Podcast | SEO myth busting with John Brasington

Emily Hogarth, 8 Jul 2019

SEO myth busting with John Brasington

This month we talk to our very own head of search, John Brasington – he’ll be busting some of the most prevalent SEO myths out there.

  • Is it really ok to use a 302?
  • Common misconceptions surrounding algorithm updates
  • Can you optimise for algorithm updates?
  • Is losing traffic after a site migration agiven?
  • Why can’t you just SEO a page?

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AI Transcription

This podcast has been transcribed using an AI transcriber. There may be some errors and this is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

We’re gonna put your SEO knowledge to the test – what is a 302? 

A mistake waiting to happen! It’s like a redirect for sending you – you land on a URL and it takes you to another URL. And that’s how you move people from pages to pages, right?  Delete a page, you need to redirect it. A 302 is a way of saying we’re not going to keep this we’re going to go back. So one day, this URL will be back to the way it originally started officially. Problem is 302s aren’t really used that way they used as like a permanent redirect.

It’s supposed to be temporary. And the problem starts that people use them instead of the permanent redirect for no real good reason. And that’s caused a lot of problems in the past and today.

So you’re saying that you shouldn’t really be using 302s – but Google says that they are fine to use.

Yeah. So historically, they said don’t use them for for this purpose, just to go back. So 302 has it uses. Its used when you genuinely they maybe have websites down and you send it to a page to say, we’re down right now. That was the point of it was to say this is genuinely temporary. But because people use them for many reasons incorrectly, Google decided that well we’ll treat them like 301s, we’ll try and treat them equivalently. And that led to a lot more confusion, because for years, we’ve been saying Don’t, don’t touch them. Because what that will do is Google follow the redirect and see that it’s temporary, and ignore that comment and stop crawling eventually. And that will mean you lose rankings. And that’s obviously what we want to avoid in SEO. So the problem then became as people are still using these 302s, and we’re constantly trying to stop them from using them. And then Google comes along and says, ‘look, we’ve we get it, people use them,so we’ve updated the way of doing things.’ But it didn’t turn out that way. 

So people would start using their 302s. And we still see the ranking droppings. And that’s a problem. And I think I might have worked out I’m not sure why they’ve done it that way. So I don’t think they lied, my advice generally is still just keep away from them. Like there’s no there’s no real use for them. As I said, they’re kind of a mistake. They have a very simple function and they been used when a 301 would do. So I do think you can use – the idea is that maybe – you put the 302 in the ranking will drop. We know that. And I suspect Google is saying they will come back, because I think they’re saying that ‘look a 302 to as a temporary job. But if eventually you never change anything we’ll start to treat it like a permanent one.’ But in the meantime, you’re gonna have lost any of the rankings from that time, and that we’ve never let it get that far. So we don’t find out I say we could make a test it by just seeing. But no, we still just recommend you stick to the 301. And try not to get too excited when Google says something because they might mean something slightly different. 

One of the events in SEO that causes the most confusion is obviously algorithm updates. And people go crazy on social media, there’s studies testing hypotheses. But what do you think is the most common thing that people get wrong or don’t know, when it comes to algorithm updates? 

I think it’s probably the one which didn’t get as much excitement, when it was a big update, and was really exciting to me. And then the fact that it wasn’t people didn’t go crazy about it, it’s probably why people are still making mistakes about it. So there’s a big change to the way Google treats disavow links, and sort of dodgy link building. So historically, you were meant to sort of own up to your link building and go through this file and say, ‘Look, we made all of these links’ upload a list and say, ‘ignore all of these’. And that means you would lose all the equity, but also you wouldn’t get a site wide penalty anymore. And so that sort of changed though, however, so, yeah, you had you had the site wide penalty, and that was disastrous, it would completely wipe you out, you know, the same as redirecting all your URLs with a 302. And they changed the rules to make it link specific now, so rather than you getting a domain wide, everything gets wiped out, they changed it. So it would be very much a page specific penalty. But Furthermore, they actually changed all the rules. When they did that they basically changed it, so they’re actually very good at ignoring spammy links to this day, they use the disavow file to to come up with a better way of detecting them. And as a result, it’s actually not much of a point going in and adding links to your disavow file because they’re dodgy. And they’ve said it much actually, they’ve come out and said, don’t go adding them unless they’re genuine dodgy links that’s been generated. But to this day, people still go through and just find bad links in their backlink profile stuff. They haven’t created themselves this natural bad linking, natural unnatural linking, and an added to the file. And what they’re doing there is a wasting their time wasting their budget. They’re also potentially disavowing links that they’re getting, you know, authority from, so they’re sort of wasting money on both sides there. And I think that was just something just kind of went over people’s radar a little bit.

