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Interview with Franco Valentino Founder at Narrative SEO, LLC

Steve Wetmore – Good morning, Franco Valentino. How are you this morning, Franco?

Franco Valentino

Franco Valentino – I’m doing great. Thank you, Steve.

Steve Wetmore – That’s awesome. So, Franco, you are the founder of Narrative SEO, and you like to describe your organization as a collective of experts pulled together to, to solve problems for your client.

Franco Valentino – That’s right. Thank you for that. And we are, yeah, we sort of describe ourselves as a technical SEO consultancy. We’re based in Nashville and we serve clients, the United States and Europe. And we have subject matter experts in varying fields that have a lot to do with growth hacking.

Steve Wetmore – So that covers a lot of relevant information; we’re looking to understand what your collective provides for your clients, what makes you unique and we’d like to hear some success stories that provide background to your credibility in SEO?

Franco Valentino – Since we work in a very technical field, we like to explain it like this; what we do is we remove digital sludge from the foundation of websites. And we typically work with either digital marketing agencies or the CMO staff, right, somebody on the digital marketing staff within a larger organization that’s in charge of making sure their website doesn’t leak leads, conversions and sales.

Franco Valentino – From the service standpoint, what we do is we start with a technical SEO audit, not only the on page portions of the websites, but we look at the digital connections between the greater internet, the search engines and users platform to see where there are opportunities for improvements. And those improvements can be speed. It could be security and keyword growth or conversion optimization.

Steve Wetmore – Can you give us some insights into where you see short term and long term challenges in SEO and how SEO is going to trend into 2020 and beyond?

Franco Valentino – So interestingly enough, we actually published an article this year that was titled “Is Seo dead in 2019“. And that topic is sort of a playground for technical SEOs. And, you know, we’ve been flirting with first or second slot of Google for a long time, we did it with a partner agency of ours. And in that article, we forecasted the growth of something called Entity Fee Based Search. And what that means is search engines are trying to understand nouns, their things, not strings anymore, where you typically, historically you would have a keyword and then you would try to rank that keyword and take the traffic position that way. Search engines have become much smarter, their AI are trying to understand entities meaning they know who Steve Wetmore is, they know who Bill Gates is. And subsequently they know the relevancy of that search terms. So what we forecasted was that it was going to grow and the way that it’s growing is all of the search engines got together, Google, Bing, Yahoo index, and they came up with something called schema.org. And it’s almost like a it’s a language, It’s a programming language. But it’s a reverse API, meaning instead of them trying to crawl your site and understand what you’re about. They gave us the opportunity to set up some structure and feed them that data. And there are item types for just about any nouns that we can think of right? These people, places or things. Now the opportunity there is that they have taken this entity information, and they’ve come up with certain features. You know, when you search for an event like a concert, you get this really rich data on your phone where you can save the event you can forward it, you know what time the event happens. And you can even buy tickets to the event. That is a SERP feature that is fed by schema markup. And right now, it’s sort of the Wild West, only 7% of websites globally are using it at this point. So there’s a massive early adopter advantage as this technology matures.

Steve Wetmore – I have been using it within Gutenberg editor. They’ve got formatted blocks that allow you to work with frequently asked questions or lists.

Franco Valentino – And that’s wonderful and everyone should be taking advantage of that. Now schema.org is a lot repository, let’s think about the medical industry got hit very recently with a lot of Google updates because they’re in a space called YMYL, which means Your Money Your Life. these are these are highly emotionally charged things that people, you know, tend to convert easily on, like your health, right? If someone God forbid, has a massive illness, and you put up a website saying I can cure this illness, well, and you’re not a doctor, you should not be ranking number one for that particular term. So search engines got much smarter over the past year or two on this, and the medical space. There’s a lot of schema code. So you’ll see Web MD, for example, if you look at their platform, you’ll see massive amounts of schema that have to do with medical diagnosis, medical industry, medical treatments, and clinical information. And that really is a differentiator for the industry, as long as those people are authoritative, you know, actual doctors that have, you know, degrees and pedigrees in the fields that they do. Similarly, a lot of other or You know, lawyers, people in the debt relief space. That’s where we’re seeing the biggest opportunity for for people that are shysters, for example, right? Because the search engines have gotten smart enough to, to throttle down the ones that aren’t actually trustworthy.

Steve Wetmore – As a website owner, that that finds himself in the, your life, your money part of the world, how would you structure your website to help create authority and make it easier for Google to find the chain of your history and credentials?

