricky. Question. Yeah, I mean, it’s a typical business owner, it really depends. It depends on the scale of things, and, and especially how they’re planning on building that website, whether they are going to settle themselves, or they have developers out of the box is. For most people, you don’t, there isn’t an out of the box, in a sense, in that you’re always going to do something with it, oh, my God, you would usually be WordPress, or like, even with E commerce, and having the balls on to that. But it depends on the scale. Like if you’ve got a lot of products, that often becomes unwieldy. One of the platforms that I’ve not dealt with a lot myself, but those seem to be coming out quite a bit is Wix. So it’s a one I would have avoided like the plague in the past. But I know they’d been working with Su as a lot recently. I was speaking to a team a while ago. And they’ve been integrating a lot of stuff in there. That, to me, it works quite well, for small business owners in the WordPress, the danger is you go in there, I mean, by default out of the box, it’s great. It’s fast. It’s really simple. It’s slick. But very rarely do people use it out of the box. Because you decide, right, we need this, we need that and you start adding plugins and making changes and very quickly, you can take it from it being a really good platform that worked very well to a bit clunky and a bit messy. Whereas Wix was and I seen them a lot of other platforms with the opposite end of the scale where you can’t control anything. It’s locked down. You’ve got fields that you fill in for your content, and it spits out a website. And you can’t change any of the elements you want to as an SEO. So they’ve started making a lot of them things I’ve talked about. So your your elements and your sitemap and your robots dot txt and things like that and canonical redirects, they’ve started making them accessible, but rather than just opening them and saying you can do what you want with ease and letting people make a lot of problems. They’ve tried to get a middle ground and making them controllable, but having failsafes in there, so they know that if they just open up and let people add redirects, that’s potential for an absolute nightmare for someone that doesn’t know about redirects, you can keep your website down quite easily. You let