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In Search [Episode 17]: Influencer Marketing with an Eye on SEO

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Poll Question Episode 17

Summary of Episode 17: The In Search SEO Podcast 

In Search SEO Banner 17

This week we speak to the internationally renowned Shane Barker all about influencer marketing and how it intertwines with SEO:

  • How influencer marketing can impact your SEO efforts
  • Engaging in meaningful influencer marketing all while staying entirely white hat
  • Staying on target with your influencer marketing for strong SEO

Plus, our hosts weigh in on Google using CTR when looking to rank sites!

Is CTR a Rank Factor? [01:10 - 5:22]

Over the past few weeks, Googlers have said that the search engine does not consider a site’s CTR when determining the rankings on the SERP. Concurrently, Moz’s Britney Muller found a Google developer page where its cloud team said that Google does indeed look at clicks and that it considers those clicks for future queries.

So of course, this was the cloud team that said this and not the search team. Also, it could certainly be that Google was referring to personalization within the search results. That said… EVERYONE freaked out on this one. People who think Google does not use CTR were screaming, "Enough of this conspiracy theory!” People who think Google does use CTR as part of its core algorithm theory were screaming, "See? Google is not being forthright… We told you so!”

So is CTR part of the core algorithm? The answer, Mordy says, is who cares? Because what we do know about machine learning, (i.e., RankBrain, etc.) is that it looks at user behavior and it looks at CTR in order to better learn how users relate to a query... to better understand intent. Now, what does machine learning do with that info? It makes adjustments. It may say for this keyword the intent, based on the CTR (among other things, of course), is X and if your site is Y then you’re not on the SERP anymore. It may say that of all the pages clicked on were ones that had an image. So in this case, having an image is super important. If you don’t have an image and you don’t get any clicks (you nor any of the sites similar to yours) then machine learning says, "Hmmmm…. What should we do with these sites? Are they irrelevant or not?”

Obviously, we’re oversimplifying this for the sake of time and so forth but you get what we’re saying. CTR is part of the mix. Is it a direct signal? According to Google, no. Is it an indirect factor? According to Google, well yes.

As Mordy put it, "We’re all talking past each other because no one is taking the time to actually explain themselves (an inherent problem when communicating via Twitter). Without nuance, we get into this whole big fight, but I think if you sat down with everyone you could hash this thing out where everyone walks away saying, "Oh, I get where you’re coming from.”

Influencer Marketing with an Eye on SEO: A Conversation with Shane Barker [5:22 - 36:14]

[This is a general summary of the interview and not a word for word transcript. You can listen to the podcast for the full interview.]

Mordy: You already know we love bringing experts from all over the digital marketing universe onto the In Search SEO Podcast and today we have a really special guest (I’m not just saying that… that would be a silly marketing ploy and I hate those…). Today world renowned digital marketing strategist and influencer marketing master… he’s an instructor, he’s a consultant…. He is Shane Barker and he is here to talk SEO and influencer’s marketing’s impact on it. You are literally everywhere, you speak at all sorts of influencer marketing conferences, and you do so many different things within the digital marketing world… can you please share with our audience a bit on the specifics of what you do?

Shane: I have been doing digital marketing for 30+ years and just recently, in the last five or six years, I jumped into the influencer space. It was kind of by accident. We had a client who reached out asking for social media marketing. She was selling a fitness ebook on Instagram and she was doing $400k a year in sales by herself. And she’s only 22 years old telling us that she feels she’s not doing the best she can.

We were trying to figure out what she was doing because all of her marketing was through Instagram. So we revamped everything, we redid her website and everything else. We tried SEO... PPC and neither of those were as favorable or worked as well as her influencer marketing. She had this great story and built this community from one person to 180,000 followers when she came to us. In just under a year we got her to 1.6 million followers.

I’m also an instructor at UCLA. I teach a class on personal branding and how to be an influencer. It’s a two-part class, one is how to be an influencer and the other is how to work with influencers and how to find them.

Now I have a 32 person team and I’m very excited about being on this podcast.

M: Wow, thank you, Shane. So I hate to do this to you, and I’m not calling you old or anything, but you’ve been on the digital marketing scene for a long time now as you said... what’s the biggest difference between the landscape now as compared to when you first started out?

S: What hasn’t happened? When I started SEO there was no A/B testing, you would index well for something but not know how. We were flying blind. Now there are so many tools you can use to see your rankings, what your competitors are doing, and how many backlinks you need to rank for a keyword. So nowadays it's easier in some aspects but it becomes harder because there’s a lot more competition when it comes to domain names and content. We all can agree on that the key to success is creating great content and having great backlinks.

