Ep 65: Mourning Bill Slawski, Will people use My Ad Center? Baby formula shortage shows CTR impacts rank

Saying goodbye to Bill Slawsk, a discussion around Goolge's promised Ad Center and how click throughs really do drive rank on Google.

Ep 65: Mourning Bill Slawski, Will people use My Ad Center? Baby formula shortage shows CTR impacts rank
Photo by Lucy Wolski / Unsplash

Part 1 Video start 0:13 - Bill Slawski, mentor & friend, passes away

Part 2 Video start 10:11 - My Ad Center - will people use it or is it just another data harvesting tool?

Part 3 Video start 18:16  - LocalSEOGuide demonstrates how user click throughs impact rank via the baby food shortage

Reference Articles:

The Industry Mourns The Loss Of Bill Slawski: The SEO Mentor To The Community

My Ad Center: Will People Use It?

Panic Buying Is The New Backlink

Transcript Ep 65:

Greg: Welcome to the Near Memo, a weekly conversation about search, social and commerce. What happened, why it matters and the implications for local. Here we are again for another episode of the Near Memo with me and Mike David. And we're talking about search social and commerce. This is Episode 65, remarkably.

And of course, as always, there's a lot that's happening, but we're going to only focus in on three major developments this week. For the rest of what's happened check out our newsletter and please subscribe if you have. Leading off today, we have some very, very sad news about Bill Slawsky sort of beloved member of the SEO community who passed away.

And Mike, you wanted to say some stuff

Mike: Bill was instrumental in my engagement with local in  2007, 2008. He and I and Matt McGee would spend hours every weekend looking at search results and theorizing how they worked. And he would share with me local patents.

And I remember this blog post I did with him where a sort of. SNL takeoff, where I would argue pro and he would argue con about whether Google, whether local at Google was ever gonna make it. He took the position that they just weren't good enough at aggregating data. I took the position that there was so much financial interest in making it work both on Google’s side and on the side of the business that ultimately it would work good enough.

And it was, we intentionally slung mud at each other to see how much interest we could get in the ongoing discussion. And I went back and David responded to the posts as well. You know, he's been somebody that while I know him professionally, I don't really know him personally. But he's always been very generous for this professional time.

He spoke at Local U, he would answer, you know, whenever I had a question about a patent, he would go and look up which patents it might apply to. He was very generous with his time. You know, he had a stroke several months ago. I don't quite remember. And the folks in local got together and we sent him  Door Dashes regularly, just so he would not have to go out and shop.

I don't know what he died of, but I know he had been struggling with recovery from that and he'll be missed and I’ll miss him. You know, we're in a time of sort of national mourning and now and now we have this on top of it. So it just reminds me that life is transient, life is fragile and you need to appreciate the people around you when you can and you need to tell them.

Greg: Yeah, absolutely. So I know Bill very well, but I'd had contact with him for  many years. He used to be a contributor to Searchengineland when I started you know, 15 years ago. And so we had. Informally that way. And I, I just always found him to be a person of tremendous integrity and depth and authenticity, you know, he was just really just a good person.

And so it's very, I haven't had contact with him very much in the last few years, but very sad that he's gone. And I know based on the Twitter responses, that there were a lot of people who he touched and who also feel the same way. And I just wanted to echo your sentiment, Mike, about, you know, appreciating people and life is very, very short and things can happen at any time suddenly.

And you, you know, suddenly somebody's gone. And so it's, it's just, you, you have to, you have. Really appreciate what you've got while you've got it.

Mike: Yeah. I was wondering if there's some way to better memorialize him then Twitter stream. I mean, I get that we are mourning and this is how we, this is how we know each other's through Twitter to a large extent, but

Greg: it's kind of horrible.

It's kind of horrible, you know, the way that. I don't want to critique Twitter. This is just sort of the world we're living in, but it's just, I agree. It's kind of not entirely appropriate in some, in some sense. Whereas Schwartz,

Dave: when, when Bill had his stroke, however many months ago, that was nine months ago, a year ago, Barry Schwartz put together a sort of tribute site to Bill, which I think.

