In this Episode
- [00:29] – Stephan introduces Jason Barnard, an author, speaker, and consultant on all things digital marketing. He’s a well-known specialist on Brand SERPs.
- [07:10] – Jason shares his philosophy on work and how important it is to put some soul into things.
- [14:34] – Jason is thankful for the gift of hosting a podcast where he can learn from talking to different types of people.
- [20:50] – The reason it only takes two minutes for Jason to add something in the Knowledge Graph.
- [28:56] – Jason shares how he convinced Google what to say about him in the knowledge panel searches.
- [36:22] – Jason answers how the prioritization process goes when a client has negative listings about their company product.
- [44:41] – Jason explains how SERP heavily depends on geolocation.
- [49:20] – Jason shares what happens when you mess around with Wikipedia’s Conflict of Interest Editing guidelines.
- [57:19] – Jason talks about IMDb is a good source for listings if you are involved in the film industry.
- [62:42] – Follow Jason Barnard on his social media accounts and visit his website, courses.kalicube.pro, to learn more about optimizing what people see when they Google your brand name.
Jason, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much. Lovely to be here. Stephan. Thank you for inviting me. You’ve invited me to talk about my favorite topic. So I’m happy.
And that is Brand SERPs and knowledge panels. We’re going to spend a lot of time on that. Before we do, I’m dying to know where did this blue dog and yellow koala come from? And how the heck did you get it up to 5 million visits a month? That’s impressive.
I was in a folk-punk band, we toured for six years and made a living playing double bass and singing folk-punk songs. And we used to joke that our nightmare audience will be children because we were punk and terribly aggressive. When that ended, I thought, “Oh, I’d quite like to write kids songs.” So I went against everything we’ve been kind of talking about before and wrote some songs for kids. The thing is that the record company when I went to see, I had a record deal as a folk-punk musician. When I said, “I want to release kid songs.” They said, “No, you’re a folk-punk musician. You can’t do kid songs.”
So I then asked my ex-wife to help me write a story. She created the characters, the blue dog, and a yellow koala. We wrote a story around the songs that I’d written around the world in 12 songs with Boowa and Kwala and then pitched it to book companies. And they didn’t want them either. And so I bought a copy of Macromedia Flash and learned it from the ground up in the space of about six months, I guess. I started in the summer of 98, and by Christmas, I’d released the first games. Because I’m stubborn, and I was convinced that these were genius characters, these two characters, but people kept saying to me, “Oh, it’s just another two characters like Tom and Jerry. It’s like Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone.” There are so many pairs of best friend characters.
And it’s funny that they’re saying those like those are society changing examples.
No, a hundred percent. And they were just saying, another pair of characters. Oh, no, how boring. But the question isn’t, “Is it another pair of characters?” It’s “What makes this pair of characters special?” I’m not a religious person, but I do believe greatly in what we have within our inner being, that we express when we talk and when we create, and when we interact with other people. And it’s incredibly important. For me, these characters were a complete life changer for that point of view because I could no longer show people what I was thinking. I had to express it through acting this blue dog, and my wife was the yellow koala. And because we were independent, because nobody was helping us, because another big company wanted to join in and promote these. I had to do not only the flash development and the animations but also the promotion.
Luckily, I picked Google as my horse to bet on when there were multiple search engines, and you could feed them each a different page because they each had different algorithms. I remember that when I think I probably bought it as well. One day I just said I don’t have the time to do all of them. I’m gonna bet on Google and just focus on Google, and it turned out to be a really good bet. By 2006-2007, we had a million visits a month from Google organically. Five million visits a month, and 100 million pageviews a month, 20 minutes per visit on the site for kids with songs and games. I used to write a kid song every month, and we would have an animation, a song, three games. And on the first of every month, I would spend all night before finishing off the games, releasing them with this song. And I wrote a hundred songs for kids over that period of time. And it’s a nice body of work that I’m very proud of.
That is so cool. What happened to it? Did you sell the company or what?
It’s a sad story. I’m a bit of a naive, I was the blue dog. I got into a business relationship. It was my company with somebody who was a businessman or not a nice blue dog kind of person. He took the company and the characters, which is very sad. And it broke my heart, it makes me want to choke up and cry, to be honest, when I say it. But that’s life; I got over it. That’s coming back to the soul thing to tell you something very private. Felt like somebody had ripped out my soul, and I had to rebuild it step by step over a period of five to six years. And what makes up your inner self is essential to everything you are, everything you do, and how you function if you have that kind of empathetic character. And the good news is you can rebuild it. I can rebuild it. It sounds like Steve, what’s his face? The ten million dollar man, doesn’t it?
Yes, it does. The bionic man. Yes. I loved that show when I was a kid.
Yeah. Well, my rebuilding was free. It just took a lot of time.
So anyway, a big success. Oh, we also did a TV series for ITV International, which was screened all over the world. The whole thing was a big success, and the kids love that. I mean, the site is still online; it’s called Boowa & Kwala. They come back if we keep talking about Brand SERPs and knowledge panels, and they will come back into the conversation because I’ve been experimenting with them.
Cool. And just to round out this conversation here about your previous life and your soul kind of having to piece that back together again, like how do you inject soul and consciousness into your work these days, like on Brand SERPs and knowledge panels? Like how are you revealing a light? I guess it is another way of putting it.
That’s a really interesting question because I think you’ve nailed me in that sense is that I can’t do something if there isn’t some soul to be poured into it. And truth be told, some of the work I do is just to make money to pay the bills at the end of the month. And I find that kind of a little bit soul-destroying, a little bit difficult. I can’t complain because everybody in the world does stuff that they don’t want to do. But I save time for myself to do experiments on what I can control in a Brand SERP and what I can control in the knowledge panel. And that’s kind of where I’m finding some soul these days is pushing things into the knowledge panel.
The characters have played around with those a little bit. With my family, my daughter, my ex-wife, even my sisters pushing them into the knowledge panel, seeing how I can do that, people I care about and see how I can inform and educate Google about who these people are and how they want to be presented to the world when people search their names. And I find that very rewarding, especially when it works.
