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Australian Search Marketing Academy: How Gutenberg Blocks are Fundamental to Your WordPress SEO




Peter: Welcome to the Australian Search Marketing Academy. I've been really looking forward to this webinar with Jason and to get his brilliant insights into how Gutenberg blocks are fundamental to your WordPress SEO. 

With over two decades of experience, beginning in 1998, Jason is a well known and well-respected marketing consultant, speaker, author, and the host of SEOisAEO podcast. Jason has now become a full-time, 100% digital nomad. Speaking at conferences around the world, and interviewing industry experts, all the more for our benefit. Welcome, Jason. What is hot in SEO for you right now? What's going on?

Jason: Thank you, Peter. Entities is what's hot. Knowing what entities are, building Google's understanding through entities and relationships through entities, that's really hot. But hotter today is blocks. 

I was at a TYPO3 event last week in Holland, and TYPO3 apparently have always used blocks. So for them, when I mentioned blocks, they said, "This is really obvious. This is something we've been doing since the beginning." Whereas WordPress is now just coming into blocks. 

Peter: Well, that's interesting, isn't it? 35% of the internet using WordPress, so 35% of the internet is catching up on Gutenberg or blocks. But I mean, of course, Gutenberg's the thing that makes blocks happen, right?

Jason: And 14% of the web actually use Yoast. I'm going to mention Yoast later on because they're really helping with this idea of blocks. They're really building on this idea of blocks. 

Peter: Okay. Why should we care if we're search marketers? All we care about is traffic and getting conversions and increasing website visibility in Google. What have you got for us to help us understand all of this, Jason?

How Google Wants its Search Engine to Work

Jason: I've got an explanation of what Google's problem is. Anybody who's kind of thinking, "Oh, Gutenberg, I don't really like it. Maybe I can ignore it," you're making a big mistake. You can't ignore it. You won't be able to ignore it for very long. Blocks are fundamental, if I may say.


What I'm going to present is this idea of what's Google's aim? I mean, understanding its aim is fundamental towards doing our job. As you rightly said, attracting that traffic that's going to get us the sales. 

We want to make Google happy, so it will send us traffic. I think we often forget that when Google sends us traffic, it's sending us its clients. The people it sends over to us are not our clients to start with, they're Google's clients, and Google is trying to satisfy them. 

Google needs empathy for its clients, we need empathy for Google. Once we have that, we can obviously then have empathy for the people it sends to us, who are going to be our clients. That initial question is understanding Google's problem, and then once we've understood that, we can help it to solve its problem. I call that digesting and delivering.


Peter: But, of course, the problem that we often have when it comes to anything SEO-related is, no matter how simple you make it, there seems to be, still, work involved. Right?

Jason: It does take quite a lot of work, but Gutenberg actually lifts a lot of the load from us. I think we need to bear that in mind that however simple, as you rightly say, it's never easy. It always requires work. Thankfully, Gutenberg relieves us of some of that work.

The question, what is Google's aim? Google's aim, in the Hummingbird world, is to answer the user's question or solve their problem quickly, optimally. I like the idea of answer engines, that's why I called my podcast series SEOisAEO.

There are answers to questions, which is basically the solution to a problem. Its aim is to bring that solution as quickly and as optimally as possible to its users. The user asks a question, Google wants to give it an answer that is qualitative.

What is Google's problem in trying to do that? Its problem is understanding. Evaluating credibility and what I would call deliverability, i.e. delivering the result to the user in a format that is relevant to the user in the context of which they find themselves.


The first thing you need to do is understand the available solutions. The worldwide web is the biggest ever database and it contains a phenomenal amount of knowledge. The problem that Google is going to have over time is not collecting the data, the HTML, or the content, because that's really easy. It's got a robot, it goes around. It's been doing that since 1998. It just collects the HTML, pulls it in, sticks it in a database. 

Its problem is extracting understanding. One would imagine when we read a page, we find this very easy. We look at this, for example, and we can see that Leonardo da Vinci is related to Italy. He's related to Michelangelo and the Mona Lisa. He painted the Mona Lisa. He comes from Italy. He lived in Italy. 

We find that very easy to understand. Google doesn't. Not because it's stupid. It's really tough because the web is an incredibly disorganized mess. 


I think we tend to see the web as kind of organized, but it isn't. We see it clearly, because the designers are terribly clever, we see the information and we can analyze and digest it very easily. We forget that behind it, Google needs to read the HTML to be able to understand it and we as human beings tend to be terribly disorganized. 

