380: What Google is Expecting from Food Creators with Arsen Rabinovich

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An image of people making food and the title of Arsen Rabinovich's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'What Google Is Expecting from Food Creators.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 380 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Arsen Rabinovich from TopHatRank about how content ranks with the Google Algorithm.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Shweta Garg from Masala and Chai about how she’s grown her blog while working a full-time job. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

What Google is Expecting from Food Creators

Us, to Google Search: Why are you the way that you are?

If you’ve ever had similar feelings towards the world’s most popular search engine, you’re not alone! And luckily, Arsen Rabinovich is here to talk all about content that performs well in Google search results.

And while the way that the Google Algorithm works isn’t 100% understood, we can learn from other pieces of content within search engine results to understand what Google looks for in “good content.”

Bjork and Arsen have a great, approachable conversation in this episode, and career bloggers and newbies alike will definitely learn a thing or two that they can apply to their own content creation endeavors!

A quote from Arsen Rabinovich’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'Basic understanding of what Google is expecting from you is already presented to you on page 1 of Google.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How he helps recipe bloggers at TopHatRank
  • What White Hat and Black Hat SEO are
  • How Google understands user intent
  • How to tell when Google updates its algorithm
  • Who names the Google Algorithm changes and how you can know what’s included
  • If Google could make an update that only updates the food and recipe space
  • Who John Mueller is
  • How Google understands the content of a web page
  • Whether or not schema is a ranking factor
  • If should creators should create content in service of the algorithm
  • How to understand what ranks well on Google
  • What domain authority and authoritativeness are
  • How plural search terms are understood by Google


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!

With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.

Sign up for Clariti today to receive:

  • Access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing
  • 50% off your first month
  • Optimization ideas for your site content
  • An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
  • And more!

You can learn more and sign up here.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Food Blogger Pro logo with the words 'Join the Community' on a blue background

Transcript (click to expand)

Bjork Ostrom: This podcast is sponsored by Clariti, that is C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com. And really the name says it all, the purpose of Clariti is to have a clear and straightforward tool that allows you to have clarity, that’s where the name comes from, into areas of opportunity for improving content on your blog and managing those projects along the way. And what we found was for many bloggers, ourselves included, there either wasn’t a great system at all to manage projects or find areas of opportunity, or it was like Google Sheets or Airtable, which those are really powerful tools and those are awesome tools.

And if you’re good at using Google Sheets or Airtable and connecting all of the different elements that you need, more power to you, I think that those tools are incredible. But what we wanted with Clariti was to ease the burden of some of the more technical considerations that go into hooking all of that information up. And so with Clariti, what we’re doing is we’re bringing what we consider to be some of the most important information for publishers and bloggers into the same place. 

So Clariti brings in WordPress metadata, so how long your post is, what the links are, external, internal links, alt text within images or images that are maybe broken. We bring all of that information in. We bring in information from Google Analytics. So you connect your Google Analytics account and your Google Search console account. All of that information comes into one central spot. And from there you can use Clariti to find opportunities. So maybe you want to improve the number of links that are coming to a certain post. Just this morning I looked for Pinch of Yum and we have some new posts that we’re actually not linking to. So I made a note, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, we need to link to these new posts that we’ve published within other posts.” 

And I wouldn’t have been able to, on my own, just kind of think of that or check on that if not for that being surfaced within Clariti. So you can find those opportunities, but then you can also create a project around those to then make sure that you can check back and say, “Great, here’s what I need to do.” You can create tasks within that project and you can work through that to make sure that you improve that piece of content or that area of opportunity over time. And this is the key piece with it, is you can take notes along the way. So you can look back three months, six months, a year from now and say, “Hey, that was an improvement that I made. Did that have an impact? Great. If it did, what are some other ways that I can do that in other places on my blog to continue to optimize and improve?” 

And what we found is, especially for people who have been blogging for a certain number of years, a huge part of what you need to do is not only think about new content, but continually maintaining and optimizing your existing content. So it’s been fun to see Clariti grow as we’ve talked about it and shared it with other publishers over the last year or so. And just last month we had 60 bloggers sign up to start using Clariti. If you want to check it out. The best way to do that is to go to clariti.com/food, so that C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food. And podcast listeners can receive 50% off of your first month if you go to that URL. And again, it’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food. Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this podcast. 

Raise your hand if you are interested in search engine optimization. Yes, my guess is most of us in some capacity are interested in SEO, and that’s why podcasts like these are always really exciting to share, because we know that a lot of people are interested in optimizing their content for search engines. And that’s really the focus of Arsen Rabinovich’s company, which is TopHatRank. They focus on search engine optimization. 

It’s going to be talking about the idea of TopHatRank, where the name came from. And we’re going to be talking about really the background and origin and also current state of Google. Why does Google act the way that it does? How does an algorithm work? Why is it important for us as creators to understand the algorithm? Should we create content with the Google algorithm in mind? Should we just focus on users? We’re going to be talking about all of those different things today. And Arsen is going to explain kind of how to think strategically about your content from a search engine optimization standpoint. 

