Penguin is great for the industry”, an interview with Eric Enge

Pen­guin, AMP, and RankBrain may be shap­ing SEO, but machine learn­ing, edu­ca­tion, and the shar­ing of exper­tise will define the industry’s future.

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 0 comments

With Pen­guin, and ear­li­er this year Pan­da, both now incor­po­rat­ed in the core algo­rithm, 2016 has con­sol­i­dat­ed many devel­op­ments in search. We took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to catch-up with Eric Enge to dis­cuss recent devel­op­ments and future trends in SEO.


What would you say have been the most significant developments in SEO over the past year?

eric-engeJust under a year ago, we saw the release of Google’s RankBrain algo­rithm. This was our first con­fir­ma­tion that machine learn­ing is in active use as part of the core algo­rithm at Google.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it has led many to believe that Google is com­plete­ly machine-learn­ing dri­ven, and it’s just not that way. Imple­ment­ing a machine-learn­ing algo­rithm is incred­i­bly com­plex. With that being said, Google will prob­a­bly con­tin­ue to find ways to take advan­tage of machine-learn­ing.

The release of AMP has also been a very big deal.  We did some test­ing on the Stone Tem­ple site, and we saw a 71% decrease in page size, with our score in Google’s Page Speed Insights tools ris­ing from 42 to 88. That’s impres­sive!

I’ll go on the record here and state that I think that AMP is going to be mas­sive. The idea of rad­i­cal­ly speed­ing up web pages has a lot of sup­port­ers — and it should. That’s why so many com­pa­nies are exper­i­ment­ing with it.

In the next 6 to 12 months, you’ll start to see com­pa­nies using AMP for e-com­merce pages, and even some that will use AMP as the base ver­sion of their page, not just for mobile devices.

The release of Pen­guin is also a huge deal, and I’ll talk about that more in response to the next ques­tion.

Penguin 4.0 is now part of Google’s core algorithm. Do you think the changes should be welcomed by the industry?

Let’s start with a def­i­n­i­tion: the new Pen­guin no longer penal­izes sites rank­ings because of links. Pen­guin sim­ply dis­counts the bad links it finds. How­ev­er, what I also expect is that the new Pen­guin also will alert Google to sites that are doing a LOT of bad link build­ing, and flag those for man­u­al review. So one out­come might be more sites receiv­ing man­u­al penal­ties.

Over­all, I think that Pen­guin is great for the indus­try. Now, even if a site receives a man­u­al penal­ty, a site own­er sim­ply has to fix the bad links and file a recon­sid­er­a­tion request. This process is a lot eas­i­er to deal with than with the old Pen­guin (because it was updat­ed so infre­quent­ly).

A final point — this shift in Google’s approach is also an indi­ca­tor that Google’s con­fi­dence in detec­tion of bad links has grown con­sid­er­ably.

How can businesses evolve and adapt to changes and developments in search and digital?

I’d focus on rec­og­niz­ing the abun­dance of oppor­tu­ni­ties that exist in the mar­ket today. What are the proac­tive things you can do to build your busi­ness to the next lev­el?

For example, content marketing:

Con­tent mar­ket­ing is hot. You can start aggres­sive­ly pro­duc­ing very high-qual­i­ty con­tent that your prospec­tive cus­tomer base wants and desires. Doing this effec­tive­ly can pro­vide you with a major edge over your com­pe­ti­tion, both in term of rep­u­ta­tion and vis­i­bil­i­ty and help­ing dri­ve your SEO.

or AMP:

AMP is anoth­er huge oppor­tu­ni­ty. The idea of dra­mat­i­cal­ly speed­ing up your site is an attrac­tive one, and if you do it with your site, you’ll have a far supe­ri­or user expe­ri­ence than your com­peti­tors who don’t imple­ment AMP.

or Facebook:

Anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty area is Face­book. Face­book has a huge audi­ence that’s con­tin­u­ing to grow, and it also has a fan­tas­tic adver­tis­ing plat­form that allows you to do amaz­ing cus­tom tar­get­ing of your ads to just the right peo­ple.

Key to suc­cess at this activ­i­ty requires a lot of tun­ing of that tar­get­ing, so it’s not for the lazy! But if you put in the time you can get great results.

So those rep­re­sent things you can do to cap­i­tal­ize on the cur­rent mar­ket.  And, yes, it will also help you keep your site safe at the same time.

Why do you think the education aspect is important for our industry?

SEO is a very spe­cial­ized dis­ci­pline, and it’s still not taught in most schools. (Note: this is slow­ly chang­ing: The Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia now offers an SEO Spe­cial­iza­tion cer­tifi­cate via Cours­era. I’m one of the three instruc­tors for the course).

Giv­en that the great major­i­ty of peo­ple in exec­u­tive, mar­ket­ing, and tech­ni­cal roles have not had any expo­sure to SEO, they real­ly don’t know how it affects their busi­ness, or what to do about it.

