To paraphrase: SEO is hard and then you die. With all the listicles, best practices and articles, think-pieces and blogs floating about, it can be challenging to tell the good advice from the bad. And for those poor souls who don’t know their canonical URLs from their SSL certificates, and who are pretty sure a crawl error is some kind of aborted forward-roll, the challenge can seem overwhelming. It is why it is good to speak to someone who can shed a light on Google’s sometimes enigmatic-seeming ways.
Who rises to the top – and why?
Kaspar Szymanski is such a person. He spent more than seven years working in various SEO-related roles in the belly of the beast at Google itself. Then in 2013 he struck out with co-worker, Fili Wiese, to found technical SEO consultancy Search Brothers. So he’s more familiar than most with the how and why of site rankings. Unfortunately for some, Szymanski is not one to espouse a cheap or easy fix:
“I’m frequently asked, is there this one thing that holds a website back – and almost every single time I have to say, no, it’s a number of signals that interact with each other: technical content off-page, backlinks, all of these push the website one way or the other, either to excel in rankings or actually to go down. SEO is very, very complex.”
This complexity then limits the potential of advice for someone unfamiliar with the bowels of their site. Again and again in our conversation, Kaspar stresses the value of quality data as the key to understanding what’s going wrong – and how to fix it.
“Yes, it’s possible to share based on past experience. Yes, it’s possible to share advice as a consultant based on your gut feeling if you want a spidey sense. So you have seen certain things happen over and over again.
“So you know what to anticipate, where the travel may originate from, why a website is being held back. But real actionable advice, what really makes a technical SEO consultant stand out is to utilise the critical volume of data.”
Crunching the numbers
So the obvious next question is how to find and access this data. Szymanski suggests a number of potential tools:
“So there’s Google search console and there’s Bing webmaster tools, both of which do not provide the full picture, but very important insights. Next to that, I would most definitely crawl a website multiple times using Botify, Deepcrawl and Screaming Frog, just to name a few. All of these are great tools and in an ideal scenario that would confirm findings or maybe findings are different.”
“And then you have to try and figure out how is it that the signals are inconsistent, at the same time backlinks are a critical element. And again, a multitude of data sources and data points can help to get a picture as close as possible to what Google actually utilises.”
Szymanski also says that server logs hold a great deal of potentially useful information, so saving and preserving these should become a routine practice.
“And then to start the analysis, if in the process server logs are available – phenomenal! For the vast majority of websites that’s however not the case because they do not save and preserve server logs, or they only do that for a short period of time.”
“Now, if server logs are being saved and preserved for two weeks or a month, that’s obviously like trying it, but not really properly because there is no critical volume. You cannot look at trends year after year. So that’s of course unfortunate. If you have all that data, you can look into what are signals and how do they interact with each other.”
Recently, Google updated its guidelines concerning rich results – the results at the top that have pictures and additional text – to disallow gaming websites from appearing. These restrictions notwithstanding, on the question of gaming SEO specifically, Szymanski says there is not too much of a difference in the way that Google treats the results.
“So, if the user were to type in a query that is gambling-related they would get all these results and not just something saying you shouldn’t be gambling.
“With regard to SEO, that’s something that comes with the total focus and the passion for SEO consulting. So when we focus on SEO exclusively, the policies have been exactly the same. So whether you operate, whether you happen to be operating a major travel comparison website, or whether that’s medical services or whether that’s retail services, or whether you operate a multitude of portfolios of gambling websites, the policies are the same.”
With regard to the particular challenges unique to the sector, Szymanski notes the legal situation gaming websites enjoy can lead to distinctive SEO troubles.
“I think the legal challenges that translate into SEO challenges are quite something. For instance, the type of user experience and the type of user signals that may be generated because of legal limitations can trickle down and can cause Google to misconstrue signals as negative because users would be going back, given that they’re not allowed to engage in gambling in a given country of origin. So there are nuances that are more challenging and the legal component is quite important in that regard, in that it is not quite as frequent as in other industries.”
Ultimately, Szymanski has an optimistic vision for gaming businesses wishing to excel during search. With a few minor exceptions, a gaming company has just as big a chance to succeed at SEO as anyone else.
“I do believe Google was rather liberal in terms of what people want to do and was just trying to provide the best possible user experience as they always do, regardless of the topic. And there was no particular bias or aversion against gambling whatsoever.”