Really nice. And that's I hope is going to be sort of permanently archived. And hopefully Bill got a chance to, you know, see a lot of the same comments that are now posted on Twitter in, in more depth while he was alive. So You know, that's somewhat heartening. I think that in terms of an ongoing sort of Memorial, you know, it might be worth, you know, the three of us reaching out and seeing what we can sort of drum up with.

Barry's help given that, that, you know, that was sort of his, his project is, is kind of one thought I had Mike I'm I'm heartened to know that I'm in good company as someone who's. Vet or to, to you in terms of being on the wrong side of history. If Bill, if that puts me in Bill's court I'm happy to be there.

Yeah, for sure. And I, I just wanted to echo your thoughts just around, you know, I I don't think I discovered Bills right. Maybe and research quite as early in my SEO career, as you did. It was maybe a little bit later on, but certainly one of the, I mean, I can remember reading his blog posts on, on those local patents and certainly helped me understand the concept of citations which, you know, sort of drove a lot of my early success in the industry.

I think his. Couldn't agree more in terms of his, his generosity and kindness in person was terrific to have him keynote one of our earlier local U events you know, in the. Teens or whatever, we're calling that decade. And I can remember my first Pubcon in probably 2008 or so. And I was, I was totally a, nobody.

I was just, you know, regular attendee hadn't spoken anywhere or anything. And he, and, and Kim Kreisberg as well sort of, you know, just, they were going out to a restaurant or something for dinner and they just invited me to come along and, and I got to meet two incredibly. Kind people in the space and talk with them for hours.

And it was really, you know, just certainly there's plenty of people in our space who would not have, would not have had time or interest in that sort of thing. And Bill was not one of them. Bill was a really, really generous guy and a really smart guy. And. Certainly, I, I remember feeling something similar with the news of Eric Ward's passing several years ago now, but you know, two of the, two of the real sort of original thinkers and, and people who were really generous with their knowledge and, and Those of us who are still around in the industry can kind of live up to their examples moving forward and continue to share what we know and, and hope that helps others in their careers and make sense of what's happening in the world of search.

Mike: For sure. Yeah. His pattern discoveries or uncovered. Largely informed that research we did in 2008 large-scale research, we did around ranking factors and correlations and largely informed my understanding. You know, the work we did there on top of which was practical assessments on top of the patent really informed the first until the knowledge graph came out in 2012, it sort of was the operating structure.

And still that structure that he uncovered became the knowledge graph to a large extent, right? The things that, that, that patent talked about became what effectively was the core of the original knowledge. In terms of how Google tracked all of these things. And so it was very instrumental in my career life and

Greg: in fairness.

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yep. Yeah. As I sort of a final note in fairness to Bill in your early debate about the future of local and Google Google's ownership of. You know, in the very, very early days in the early two thousands, you know, it was, it was very hard to see Google having great success because they didn't have access to the, to the small business data, to the local data.

And, you know, while they were a very powerful technology company, there were others that were much better position than them in terms of the, in terms of the information. So Bill is not completely you know, out of, out of line in his thinking. I mean, it's only through, through hindsight and you're in credit.

Prescient, you know, kind of view it

Mike: could have the same economic factors that I talked about was what led to so much and leads to so much spam that we do. Right. I mean, it it's this w it's the same side of it's the other side of the coin that we deal with every day that Google has never wanted to confront.

You know, the way Google resolve the lack of local data. Was they stolen from the super pages?

Greg: Well, they, they had, they had, yeah, that's a whole other discussion. They had, they had deals with those companies. I mean, you could, you could argue that Google's early relationships with what they called their I forget what they called them.