So if you’re interested in joining in the conversation behind the conversation, then you need to check out The Food Blogger Pro Podcast group. You can get there by going to foodbloggerpro.com/facebook. And that will bring you to a page where you can join this group of fellow Food Blogger Pro Podcast listeners. You can kind of seed questions that we might ask in the interview. You can interact with the guests sometimes after they come on. It’s just a chance for us to add a little bit of context around the podcast so it’s not just me, it’s not just a guest, but really it’s this community of creators who are building things and publishing things online. 

And we want to give you the opportunity to join into the conversation insofar as it makes sense to do so. Again, that’s foodbloggerpro.com/facebook. Be sure to check that out and you can join the conversation there. But for now, we’re going to jump into all things SEO with Arsen from TopHatRank. Arsen, welcome to the podcast.

Arsen Rabinovich: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Excited to be talking to you about all things SEO. So you kind of eat, breathe, and sleep SEO. It’s the world that you live in. And a lot of times you’re working with food publishers, not exclusively, but it’s a niche that you’ve gotten into. Tell us a little bit about TopHatRank and how that came about, your history with it.

Arsen Rabinovich: So we’re going to be 12 years old this year. We’re a 12-year-old digital marketing agency. We’re known for SEO. We’re a full service enterprise SEO team. We’re an award-winning SEO team. Up until, I want to say mid 2018, end of 2018, that’s all we were focusing on, working with big brands, doing really, really giant migrations and everything. And Casey and I speak at the same conferences, a lot of the same conferences, we travel around the world, and we speak a lot of the same conferences.

Bjork Ostrom: And that’s Casey Markee for those who aren’t familiar.

Arsen Rabinovich: Casey Markee. Right. Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Most folks in the space know it. He has a SEO agency called Media Wyse. He’s been on the podcast a lot, Food Blogger Pro expert. So for anybody who’s newer to the scene.

Arsen Rabinovich: He’s a resident guest now with you guys. So Casey reached out and he’s like, “Look, I have a wait list. I need someone who’s going to be able to knock out these technical audits for recipe bloggers because they need help.” And I think at that time, it was March, 2018 and it was one of the Google updates that just rolled down, and just hammered away at sites. Especially sites that had a lot of content that was competing, diluting focus or competing with each other. So we started doing these audits, and my team loved it. My team loved working with recipe bloggers. Looking at recipes all day is much better than looking at appliance parts for our larger brands that we deal with. And it-

Bjork Ostrom: Because you forget all of those people are thinking about SEO and the appliance part company is trying to figure out, how do I rank for when somebody searches for whatever widget? It happens 10 times a day as opposed to a 1,000 times a day if you’re looking for a certain recipe. So it’s a little more of a different industry.

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. But it’s a very, very tough vertical to be in. It’s a very, very tough niche, because… And Casey compares this, I totally agree with him, that this is as difficult as optimizing legal sites, lawyers. Competition, just how perfect things need to be on the page. Google is definitely not forgiving with recipe publishers right now. So we just got into the space and over time we developed products. We started with just the technical audit, then we built a forensic audit specifically for recipe bloggers. Recipe bloggers that were affected by a lot of the updates and they didn’t know how to resolve, we started doing forensic audits. 

And then we launched TopHatContent and TopHatSocial with Ashley, who’s my partner in those two agencies. She’s my co-founder, and then she’s also the VP of Ops at TopHatRank. And she’s also the host of our CSO for Blogger’s webinar that we do once a month. Shameless plug.

Bjork Ostrom: And she’s been on the podcast as well. So for those who have listened for a long time, they can listen to that episode. Otherwise, be sure to search Ashley TopHat. I think she was talking about some of the content things, so TopHatContent. So you have-

Arsen Rabinovich: She’s like the content guru, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: And she… Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt you.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, no, that’s great. And she has experience in that world, but is also managing some of those other areas. So it was a great interview with her. So you have TopHatRank, TopHatSocial, TopHatContent. Where does the TopHat come from, just out of curiosity?

Arsen Rabinovich: It started back with Arsen Rabinovich Internet Marketing-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Arsen Rabinovich: … and that wasn’t a good brand. So there was white hat SEO, black hat SEO, and we just went with TopHat, because the whole business, the whole agency is structured around providing really good customer service. And that was one of our biggest things. We lowered the barrier to entry. We were one of the first agencies to offer our services to enterprise level without contract, limiting the barrier of entry. The way we’re set up is specifically designed to integrate with brands so that we are part of their team, flawless, seamless integration, all of that. So that was TopHat, almost like a white glove service for enterprise clients.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And hat related to the different kind of classifications of SEO. For those who aren’t familiar with the idea of white hat, black hat, can you explain what that means in the world of SEO?

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. Right. So white hat SEO is essentially when you do everything by the book, everything is organic, you’re molding your content, stuff that we always preach. This is white hat SEO, like follow the rules, be patient, be consistent, understand what Google wants from you, what search engines want and apply, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. When you say the rules, those would be Google’s rules?

Arsen Rabinovich: Well, yeah, the guidelines, don’t over-

Bjork Ostrom: The best practices from Google.

Arsen Rabinovich: … optimize. Right. And then there’s black hat SEO, which are a bunch of tactics that are designed to manipulate the algorithm, which is getting a little bit harder to do these years. But back in the day it was a very, very, very easy thing to do. But, yeah, it’s basically using PBNs, private blog networks to build a bunch of links out of nowhere to show an influx of authority. It’s spinning content, so basically grabbing content from somebody else and spinning paragraphs, spinning words, using different types of words that are synonyms. And then just, it spins the content to make it somewhat unique. And we used to-

Bjork Ostrom: And then posting that in other places.