Very cool. And I think that in the future, we’re going to have live streams for each of us. I have a one-year-old, and I’m already thinking about how do we capture his lifestream so that every minute of his life is stored somewhere? Also, how do I prepare some kind of time capsule for when I’ve passed, and all of our loved ones have passed? How do we keep our memories alive for those who we leave behind? And that’s a whole other thing like you can have a digital twin of yourself that you can train an AI to answer questions as if it’s you and stuff. So I think it’s going to be an interesting decade where we’re going to see a lot of advances in AI and what’s possible and even, like, the possibility in the future of a digital substrate for our consciousness or something.
Yeah, that’s freaky though, but I did hear about that on a comedy show. Where they were saying, you can train an AI machine to carry on your social accounts, but then you have to name somebody who then decides when they close it. It can’t be kept going forever, or the idea is, you don’t keep it going forever; you keep it going to gently bring people down after your death, which is a slightly freaky notion. I’m kind of traditional in a sense. Maybe one of the reasons I was in the folk-punk band was because I wanted to be a rock star and fill up stadiums and sell millions of albums, but it was also to leave something behind. And the blue dog and the yellow koala are similar to saying, “I want to affect the world.” My main motivation for the blue dog and yellow koala was to know that children–there are people today who are, let’s say 25 years old, who grew up with these characters, these characters are an important part of their childhood. That memory of that blue dog and yellow koala is the way I live on as it were, which sounds incredibly pretentious now I say it.
It doesn’t. That’s cool. This is a real thing like you can have a big impact on people’s lives more than you ever know, just by creating some likable, personable conscious characters, or an environment online.
I’m a genuinely nice guy, I mean, I’m empathetic and kind, and my role as the blue dog was to be the empathetic kind of older brother of the yellow koala, who was a little bit annoying. What happened over the years was that I became more like the character I was playing. And it didn’t turn me into the character, but it exaggerated that side of my character, which was an interesting aspect of the whole thing. I think I’m a fundamentally nicer person than I was 20 years ago when I started that. This is not to say that my wife, who played the annoying koala, is more annoying now than she was before; she’s lovely. But she was great because I’ve got a nice singing voice, I can sing very much in tune and she couldn’t. And so the idea was, she would sing a little bit out of tune, a little bit out of time, and the child would feel reassured by the fact that this yellow koala was a little bit like them. And over the years, she learned to sing, and she ended up singing really well. And I used to do these takes for the songs and have to like stop her and say, “Can you just sing it less well? More out of tune, less well-timed, please.”
Which has to be one of the only times in the universe when people have been stopping and saying, “Oh, that’s too well. So please do it again.”
Very cool. I know for my oldest daughter, Neopets was her thing. If you’re familiar with that site. Tens of millions of users as well, and they end up getting acquired by Nickelodeon, the TV network. She had a fan site that she had created at 14 years old, and that launched her internet marketing career. She ended up speaking at conferences. At 16, she spoke at her first conference at BlogHer and then the following year at Ypulse. And then she just kept saying yes to more and more speaking engagements. She did dozens of different speaking engagements, SMX West, for example. And she was on panels with like ShoeMoney Jeremy Schoemaker, and so forth. Pretty cool stuff. And it all started because she had a passion for Neopets, and she knew that I had a couple of money-making websites that generated revenue from Google AdSense. And she’s like, “I want to do that too. Can you teach me?”
Brilliant. That’s amazing. It’s absolutely awesome. Google AdSense, like it or hate it, did start a lot as an offering. 2003 is when we signed up for it. And part of the reason the kid site kept going for so long and did so well was thanks to Google ads. We had a model where we would say you have ads, if you don’t want ads, you pay a monthly subscription, and we’ll make it full window, and no ads. And so we managed to get this nice business model, which was saying, we’re not forcing you to subscribe. If you don’t mind having ads for your kids, that’s fine by us. That’s how we make our money. But if you don’t want the ads, then you can pay, and we’ll take them away, which turned out to be a nice business model. They kept my sense of self-worth in place. Unfortunately, as I said, the business side of it took over, and the guy I was working with was talking about how many euros per head of child are we making per month? And that’s when it all went rather spectacularly wrong very quickly.
I’m so sorry. Well, what were the gifts that came out of that? My wife says that sometimes there’s a gift, but the bows on the bottom so we don’t recognize that it’s a gift. In retrospect, where do you see the gift? It could be just a lesson that you learned from that experience.
There are several. I mean, right now, I’m in a really good place because I’m talking to incredibly intelligent people like yourself and being very charming about it. But I have a podcast, and I had 150 guests, and I’m learning so much. I suppose actually, you were talking about the soul earlier on, the really important souls. The nourishing part of what I’m doing today is how much I learned from talking to other people about what they know. So that’s a gift that I’ve learned so much, and I’m in a very intellectual place where I’m pushing my mind. And I think I’m pushing the industry as well into places it didn’t necessarily think it was going to go. And another thing is it made me more empathetic, more understanding about other people. I understand what it is to go right down and have to build it back up again. And so kind of when people say, “Well, I’ve got a problem,” or “I need to talk,” I think I’m a much better listener than I used to be. Although, so far on this, I haven’t done any listening. I’ve just done the talking.
No, you’re doing a great job. All right. Well, let’s move on to Brand SERPs. I appreciate you delving into that previous chapter and unearthing some of those lessons. This is just really fascinating stuff. So Brand SERPs, why Brand SERPs? Why not other aspects of SEO? What is it about the Brand SERP that fascinates you so much and keeps you engaged?
Well, I started because I was in Mauritius, basically on a desert island, making these cartoons for kids. Mauritius is just off the coast of Madagascar, in the south of Africa. When it all went wrong, I had to move back to France, which is where I live now. I had to start again from zero in a new country. And I was pitching for work, and the only work I could get was SEO because I could say to people, “Look, I got a million visits a month for this good site. I can do the same for your company.” So I was pitching for work and something I wasn’t qualified for just on the fact that I had done this one website that happened to work well. The reason we got so much traffic is the quality of the content, pure quality of the content, and how well targeted that content was for a specific market. We didn’t aim at other markets; we aimed at the market and the kids.
