SEO conspiracy theories with Geoff Kerbis

October 6, 2021


You can’t spell conspiracy theory without S-E-O. Geoff Kerbis joins the show to share his theories on why tech giants like Google, Amazon and Spotify are making certain changes. On this episode, we speculate about questions, like:

  • What’s Google’s real motive behind the CWV update?
  • Does Amazon want to know everything about you?
  • Will Amazon compete for your branded terms?
  • What is Spotify’s angle with podcasts?

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John Tyreman:  Hi gang. Welcome to The Digital Marketing Troop, where we go in the trenches so you can learn more about digital marketing. I’m your host, John Tyreman, and I am here with a returning guest, Mr. Geoff Kerbis, SEO Team Lead at Silverback Strategies. Geoff, how are you doing today?

Geoff Kerbis:  I’m good, John. Thanks for having me on.

John Tyreman:  We are here to embrace our inner conspiracy theorist, and you shared some of these theories with me a few weeks ago, and I really thought that they would be of interest to our audience and wanted to share them with our listeners. But before we dive into some of the SEO conspiracy theories, do you have any other conspiracy theories that might be fun or tangential so that we can kind of get this thing rolling?

Geoff Kerbis:  Yeah, no, that’s, that’s a great question. You know, I think I told you this, but you can’t spell conspiracy theory without SEO. That’s sort of my, that’s my tagline, it’s something I stay with, and I believe in. I think every SEO sort of has a little bit of a conspiracy theorist in them. I don’t consider myself one of those folks that wears a tinfoil cap. But as far as conspiracy theories, mine are more of the pop culture type. I have two that I’ll give you:  one for my sports fans out there. I think everyone knows about the Patrick Ewing conspiracy theory that the New York Knicks were really in dire straits, and there was the frozen envelope that supposedly David Stern knew to pick out to give the New York Knicks the ability to draft Patrick Ewing. That’s one of them. There’s also versions of that with Lebron James and Kyrie Irving. There’s something about the NBA draft and no one trusts. With that being said, my favorite though, of the time being, is, you know, frozen, ever since it became a pop culture, magnificent moment, “Let It Go” still being sung by toddlers all around the world, you probably know that all too well. But with that being said, the idea that the conspiracy theory if you’ve not heard of it, is the reason that frozen was made was so that for SEO purposes, when someone was to research, or search Disney Frozen, Walt Disney’s name would no longer come up as the top result due to the idea that his head is biometrically or, excuse me, cryometrically frozen somewhere in Arizona, and the time being. And it is sort of a sore spot for most of the Disney Corporation, so why not create a hit movie starring Idina Menzel. Did I say that right? I think I did. And that really is one of the favorites because it’s just one of those things – Wow, really clever. And also a good lesson for SEO is if you want to get rid of some of your bad press, create your own good press.

John Tyreman:  Well, even your pop culture conspiracy theory relates to SEO, Geoff.  I’m impressed.

Geoff Kerbis:  I can’t leave it alone. I can’t.

John Tyreman:  And I have a conspiracy theory forming around the NFL and legalized gambling and referees calling questionable plays but it’s not fully formed yet so it’s still very much a theory. Geoff, let’s dive into our topic at hand. So, you said it best, you can’t spell conspiracy theory without SEO. And why don’t we start in alphabetical order, with our favorite company Alphabet Incorporated. Google says its core web vitals update was focused on user experience but you contend there could be an ulterior motive to generating more ad revenue. Can you walk our listeners through this theory?