If you’re in an industry where you have negative SEO, which is not so common, where people build bad links to your site, that’s then yeah, sure. But for the for the most part, just no, Google will sort it out for you. And actually, don’t go crazy on this, but you could go through your disavow files and remove some of your cavalier added links if you want to and we’ve seen people do that and seen quite significant uplifts.

But that I mean, that was a big, big change. Less of an algorithm update, I guess you had more questions on algorithm updates in general.

So on algorithm updates, Google says you can’t optimise for algorithm updates. But what do you think?

Every time there’s a change recently, you know, Google got a lot better at communicating about updates. But they use this sort of terminology to say you can’t optimise for it. And I think that’s perhaps just a miscommunication of terms, because you obviously can, like, they changed the rules. And so you change your website to appeal to those rules, and you are now more favourable to Google. And so your rank better that’s, that’s kind of what optimisation means. I think maybe they’re suggesting that optimisation is editing title tags. And maybe they have an overview of SEO, I wouldn’t be surprised. And so of course, you can if if Google, what they say is make sense to them, but if it makes sense to us, as an industry, you can absolutely work out from the data from all kinds of tools like ours, then work out actually, this is what Google likes. Now, this is the preference and just optimise.

There’s a migratory SEO myth that has been going around for quite a while that says, you basically have to expect and accept that you’re going to lose traffic and visibility when you migrate. So what’s your take on that?

It’s interesting. So we used to, we used to talk a lot about the migratory myth, if it was a big issue, we thought that people were making people expect a loss, because then if there was a loss, well, we expected it. And because people would, were making mistakes, and maybe we didn’t know better how the time maybe it was wasn’t there, maybe we just got better understanding how to do it. But that myth definitely prevailed. 

We’ve also sort of seen that change well, from our perspective, when we first started talking about the migratory myth as a myth. And so it is absolutely a situation where you should be able to go from one site to a new site without having to lose traffic. In fact, if you do it well enough, if you build a much better site, you’ll get more traffic. If you avoid the common mistakes like 302s, and you’ll see things sort of recover properly. You will lose traffic if you do a massive change to the site, and it’s not as good, obviously. So that might be that might be still sort of a caveat to what we said that if a site that doesn’t load properly anymore, of course, you’re going to see a lot of traffic. That’s not the migrations for that actual new websites. But see, so that so that that’s just a situation with the new website. 

But what I have started to notice, though, is the window from migration to recovery is starting to get longer. So it used to be, you might expect to migrate one day, settle the 301s and have a week of lesser rankings, so still ranking, but it takes a while for Google to switch over, we’re seeing that extend to about six weeks now. Which is you know, if you only had 50% or 80% of 90% of your rankings in that time of six weeks, you would see it would see a drop. And there’s nothing so far that we’ve identified you can do about that. You follow the same steps and the same website, lots of 301s, it still takes a while. Even if it’s a domain name change, you can see, which is the simplest way of doing a migration, you still see six weeks of potential loss. So that’s the other thing to expect now, that’s really worrying now, because that means you sit there for six weeks ago, I don’t know if this is a genuine drop, or just part of the window. 

So to finish, we’re asking you the age old question that all SEOs know too well – why can’t you just SEO a page?

Well, I suppose you could, it just wouldn’t get you anywhere. So the idea is that everyone, all the channels get involved, they build the content that everyone UX is involved, everyone has a great time making the website and at the end, people are like, can you do your bit? Can you just SEO. And the problem with that is that might help get you up for one or two rankings, but it’s not actually going to get you to traffic delivering rankings and across the site, because all you can really do at the end is sort of changed the page titles, maybe you can change their H1. But there could be fundamental structural problems there could be, it could just be slight issues where you can’t have this much content, you’re limited to one paragraph or something like that, and all the competition, have four paragraphs of text and you’re sat there going ‘Well, if you can’t do that, then I can’t help you.’ We can SEO, anything that you can do on the site, but we have a lot of requirements to where we have to have to have a site that we can work with. And so why this question can be bothersome is that if we got involved at the start helped line out those recommendations, build that all into the workflow, then that would be golden. But as it stands, if you’re given a last minute SEO it, it’s like, I can get you a little bit, I can do a little bit for you. And that’s not what we want to be doing. And we don’t want to be pushing you from position eight to position seven and going home.

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