Second problem that Google has, is delivering the solution. Delivering blue links was really easy. I mean, if you think about it, all it's doing is putting out the meta title, the meta description, and putting it on the page. We click on it, we go to the page, and then the user deals with what's in the page. We land on the page, we read it and we can find the content we're interested in.

Peter: Now we're dealing with SERP features.

Jason: Exactly.

Peter: And all kinds of rich kind of search results. Yeah, it's a different world. 

Jason: Yeah, and isn't that brilliant? I mean actually, as users of Google, this makes us happy. As site owners, it makes us unhappy because Google isn't sending the clicks anymore. 

Google's problem is it wants to deliver this multimedia content because as users of Google, that's what we want. We want the answer quickly. We want it on the SERP. As site owners, obviously we don't. We prefer the blue links because it sends traffic. 


I think it's important to remember that we're not going to change this as site owners. Perhaps if we said to ourselves, "As a user, I prefer this," then maybe we can better work with what Google's trying to do, and what Google's going to do, whether we like it or not. We need to adapt to this world because we need to help Google. 

How Gutenberg Blocks Help You Provide Answers to Search Queries

Google wants to deliver the answer on the SERP as quickly as possible. Except, of course, for sales. I think that's important, is Google will still send us traffic when it's time to buy, or when it's trying to get longer information, long-form content. But other than that, you're saying, "Well, if it can give the result on a SERP, it will give the result on the SERP and we need to help it." 

Jono Alderson from Yoast talks about blocks. If you want one of the smartest people in SEO, and you've had him on the show a couple of times, I would think. 

If we look at the web, blocks is a really, really lovely way of seeing the web, understanding the web. The worldwide web is a set of blocks, and those blocks are websites. As you said earlier on, 36% of them are WordPress. 

The world wide web is full of websites. Those websites are blocks. Each and every website is a block. We go in and we've got categories. Those are blocks as well. Within the website, which is within the worldwide web, we have blocks that are categories, and within those categories, we have blocks that are pages. 


Up until now, Google's been delivering pages or links to pages. When we look inside the page, if anybody knows HTML5, semantic HTML5, those are blocks too. If you look at that, that makes a lot of sense to us as human beings. We have the header, we have the footer, we have the aside. It makes sense to us visually. We can see that, and we can understand it at a glance. 

Google can't. It doesn't see that in the same way we do. It has to analyze it. Semantic HTML5 will divide the page into blocks so that Google understands which part is the header, which part is the footer, which part is an aside, which is information that's related to the main content but isn't necessary to show or to understand the main content. And then the main content, which is the article. 


With semantic HTML5, that article is identified very clearly to the machine, which makes it easier for it to understand and digest. Within that article, we have other blocks. Here we're looking at blocks within blocks, within blocks within blocks, within blocks within blocks.

Those blocks are H2s with subtopics underneath the H1. You've got the H1 that gives the main topic. Subtopic is an H2 with a paragraph. That's a block. Then another subtopic with a paragraph. That's a block. Within that, we have an H3, sub-subtopic of subtopic two. 


If you look at it that way, the web becomes very easy to visualize in our minds as human beings. It's very logical, which is what you said earlier on. For a machine, it's very easy to understand, for that machine, which part it can use. Which part it can extract in order to give it to the user, and we'll see that in a moment. 

Gutenberg forces us to make those sub-blocks, those H2s and H3s, properly. I think a lot of us when we're designing, we look at it and we'll do it visually. We'll choose the H2 and the H3 visually instead of semantically. Now semantically would mean that we have this block-within-block structure. 

Semantics are very, very important for Google. I've seen many, many clients where they go straight from... H1 to an H3 because it looks prettier. We're not talking here about design, we're talking about organization. If you organize correctly, Google can digest it better.

It's organizing and structuring so that other people can follow. Other people can understand. Other people can digest very easily. 

Now, here we've got the H2 with a paragraph and we can see the paragraph in and ordered list and a figure. Gutenberg forces us to organize like that. It doesn't allow us not to organize in blocks. 


Some people think, "Oh, I don't really like Gutenberg," and I think it's because it forces them to organize themselves. When we get something that forces us to organize ourselves, we get frustrated because it's a bit slower, perhaps? But that organization is what's going to make Google properly understand.

Here we have all the different blocks that Gutenberg allows us to use. My first reaction to Gutenberg was it's quite limited. In fact, it isn't. When we look at that, that's what we've got today. That's already quite a lot. There's, in fact, more than that but I couldn't fit it on the page. There's much more coming. 