The fact that I analyzed Google in a great deal of detail at the time when you could do word counting to rank. So it was that thing of being very focused on the very specific things that would make it work. And then what I realized is that when I would pitch to people, they would then look me up online, and they would see whatever results. At the time, it was some guy who had been driving down the motorway 157 miles an hour in the UK. So it said Jason Barnard, 157 miles an hour down the motorway. And I thought as you find proof that when I pitch to the client when I walk out, they immediately look me up. If what they see when they look me up is incredibly impressive, they’ll sign on the dotted line more easily. Turns out to be true. Turns out from that day on, nobody negotiated my prices anymore. I went from a 50% conversion rate to an 80% conversion rate and made my professional life much much easier. Because that big hard sell that I was making when I was sitting in front of them was going well with my personality, which does help was kind of losing a great deal of its impact.
When somebody looked me up and didn’t see me as a digital marketer. They saw me as whatever, a musician and the blue dog. And now if you look me up, you see the blue dog, you see the musician, you see my life story. You were talking about that earlier on, you see my life story of my Brand SERP. But you see, the dominant factor is digital marketing. You’ll see a search engine journey, and you’ll see SEMrush, you’ll see the videos; it’s very SEO focused. So people say yes, this guy’s funny blue dog and folk-punk musician, but he is a very serious and very impressive digital marketer associated with these big brands. And, when I started doing, I thought, well, that took me a few months to sort out, and then I can forget about it. And I won’t ever think about Brand SERPs ever again. Turns out seven years later, I’m still learning every day. Every day I look at Brand SERPs, I learn something. I go, “Wow, I didn’t think of that.” And it’s turned out to be the deepest rabbit hole you could think of. Obviously not. But for me, every day is a new adventure, and I’m thinking, what am I going to find out today?
Another example last week is that I’ve been trying to push things into the Knowledge Graph as fast as I can because the Knowledge Graph is Google’s understanding of the world. And it’s like a human memory; it’s like an encyclopedia but readable by machines. And the idea is pushing information into it is very difficult because, like a child, you have to educate it and convince it that what you’re saying is true. And get it to hook into the memory so that it sticks. And traditionally, that’s taken a month, or two months or three months or a year or two ago, it would take four or five months to get something in there. And I started working on lots of experiments about three months ago using the blue dog, the yellow koala, and their families.
The yellow koala, by the way, is called Kwala, and her mother is called Mummy Kwala, the father is called Daddy Kwala, her grandfather is called Grandpa Kwala, and the grandmother is called Grandma Kwala. And currently, in the knowledge graph, if you look up, Daddy Kwala, his significant other, is named as Mummy Kwala. So you have this whole family tree in the Knowledge Graph. I fed the Knowledge Graph. I educated Google as you would a child about these characters and their families and the relationship between them, and how it all fits together. And at the top of all that is Boowa & Kwala, which is the name of a fictional universe, which Google has understood that this is a fictional universe that contains a blue dog and a yellow koala, and their families. And the new adventure from a week ago as I had a webinar and I was trying to see how fast I could push something in the Knowledge Graph. And the answer is now two minutes.
That’s exactly. I can feed certain things into the Knowledge Graph in two minutes, which shows that Google trusts me on certain topics. And that’s the whole thing, and it’s authority and trust. I mean, Google trusts me, and I am more authoritative on specific topics. And so I can feed Google information, and it will believe me on my good word, which is an astonishing kind of thought. And one of the reasons that need to be the case that Google needs to keep the Knowledge Graph up to date, in real-time, if you think about football scores, baseball scores, latest hit rates in baseball, whatever that might be called.
If you look on Google, what’s the latest one? Strike rate, home run rate of Babe Ruth? No, he’s not with us anymore, a more recent one. It changes every week; they need to have it up to date. So they have this problem where they have a knowledge graph that needs to be full of facts that they can show on that on the right-hand side? What’s on the left-hand side is Google saying this is what we consider to be the best list of answers, and you choose the one you want. On the right-hand side, they’re saying this is the fact, and we’re standing by this. So they have a kind of dilemma where they’re saying we need to make sure it’s a fact, but we also need to make sure it’s up to date. And that dilemma is something they’re trying to deal with now. And it does mean that some things can be pushed into the Knowledge Graph very quickly, that might have been a little bit advanced for some people. I do apologize.
No apologies necessary. We want more like, give me an example, if you could, of how you put something into the Knowledge Graph in two minutes.
Well, the actual example is an event; what I did was organize a series of events for three months. And the first events when I created them would push into the Knowledge Graph. And either not at all or after two or three weeks, then it got shorter and shorter and a bit by bit, I managed to pull it down to a day. And what it turns out is that Google because it was every single Tuesday, it still is every Tuesday I have a podcast episode on YouTube that streams live. Google expects me to be posting them, so it’s waiting for me to post them. And the example I had was I had an idea for a new episode, I thought of it, I wrote it on a piece of paper, pushed it into YouTube, pushed it onto my site, two minutes later, it was in the Knowledge Graph. So that’s the specific example of my series of events.
And I did a counter test by posting another one onto my other site and onto another YouTube channel, and it didn’t get anywhere near the knowledge graph. So it’s a question of that specific channel, that specific site, and that combination is trusted for this particular event or series of events. An example of updating a knowledge panel in eight minutes, which was an interesting one, is the folk-punk band; I do experiments on them as well, is that I’ve got control of the knowledge panel by indicating to Google that my site. A page on my site is the official homepage, not the official homepage in the sense that people go to it as the homepage, but the official source of information that Google should trust about that band because I’m the only person writing about it because nobody cares. After all, it’s from the 90s. So what I then managed to do was get Google to cite me in the knowledge panel, which then meant, like, we then change the text on my page, and eight minutes later, the text in the knowledge panel about my band changed as well.
Right. Because it’s not just like Wikipedia, or even Wikidata, that Google uses as the definitive source for description copy for the knowledge panel. It can be, for example, I saw that Hamlet Batista, I don’t know if Hamlet, he’s in the SEO space. So he has a knowledge panel, and the copy comes from either note from Search Engine Land, I was thinking of Search Engine Journal, which he writes for now, but no, it’s from Search Engine Land. So if he wanted to change that copy, he would go to Search Engine Land and say, “Hey, can you change my bio on the author page?”