Arsen Rabinovich: … all kinds of… Yeah, connect voice to text, grab a report from NPR, send it through Google Translate a bunch of times so that it scrambles the words, translate into a bunch of languages, and bring it back to English and then publish it. So that stuff doesn’t work anymore, but that’s what black hat SEO is.

Bjork Ostrom: The idea being that instead of playing by the rules that Google outlines or the guidelines, you’re instead saying, “Are there ways that I can trick or manipulate-

Arsen Rabinovich: Manipulate, right.

Bjork Ostrom: … the algorithm in service of ranking faster? It’s kind of everything that humans try and do. How do we get the desired outcome without as much work? And sometimes it ends up being just as much work, but black hat really being this idea of manipulating the algorithm. 

So when you talk about the algorithm, what is that? Does that live in some hollowed place in Google’s servers and-

Arsen Rabinovich: Nobody knows.

Bjork Ostrom: … like a Indiana Jones style, like somebody’s going to break in and grab the algorithm?

Arsen Rabinovich: Nobody knows. Nobody knows. It’s grown beyond just one person knowing what the algorithm is. And we don’t even know if what we know is what’s actually happening. There’s machine learning components to it. There’s just so much happening. And then just different queries are treated differently. There’s just all kinds of stuff. So there’s not one way to say, “This is the algorithm. This is what it does.” It’s very nuanced. It’s very complex. It’s constantly evolving. And you can actually see the evolution. I was looking through some of our older webinars and I’m looking at some of the recommendations that we were providing back in 2019 versus what we’re providing now, just to see the evolution of how far we’ve gone, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Because the algorithm has changed or best practices have changed, and therefore how you need to approach your content has changed. Do you have an example of one of those changes?

Arsen Rabinovich: So we’re noticing a much better understanding, and you hear me talk about this a lot, and it’s just super important for everyone to understand, Google’s understanding of intent behind the query. And down the line as Google becomes much better at understanding what people are actually searching for and the reason why they’re searching for this, we’re going to see results shift. And then when you layer in personalization and everything else that Google collects around you. 

So good example is we see this constantly shifting would be a query for let’s say potato soup. My favorite thing to talk about now. Potato soup at one point will show results or has shown results that are local, do you want to order this? Right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: It’s not all recipe sites, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm.

Arsen Rabinovich: I’ve seen shifts in how Google understands queries. I just showed an example at the virtual Tastemaker conference that we just had. I did a talk. And I showed an example, and I think it was for orange chicken sauce, there was only three results on page one that were specific to the sauce recipes. Everything else was recipes for orange chicken, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, interesting.

Arsen Rabinovich: And that probably happened as a byproduct of filtering from the user signals, engagement signals that Google collects. People who are visiting pages and then bouncing back to search results. If thousands of people performed that action, they clicked on number one, within two seconds they’re back to search, and they’re clicking on number two, Google starts shuffling those results over time. Because it’s getting an understanding that this is not the right result for this query. So that combined with Google’s understanding of the syntax, the actual pattern of characters in that query, that Google will derive intent from combined with the user data, now the results are shifting. 

And every time there’s a Google update, what’s happening is the result page itself is shifting, because Google is saying this is better results. And so byproduct of that bloggers who used to be there are now either moved down on the page or are just completely gone, because Google’s like, “This is not a recipe query anymore. This is a commercial intent.”

Bjork Ostrom: Example being, I think of tacos as a good example, if you search tacos, there’s probably an equal chance that you’re looking to buy tacos from a restaurant as there is that you’re looking to get a taco recipe. And my guess is Google gets better at knowing what your intent is by all the different things around that. Maybe it’s location, maybe if you were just at some place and then your location has shifted, if you’ve never searched for recipes before, but you have searched for taco restaurants before, all of those things factor into it. 

So when you say an algorithm update, what does that frequency look like? Is it kind of my computer, where there’s small updates along the way and then every once in a while a really big update? What’s the frequency? And how do you know when updates happen?

Arsen Rabinovich: We don’t. We’re at the mercy of Google telling us, “Hey, there’s going to be an update,” or, “We did an update.” There’s systems like Semrush sensor, there’s a weather report from Moz, which tells you how turbulent the results are. What fluctuations we’re seeing. And sometimes we’ll notice a lot of shifts and a lot of moves within search results, and Google won’t come out and say, “Oh, we released an update.” Frequency, also, we don’t know, it’s been quiet. June, July of last year we had eight updates in two months. I’m exaggerating, but probably six updates in two months. 

And then the last few months, other than the May update and the update that we just saw now, well, the Helpful Content Update, something’s happening there. But they just rolled out another update a few weeks back or a week back. And before that it was pretty quiet. So we went from May up until now with almost no updates, where the entire summer of last year, of ’21, was nothing but updates. So it’s very unpredictable.

Bjork Ostrom: So you said the help with content update. Would be interested for you to hear your thoughts on that a little bit? And then also, is it search engine optimization professionals who are naming those? Or is that Google who’s coming out naming those? I also think of Medic as an example. So within the Google algorithm, who’s kind of naming those? And how do you know what those are actually about?