Actually, they would call them partners. Yeah, the, the, these, these many companies that fed local data into Google did so because of Google's preeminence in consumer facing search and they, and it was really sort of a bully monopoly power move. You know, they, Google could extract the value that these companies had because they were the distribution point.

And if you didn't do a deal with Google, you know, then maybe you weren't going to get the traffic or the exposure that you needed in order to continue to monetize. Another conversation. So let's, let's move to the item I'm going to talk about, which is one of the things coming out of Google IO last week that I didn't talk about last week.

So I wrote about on a Monday, which was My Ad Center, which was one of the 100 announcements. Google made a, roughly 100 announcements made, made it IO and Google showed some screenshots. That indicate that users will be, be able to, there's a couple of ways to access this. This is through an ad itself or through privacy controls or settings.

And you you'll be able to essentially upvote or downvote certain kinds of topics. It's basically topics and, and brands. And then there's a third category for sensitive sensitive types of ads, gambling, pregnancy, and parenting, weight loss, alcohol, and, and, and users can express interest or disinterest by clicking a plus or minus sign.

And so the idea here under the guise of privacy is that, you know, you're going to be able to tell Google, I don't want to see ads on this. I want to see ads on. And it looks like it's got a pretty user-friendly UI. So it's very interesting on, on a couple of levels. The the I forget what the acronym is, the, the T the Uber organization that combines all the different ad trade groups.

The VAA, I don't remember has ad choices, right? Which you see is the little icon in the corner of display ads across the. And typically that that has had stood for the same proposition. You can. I mean, it's, it's an, it's an opt out opt out capability, so less granular, but it's been an absolute failure in its entire, you know, run, lack of awareness, lack of engagement.

The ad industry holds it out as a kind of argument for self-regulation. I wonder how close this will be to, to that experience. And I wonder if people will use the. Or if mostly people will just ignore it and not do it well,

Mike: let's assume people do use it. I see it as, I mean, while it is being positioned as consumer friendly choice, friendly privacy friendly.

I really wonder whether in this data, Google isn't extracting. Massive amounts of personalization. So if they do use it, faculty now know that you don't like these things or you like these brands and not those brands. I mean, I just see it as, oh,

Greg: that's explicit. It's

Dave: yeah, it's a, it's a means of being able to charge advertisers more, to hit an audience that has expressed preference in a particular.

So, yeah. Yeah. If I say I want ads from Irish golf resorts, absolutely. Irish golf resorts are going to be sitting duck dollar from my iPhone.

Greg: And is that, is that a bad? Is that a bad thing? I mean, just let me play devil's advocate. I mean,

Dave: I would rather, not personally, I would rather not reveal anything about my interests to anyone online. So for advertisers to consume.

Greg: So, yeah, I mean, I agree, but, but, and that's the app tracking T transparency asked not to trap, track capability, but I mean, for people that, I mean, as I've said before, if you go into ed choices and you completely opt out, you know, I think I haven't done it in awhile, but the process used to be fairly cumbersome.

But if you do this. You get three kinds of ads, basically gambling, really low quality dating and Viagra, you know? Yeah. I did the

Dave: same thing and I'm getting a bunch of senior dating ads. Exactly,

Greg: exactly. It's horrible. It's really horrible. It's I

Dave: hope it's not actually

Greg: personal. Well, it just shows they've got the wrong information about you.

You're you're definitely not as, not as senior, but it's, it's, it's kind of horrible and you realize, oh, I do want something. Some level of personalization, but not, but what you don't want is like all the behind the scenes data capturing and transferring and, you know, syndication of that data. So I guess

Dave: what I, what I really want is a threshold for this is an acceptable, horizontal ad that can be shown to anyone, right?

Google, Google should be setting that if. Macy's or somebody wants to advertise to a generic swath of Americans. Fine. But senior singles.com should not just, they just shouldn't be allowed to advertise to anyone.

Greg: I think it's, I think, you know, I I'm, I'm just as quick to criticize Google as anybody, but I think in this situation, I mean, I don't want to be completely cynical.