Exactly. And that brings up a couple of really interesting questions. First of all, I can give you some numbers for that because I’ve got a collection of 75,000 brands that I track brands and people and events and products. Basically, I track entities, and I try to track the SERP that comes up, the presence in the knowledge graph, and the knowledge panel. And all the knowledge panels for companies for brands 60%, it’s about 57% cite Wikipedia, 30%, cite nobody, and the rest, which is about 12% cite a different source, another source. I’ve got 3500 different sources that have been cited at one point in the last six months in different knowledge panels around the world. And of that 10%, 10% are self-citations, i.e., the brand describing itself on its site. And that’s what we’re aiming for. I mean, Google’s got no reason not to show how we describe ourselves; it just has to trust us enough to do it. And I think that’s the ultimate aim for brands is you say, “We want this Wikipedia page.” Why? Because it gets us the knowledge panel quickly, but it removes control.
I was talking to Rand Fishkin on my podcast, and he got his Wikipedia pages removed because he was saying, “It takes away the control of my brand message by people who don’t know anything about my brand, myself, or my company.” Mine was removed because I messed with them too much because I was experimenting. And it was a very interesting experience because what it then meant is that I had to rebuild how Google understood me. And it turns out that the schema markup on my sites was what allowed me to do that. It’s what sustained me, despite the deletion of the Wikipedia pages, and it means that I like to say, now you need to give every entity a home, you find one page on a site, you control that you identify as the home of that entity, where Google can go and get reliable, trusted, authoritative information that you feed. And if you can do that, and you can convince Google, that’s where it should be looking, all that you do is you say, this is my entity, this is its home, and here’s all the corroboration. It points out to the corporation, then Google will end up trusting you, and it will end up citing you about yourself. And that has to be the ultimate control of your presence in Google’s mind if we can call the Knowledge Graph its mind.
Right. And I noticed in your knowledge panel, and it says musician, is that by design, do you love that or do you not like that and you want to change it?
Well, the thing is, by trade, I’m a musician. I was a musician first for the Barking Dogs, which was the folk-punk band that was six years. I made four albums. Then I was a musician with the blue dog and the yellow koala around a hundred songs. So the overwhelming part of my career has been a musician. That’s where I’ve been most active. But the reason that sticks so hard is because there are so many sites like your daughter had her fansite for Neopets is there are fun sites, and there are database sites like IMDb or MusicBrainz or Discogs, where this information is actually in databases that Google can read. So it’s much easier to feed that information to Google, much easier for Google to find that information, much easier for Google to corroborate that information. So when it says musician, what it means is, this is the one I’m most sure about. Because if you searched Jason Barnard professions, it gives a range of professionals. It understands I’ve had multiple jobs, but it’s showing the one that’s the surest about my proudest moment was just before the Wikipedia page got deleted, I managed to convince Google to have Jason Barnard, author. I thought that was cool because I’ve written like 20 articles in my life. So being considered to be an author is a bit of ego brushing the right way. I think I’m an author, which I’m not. So it says musician because that’s the one it’s the surest about. It’s the fallback option.
Are you going to try and change that to something else, or did you kind of give up on changing that after the author was reverted to a musician?
Well, I kind of think I should just in the sense that I sell Brand SERP courses, which is how to control what appears when somebody Google’s your brand name and how to control the knowledge panels. So I teach people to do all this stuff. So I kind of think I should because everything about me should be represented perfectly. But the fact is I learned how to do it, and now I can teach other people. I don’t need to do it again. I would do better to go and learn something new. So I’m kind of torn about that. And the other thing is I don’t like doing the same thing twice. So I would tend to think, okay, I don’t mind them, that’s fine by me. Now what I want to do is get the people who also search for associations changed. I managed to get them all to become SEOs at one point.
Now, they’ve switched back to musicians again. I want to say, this is what I haven’t figured out yet is how to switch them all back to being associated with SEO experts. It’s the same with the Twitter boxes. I triggered the Twitter boxes, I spent six months tweeting like mad, and Twitter’s nightside, I enjoy it, but it’s not something I want to do every day all day. And to maintain your Twitter boxes, you have to maintain that kind of rhythm. So now the choice to say, well, do I do that or do I focus now on what my new favorite thing to do is see what I can do with video boxes. I saw Gary Illyes at the International Search Summit the other day.
Oh, he would give you an earful for mispronouncing his last name.
Yeah, I’m sure he did. But what was interesting is he was saying that he, John Mueller, and Martin Splitt have been making videos. And part of the reason they’ve been making videos during the lockdown is to try and understand how video rank, which I found interesting because they’re trying to figure it out by making videos themselves and putting them on Google’s own YouTube channel. So actually the mechanism, I heard him explain how Google explained to engineers who arrived at Google how the ranking system works, which I call Darwinism in search, which is if you have the blue links, as the foundation, and then the rich elements what I call candidate sets, which would be image boxes, video carousels, featured snippets, podcast boxes, all those things competing for a place.
To get a place, they have to prove that they bring more value than the best ranking blue link. And that’s how they build the rich SERPs. Then I went to Bing, and I talked to Nathan Chalmers at Bing, who’s the whole page algorithm boss guy there who builds the algorithm for the whole page algorithm, which is another one that sits on top and then there’s actually that Darwinistic should have won. But we’re not going to have it because it doesn’t work. And that’s where the click-through and the user behavior are all integrated into an algorithm. It’s not integrated into the founding algorithm of the blue links, or even the video boxes or the image boxes; it’s probably integrated into the whole page algorithm, which kind of sits on top of everything else. And what was nice about the conversation with Nathan Chalmers was that a part of their algorithm is called Darwin. So there is Darwinism in SERP, but it’s kind of anti-Darwinism where they override what Darwinism would have brought as through the algorithm themselves.
Yeah, a misquote often of Darwin’s law, I guess, is survival of the fittest. It’s not survival of the fittest, survival of the most adaptable.
Right. Okay. Lovely, jolly good. Coming back to Brand SERP is that brands that are very specific in the sense that with ambiguous brand names such as Microsoft, for example, the only question they need to answer is what will bring the most value to the user who was searching that name, which is why you get so many rich elements, so many news boxes, video boxes, the knowledge panel. And what’s incredibly interesting there is how rich they are, how useful they are, and how far away they are from the initial blue links. And I discovered the other day with startpage.com, and you get the naked blue links, ranking algorithm.