Arsen Rabinovich: So Google, when they decide to be kind to us and let us know what the update is about. We take that information, but we always take it with a grain of salt, because it’s Google and they have PR teams that tell them what to say and what not to say.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Arsen Rabinovich: We always look at the data, we look at what’s happening in real life to see, “Oh,” because they made this whole big deal about the Helpful Content Update. They reached out to a lot of these prominent SEOs who have voices in the community and they’re like, “Okay, we’re going to roll this out. We want to provide some education.” And everybody made a big stink about it. And then when it rolled out, it was just like, “Oh, okay. Not much.”

Bjork Ostrom: Not much in terms of changes or not much in terms of-

Arsen Rabinovich: We’re not seeing… There are certain ones that are being hit, but it’s definitely not at the scale that we were prepared to see it. We were ready for just blogs to be taken down. Because it’s a site wide. So there’s different types of updates. So there’s that core update, core algorithm update, that’s the algorithm that’s consistently running. That’s the algorithm that’s always in the background. It’s running, doing its thing. And there’s an update to it. So Google does better natural language crossing now. So they’re going to update the algorithm, and then they will say, “This will impact five percent of queries.” 

And then there’s these types of updates, like the Helpful Content Update, where they’re like, “Okay, this is going to run. It’s going to collect, from what we understand, the first seed set of data. And then based on that data it’s going to learn and then continue to run and run and run.” And then there’s different types of updates targeting different things. So there’s updates targeting review sites, there’s updates targeting e-commerce sites. It’s based on what Google is seeing in its results and what it needs to adjust.

Bjork Ostrom: And so an example would be if you are in the world of health or fitness and you are blogging about medicines or alternative medicines, Google might look at that bunch of content that’s generally in the health or wellness or medical world and make an update to that content. And would they do the same thing in the food space? Would the food space be a bucket of content that they would make updates around?

Arsen Rabinovich: So it depends. It depends on what’s happening. Does Google need to fix something? Or does have a better understanding of what recipe blogs are doing? And it’s going to create this update. As an example, Google’s John Mueller came out and said, “Oh,” and this is just logic, “you should not add a recipe card to a roundup post, because it’s not a recipe. You’re marking up something that’s not there. And that’s something that you shouldn’t be doing.”

Bjork Ostrom: And can you explain real quick who John is?

Arsen Rabinovich: John Mueller is the brain and the mouth of Google when it comes to communicating to us, to SEOs and to the community in general. So he’s like Webmaster Trends…

Bjork Ostrom: He’s kind of the mouth piece for Google on things like this.

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. Well, they have a few, but he’s the one who’s on Twitter answering questions from Webmaster. A really nice guy, very smart guy.

Bjork Ostrom: And it previously was Matt Cutts, is that right?

Arsen Rabinovich: Matt Cutts. Well, yeah, Matt Cutts before him. Right. Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. And so he was saying, “Hey, speaking on behalf of Google, don’t put a recipe card in a roundup, because it’s a roundup. It’s not a specific recipe.” Is that the idea?

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. And then when we actually look at it in practice, when we’re looking at page one, they’re like, “There’s a recipe card right there on the first ranking result.”

Bjork Ostrom: We would not do it if you didn’t work, but it’s working. And so there’s a little bit of intention.

Arsen Rabinovich: Right, but that’s the point. This is where we come in and we’re like, “Okay, well hang on. We’ve seen this happen before.” Google used to say, “Don’t over-optimize your headings, Don’t over-optimize your headings. Don’t over-optimize these things.” And then an update comes out and they’re like, “Oh, you haven’t been listening. Here it is.” Right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

Arsen Rabinovich: You got hit. So not saying that this will happen, I’m giving this as an example, I don’t know if the Google’s ever going to know or even cares to do this, but let’s say Google says, “Hey, we’re really getting tired of this. It’s confusing us because schema takes the implicit portions of the content on the page of the document, makes it explicit for us, and it helps us understand what the document is about.” So recipe card, it’s schema telling Google, “This is a recipe post.” So when Google comes and visits your site and picks up this roundup and sees a recipe card, Googles like, “This is a recipe post.” But then when actually looks at the content on the page, it uses its processing powers to understand that this is indeed not a recipe post, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: So at one point Google’s going to be like, and, again, I don’t know if this is going to happen-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Arsen Rabinovich: … but Google might be like, “Okay, we’re spending way too much time figuring this stuff out. Let’s just make this a part of the algorithm, and then filter out anybody from this result, where the schema doesn’t match the content on the page.”

Bjork Ostrom: I’ve used kind of the analogy of schema as a yard sign, and it’s kind of like Google’s walking by your house and you have a yard sign saying what’s happening? And if you have a garage sale and you put a garage sale sign out, Google’s going to walk by and be like, “Great garage sale.” In this case, it’s kind of like you actually have a lemonade stand and you’re put a lemonade stand sign out and you’re putting a garage sale sign out, even though it’s just a lemonade stand. So it’s like conflicting information. It’s conflict conflicting yard signs to Google. 

I’m building this analogy on the fly. Initially, it gets you more people.