I do think that Google, everything that Google does is self-interested of course Google is trying to manage this transition. Kind of on the heels of apple, trying to manage this transition from, you know, hyper targeting to something sort of more privacy friendly. I don't think this is a bad solution.

Not withstanding what you're saying, Mike, about extracting all this personalized information, but I think that the, the big challenge with it is. Well, what's really going to happen is Google, is this is Google going to really honor this? I mean, I'm, I'm giving Google all kinds of feedback on the ads that I see around the internet.

You know, seeing this ad too many times ad is inappropriate. I just give them all kinds of like messages that are, you know, I just try and F with them, basically, not that they care. But I see the same ads. It doesn't seem to have any impact on, on what I want to, I'm seeing.

Dave: Is this what I'm saying? Great.

I feel like this is, this is a very self-interested self interested solution on Google's part for the exact reason that Mike highlighted and what would actually be better for consumers is a notion of a display ad quality score, which they clearly have for their traditional ads in SERPs. But how would that, how

Greg: would that work?

Dave: You're saying people would. If a certain number of a generic, a certain percentage of the generic population samples says, I don't want to see these, that advertisers should not be allowed to advertise the general population.

Greg: I see what you're saying.

Dave: Yeah. So I have, I mean, I have to think that enough people have clicked.

Don't show me this on the kinds of ads that you're seeing, that, that, that advertiser just shouldn't show up anymore. So, right. And you D you could offer that solution without asking anybody for any personal.

Greg: Well, I mean, I think ultimately I think ultimately it needs to go into directions. I think there needs to be contextual ads that, that don't rely on any personalization at all.

And and then an opt in, and this is kind of a quasi opt in, but, but it should be an opt-in like what apple is doing. It's like, you know, I want to see personalized ads. Here's what that means. Or I don't. And otherwise I'm seeing contextual ads. I don't think it should be some sort of shades of gray.

Mike: I mean, I've opted out a lot at Google and I get harangued by them all the time about opting in.

If I want to see better results.

Dave: Instagram now, Instagram now requiring me to enter my birthday to see more Instagram. I'm like, no, I haven't in a year. So yeah.

Greg: Yeah. I mean the, these, the, you know, it's, it's like we've got to, there's. One of the things that I I'm writing about today is the, the doctor go in the apple new campaigns around privacy.

And, you know, we it's like, unless there's some, we've got two sort of forces going on, we've got, we've got potential regulation, which is, who knows if it's going to happen. In fact, and then we've got market competitive forces. And so we've got apple and DuckDuckGo and others that are pushing privacy as a marketing campaign, which is having some impact on Google.

And, you know, Google is trying to respond by, by splitting the baby. And it's, it remains to be seen how many people in. Engage with this. So, okay. So now onto you David, for the third item today, which is coming out of Andrew Shortland blog, global SEO guide about. Click-throughs and their impact on rankings.

So take that away. Yeah.

Dave: It's a content week at local SEO guide, apparently. Cause he's also put out a study that I think Bill would be very interested to read. If you were still here around the the need for, or the degree to which exact match business names can help influence rankings. So that's, that's an aside as a different, different topic, but this morning he was out with a pretty timely post on The impact of the baby formula shortage on, I presume one of his clients which he didn't name, but where he's showing a radical increase in rankings for a particular page on a client's website that is talking about baby formula. Over the last X number of weeks, he said the page was on page two plus, and it's now, you know, skyrocketed up to the top handful of results.

And so his theory is which I think is a really interesting theory and In my mind it is. As likely as any other theory, I can come up with his theory, is that okay? All of these big enterprise national retailers, Walmart, Amazon, Kroger, whatever are completely out of baby formula. The search volume for baby formula is, is off the charts now because of all the shortages in what's in the news.