And if you look up Microsoft on startpage.com, you get three or four ads, and then seven microsoft.com site links, and then three other ones from other Microsoft companies. And on the Brand SERP, Google shows that after the whole page algorithm and Darwinism and search with the very rich elements has come into play, only one blue link survives, and that’s the homepage. And that’s an astonishing insight into how weak the blue links can be. That’s an extreme example. But it’s not like that all the time. For me, that’s just absolutely mind-blowing. And if anyone’s still thinking, I want to rank in the blue links, and that’s all I care about, and that’s where I’m going with my digital marketing strategy, stop. Because that’s not where it’s at these days, and that’s a really good indication of that.
So I have a client who has a hater in the video box. So this particular hater likes to create controversial videos and take a company to task oftentimes, the Kickstarter and Indiegogo launches and tearing apart their product and making fun of them and that sort of thing. And say there are a lot of followers, a lot of subscribers on YouTube, and so that video is very hard to get out of the box. So maybe there is an alternative to not have the box at all, trigger a different box instead and have the video box go onto page two, or disappear altogether.
Yeah, that’s a brilliant point. The question is, are those videos valuable and useful, and relevant to people searching the brand name? And if you can prove to Google that something else is more relevant and more valuable, could be image boxes, could be Twitter boxes, could be people also asked, could be podcast boxes, for example. Now those are all opportunities, and those are what I call the rich elements. Google has a limit; once you get to three or four rich elements, it will tend to replace them rather than add to them. And that’s the interesting thing about the Brand SERP is you need to approach it by saying what content can I create that will indicate to Google that it is more valuable and useful and relevant to people who are searching for my brand name than what is already there. And that is the fundamental basis of managing and controlling your Brand SERP. Glad you summarized it beautifully. I love that.
Nicely done. So how do you determine what your order of priorities is for cleaning up the Brand SERPs? If you’re my client–I’m not going to name who it is–but if you’re that particular client, and there are a couple of negative listings, or they’re calling the company and their product, like snake oil essentially. It’s not; there is a lot of legitimacy to what they do. It’s unfortunate, but they’re having to try and push that stuff off page one. So they need to prioritize what they’re going to do, and I’m helping them to do that prioritization. I’m curious about what your process is for prioritizing. Do you try and get social accounts to rank higher to push the negative stuff off of page one? Do you tend to go towards things like Crunchbase and other high authority websites that are not social sites? Or do you try and get them to create subdomains or launch sites on separate domains or to get blog posts, like reviews written on other sites? Like what’s the priority, and what’s the major focus?
Well, what’s interesting about Brand SERPs is every case is very different. Somehow it is easy to say. But a company like Disney, you will get Disney properties ranking in every single place. Microsoft, it’s the same because they’ve got all these different companies, these different brands and potentially people will give you search for Microsoft, you might be looking for Xbox or Microsoft Office. If you search for Disney, you might be looking for Disney parks, or you might be looking for Disney holidays, you might be looking for Disney shops or Disney films. So Disney actually and Microsoft just take all of their whole first pages, and nobody can get a look in, and nobody will get a look in. Just creating sub-domains wouldn’t help unless you had a real reason, and people were looking for them explicitly or would be expecting to see them. With this specific video example, replacing video boxes tends to be quite difficult because the video is terribly popular, and Google’s terribly keen on video.
But one thing I have found is that brands will tend to dominate their video carousels with their channel if their channel is strong enough. So one option, although I don’t guarantee it would work but will be to build and build and build the channel and get their audience engaging on their channel an awful lot. Because then Google would tend to think this is the kind of content that people are searching for the brand they’re looking for as opposed to this negative content. Which would push it either just down the carousel, so it’s not visible immediately or even potentially right off the carousel. Getting rid of the carousel, if it was images, I could say yeah, trigger the video boxes, and no problem trigger the twitter boxes, no problem. Twitter boxes could potentially get rid of the video boxes. But the thing about it is video boxes is the one case where I’d say that’s unlikely ever to completely disappear. So my honest and truthful reply would be you need to build your channel, so it’s so strong, Google has no choice but to put you because you are what is the most relevant, useful, helpful to the person searching your brand?
Yeah. I get that.
If you search for Kalicube, I’ve got my video channel, which is quite weak, but I dominate. I dominate because the channel is very well managed and very focused on my audience, small audience, though it is. So I’m confident that would work in a larger environment and a more aggressive environment. And that’s the thing is people contact me a lot about these bad results. Aggressive environments are very difficult to predict because of the way things are perceived. A lot of it as well as new, when it’s new, it will tend to rise to the top. If it doesn’t perform, it will sink in a Darwinistic fashion if we like. And if this negative video is performing regularly, you’ve got to prove that something else can perform better.
Yeah, got it. Okay. So how do you know if you’re worthy of a knowledge panel? And then how do you trigger a knowledge panel to show up if you’ve never had one for your name or your brand? Whether it’s a personal brand or your company brand, how do you get one?
Everybody is worthy of a knowledge panel is the simple answer. Wikipedia has this concept of notability. It’s saying Wikipedia is an encyclopedia for people that are supposed to be useful for people. So filling it with lots of second write companies that nobody cares about, lots of people that haven’t done anything particularly interesting. I had somebody who asked me, “Oh, do you think this is a good Wikipedia page?” they’d written it for himself. And I was saying, “The only person who is interested in that is your mother. And even then, she probably isn’t that interested.” He performed well at primary school, and it was very appreciated by his teacher, Mr. Benton. Who cares? And the mistake people make with Wikipedia is to think that what they appreciate about themselves or their friends or their family appreciate about them is interesting to the wider world. It isn’t. And Wikipedia, they’re saying this is for human beings to read, it needs to be used for, we’re not going to waste our resources on lots of junk.