Arsen Rabinovich: You’re doing very good.

Bjork Ostrom: People are like, “Lemonade stand and garage sale.” But when they come in, they’re like, “Wait, this isn’t what you marketed it as. This isn’t what Google displayed it as.” And Google wants to display things that are most helpful and aligned with somebody’s search query. So in that case, I know it’s a really specific example, but do you have a recommendation? Just do roundup or do include the recipe?

Arsen Rabinovich: No, but, look, it’s, why are you doing this? What are you getting out of that schema? So some of the bloggers that I consult and coach, they’re like, “Oh, well we won the star rating and the aggregate-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Arsen Rabinovich: … rating and the result.“ But there’s other ways of getting that in there without applying an entire recipe card, right? But then you get the image, the feature, so they’re using it as a convenience. But when other bloggers look at that first page resolve, they’re like, ”There’s a recipe card. Everybody on page one-

Bjork Ostrom: I want that.

Arsen Rabinovich: … has a recipe card. I’m going to do it.“ Now, keep in mind, and Casey and I have been beating this into people’s heads, schema is not a ranking factor at all. Google will not look at your page and say, ”You don’t have schema markup. I’m not going to rank you on page one.” Because Google understands that not everyone can apply schema to their site, so we’re not going to single it out. We’re going to level the playing field. Now, yes, there are contributing factors that improve click-through rates and give Google a better understanding of the website and what’s in there and all of that. But those are not direct ranking factors. 

There’s also the benefits of getting rich elements into the search results, so your thumbnail, the star ratings and everything else. But you can accomplish that with schema markups specifically for that that’s not embedded into the recipe card. Because the recipe card will show it as a recipe card schema on that page.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. So in a case though, let’s say recipe card produces a result in the carousel, like I’m thinking of mobile where it would show recipes. You wouldn’t be able to get a result in a carousel unless you had schema, right?

Arsen Rabinovich: Yes, correct. Correct.

Bjork Ostrom: So in those cases, not a ranking factor in the sense that it’s algorithmically ranking, but it does help you get those things like you talked about-

Arsen Rabinovich: Into the rich result, absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: … into carousel.

Arsen Rabinovich: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Carousel being a rich result. That being not a ranking factor is what you’re saying, but it does impact the number of people that would maybe click on something or interact with it.

Arsen Rabinovich: Well, again, we can’t necessarily say that you got in there because of the schema, because everybody who has schema doesn’t make it in there, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

Arsen Rabinovich: You got in there because of other signals as well, trust, popularity, a whole-

Bjork Ostrom: Links.

Arsen Rabinovich: … bunch of other signals that we don’t know about. We assume we know. Schema just facilitates that. Schema helps bring that image into that, we always say 1200, but by the image, that star rating. Schema helps, it’s not necessarily a direct ranking factor.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. So tell me if this is a fair analogy. Let’s say you list your house on Zillow and somebody searches for houses in Minneapolis, Zillow, I don’t know how Zillow works, but just thinking of it as another algorithm, it’s going to display all of the houses in the results for that specific search based on things that are equal within the content that’s shown. Like how many square feet and the description of it. But you want to be really strategic in adding those additional elements, like really good photos. If you don’t include photos in a Zillow listing, not many people are going to click on it-

Arsen Rabinovich: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: … go through, interact with it. It still might rank in the same-

Arsen Rabinovich: You still up.

Bjork Ostrom: … way.

Arsen Rabinovich: You still up.

Bjork Ostrom: It still will show up.

Arsen Rabinovich: You can still be a hot home if enough secondary signals… Speaking of that, so we recently sold our previous house and it needed attention on that house. So I played around with Zillow, Zillow or Redfin, one of those, and just sent a bunch of random traffic to that page, a lot of it. And-

Bjork Ostrom: Hot house.

Arsen Rabinovich: … within a day we got the hot home little label on top, and started surfacing up. But, yeah, perfect analogy, you can get your listing to be at the top of the search results, but if it doesn’t have pictures, it’s probably not going to have a really good click-through rate. You’re probably not going to get a lot of eyeballs on that listing, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: So, yeah, one hand washes the other kind of a thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Yeah, that makes sense. So what is the role of a publisher as it relates to understanding the Google algorithm? How much should we as creators track with it, be aware of updates, and almost create content in service of the algorithm?

Arsen Rabinovich: So I love this question. You shouldn’t be doing anything. You should be doing zero things. You should be writing for the user. You should be accommodating your user first. Now with that, it’s always important to be aware of what’s happening around results in Google when it pertains to your industry or your query and stuff like that. So I’m not saying that you should be like, “Oh my god, there’s an update coming,” and be as involved as we are, tracking sites, tracking results. Basic understanding of what Google is expecting from you is already presented to you on page one of Google. And I preach this, I’ve been preaching this for many years. 