Gutenberg gives us enormous possibilities to actually organize our content in blocks and still keep a decent design. The fact that we're organizing our content in blocks does not mean that it's presented in a boring block-like manner. Designers can work around that. The design becomes separated from the organization of the content itself. 


When we see a block, we don't need to think that's going to look blocky and boring. The designers can make it look really interesting. The next stage is helping Google to digest. Google needs to digest and blocks facilitate ingestion. Ingestion meaning actually taking the food in.


If we come back to this: understanding, credibility, and deliverability. That's what Google wants. It wants to understand. It wants to analyze and evaluate are we credible? If it's understood that we have the answer or the solution for its user, it then needs to understand are we the most credible solution? If it's decided are we the most credible solution, it has to decide are we deliverable in the context the user finds itself. 

Before, with the 10 blue links, we're all deliverable in the same manner. We're not all deliverable in the same manner today because we've gone multimedia.

Coming back to this idea of understanding, Google needs to understand that you have the solution in order to present it to its users. 

Gutenberg helps Google to ingest because it's organizing things in what I used to call chunks. We've got this thing called GID, which is an absolute rubbish acronym, but I'm going to use anyway. Gather, ingest, digest. That's what Google's looking to do. 

Help Google to deliver. This is the deliverability. Blocks facilitate that delivery. We have understanding, we have credibility, and we have deliverability. What is deliverability? Deliverability is the capacity for Google to be able to give the content to the user in the format that is relevant to their query in their context.


That, today, is not just blue links. It's also video. Images. Could be the answer box. It could be a table. For me, that's a deliverability factor. I wanted to remind everybody of how rich the SERPs have become. 

In terms of content, and this is a slight aside, we should really be looking at it thinking, "What multimedia elements can I give Google that will be relevant to the user in the context of the query they have made?" We're looking at a content strategy, which is now multimedia and not just writing blog posts. 

Google SERPs have gone multimedia, and in order to deliver, it needs blocks. We're coming back to the blocks. Blocks help understand. They help the ingestion and the digestion. They also help with the delivery. 

If you think an H2, a heading, you can see that as a handle with the paragraph being the fragment of content. I have this image in my mind when Cindy Krum talks about that of Google reaching into your content, you can't actually see my arm, reaching into the content like that, grabbing a handle, pulling it out, and putting it on the SERP. 

If you use that imagery in your mind, Gutenberg makes total sense because it's creating these fragments with handles. It's creating fraggles, as Cindy Krum would say, to be able to simply pull the content out, put it on the SERP. 

Are Gutenberg Blocks Necessary to Deliver Rich Search Results?

Peter: Can I jump in here with an interject with a question from one of our viewers regarding what you're talking about? I'll just read it out. “Jason, how do you see Gutenberg blocks doing a better job at giving featured snippets, FAQ, and Q&As SERP results than the blocks used in HTML5?”

Jason: Okay. Well, Gutenberg blocks will facilitate getting them. They're not necessary for getting them, but they definitely facilitate. In some cases, for example, we're talking about FAQ and Q&A, a Gutenberg block won't be necessary. 

We'll see later on how Yoast is providing the Schema markup behind the Gutenberg blocks, which allows you to get the Q&A in the SERPs.

I think the idea that blocks are unnecessary is true, but they definitely facilitate. They definitely allow Google... once again to reach in, pull the content out and plonk it onto the SERP. 

People are saying, "Ooh, that's really wrong because then I don't get the visit." Yoast doesn't have the visit here, but it's definitely got some lovely branding going. If we use the SERPs to brand ourselves (and I would like to say the website that we have is a representation of a brand that we control). The SERPs are also a representation of our brand that we control partially. We can control them partially using these blocks.

As you can see, Google doesn't just pull videos from YouTube. We tend to think it does, but here we've got a video being pulled directly from Yoast. I also know Anton Shulke from SEMrush; if you type his name, his videos come up, and they're all on Twitter. 

Facebook has the problem that there's so much content out there that Google has trouble crawling it all. LinkedIn has the problem that Google can't crawl very many pages. It gets blocked because it can't log in. Twitter, however, has this direct feed into Google, which means that videos on Twitter are actually pretty easy to get up onto these video blocks. My two favorite targets for videos would be YouTube and Twitter.

You can use these Gutenberg blocks, and I would assume Yoast is using those Gutenberg blocks to get up there. I don't think Yoast would be getting up there if they weren't using the Gutenberg blocks. 