Google doesn’t see it that way. Google’s knowledge graph is simply trying to understand as much as it possibly can. So it doesn’t matter if only your mother’s interested. Google and your mother are only entities that would be interested in what you’ve got to say. But if you can feed that information, Google is confident, and then potentially, you can have a knowledge panel. Now, once you get into the Knowledge Graph, Google will understand who you are and what you do. And that’s the fundamental basis. And if you think about entity-based search, which is where we’re all going, Google needs to understand who you are, what you do, and who your audience is. If it can do that, then it can start working for you to present you to the right audience, to answer their questions, solve their problems, which is the basis of Google’s entire functioning. It wants to provide the best solution or answer to its user query. All it needs to do is understand that you’re the best answer, need to understand who you are, what you do, who your audience is, you’re the most credible, and have the content on hand to deliver to that user, preferably that you control that content.
So I say understanding, credibility, and deliverability is the only three things you need to worry about in SEO. Everything you do needs to cover one of those things, and you need to be explaining to Google, educating Google, that’s the understanding, need to be bigging yourself up proving how great you are credibility or you need to be making sure that Google can deliver your content on the SERP or that it believes you can deliver the content in the right format to its user, on your site, or your YouTube channel or your Facebook. So understanding credibility and durability, but we’re on the understanding part. The understanding part is Google wants to understand absolutely everything. And all you need to do is explain it. And if you can explain that, once again, every entity needs its home, that home should be on your site. It’s one page; it’s not the whole site, one page per entity. That page deals with that one entity in detail and points to corroboration in the third party trusted, authoritative sources independent sources. Once it’s got a grip on that truth, whether or not the knowledge panel triggers depends on the probability that Google feels that the knowledge panel will be useful to its user.
So if it’s a brand name, as long as there’s no ambiguity, that knowledge panel will certainly appear if it’s a personal brand. So like Jason bar, for example, my knowledge panel appears because it thinks the most probable person they’re searching for is me, and not one of the other 250 Jason bars around the world. And obviously, that’s going to change over time, because it will understand there’s a footballer in South Africa, there’s a podcaster in the UK, who does music, there’s a clergyman in America somewhere. There are all sorts of Jason Barnards in the world. And then, once that happens, once Google is understood more and more of the world, we’re going to come into a situation of dealing with geolocation. In South Africa, football will probably come up more than I will. And if I want to appear in South Africa, I would need to become famous in South Africa. But already, the geo differences in these knowledge panels are quite big. It’s bigger than you would think, even for brands, especially for people. And so it’s looking at the probability that that result will be useful.
A very good example of that was Mary Moore. And if you search Mary Moore, in America, UK, Australia, New Zealand–I did the test, there are four in America, five in the UK, all on the right-hand side listed, and three or four in Australia. In Australia, she’s an Australian judge and an author, and an English actress. In America, it’s all American actresses, and the Australian judge doesn’t get a look in. And then you start thinking, Okay, so it depends on where you are, and what kind of person is searching for you. So you’re going to get these results and the knowledge panels being triggered in more and more specific situations, for particular circumstances where they are useful.
Yeah. So I can imagine also if your search history shows that you’re into football, for example, and you do a search for dolphins that you’d see the football team knowledge panel versus the mammal.
Hundred percent. Exactly. We are at the beginning of all this. It tends to be fairly standardized at the moment. But I did a talk last week at the International Search Summit, where I said I’ll do a talk about how different your individual brand knowledge panels are across different countries. And I gave them the title before I’d done the research. And I suddenly thought, what happens if they aren’t different? Luckily for me, they are very different, and they’re surprisingly different. And when you think about it is logical, the social accounts they show in those knowledge panels. IKEA, for example, would be different for IKEA, Twitter, UK, IKEA Facebook, UK to IKEA Facebook, America. So it needs to be different from country to country. And that’s exciting. Right now, knowledge panels seem relatively simple concepts, they seem relatively simple to control, but when you look into the rabbit hole, you see how complex this is going to get. And it’s going to get very, very complex very, very quickly, and we’re only just at the beginning. And you add to that the ambiguity, confusion, duplicate mistakes, and all that stuff you need to correct.
I mean, once Google says, I don’t know, Jason Barnard’s shoe size is size 10, and it’s a size nine. I have to go and correct; I can’t just say, “Can you correct that? Please Google,” there are people at Google who can correct what’s written in the knowledge panel. But when they do that, and this is what the representatives at Google tell you to do, is they ask us to change it will change it’s all right. But what then happens is, within a week, the machine will change it back if the machine thinks that humans got it wrong. So the control has gone, and I’ve had this example with several clients, but you need to find where the machine is getting that information from. Why is the machine making that mistake? Why is that machine so convinced that that piece of false information is true? And once you corrected the source of the issue, the machine will put up into the knowledge panel, and you’re fine. But you can’t now expect a human being to be able to correct that. That human being will only correct it temporarily. The machine will always win.
Yeah, got it. Okay. So if you don’t have a knowledge panel currently, a good starting point is to create a page all about yourself as an entity. Do you need schema markup, or do you not need schema markup on that page?
Theoretically, you don’t need it, but I wouldn’t even bother trying without it. Schema markup, there’s a couple of things actually, which is quite interesting. Not only does it give Google the information that’s on the page, a language it can digest natively, which is the way I like to put it. It gives Google that information in a format that has no doubt. If it’s understood what’s on the page, which it probably has, it’s got a 50% confidence level that is understood. If you add schema markup, you’re pushing that up to 70 or 80%. You’re confirming what it’s already understood, and that’s phenomenally important. It also allows you to point to all the corroborative sources that say, it’s not just me saying, it’s all these other people, authoritative, trustworthy, third-party, independent sources are saying the same thing.
The Wikipedia example is really interesting because what happened is I had my Wikipedia article, The Barking Dogs, the folk-punk group Wikipedia article, and the Boowa & Kwala Wikipedia article, all three of them. They deleted mine, they deleted The Barking Dogs the next day or two days later, and then they deleted Boowa & Kwala three days later. Now, pity is all of these are notable in terms of what Wikipedia sets out in these guidelines as needing to be notable. My punishment, this was my punishment for messing with them too much, and I was messing with them because I wanted to figure out how Google’s Knowledge Graph function. So I say fair game, they say not fair game. We’re not going to argue about it anymore because I lost.
And that’s because of the conflict of interest guidelines of Wikipedia.