Look at page one of Google. Yes, there are caveats to this. There’s absolutely caveats to this, because you can have an overwhelming signal. Too many back links can push a site to be number one, but the content can be complete crap. You can have a larger brand site like The Food Network or Allrecipes ranking. And that’s because they’ve built up enough either expertise, authority, and trust, and Google’s like, “I don’t have a better result from somebody else. I have trust in this site. Regardless of how well that content is written and structured, I’m going to rank it.” Like WebMD showing up for everything medical, even though there could be a paragraph on the page, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Arsen Rabinovich: So understanding what’s happening on page one and looking at it from a perspective of I’m not going to blindly copy what’s there. I’m going to analyze it. I’m going to look at how content is being structured on the top ranking blogs. I’m going to take a look at what’s being covered, how it’s organized, how are they prioritizing intent. And we’ve done these. We do this with our bloggers, when you start adjusting to come close to what everyone on page one is doing in common. You don’t have to copy them, be inspired by them. If everyone on page one for a recipe that’s somewhat complex, has a paragraph at the top explaining what this dish is to cut down on confusion, I guarantee you Google wants that on your page. 

So if you don’t have it, you should probably add that. If everyone on page one, or not everyone, if majority of top ranking blogs on page one are answering questions, satisfying the secondary intent, alternative ingredients, how to serve, how store, so on and so forth, you should have that also. You should not think of it from a perspective of,“ I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing and expect for this to survive every single update.” You have to be fluid and you have to look at page one and see, “Hey, has the results shifted? What is Google expecting to see from us?”

Bjork Ostrom: One of the questions that I have related to that, and this would tie into, because I think the spectrum in the world of SEO would be creator heavy with SEO sprinkled in, and then SEO heavy with creative sprinkled in. And I think for the person who’s creative heavy, creator first, the idea of looking at competitors or the other ranking pages, folding that content into yours could maybe seem a little bit soul sucking. For the people who are SEO heavy, it’s like, “Great-

Arsen Rabinovich: We love this.

Bjork Ostrom: … let’s build this out.” Yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: “Let’s go.” Right.

Bjork Ostrom: But what about for those creators, is there hope for them? And for me, I also think of what if just the really good thing from a content perspective just doesn’t exist yet, somebody hasn’t talked about it or covered it? So could you speak to that a little bit?

Arsen Rabinovich: Look, Bjork, it’s about changing the fundamental approach to what you’re doing. And the bloggers that I coach, so I have a coaching product, where it’s a handful of people, I don’t have much time for it, but it’s bloggers who just starting out, and we go over and we change their approach to what they do. Function being, I’m going to create a new piece of content from the point of ideation, or I’m going to go back in and update older content, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: And then the process, so that you’re not stuck in this… It’s overwhelming amount of information that you can collect from all of these tools. There’s a lot of noise. So what we do is we teach and we say, “Always start your journey by understanding, first of all, if it’s possible. Look at page one.” Mixed result, like we talked, tacos, it can be where to buy tacos, history of tacos, three blog posts about tacos. You’re most likely not going to hit page one, because there’s only room for three, and those are already reserved for the bigger players. Be aware. 

So we talk about, always start the journey by looking at what’s happening on page one. You don’t have to do data analysis, you don’t have to collect it, but you can click and scroll and get a feel like, “Oh, my post is super short, everybody on page one is a 1,000 plus words. It’s a Ukrainian borsch recipe. I should probably expand on it.” 

You don’t have to be an SEO. It’s common sense. It’s changing your approach. It’s looking at page one, understanding, again, what everybody’s doing in common. Am I coming close to what Google wants there? And then actually being realistic, can I actually rank here? And I want to take a minute to talk about that. A lot of times bloggers will say, “This is an impossible keyword for me. I will not rank there.” But then we look at page one and we actually pull up the data for the ranking pages, and we see that there are, in certain positions on page one, typically, top two spots are reserved for more authoritative sites. Whatever that authority is, whatever you guys internally want to apply a measurement DA, PA, whatever it is.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about what those are for?

Arsen Rabinovich: Domain authority is a score that is calculated based on multiple factors, some of them include the amount of backlinks and referring domains and the quality of those domains, which help people understand what is the opportunity for this site to rank. Essentially, it was created by Moz to help with backlink building so that we can see, “Oh, this site has DA 30, I want to reach out to that site and get a backlink.”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s kind of like, to use an analogy in the restaurant world, the Michelin Star rating. It’s another company that’s created this rating, in this case it’s Moz, which is a company that focuses on SEO related information. So it’s not necessarily a Google piece of information, but it is helpful to understand. Generally speaking, with a restaurant, how good is this restaurant? With a website, how authoritative? How many backlinks does that site have? How long has it been around? Is that a fair analogy?

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. But it can be easily manipulated, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Arsen Rabinovich: So I can artificially inflate somebody’s domain authority. That doesn’t mean that the site is going to rank. There’s other factors to look at. So whatever that authority is, and Google doesn’t look at it. In any of its patents does Google reference domain authority or anything like that, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: So Google does not care about that. Google does talk about relevancy and everything else, but Google does not talk about a domain authority. Google has its own way, it’s called PageRank. It’s not about the webpage. It’s because Larry Page wrote that algorithm.

Bjork Ostrom: Super confusing.

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. So PageRank-

Bjork Ostrom: Just happened to have the last name Page.

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. Larry Page, right. And that’s zero to 10. They stopped telling us what it is. We don’t know what the calculation is. It’s an arbitrary number, domain authorities are arbitrary numbers. But usually you’ll see higher DA sites take position one and two or you’ll see sites that are the bigger, bigger sites. But when you actually look at the authoritativeness, whatever that is, I’m quoting with my fingers, of the ranking sites, in most of the queries right now, you’ll see a handful of pages midway on page one who don’t have much authority for the actual ranking page, not the domain. 