Franco Valentino – That’s a great question. By the way, this is a very large argument on the web in our technical SEO circles, how do we boost something called EAT? So that’s Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust. It’s, it’s not necessarily a rank factor. It’s made up of many multi smaller algorithms that are part of the larger Google algorithm. And what it does is it looks for trustworthiness on a page. So let’s say that you are a Physician, or you are a finance, you know, a financial guru that actually has a Degree in finance, it’ll look on the about page and see, for example, try to match up your University and your Degree to that particular University. So some of the things that you can do are on your about page, make sure that you link out to where you got your degree. So because these are relevant signals, Google does crawl the web and its spiders all the content right. So it can find these small signals between Between relevant websites to say, Yes, we were going to give him a little bit of a boost because he did graduate from and he has the appropriate degree to be talking about this particular subject. Same thing with it. So that’s one another one is getting links from your university or from a clinic that you worked at, or a bank that you work for, on to your about page. So this takes time, this is not something that you’re going to do overnight. But as a whole over time, that will get you better positioned in better search visibility, because you are authoritative and you are trustworthy. And those signals can be sent not only in the regular HTML, but between those between linking across those platforms. Oh, another thing is schema markup, if you can send those signals in the metadata that really helps Google understand it faster. So it’s not that one thing alone is going to get you more search visibility, but it will build your entity relationship in search and then subsequently, again, help it understand who you are and what you do.

Franco Valentino – The biggest winners, by the way, in our estimation are going to be the eCommerce shops. Because eCommerce shops that take advantage of metadata and schema.org. They get enhanced search features. And let me define search for folks that may not know what that is, Search Engine Result Position or SERP’s. So when you Google something, those 10 entries that show up on your page, that’s called the search engine results position. And on mobile, there are more features because we live now in a primarily mobile world. So in eCommerce, there are things like a Google Merchant Center, right you can sign up for an account, you can send it product feed information, and if you do that, and your competitors don’t well, you have first mover advantage. So if you have a healthy site with decent traffic, first of all, the technical basics never change, your site has to be secure. It has to be fast. that’s critically important for every second of slow down in your website, that’s somewhere between a 7% and 20% loss of conversion. So we always look at the basics first, but then early adopter advantage is going to be the schema markup specially for Ecommerce.

Steve Wetmore – As we all start to experiment with schema markup, and we actually use it on our websites, and at the same time you are using Google Search Console; and Google console identifies problems that you’re having. It shows you very clearly that you’ve got a Schema related error. But when I look at the error, I have no idea how to solve the problem. I just can’t figure it out. The resources that Google provides is highly technical and well beyond my level of understanding. So where do you go? Who would you go to, to solve that problem for you?

Franco Valentino – So as a novice, and you know, if someone doesn’t necessarily know a technical SEO background, it is a very specialized field. Google’s not very helpful in the help file, either because they tend to write, you know, very technically as well. So when they say, you’re missing a parent within this part of schema markup in the code, where do you go? Alright, so the first place I would go if I didn’t know anything about this industry would be YouTube. And literally just google the error that you got, and somebody will have explained that issue in a fairly non technical way. So as a small business owner that’s probably the shortest path to success. For a larger website things tend to get much more complicated and the error that they’re seeing could be the result of some other cause. So in that case, if you’re having that problem in your larger entity, you you need to reach out to some type of technical SEO to say, hey, look, can you at least give me an hour and tell me if this really is something wrong? Or if this is just the tool, alerting on something that really isn’t a problem? Because that will happen as well. I’m not saying that Google Search Console, or any one of the other technical SEO tools like Screaming Frog or SEMrush or something like that are not precise, because they are, but sometimes they alert on things that aren’t quite as a priority as some other things. And one of those things, for example, is if you’re a large eCommerce shop, and you’re getting, let’s say, you’re getting flagged for duplicate content errors, because you have mirrored pages or something like that. We wouldn’t even start looking at that we would actually look at the protocol versions, as we mentioned, right? So HTTP one versus HTTP two, you know, our is your website as fat from from a server standpoint. As fast as it can be, because that will give you that’s the 80/20 there, right? That that’s the parade, oh, I can if I fix this 20% of the problem, I’ll get 80% better results. So, again, take it with a grain of salt understand it, don’t go crazy over it, but as somebody that can guide you along that along the path to correcting it.

Steve Wetmore – It strikes me that as this new SEO technology develops that there’s tremendous opportunity for SEOs to specialize and just tackle schema errors and how to structure websites so that as you, you add more information, more blog posts, more product on an eCommerce site, that you know that as the data is added, it’s added correctly, you’re giving Google what they need to crawl and serve answers?

Franco Valentino – Yeah, absolutely. There’s there’s a lot of specialization within this field. It’s almost like the medical field, you know, someone is a, you know, a brain surgeon, the other one is a bone doctor. So, it’s very similar to that. And, you know, as technical SEOs, you know, we try to have a big network where, you know, I sometimes rely on developers that are technical SEO developers was for just schema markup, because even you know, that in itself is a is an art form. And then, you know, from from my network engineering background, it’s more of the server side, right? So it’s, you know, you can pick the wonderful thing about this field as you pick something that you really enjoy and then dive deep into it. And, and you actually can help people you know, this, these things do matter quite a bit, versus just adding content, you know, if the platform in the server right, or there’s enhanced data that you’re not seeing, it could be the difference between you winning online versus your competitor.

Steve Wetmore – Well, that’s amazing information, Franco. That’s really really good.

Franco Valentino – I’m honored to help.

Steve Wetmore – Do you have any other massive snippet that you can share?