Geoff Kerbis:  I think one of the things that we have the ability to do now when we look at core web vitals versus our initial conversation is core web vitals is rolled out. We’re starting to see the effects of core web vitals on clients of our own, as well as websites all around the world. The big thing that I like to point to is core web vitals seems to be an ever changing, or at least before it was rolled out, an ever changing concept of what is needed to get the boost. And if initially as you said, core web vitals was thought of as a user experience based metric, really trying to ensure that users were getting the best experience possible no matter what device they are on. Which is a really nice story to tell. There are folks who might only have access to an old computer or maybe a laptop or a mobile phone but doesn’t have the best connection and you want everyone to be able to get the results that they need in a quick and efficient manner, that is a good experience, that leaves them without a bad taste in their mouth. But one of the things that I like pointing to is Google is part of an organization that is a publicly traded organization, that needs ad revenue, to be able to succeed. You can look at the past revenue report for Google to look at how critical the ad revenue is that is delivered via a Google, a YouTube, is to the success of the overall organization. With that being said, there was another instance where Landing Page Speed was a critical factor in Google a few years ago, in 2018, and that was for ads, and being able to make sure that a page was eligible to have ads, as a portion of the page to drive to that page. I find it really curious that now we’re repackaging that concept and yes, there are a few different metrics that are involved in this. We could use all the acronyms of LCP FIDCLS, to masquerade, that this is a user experience. But, you know, I would find it curious if Google was not to say, “oh, since your page does such a good job with these page experience things, wouldn’t it make sense to try to increase your goal completions by having a few ads point towards it?” Because we can absolutely optimize your campaign against goal completions, it’s one of the first things that you’re taught when you’re doing Google Ads training. So, Yes. Do I think core web vitals has the intent of the users in mind? Yeah, I’m not a complete pessimist. But I think it would be naive to think that the publicly traded organization that depends on revenue isn’t trying to find an additional way to increase the array of pages that can help drive its revenue.

John Tyreman:  It’s a mutually beneficial rollout, right?

Geoff Kerbis:  For sure. 

John Tyreman:  Do I have this right? So from your perspective, Google is making more pages ad eligible. Would that be a good way to characterize it?

Geoff Kerbis:  In my mind, yes. It’s sort of, there’s a form of a safeguard that could be put in place to allow for this to happen. Now with that being said, this is a conspiracy theory, right? Conspiracy theories could be absolutely correct, or absolutely wrong. And I don’t know anyone who would come out and say, “Oh hey, that’s 100% incorrect.” And if it is, I’ll take it on the chin. I’ll say “Hey, I had an idea, and that was wrong”. But sometimes when we’re making these guesses, it helps us to be able to go outside of the conspiracy theory and start planning for our organizations, our clients, from an SEO perspective. And if there’s one major takeaway I want to have come from this podcast today John, it’s not, “Hey, everyone’s against you. Everyone’s trying to tear down your organization”. It’s more so, take the time to research these moves of these organizations, and start to, not take them at face value, but have questions associated with them. Because that’s going to not only allow you to be more successful as a digital marketer, but it’s also going to allow you to be a more proactive partner for your client, as a whole.

John Tyreman  Well yeah. You’re building on rented land if you’re using Google ads, if you’re relying on even organic web traffic from Google. So it does pay, like you said, to understand the moves that those organizations are taking. Well, speaking of these giant organizations and understanding what moves they’re making, let’s jump to Amazon, which is our next organization up. And you have a couple conspiracy theories around Amazon. Who doesn’t, right? But they’ve recently introduced a new product called Halo, and it seems that Amazon wants to continue to know everything about you, for profit. Let’s unpack this one, Geoff.

Geoff Kerbis:  Yeah, I find the halo experiment or product, one of the most interesting of all, because we already all think that our phones are listening to us. They are in some sense of the word, you know, we type into them, we make agreements. There are very few people who read the user agreement that’s associated with even their texting app. But with that being said, the Halo is a really interesting wearable device that has a large functionality. You can do everything from heart rate to body fat measurement, it can be used for your sleep, for overall wellness. As people are more and more curious about the statistics that are available to them to help improve their overall health, the Halo seems like a pretty great solution that is available. But one of the things that I point to is the Halo has a lot of partnerships that are associated with it. Weight Watchers, Orange Theory, I could continue on and on. But it’s also owned by Amazon. Amazon has made a very pointed and public effort to become more involved in more of a cornerstone of the healthcare space. There have been many, many acquisitions and I think we’ll probably talk about those acquisitions in a bit, that had been related to healthcare, including trying to, at one point in time, purchase CVS. That was, I think in 2018. Now, with that being said, if we look at the wearable itself, it’s not that expensive. I believe it only cost $60 which is very cheap for one of those wearables, and it has a 399, a month membership, which is not that much. It’s a cup of coffee, a fancy cup if you’re going to Starbucks. Now, with that being said, with the amount of information that’s associated with this, I would be highly surprised, I would find it very, very naive, I think I’ll use that word already but I can’t think of another one, if Amazon wasn’t using this data. Now, there’s going to be people who say, that’s a HIPAA violation. To those people I would say, read your user agreement before you agree to wear one of these. That’s the big thing because Amazon does a great job of optimizing their algorithm based off of your user behavior. You can see it on the homepage with the recommended products that you shouldn’t be buying, you can see it from your Alexa that you’re using very willy nilly. They learn your habits and they try to optimize against your habits. Now, for some people it might sound like a complete convenience that Amazon is suggesting, “Hey here’s a healthy food to help better your diet”, or “Here’s something to help out with your sleep”. But with that being said, they’re still trying to make a profit off of that, and if this device helps create additional purchases, then you’re falling right into their overall goal of a cheap entry into creating additional purchases to better your overall health.