Yes, domain signal does impact a page’s ability to rank, but it still shows you that content is still the biggest ranking factor. And I have screenshots from my coaching clients where when they follow the instructions and really understand this is what the topic is, this is the intent behind this query, this is what the user wants. If I structure the content to accommodate the user’s primary intent, secondary intent, and I cover the topic in its entirety, while not turning it into like a 3000 word article, you will rank. You will hit… Again, not every time.

Bjork Ostrom: A lot of variables, yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. But you will give yourself at least a fighting chance of hitting that. Because you’ve-

Bjork Ostrom: And the point=

Arsen Rabinovich: … you’ve structured your content… Go ahead.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, go ahead, finish that thought. Yeah,

Arsen Rabinovich: Because you’ve structured the content to the user, to what the user wants. I tell everyone to look at, search best bikes for kids. The number one result, I’m not even going to tell you who it is. The number one result has been there for years, has not moved, because I’ve been showing it as an example. Has not moved from page one, being number one on page one, the three and a half plus years that I’ve been showing this as an example to bloggers. And that post covers the topic in its entirety. Best bikes for kids, I want you to actually search for it. I want you to click on that first result and I want you to scroll through it. 

I’m here to find out which bike is the best bike for my kid, and it’s giving me that right at the top. Everything else, best bikes for short kids, for tall kids, for aggressive rider, for slow rider, for kids with bad balance is all below. They’re accommodating my primary intent. Secondary tent is below the fold. 

Now, even in Google, if you look at page one, you search best bikes for kids. The top of the page is going to be informational content, because Google’s satisfying that primary intent. I’m here to learn. And then below the fold, if you scroll down best bikes for kids, you start seeing local results. Target, REI, places where you can buy the bike. Google is accommodating my primary intent at the top, secondary at the bottom. Reverse that. 

Remove the best from the query and just search for bikes for kids. Now Google interprets that as commercial intent. I want to buy a bike not learn. So you’ll see that the results have shifted. Same results, it’s almost the same sites are ranking for both. But the way Google organized that page is now different. It’s prioritizing commercial intent pages towards the top, and informational intent pages towards the bottom. Because my query is primarily commercial or I want to make a purchase.

Bjork Ostrom: And it’s amazing how one small change that can reshuffle essentially the entire order of things based on Google’s assumption around intent. Like best being a qualifier, that is an indicator around the intent, which is research, so they surface informational content. You remove that and the assumption is that there’s a purchasing decision just looking to buy a bike, and not compare or analyze necessarily. So how do you apply that same conceptual information in the world of recipe content? What-

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. So-

Bjork Ostrom: … impact does that have?

Arsen Rabinovich: Take a look at the results if you search for chicken dinner recipes, plural. Majority of page one is going to be roundup posts, categories, or slide shows. Pages that help a user determine what he or she’s going to make, what they are going to make. Google has understood that when somebody searches for chicken dinner recipes, plural, I’m looking for, I’m not sure which recipe I want to make, and I want to make a decision. So Google is accommodating that query and that intent by showing me results that are all majority are roundups or categories, where I can click in and then see a list of different recipes that are chicken and are dinner, and I can click on them and decide which one I want to make. 

Now, if I had put in a oven baked chicken recipe, Google understands that I am searching for a specific recipe. So if you wrote a recipe post and Google is not surfacing a single recipe post for that result. Good luck, you’re not going to be on page one. Another example, baked potato soup recipe, so I talk about focusing around the query. Google takes things very literally right now, where baked potato soup recipe used to rank on page one for potato soup recipes, it’s now on page two. Nowhere on page one, do we see any variation away from just a baked potato? You can have creamy and old fashioned, but you’re not going to have bacon potato or sweet potato, because that’s not what the user is searching for.

Bjork Ostrom: So it’s getting hyper specific and matching those long tail keywords.

Arsen Rabinovich: Salmon, I was just working on somebody the other day on somebody’s audit, it was like oven baked salmon with garlic and lime. And it’s ranking for oven baked salmon with garlic and lime, it’s number one. But there’s negative two people searching for that monthly, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That long tail.

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. Right. So when we look at page one, we’re like, “Well this is still a oven baked salmon recipe, just because it has garlic and lime or whatever, doesn’t mean that it’s not great. So let’s take focus away from that lime and garlic and optimize it towards, or refocus it towards oven baked salmon recipe. Yeah, definitely, and that’s what I say, ”Start with page one.“ Even just the titles on page one are going to tell you like, ”Oh, I probably won’t be able to rank here, because my recipe requires this component.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yep. That’s great. And I think the point that you made about content being a primary driver is a good one, because I think sometimes we can get overwhelmed, even I know for any new endeavor that we’re starting, I can get overwhelmed by, “Shoot, I haven’t been doing this for 10 years and therefore I’m not going to be able to ever make any progress.”

Arsen Rabinovich: Not true.