This is a greater prob­lem than meets the eye because the issue is not sim­ply that the une­d­u­cat­ed will miss oppor­tu­ni­ties for SEO. In fact, they can eas­i­ly make deci­sions and do things that are overt­ly dam­ag­ing to SEO.

Com­pound­ing that is the fact that for years, SEO had a rep­u­ta­tion asso­ci­at­ed with spam­mers and cheaters. This bad rep­u­ta­tion is born out of the fact that for many years, poor qual­i­ty web­sites were able to rank well in Google, sim­ply because they knew how to do SEO.

The only way to solve these prob­lems is through edu­ca­tion. As a result, it’s crit­i­cal that we nev­er pass on an oppor­tu­ni­ty to edu­cate. It’s only via edu­ca­tion that we can close the gap and get peo­ple to bet­ter appre­ci­ate what’s good.

A common question mark for agencies is how much expertise they should give away, as opposed to how much they bill and resource for. What are your thoughts here?

I strong­ly believe in the mod­el of giv­ing away exper­tise for agen­cies. From my per­spec­tive, if some­one reads a few arti­cles from you, and then decides to NOT become a client, they weren’t going to be a client for very long any­way.

The best clients are look­ing for a real rela­tion­ship with their agency of choice, and there is no bet­ter way to show them that you’re going to be a good part­ner by begin­ning to share with them before they become a client.

It’s pret­ty fun­da­men­tal to the busi­ness mod­el of Stone Tem­ple to give away exper­tise. We do this because it helps us grow our busi­ness. Peo­ple see that we do that, and decide that they want to work with us.

Equal­ly, I think this gen­er­al mod­el can apply for many indus­tries. An increas­ing num­ber of brands are begin­ning to see that giv­ing away free advice in the form of very high-qual­i­ty edi­to­r­i­al con­tent helps them build their rep­u­ta­tion with prospec­tive cus­tomers.

Many com­pa­nies are used to oper­at­ing their busi­ness in ‘Direct Response’ mode. But, a very large per­cent­age of your poten­tial cus­tomers (for most busi­ness­es) don’t want to buy from some­one unless they feel they have some degree of trust for them. One of the key things about con­tent mar­ket­ing is that it is an awe­some way to build that trust, but for it to work, it has to be edi­to­r­i­al in nature — which means you’re giv­ing away infor­ma­tion and exper­tise.

What trends do you think will make an impact on search in the not-so-distant future?

The inte­gra­tion of Pan­da and Pen­guin into the Google’s core algo­rithm was inevitable. But, I do think that we’ll see many more changes con­tin­u­ing in SEO for some time to come.

Here are some pre­dic­tions:

  • You will see more machine-learn­ing algo­rithms come into the mix, and they will con­tin­ue to grow in impor­tance.
  • I think that Google will con­tin­ue to get bet­ter and bet­ter at mea­sur­ing con­tent qual­i­ty.
  • In addi­tion, Google’s abil­i­ty to find a unique mix of user engage­ment sig­nals that they can use in their algo­rithm will improve as well.
  • More and more brands will see the pow­er of con­tent mar­ket­ing and start to embrace it to devel­op a deci­sive com­pet­i­tive advan­tage.
  • AMP is going to have a big impact, but there will be more that hap­pens in mobile. One key oppor­tu­ni­ty for busi­ness­es is to increase their focus on mobile-cen­tric expe­ri­ences.
  • Brands will (and should) begin to design for mobile first, and then make their desk­top site a deriv­a­tive of that (not the oth­er way around).
  • Apps will remain in being incred­i­bly pow­er­ful. Of course, not every busi­ness should devel­op an app, but con­sid­er how you can oth­er­wise lever­age them. Adver­tis­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties could be one way to go, for exam­ple.
  • Google will also aggres­sive­ly push the notion of pro­gres­sive web apps, and this will gain some trac­tion, but I think the jury is out on how much trac­tion that it will get. We’re doing some of our own exper­i­men­ta­tion  with those right now.

Any final thoughts on the future of SEO?

Keep your eyes open for new oppor­tu­ni­ties all the time. The past few years have been all about the Google monop­oly, but that’s chang­ing. Ama­zon is already the num­ber one place where peo­ple go to per­form prod­uct search­es. Face­book, on the oth­er hand, is win­ning the app war.

Peo­ple can spend time get­ting answers from friends by using mes­sag­ing apps of tex­ting each oth­er. So many new oppor­tu­ni­ties are com­ing into play every year.  Find one or more of them and ride them!


Eric is the founder and CEO of Stone Tem­ple Con­sult­ing. A promi­nent SEO, con­tent mar­ket­ing, and dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing indus­try thought leader, he has been an entre­pre­neur for most of his 30+ year career. You can con­nect with him on Twit­ter or LinkedIn.

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

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