I’m saying actually, it’s factual or I’m backing all of the evidence, and they’re saying, but you’re not allowed to do it, it’s against the rules. So that’s it, you’re out. My personal feelings about the people who did that aren’t very positive because I don’t think they were very nice people. Because their attitude stank. But that’s a personal question. But what it did do is taught me an awful lot, because I then decided in a moment I got over-excited and thought I would be clever. And I moved all my schema markup from my homepage on my site to an About Me page at the same time, as the deletion of the Wikipedia page. I also, at the same time, kept The Barking Dogs and Boowa & Kwala schema markup in the same place as it had already been. What happened, my knowledge graph presents, my knowledge panel disappeared like that, literally overnight, completely gone. And the other two went from strength to strength.
Once Wikipedia had gone, the other two entities went from strength to strength, both in the Knowledge Graph and in terms of knowledge panels, and mine disappeared because I moved its home, because Google didn’t have the crutch. And it took me six weeks then to rebuild it. I rebuilt the whole thing, got a new knowledge graph ID, rebuilt it to what you now see today. And it’s now stronger than it was before. And that’s an interesting point about Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a crutch, and if you can do without that crutch, you’re going to be much better off because your presence will be more solid, more controllable by you, and you will get to control what you said you get to control your message. So I would say, yeah, if there’s a Wikipedia page, great, use it, you’re gonna get your knowledge panel in no time at all. It’s a really easy way in, but it isn’t necessarily where you want to go if you want to work for the long term and control.
And do you have to apply somewhere to get that knowledge graph ID or identifier?
No, if you go to Kalicube.pro, I’ve got a tool called the Knowledge Graph Explorer, and you can look up your knowledge graph ID. So you look up your name or your company name, and it will show you if there’s something in the knowledge graph for it. If you have a knowledge panel ready, if you look in the source code of the page, you can find the Knowledge Graph ID; it’s either /g/ and then lots of letters, or /m/ lots of letters. And if you look in the source code, it’s pretty obvious which one it is; it’s six or seven letters after the /g/ or the /m/. And it’s usually if it’s on the claim this knowledge panel, you will see, it’s on that button claiming this knowledge panel.
Yeah. And if you haven’t claimed your knowledge panel, you have one, but you haven’t claimed it, you should claim it, right?
Yes, because that does give you that limited amount of control, where you can ask a human being at Google to change information or add information to your knowledge panel. But it also prevents anybody else from controlling. And if you’re a music group or even a person, some people, not all people, you can post in a social kind of manner, you can post information. I got control of the folk-punk group’s knowledge panel. I posted a picture of the pizza that I was eating, and it came up on the knowledge panel in two minutes, and it was quite good fun. The group’s no longer functioning, so it’s not useful. But if you’re an active music group, or an active theatre group, or any kind of entertainment based entity, then you get control of that. And you can post social-like information. So it becomes incredibly interesting and important. And as a brand, you don’t get that. That’s much more Google My Business would be doing that for you.
Right. Now, what if your knowledge panel has a book title, let’s say you wrote a book, or it’s multiple books, but it doesn’t have the book covers? Can you trigger the book covers, instead of just the title?
You should be able to, but that’s all Google Books actually; it’s not even in the Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph itself is kind of there’s one big chunk of information, and Google, everything that’s authors and books and everything. So a lot of what is authors and books, especially the lesser-known ones, are only being pulled from Google Books. So you need to just make sure your Google Books is updated correctly, and then that will correct itself.
So I’ve seen some knowledge panels that get triggered by Google Books, or at least they get the descriptions pulled from Google Books.
Hundred percent. I mean, if you look up Duane Forrester, who’s an SEO chum, or like both of us, who was on my podcast last week. He’s not in the Knowledge Graph, but he’s got a beautiful knowledge panel, and it’s all based on his presence in Google Books. But it isn’t pulling the description from Google Books because there is no description of Duane Forrester himself. It’s pulling the description from Search Engine Land. So what I mean is there are several knowledge graphs knocking around, and depending on what area you’re coming from, why you might be triggering a knowledge panel, the source might be different, and the actions you need to take will be different. But Google is bringing it more and more together. And that example of Duane Forrester is interesting because it isn’t very often that I see a description for an author. But where Google Books has triggered the knowledge panel, the description comes from somewhere other than Google Books. So Duane is special.
So how does he get a listing inside of Google Books that are about him as the author so that that replaces a Search Engine Land listing?
Well, that’s whoever submitted, or however the publisher submitted the books to Google Books because you should put a blurb with the book itself about the authors. If you look at somebody like Rand Fishkin, the book he wrote, it’s got about the authors; it’s got two other authors, I don’t know who the other guy is, and the two are next to each other. And it just pulled his description and put it into the knowledge panel.
Yeah, you’re talking about The Art of SEO, right?
Oh yeah, it’s right behind you.
Yeah. One of those two blokes is me.
What a terrible faux pas. Oh, I’m so sorry, Stephan.
That’s okay. It’s funny. I thought you knew.
No, sorry. Can I be really honest? I hadn’t prepared for this, because I’ve had COVID for the last couple of weeks.
I’m still at the end of this. And luckily, we’re not in the same room, but I’m kind of pulling out of it. I didn’t have time to prepare.
So I didn’t look you up.
That’s funny. Okay. So I know we’re getting close to time here. So IMDb for those people who are in the Hollywood industry versus an author who would be in Google Books probably, or if not, they would go to their publisher, or if they’ve self-published, they will investigate how to get into Google Books with their book. But somebody who is like, let’s say, a screenwriter or an actor, they might create a listing for themselves in IMDb or requests that it gets created or whatever that process is, is that one of the kinds of pivotal sources kind of like Wikipedia and Google Books?
Yeah, if you’re an actor or you’ve been involved in any kind of film, IMDb is a really good way, and if you happen to have been in a film or have a namesake in a film, an SEO guy. He’s got a namesake who was in some awful army film. And so he gets a knowledge panel but as though he were an actor, but he isn’t.
You’re talking about Trond Lyngbø, right?