Bjork Ostrom: But what I hear you saying is, and this is maybe a good note to end on, would be interested in your thoughts on this, if this feels accurate, through the combination of good content written for people, first and foremost, and not that you don’t want to take in best practices around SEO, definitely do that. But best practices around SEO are usually best practices around good content for people. 

Plus doing kind of like lay of the landscape research, taking a look at what the search results are. Maybe if you want to jump into an SEO tool, you can do that. But just getting a general idea of what search results look like, how extensive are pieces of content, and then using that to softly inform how you’re going to produce a piece of content, while being strategic about your focus. You don’t want to get too specific, but you also don’t want to get too general, finding that sweet spot. You’ll be able to get traction. Does that feel fair?

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. Right. Absolutely. And the point should be, and I still see this happen, a lot of recipe bloggers are still following those best practice rules. We got to green light and yoast, we have to include our primary keyword in all of the headings. But then when you sit down and you read through that content, if you actually have somebody read that to you-

Bjork Ostrom: It feels really forced.

Arsen Rabinovich: … out loud, it doesn’t sound conversational. It doesn’t sound proper, and Google understands this.

Bjork Ostrom: Whereas five, 10 years ago, maybe it wouldn’t have, now it does.

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. In 2019, November of 2019 is when we raised the biggest flag like, “Hey, Google is policing this.” Which now is a little bit different because when we look at results now page one does sometimes have majority of the bloggers that are stuffing keywords. Not saying that you should do the same thing, but it’s still possible. Google is not as strict. You should definitely not do it, but you will see it on search results. Absolutely. Definitely write for humans. So look, at the end of the day, it’s understanding what Google is expecting to see, because Google probably has a better understanding of what the user wants to see. Google has literally done the thinking for you, it’s showing you what it’s expecting to see on page one. Not copying them-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. I’ve never thought of that.

Arsen Rabinovich: It’s algorithm has decided, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: Then really understanding what everyone’s doing in common that you are not. I’m not saying copy them, but really understand what are the components? What are the titles? How long is the post? How is intent prioritized? And you will have outliers, you will have some that are just like, I look at some of these resources, I’m like, “How’s this person even here? Why are they here?” There’s literally no headings on the page. It’s just comments, first for each one is comments, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Arsen Rabinovich: But they’re there for whatever reason, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Arsen Rabinovich: Don’t take that into your evaluation. That’s not you. That’s an anomaly. Or if you have a pad Thai recipe and you see that the first three results are authentic Thai recipe blogs, that’s all they write about. We will most likely not out rank them because that’s their primary topical focus is Thai food. Google has mapped their entity to Thai food recipe. They will always be there, regardless of what your domain authority is. Just really, really look at the result and get to know it. You don’t have to have tools. There’s definitely tools that you should have, but you can learn a lot from page one.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. It reminds me of, a lot of times I come back to, just because it’s helpful for me, comparing to other industries completely unrelated. And in the world of music, one of the things that you do in order to better understand a craft is learn songs and listen to songs. If you want to get better at a language, you spend time speaking that language with other people. 

If you want to get better at search optimization, spend time looking at search results and seeing what Google’s surfacing. I’ve never really thought of that before, but it’s like you’re studying to try and understand better how the search algorithm works. And even for myself, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I should do that more.” It’s a great takeaway, and letting that inform your content creation process. 

So Arsen, we could make this a two hour episode, but I think probably what would be better is we’ll have you on another time to continue these conversations.

Arsen Rabinovich: Oh, I’d love to. Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: But for those who would want to follow along with what you’re up to, work with you potentially, what’s the best way to connect with you and the team at TopHatRank?

Arsen Rabinovich: Right. So tophatrank.com, we have a whole section, it says Bloggers just go in there. Our webinar, it’s free, we don’t charge anything for it. We do it once a month. We have all the resources on our website. It’s tophatrank.com/seoforbloggers, one word. Definitely go there. Register for the webinar. 

We’re on YouTube. Once a month we do an episode around a specific topic. Yesterday we did an episode on how to prepare for the holiday season, how to best optimize and prepare your content for the holiday season. The episode before, we had a brilliant LinkedIn, not a LinkedIn, Pinterest consultant. So we cover different topics, definitely lots of information there. We’ve been doing this for two years. We have a great crew and big community. Tophatrank.com is the site. And then Instagram, also, TopHatRank, Twitter, topHatRank, everywhere it’s TopHatRank.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Arsen, so much fun to talk to you. We’ll have to do it again soon.

Arsen Rabinovich: Pleasure. Thanks a lot for having me.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there, Alexa here, and thanks for tuning into this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We really appreciate you being here. And if you really like this episode, we would so appreciate you leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps the show get in front of new listeners, and it just makes us really happy. We read each and every one, and it’s just so great to hear from you what you’re liking, and what you would like us to improve or change in upcoming episodes. 

So all you have to do is go and find the Food Blogger Pro Podcast on your Apple Podcast app, scroll down to the ratings and reviews section, and then you can rate the show and then leave a written review if you want to be even more awesome. And while you’re there, we would really appreciate if you subscribe to the podcast, so that you never miss an episode. But maybe you talk about one of your favorite interviews on the show, or maybe you just talk about the show as a whole, but regardless of what you talk about in your review, we appreciate it so, so much. So thanks again for tuning in today. We’ll see you next time, and until then, make it a great week.

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