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SEO Myths and Other Google Topics with John Mueller

By Site Strategics
August 28, 2020

Our special guest for episode 366 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast was John Mueller, Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google. Host Erin Sparks spoke with John about all sorts of Google topics, and busted a few SEO myths along the way! Here’s what we learned: 


John Mueller: His Background and Experience

John Mueller on EDGE of the Web

John Mueller is the Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google. He’s been working at Google since September of 2007. He works together with the Webmaster Central, Sitemaps, and Search Quality teams at Google and helps to make sure that information flows freely between webmasters and the engineers at Google. He regularly writes for the Google Webmaster Central blog and is an avid participant in the Webmaster Help Groups.

Before Google, John Mueller had a small software company, and at the time the “new” thing was to have a sitemap for your website, and John built a sitemap generator that would craw you site and create it automatically. This in turn led him to get involved in some of the Google forums at the time and eventually he received an email from Google inviting him to come visit the Google offices. And from there it eventually led to him going to work for Google.


The Search Relations Team at Google

Over time Google has recognized that webmasters and SEOs need more information about changes and developments at Google, and John became one of the more visible and vocal people who communicates what people need to know about the constant stream of changes and developments at Google. And then they realized it was too much for just one person to handle, and so Martin Splitt and Gary Illyes were added to make a trio of people to do this important communication work, and they’re called the Search Relations Team (previously called the Webmaster Trends Analyst Team), and each member has different knowledge domains they bring to the team. Their team is housed under the larger umbrella of the Developer Relations Team. 

Needless to say, John’s plate has been full with everything going on in the world in terms of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But the whole team is really doing well with being more transparent and communicating more. And one of the things the Search Relations Team is doing is a podcast called Search Off the Record! The idea of the podcast is to give people some insights into how the team decides what to talk about externally with the world. And it’s a different way of communicating than they would normally in a YouTube channel or blog post. Rather than creating a record of documentation, it’s more about hearing what they’re thinking about doing in a more informal way. It’s a more interesting approach to how they communicate.


The Evolving SEO Community

John will be the first to admit that the SEO community has evolved in unexpected ways. One that has surprised him is how many SEOs are willing to get into development and programming. This is a fantastic development from John’s perspective. Any time SEOs are willing to get into the technical side of things and how that works is a good thing. This helps SEOs not develop a better understanding of what they should be doing, but also helps them react better to changes at Google because it’s not just a mysterious black box if they understand more of the technical side of things. They understand the logic involved in the progression of changes. He doesn’t expect all SEOs to do that, but it’s great when more are willing to get into it. Also, supporting more women in getting involved in SEO has been a good thing to see. This is important because SEO isn’t going to become more diverse on its own organically. It takes care, attention, hard work and mentorship to make it happen. 

An issue right now is that SEOs and developers are still hungry for more information about what’s happening at Google, and yet everyone has a degree of virtual conference fatigue. There are so many happening because of the pandemic, and on some level they’re just not as satisfying as the in-person conferences. But Google is going to give virtual conferencing a try and will see how it goes. And after the pandemic there will probably be a hybrid model for conferences, because why spend all that money and time on travel and the logistics of large in-person gatherings? But it needs to have that excitement and vibe of in-person gatherings for those who participate virtually.


Search Console Insights

Coming soon from Google will be something called Search Console Insights, a new area in the Google Search Console to really create a strong link between Google Analytics and the Search Console. It looks like it will have all kinds of great data integrated into it. Making the connection between Analytics and Search Console can be tricky for a lot of people, so this new area is going to make that link for people in one simple view. The SEOs who are advanced will probably continue to use each tool separately, but for the less advanced SEOs, this is going to help them a lot, because Analytics can be very overwhelming to them. 


Google SEO Myths

There are all kinds of myths that keep reappearing and need to be squashed on a regular basis. Here’s a very brief listing of some of the worst offenders:

  • User engagement/performance as a ranking signal. It’s tricky to say to what extent Google is looking at things like page views and bounce rates to help them understand if users like a site or not, or how that data is used by Google, if at all. 
  • Adwords affects Google rankings. Many people just naturally think if you buy Google ads you’ll rank better, but there are also people who think buying ads might hurt your ranking. Neither is true, obviously. Paid and organic search are kept very separate. And paid advertisers don’t get extra SEO help just because they’re an advertiser. They have to go through the same channels as everyone else. 
  • Site speed isn’t all that important to Google. It is important, even though it’s hard to quantify how important. It’s all about making sure people who are looking for something can find it, even if it’s a slow page. It is taken into account, but it wouldn’t override relevance. Should the SEO make the page better or faster? Ideally, you should do both.
  • Social media signals as SEO factors. This one hasn’t been brought up as frequently as it used to, but it’s still out there. And the answer is no. Social media shares of a page and other social “applause” metrics simply don’t play into ranking. First, Google doesn’t have the social signals people think they have, and all those social media platforms have “no follow/no link” built into them. So it’s just not happening. Google’s not collecting it or using it. Being active on the social media platforms is a great way to test and refine your website content to see if it’s connecting with users, but it’s not a ranking factor. 

Why do these myths persist? Because there are always new SEOs coming into the field and who will ask questions about them or follow up on rumors they’ve heard or seen, so the myths will always keep coming up, and that’s not a bad thing because it shows there are always new people coming into the industry. Kudos to John for never getting frustrated with how often he has to address these same myths over and over again. John is great at making people feel safe to ask beginner questions or naïve questions. And most (but not all) of the SEO community has gotten better over the years about answering these beginner questions more gently without making people feel stupid.

John’s Pro-Tip for SEOs to Adopt NOW:

Be open and willing to try new things, new formats, new approaches.

Voice was a big development that people had to get used to. Now there’s the new interesting format of Web Stories. You have to be willing to try them out now without waiting to see if they become mainstream because you could get real momentum from being willing to experiment.


Connect with John Mueller and Google

Twitter: @JohnMu (https://twitter.com/johnmu

Google Twitter @Google (https://twitter.com/google)

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