John Tyreman:  Well it’s a good reminder, like you said, to read those user agreements, and if you’re subscribing to a service like that you have to understand what you’re giving up in exchange for that service, so. Well, Geoff, another Amazon theory, that you brought up and you mentioned, M&A. They may be purchasing competitors to outmuscle smaller companies. Can you walk us through this one?

Geoff Kerbis:  Yeah, absolutely. This is something I’ve experienced firsthand with some of my clients in the past, is when we think about base level categories. So let’s look at things like tires, dog food, groceries, even. Amazon has made a point of having at least some form of participation in the market. And here’s the thing, Amazon wants to win, no matter what. At first it was just books. It seemed very bare and simple but slowly but surely, Amazon wants to make sure that they are, in some shape or form, have the ability to compete in every major SKU that is available, whether that is a tire, whether that is a bag of dog food. So, to think that Amazon won’t try to put their opportunities up first, within anything, have it as the Amazon choice, I know that I have fallen in victim or I have purchased batteries that are Amazon branded because they purchased a battery manufacturer, and guess what that means that one less purchase for Duracell, even if I’m searching triple A batteries. Simple and sweet. It’s very much making sure that there is the non branded store brand that still has a high quality associated with it. And what they’re also doing is they’re going after your branded terms folks, it’s simple as that. If you wanted to search for your dog’s favorite dog food, yeah, it will come up, but so will Amazon’s choice of, “like”, or “similar to”. This is Amazon’s own way of having the inside track, in this situation. And what do you do instead? That’s probably the number one question in mind. Well, there’s, making sure that your products are optimized for Amazon, so that you can have that A plus rating, making sure that you have quality pictures, reviews, quality insights about the features of your product. Reviews with photos in them is a very high signifier of the quality of a product. So, you might be purchasing products and asked to get a review. That’s not really the right way to do it but if you have the opportunity to, and you are listing products on Amazon, make sure you’re optimizing them just like you would a PDP on your website. It takes time, it takes effort, and you have to be optimizing against the keywords that you want. Will an Amazon product still show up? Yeah, 100%. You can’t control what else is showing up in the search. But setting yourself up with the opportunity to succeed in the shoppers eye is completely and entirely on you.

John Tyreman:  Well, it sounds like that environment, Amazon putting pressure on these other businesses to compete not only with other businesses that are bidding on those terms but then Amazon itself, it seems like that’s creating this environment that makes it easy to jack up ad spend an ad revenue from Amazon’s perspective, do I have that right?

Geoff Kerbis:  Yeah, I think absolutely. There is more of an increased pressure. So here’s the statistic. There are 106 different organizations that Amazon has purchased. In addition, 22 different companies that Amazon has a stake in. So if we’re doing, let’s just say simply, that half of those are different categories, and we’re talking about 64 different categories that Amazon is now participating on and has the advantage of competing against your branded and non branded terms. Now, one way to show that up, is to pay for advertising. Amazon advertising, sure, that works. But what I’d say is a good first step before you consider talking with your paid media specialists is really focusing on what do we have on the page itself. Take a look. Think as a customer. Would this be attractive to you? Do you just have some plain text and very little information about your SKU? Because I know that wouldn’t interest me. I’m one of the first people to read through every review and look and see if there’s pictures, does it look like what I am buying. Because if it doesn’t, if I don’t hear good things, I might go to the Amazon choice, or the Amazon brand because I know there’s consistency associated with that.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, I have a feeling that there are a lot of shoppers who do that same thing because they can’t touch and feel a product before they buy, they don’t really know, so they’ve got to rely on those descriptions and those pictures and that user generated content. Well, Geoff, I know that we’ve got another conspiracy theory that I really want to dive into. These are all very sobering things for a marketer to hear. But let’s jump into our last one here, Spotify, the Amazon of audio, some call it. In fact, a good chunk of our audience right now is listening to this podcast on Spotify. So what’s your theory on the audio Juggernaut?