And it takes awhile. For example, for my site that I had for 7 years, we were like a shoemaker who fixes everyone’s shoes but has a hole in his. We were helping our clients but weren’t doing it for ourselves. I knew I was getting good inbound leads from all the writing I do. I write for about 120 sites right now (again, not myself as I have a great team). So in the past year and a half we put in a strong effort to increase our rankings. We saw some huge benefits from that and I can now get number one for almost any marketing keyword.

M: Awesome! I suppose we should get to the meat of this all by talking SEO in relation to influencer marketing. Let’s start with the obvious…. The obvious upshot of influencer marketing from an SEO perspective is LINKS! But what’s perhaps not obvious about that?

S: So you’re right. It is links. A lot of people look at the social media play which is obviously a variable of SEO, not the main thing. I think Google does recognize influencers on Instagram and YouTube. It is harder on Instagram because you only have one link in the bio but for YouTube, which is the second largest search engine, so links in there help. Google understands that as long as your product matches with this influencer then Google will consider that favorable.

M: So let me follow that up a bit... The other " biggee” for me when talking SEO and influencer marketing is authority. I’m in the camp within the SEO community that thinks Google has a more holistic grasp on understanding a concept/entity/site. That it understands what a site’s "core intent profile” is - meaning Google now knows not only WHAT the site is but has a general sense of WHO the site is… To this, I think that site authority, brand authority is a big part of what Google looks at when ranking sites.

Do you think a brand's online relationship with an influencer helps to build that brand credibility Google thirsts for? If so, what has to happen for that to take place? Can a one-time "online connection” make any difference or is the relationship too thin for anything like that?

S: I would think so. I think there’s a direct correlation and Google recognizes that. I don’t think they have control of everything as that’s too much information, but I would say they know 80-90% of the stuff going on. And if a brand is partnering with an influencer and they’re creating content then that has SEO benefits. If it’s a good product and a good influencer then that’s great. You can get a backlink from anywhere, but over time they would probably figure out you paid for it and it’s coming from a non-related site.

I do think that over time that an influencer has authority. The number of followers that you have shows you have some type of authority in your community. People are following you for a reason. Now I don’t think it’s as strong as getting a backlink from a news station but the idea of it is that Google will think it’s favorable and it fits in the link profile so it should be pushed up in rank.

M: Do you think it’s possible that through enough interaction between a brand and its influencer that Google can develop a ‘Knowledge Graph connection’? Is that even a good thing?

S: Well it’s no different than your link profile. If you have 500 great links and 100 bad ones they’re going to find out and either give you a warning or punish you assuming you’re trying to game the system.

It’s the same thing with influencers. If Google sees that over time your brand is working with these high authority influencers there’s not going to be a downside to that. But if you’re partnering with an influencer that doesn’t fit your brand I would be less worried about SEO and more worried about you picking the right influencer. Because it’s not good for the influencer as they will lose followers and it’s not good for your brand as they don’t have the necessary authoritative influence needed to promote your brand.

M: I want to switch to something perhaps a bit more controversial... There’s a dark underbelly to the influencer marketing/SEO world. If I remember correctly, Search Engine Land put out an article a while back showing that some really top-notch SEO sites were making use of paid links, without their knowledge of course. The list included Search Engine Land themselves and I believe since then their contributor policy has been pretty tight.

How have you seen this play itself out? Are sites catching on (do they care)? Is Google catching on? Where do you see this going?

Has this practice had any negative impact on influencer marketing? Have some SEOs started to shy away because of this or is it, in fact, encouraging SEOs?

Does the practice create an unfair equation from an SEO perspective? Damned if you do - damned if you don’t: If you take part of this covert pay to be featured dynamic you’re sacrificing certain SEO ‘ideals’ but if you don’t your competitors most likely are and you’re losing out?

What can folks who want to keep things 100% legit do and it is really as effective?

S: In my opinion, in the premise of SEO, this is absolutely illegal to game the system. But we’re doing it all the time. All of us are trying to game the system. If you’re offering SEO on your website you are trying to game the system. Now there are different levels of this. If you’re paying for backlinks that’s your choice and I won’t judge you, but there is a risk.

This is something to be cautious of especially when you don’t know much about SEO and you think paying $2,000 for a Forbes link is a good thing. You have to understand that it’s your link profile and not just one link. The thing people miss is that getting one mention on Forbes will definitely push your sales up for the day, but you’ll be mistaken that you’ll make $10,000 for a $2,000 link. It’s not going to be that beneficial. The idea of a link profile is that if you have a Domain Authority of 10, getting a link on Forbes doesn’t bump your DA to a 20. It’s not just one link, it’s 50, 100, 1,000, 5,000 links. These are quality links that say that this website is authoritative.

For me personally, I have had huge benefits from my backlink profile because I’ve been writing for these companies for 7-8 years and that’s how I get almost all my traffic. For everyone who asks me if backlinks still work, I say it’s working and will continue to work as long as it’s relevant to your website.