And so people are clicking on result on say walmart.com. Walmart is out of it. They hit the back button. They go to the next. They see Amazon's out, they hit the back button. And so Google is, is ingesting all of these bad user experience. Bad user experience in quotes experiences and promoting sites up further up the list that aren't, that don't have those bad click-through signals.

And so this flies in the face of a lot of what Google representatives have said in the past that click through rate doesn't influence position and all of that stuff, which I've always found to be. At best splitting hairs with their definition of click-through rate and user experience. And certainly Rand Fishkin did an experiment to disprove all of that propaganda at MozCon.

I don't know, at this point, probably six or seven years ago where he. 2000 people in the mosque on audience, you know, click the same result for a certain search term that actually moved the position of that result within the same 45 minutes of his talk in real time, in real time. And so it's been very clear.

There's been enough examples of this, that the click through rate has a significant. Impact that. I think this is just one more example of although as you point out, it might not be specifically the click through rate and the linger rate or the whatever, right. It's like Google tends to split those here.

Mike: With the intent with it with intentional abuse locations. So it might've not been the clinics. Right. So who knows what the actual signal is? It doesn't matter in practice. It's what happens. Yeah.

Greg: Anyway, go ahead, Greg. Sorry. No, no, David.

Dave: I'm getting a weird delay. What I just going to say is

Mike: what I was going to say is that it's an effective way for Google to deal with the problem, right?

If these places have this, an inventory in the other ones, don't the movement of people to these lower ranking sites indicates they do. And then, and Google responds appropriately to everybody's

Greg: wellbeing.

Dave: Well, and I think Andrew's advice for, for, for sites who are in this. You know, he calls it the panic buying sort of moment.

And he noted that he had seen it with hand sanitizer previously back in, you know, March 20, 20 or April, 2020. That I think has advice for brands here is, is really sound, which is to, you know, first of all, try to capture information from consumers before they bounce back to Google. Don't lose that click, you know, offer them a discount for a future purchase or for a related purchase.

In this case, diapers or whatever to try to keep them on the, you know, try to at least keep them in your funnel. And then the second thing is you know, some sort of, of truly like a marketing initiative to identify what you're doing to address the shortages and to promote this fast, the fact that you are, you know, empathetic to this problem and.

You're trying to make things at least a little bit better for customers who are buying other baby-related supplies. So I thought both of those were really, really great pieces of advice and, and just the, the case study itself was interesting as was his theory. So really great posts to check out if you've got a few minutes this weekend.

Greg: So I mean, one of the things that's interesting is that if the time on site or the, or the, you know, the, the lingo rate or whatever, your, whatever, the term of art would. Putting that additional content on those sites will we'll boost that time and give Google the signal that this is you know, that this is a better experience or whatever.

So that's kind of an interesting way to trick Google in a certain sense.

Dave: So, and more importantly, not lose the customer.

Greg: Yes. I mean, that's ultimately what you want to do is you want to deliver a better experience to the customer. You know, you should be focused on. I, you know, I wonder, I wonder how, how product inventory factors into this at all.

I mean, I don't, I don't know if anybody's feeding baby formula as a, as a kind of a real-time inventory to the extent that anybody has it into, into the so

Dave: we talked about this on a recent near memo, right. That we actually do think inventory. In stock inventory at local businesses will influence how well it

Greg: should.

It absolutely should. It absolutely should. I mean, that's something that's really consistent with intent. If somebody is looking for a particular product or brand, if you've got that and Google has that information, it absolutely should influence rank. Yeah. So, all right. Well, I guess we've come to the end of another exciting near memo with sad news, of course, about Bill Please subscribe to near media, the near media newsletter.

And I don't know. You guys want to say anything before we go this week,

Mike: just remember to reach out to those you love. Yes, absolutely. Even those that you don't reach

Greg: out to that say, say, I love you to your family and friends and appreciate them. Yeah. Okay. All right. Thanks for joining David, Mike, and Greg to stay on top of the latest developments in local. Subscribe to our newsletter@nearmedia.co.

Let's see you next week.