Geoff Kerbis:  Spotify, over the past couple of months, has been really focusing on bolstering their FP&A team. Really, for those who are not in finance, there’s going to be a lot more spending to come for the organization. And what will that look like? Well, we’ve seen some of their really public spending recently. They just purchased “Call Her Daddy” for $60 million. The supposed Joe Rogan contract that would melt most people’s mind and supposedly well within the nine figures club, which is wild. But they’re also purchasing smaller things. too. Things that allow them to bolster the app and make sure that you’re spending more time on Spotify. The one that I really like focusing on is they purchased an app called Locker Room. And Locker Room is now rebranded as Greenroom, which is Amazon’s opportunity for live podcasting and audience participation, which is great. I think that it’s a really cool product. I actually use it myself for a few of the podcasts I listen to and it allows for a little bit more of a personal experience, more so of that traditional radio feel,but instead of calling in, you have the convenience of requesting access to the conversation to be able to ask your question. But what does that mean? Why do I question it? Why am I, you know, bringing that tone of, “Oh my God, everything is against us”. Spotify wants to keep you on their app, and they want to make sure that there’s revenue associated with it. Now here’s a statistic for you, John: 44% of all Spotify users are premium users. Now that is one tier of premium. There’s multiple tiers that are associated. There is now going to be a new tier for paid for subscriptions for podcasts so that you don’t have to listen to ads associated with your podcast. That’s great. You know, I can tell you I was just on a car ride, and there was a podcast that was an hour and 30 minutes long that I was listening to and a solid 10 minutes of it was advertising. If I could pay $2 a month to not have advertising just on that podcast, I’d consider it for sure. Because it’s very dangerous to try to fast forward while you’re listening to a podcast in the car, and who knows what you’re missing in some instances. But really the goal of these acquisitions is to make sure that, very similar to Amazon, Spotify has the ability to fulfill your needs for the large demographic groups. If you’re a sports fan, they have sports podcasts that are exclusively being, either live streamed via Greenroom or available. If you are someone who enjoys more comedy, guess what?  “Call Her Daddy” is only available on Spotify, and once you’re done with that, they’re going to be happy to suggest another podcast that has advertising associated with it. Or you can listen to music that will possibly have ads on it, if you are part of that 56% that does not pay for Spotify. And if you’re like me, you’re tired of ads, well, there’s an opportunity to pay for those subscriptions. It’s making sure that there are these, and the way I’ll relate this to SEO is, you’re participating in the high value, high monthly search volume based queries that are out there. Just look at our podcast, right? Digital marketing is a really valuable term on the Spotify network, and we’re fighting for our users and we’re glad that you guys are listening to us. But, Spotify wants to make sure more and more folks look to Spotify as the option for those high volume searches.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, it seems like they’re playing in the clubhouse space, the Twitter spaces arena. So it’ll be really interesting to see how that medium, that user engagement experience evolves with digital radio essentially. Calling into shows, you know, that’s something that’s been around for ages. It’s just moving on to a digital platform now. Well, Geoff, Thank you so much for taking the time to hop on our show today, no we’re at time now. If folks wanted to connect with you and learn more, where can they find you?

Geoff Kerbis:  Yeah, absolutely, John. You can find me on LinkedIn. Just type my name in and you’ll find me. Always happy to have a conversation about conspiracy theories, SEO, whatever you’d like. And then you can find me on Twitter with my terrible sports takes in sometimes my SEO insights @runGeoffrun.

John Tyreman:  All right, well, if folks wanted to learn more about these SEO conspiracy theories, make sure to reach out to Geoff. He’s a wealth of knowledge. And Geoff, we will see you next time on the Digital Marketing Troop.

Geoff Kerbis:  Thanks again, John.