Franco Valentino – Sure. Let’s think about something here. Alright, so the two biggest things that we see, number one, there are still websites out there and large ones that have decent traffic that don’t have a security certificate. If you don’t have SSL installed, it was time years ago to add it, it is a clear ranking factor. And it will give you more keywords and potentially more traffic by having a secure certificate, number one, number two, if your website isn’t loading in two seconds or less, at least the above the fold, you know the things that people see initially, then you’re losing about 64% of your visitors by the time you hit three seconds, is the single most critical factor for anything you’re doing online right now. So I would say before you get too advanced in things, let’s let’s go back to the SEO one on one stuff and focus deeply on Speed security and then subsequently you’ll get more traffic just by looking at those two things.

Steve Wetmore – Great information, Franco. So, when we talk about SEO tools, people’s eyes start to glaze over and because it’s all the same, so most people are using AHRefs, Moz, and SEMrush. What I’m looking for here is if you’ve got anything unique that you can share, and talk about that.

Franco Valentino – Yes, those are the typical SEO tools. Now Google Search Console has actually added a lot of new features over the past six months to a year. One of the most important ones that they have added is something called the crux report the spate page insights. So it’s a speed report, whereas normally we would rely on Page Speed insights, which is a tool that Google publishes, it’s just a website, Google Page Speed insights, and you’ll see it, it crawls your site and gives you a lot of technical information. Some of it will make your eyes glaze over. But it, but it will give you a 02 hundred marker on on some things that you can fix relatively quickly. And if you can’t fix them, you know, hand them to your web developer. And they’ll know how they’ll know what to do. Page Speed insights is a wonderful tool. And again, it’s free. And it’s just a website that Google publishes for you.

Steve Wetmore – I’m on Google Search Console right now. And so there’s overview index and enhancements, see speed Experimental.

Franco Valentino – Yeah, the speed experimental report is the one that you want to look at now, you will not get any data unless your website has had enough visits where Chrome browser can send enough enough we can analyze on an average how fast your pages are. So you may not see data in there yet, but if you’re if you do have traffic and you have a decent amount of traffic, you’ll see the Speed reporting there. And it’ll give you a you know, sort of a poor average and good metric, the metric that they that they measured off of his first contemptible paint. So some The, the first meaningful thing that a user sees on the screen and how fast that loads. So again, the it’s not gospel, it’s a it’s an average of things that can help contribute to making your website fast. There’s also a natural, the best thing you can do is navigate to your website and count in your head, how many seconds it takes to load if you don’t feel like it’s loading fast enough, think like a user, right? And you want to get it down to about a second or two that really it’s very difficult to do, but that’s the world we live in right now. You know, we are we’re we’re non patient people.

Steve Wetmore – Okay, so let’s touch on the the practicality of how to execute. So I’ve got a website that’s approaching six years old. I’ve been told by my developer that I have had too many plugins that have been used, we decided to change, so we disabled or removed some. And it has been explained to me that there’s a lot of scrap data left behind that contributes to slowing the website down a whole lot of reasons maybe maybe my host isn’t fast enough. What to to execute? I know there’s a lot of resource info online, you can go to, like you said, Go to YouTube. But how would you execute on next steps? Do you have a checklist or an approach to solve that problem in terms of speed?

Franco Valentino – Sure. Speed is is made up of many different factors, as you mentioned, right? So the quality of the server that you’re that you’re sitting on is critically important. That’s where the HTTP one versus HTTP two protocol is actually gets turned on. Right? You don’t have control over that unless you have, you know, access to your server. So picking a quality host is really important companies. WP Engine, liquid web flywheel who I think just got bought by WP Engine, but those are going to be qualified hosting qualified. I mean, they they they mark all of those checkboxes you just mentioned off, which will they’re too expensive from a technical standpoint to kind of rattle off on the call. But so having a good quality host one that costs more than $3 a month, your website, right, you want to pay somewhere on the $20 to $30 mark is about where you need to be. That that goes a long way. The next step immediate next step is your point, don’t have a lot of plugins use only the ones that you really need. And if you have plugins that are disabled, strip them out of the website right away, because the code still gets injected on every page. So there’s something called page bloat or the weight of a page. We typically budget before we create a piece of content, like a pillar page for a client will say, look, this page can be no more than 500 kilobytes in size. So you have to really think about the size of images that you’re putting on there. And by the way, images are the parade Oh, You typically everyone, every website I hit we audit has images that are much, much larger than than they need to be. So that is a really good first step. And that will contribute to a much faster website, if you can. As an example, if you’re using a PNG that doesn’t need a transparency, if the image doesn’t need a transparent background, you shouldn’t use a PNG it’s much bigger than a JPEG. So use a JPEG where you can so file formats are very important. And if you’re using a JPEG, where a web p format would work a web P is you know, maybe 20% the size of a JPEG and without losing quality. So it’s just thinking deliberately about images will get you a lot farther than you are today.

Steve Wetmore – Fantastic. Franco that was awesome that you just pushed the envelope.

Franco Valentino – Wonderful now I’m glad it’s a hopefully it provides value to someone.

Steve Wetmore – Well, it really did. And I’m I’m going to rush to get this published soon as possible and again, I will share it with you as soon as I get it completed. And again, Franco really enjoyed our conversation.