Yes, you’re very good at this. Thank you. I plead tiredness and fatigue and a sweaty brow. So he has the problem that there is an actor with the same name as him, so there is confusion there. And one of the very important things that we need to start doing now all of us is disambiguating is to say, that isn’t me, which comes back again, I keep saying it, create the home for your entity. Get yourself a site, a one-page site, and it only has to be one page, explain who you are, what you do, and point to all the corroboration to make sure that Google understands that you aren’t the guy in that awful army film.
When you say point to it, do you mean the same as schema?
URL. And schema, same as it’s supposed to point to data sources that Google can pass natively, and URL is supposed to point to a web page that talks about that entity or mainly about that entity. So people misuse it, but it seems not the matter anymore. So that kind of a geeky argument about whether you should use the same as our URL seems to be out the window. But yes, using schema markup, same as URL pointing to Crunchbase, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, IMDb, if you’re IMDb but not if you’re not in IMDb, incredibly important. And one nice number to aim at is 30. Thirty pieces of corroboration, depending on the kind of corroboration. If it’s IMDb, you maybe only need two; if it’s Crunchbase and LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter, maybe you need 50.
But 30 is a good number to aim at. You need 30 pieces of corroboration for Google and Bing, for that matter, to believe what you’re saying to them or to believe that what you have said has been proven to be true. And I didn’t pull that number out of the sky. A company called WordLift, a great semantic SEO tool which does schema markup, they’re pushing this really to that idea. I work with them on all my experiments. They helped me with the experiments; they’re supporting my experiments. And they’re an incredibly intelligent bunch of Italian, mad, scientific geeky people who were delightful human beings at the same time. And he was talking to somebody at Bing, and I think it was Dawn Anderson, somebody from Google, who mentioned the number 30, and both of them separately mentioned that same number. So let’s say 30 because whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter. It gives us something to aim at that is probably fair and just.
Yeah, that’s very cool. And you don’t even need to go into wikidata.org and edit or add any data points in there, right?
You don’t have to, but Wikidata is more powerful than Wikipedia for informing Google. So if you can do it, because it is incredibly powerful, but Wikidata is somewhere between Google and Wikipedia. Wikipedia has this very high level of notability it requires. Wikidata has a much lower level of notability. So you just need to support with evidence what it is you’re saying. And then Google has no concept of notability; it just wants to understand, so Wikidata somewhere in between.
But doesn’t Wikidata also have the conflict of interest guidelines that Wikipedia has?
No, I don’t believe it does. It has guidelines that deal with notability; the conflict of interest doesn’t appear. I mean, I might be wrong, but I’ve messed with Wikidata as much as I’ve messed with Wikipedia, and doesn’t seem to have triggered any problems as yet. Although, when the Wikipedia pages did get deleted, somebody went into Wikidata and changed some things about me, which is kind of annoying. That’s another story, but I don’t believe Wikidata has that same guideline, but I now have to go and check.
Yeah, well, we should probably put a link into the show notes too if there is a conflict of interest statement one way or the other for Wikidata. We should add that to the show notes for this episode. But anyway, we’re out of time. If we could send our listeners to your courses on this so that they could learn all the ninja stuff that you figured out through all the experimenting and everything. Where should we send them to?
You can go to courses.kalicube.pro
Perfect. And if they want to follow you on social and all that, where should they go?
Okay, got it. And jasonbarnard.com is your personal website?
Yeah. I talked about the blue dog and the yellow koala and all the rest of that stuff.
And you’ve made the homepage and your marked-up schema page that’s all about you instead of your about page. Do you switch that back?
Yeah, the home page is now back to being the home for my entity. That experience, and that’s one very last very quick point, is I do advise you to set it up on an About Us page because it allows you to be more flexible than if you set it up on the home page.
Good tip. Okay, Jason, this was a lot of fun and very insightful, inspiring, informative, it was great. And I hope our listeners now will take some positive action from this and not just learn from it because I say this every week like now, take some action, and I just got a feedback from one of my listeners and a good friend of mine who said, “You know what? I have to admit, and I never take action. I just listen to it; they’re just so damn good. I just listen to these episodes, and I don’t do anything with them. I don’t even take notes.” And I’m like, “You know what, maybe I should just give up and say, ‘You know what, never mind. Don’t take any action, just sit back, relax, enjoy it and do absolutely nothing and we’ll catch you in the next week’s episode.'”
Brilliant. That sounds like a really good plan.
Thank you, Jason. Thank you, listeners. We’ll catch you on the next episode. Have a great week.
- Jason Barnard
- Twitter – Jason Barnard
- LinkedIn – Jason Barnard
- Facebook – Jason Barnard
- Youtube – Jason Barnard
- Knowledge Graph Explorer
- Boowa & Kwala
- The Art of SEO
- Tom and Jerry
- Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone
- SMX West
- Search Engine Land
- Rand Fishkin
- Duane Forrester
- Trond Lyngbø
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Add an element of consciousness into building Brand SERPs. My goal shouldn’t only be about being on the first page of Google but presenting the most reliable and valuable information to searchers.
Test and experiment to figure out the best results. Develop a keen eye in observing people’s psychology, so I know how to more effectively provide for their wants and needs.
Remember creating the first impression is crucial. A person’s attention span on the Internet only lasts for a few seconds. Make sure my Brand is easily remembered.
Present a story that people can relate to. Customers support who a business is more than what they sell.
Be patient in waiting for results. SEO is not a one and done type of strategy. It takes months to take effect, but organically making it on Google’s first page is the best thing I can do for my visibility.
Continue building authority and trust in my niche by creating high-quality content. Provide social proof and collect good reviews from my clients.
Keep updated with trends. Google has updates now and then. Being unaware of an update may affect my rankings or, worse, get my site a penalty.
Learn more about the knowledge graph. It is beneficial for extracting value by combining information from different sources, such as corporate silos.
Remain valuable, useful, and relevant. Be so good that Google considers my website the best source of information for a particular set of keywords.
Check out Jason Barnard’s website to access his white papers, conferences, webinars, and more.
About Jason Barnard
Jason Barnard is an author, speaker, and consultant on all things digital marketing – specialization = Brand SERPs (what appears when someone googles your brand name) and knowledge panels (triggering, correcting, and improving). Previously punk-folk musician and cartoon blue dog.