You have to keep an eyeball on it because there will be people who will try to sabotage your link profile with bad links.

The idea of links is to show the traction. People talking about you, people writing about you, going on podcasts like this. It’s not an overnight thing nor a one-time deal. You have to put in the hard work. You have to look at the long term play and really build that traction.

The idea is that you should leverage whatever content you put out. Six years ago, influencer marketing was showing off a product and telling people how awesome it is. Now nobody cares. Now, you have to think about what creative content to put out and how to reuse that in your marketing and what’s going to continue to rejuvenate that message so people are going to buy your product.

M: Let’s get into the finer details a bit. There’s obviously a ton of talk about the prominence of a given influencer and all that jazz. From an SEO perspective, how important is it find the right influencer, one who aligns to what you as a brand do?

Now for the hard question.

How do you ensure that an influencer keeps things aligned with your content, to your content strategy, and your overall online identity? How do you pull the reins in without destroying the relationship?

S: When it comes to influencers, everyone is different. So a general rule I give to how to control influencers is to make sure you have milestones, checkpoints in between creating content.

If you want to make sure it fits for you, you don’t want to constrict the influencer by saying what they can or can’t do. You do want to make a brief that explains what you don’t want them to talk about (religion, politics, etc.). Tell them that you want them to create the content and but we’ll have two or three milestones along the way to be able to check on the content. Maybe pitch some ideas of what you’re thinking, conceptually. And just put that together. It works great for the influencer because they can say this is the content I produced and the brand can say we like your content and this is what we’re thinking, but we’re open to suggestions.

This is why we have checkpoints. It’s the same when I’m writing an article. You have editors that check your work at checkpoints to make sure you’re not writing anything too crazy. You have to make sure that they are producing content that aligns with their brand and that aligns with them as well. It has to be a win-win for both sides. Yet don’t constrict your influencers and give them guidelines that are too tight because they need the space to create content that their audience will love. And that’s the most important part - the audience. The audience has to love the content. So you can say that you have some ideas but you want to hear what the influencer has to say and to try something that’s in the middle and move forward.

Optimize It or Disavow It [36:14 - 40:23]

M: Which should a brand pursue… a big-time influencer with an insane number of followers who’s willing to give your URLs a tweet or two or a far less known influencer who’s willing to include your product in a blog post they’re writing?

S: That’s a tough one. I would have to say the more value comes from the blog post, but the problem is it really depends on the website. If they just updated the website two weeks ago then maybe down the road it will do well, but if they don’t put up constant content, if it’s not indexing well, what keywords they’re going after… there are just too many variables.

I would say for today that it’s better to have the big-time influencer if that’s more of an immediate thing you’re looking for. Down the road, there are so many variables that it’s hard to say. Maybe if they told me more about their plans for their website and future posts. But if you are thinking long term I would take the risk with the blog.

M: Well, thank you so much, Shane, for coming on to the show! Please check out Shane Barker.

S: Awesome. Thank you for having me!

SEO News [42:15 - 44:57]

Google Assistant Updates!: Google Assistant will be compatible with 7 Indic languages as more phones could be coming with a special Google Assistant button. That button is going to be a big push for the feature. Also, more languages remind us of Google’s new way of indexing with languages and entities relating together.

A Controversial Featured Snippet Format: Controversy erupts as a new Featured Snippet format on mobile showed what would usually be presented via a list in the zero position box as a tab, none of which show the URL until expanded. The controversy was that you can’t see the URL until you expand the tab. Mordy wasn’t concerned about the controversy because he knows that in the regular Featured Snippet for the keyword (seeds with omega 3) showed with the list of seeds that contain omega 3. That is, Google normally presents the list of 'seeds with omega 3' right on the SERP. That is, even the normal format in this instance is all but a Direct Answer as there is no need for the user to click on the URL. Since the user most likely wouldn’t have clicked on the URL anyway…. nothing really changed.

Image Source: Search Engine Land 

Google Call Only Ads Get More Content: More for call only ads! Google has said that call only ads will be getting a 2nd headline that can contain up to 30 characters.

Fun SEO Send Off Question [44:57 - 47:47]

What card game does Google prefer to play? 

Kim went with the very international game of poker. Mordy went with Go Fish because 1) He hates card games, but is fine with Go Fish 2) He has little kids so all they play is Go Fish 3) That’s what Google says when SEOs come up with a new theory on what’s going on with Google… Go Fish!

Thank you for joining us we hope you had fun and learned something along the way. Tune in next week for a fresh episode of The In Search SEO Podcast!

About The Author
In Search is a weekly SEO podcast featuring some of the biggest names in the search marketing industry.

Tune in to hear pure SEO insights with a ton of personality!

New episodes are released each Tuesday!

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