This one, pulling out a block of information from Amazon. That isn't Gutenberg, but I like this example because you've got Bose headphones at $33,900. In fact, it's $339. But because Amazon haven't put a dot between the 339 and the two zeros, and it was just formatted so that the two zeros were small and the 339 was big, Google took it to be one number. It didn't see the span as changing the meaning of the text itself. 

This is a very good example of design. We have 339 big, and the two zeros tiny. Design against clarity and understanding. The design has taken over the clarity and understanding for Google here and it's gone $33,900. That's a fair price for a pair of Bose headphones. 

Peter: Who's wrong in this case, Jason? Amazon or Google?

Jason: Amazon. 100% Amazon. They should've put a dot between the two. Google takes what you give it, so I'm going to criticize Amazon and say you got it wrong. This is an example of Google tries to interpret, but if you don't help it, and that's what we're talking about if you remember earlier, if we don't help it, it's always going to have trouble. Help it as much as you possibly can. Organize everything in blocks. 

Wikipedia is a great example. If you want to know how blocks could function, look through Wikipedia. You'll see that everything is in blocks and everything is incredibly well organized. 

Then you've got images for blocks. Once again, Google pulling out these images and putting them into the SERP very easily because they're organized in blocks. Because they have got the HTML tag, around them. 

Jono Alderson from Yoast...he's writing the book of how to write Schema. What's very interesting about that is Google have invested in WordPress on pretty much every front except Schema. Why haven't they invested in Schema? Because Jono and Yoast are doing the Schema for them. 

Basically, I now tell my clients who don't use WordPress, if you want to write Schema, install a copy of WordPress, use Yoast Schema, and use that as the template for writing your Schema. Because whatever happens now, if 36% of the web is WordPress and 14% of the web is Yoast, Yoast are writing the book on how to write Schema.

Follow Jono, follow Yoast. Use them as your template. If you've got your Gutenberg blocks installed, you can actually use them directly through Yoast. At the moment they've got only a how-to and an FAQ, but you need to remember as well that other plugins are now hooking into their system to write their Schema. 

All Schema markup in WordPress should now be going through the Yoast plugin. In my opinion. Obviously, I'm terribly biased because I think they're great. 


We're almost there, we're almost finished. The conclusion is that for understanding, the understanding part of understanding credibility and deliverability, think in blocks. You help Google ingest and digest the information that you're trying to give it. You help it understand so it can understand that you have the correct solution.

Peter: Wow. Terrific. 

Using Multiple H1s on a Page

A question here from Simon Cox, and I'll just... Perhaps this might go into a bit of a discussion, too, here. HTML5 allows the use of multiple H1s on a single URL. How does Gutenberg do this? And how does Google understand multiple H1s in a URL? 

Jason: Well, personally I wouldn't use multiple H1s. Sorry, Simon. For simplicity's sake. Especially with Gutenberg or WordPress, the title of the page is the H1. I generally would not do it because I don't think it's helpful to anybody. Using an h1 and then saying, "Okay everything else is a subtopic." If you don't have one overall, overriding topic on your page, perhaps you should be creating a second page? What do you think, Peter?

Peter: I mean, I still go back to... I guess we're in a new world with blocks, with Gutenberg, with HTML5. Everything is new, but you're still looking at how to organize information and how to retrieve information. And so, to me, I'm still feeling like we're using a library system here. If we're organizing, we just really want to have one main heading, I guess.

To me, using more than one h1 on a page would be the same thing as giving a chapter of a book two chapter titles. Not sure how it would work. 

Jason: I would tend to agree with that. Technically, you can use multiple H1s. In truth, I think it's confusing for everybody. For anybody who isn't incredibly experienced in web development, I would suggest stick to one H1. You got one H1, then everything else is an H2. 

Schema Markup and Rich SERP Features

Peter: Thank you for that question, Simon. We've got another question here, which is, again, by Hill Web Creations LLC. Do you think that the video Schema contributes to videos showing up, or more the impact from blocks? 

Jason: Ooh, that's a tricky one. I think whether or not Schema contributes to being a rich element in the page is a big debate. 

I suspect that Schema markup does contribute. There are certainly some elements that you cannot get without Schema markup. I think we can safely assume that Schema markup does contribute. 

If you know about the European law for publishers aiming at protecting publishers, saying that Google... Oh, Google have introduced since the Search Console now, an opt-in, opt-out for can they show content from your page in the search. That was the European Union trying to protect publishers. 

What Google have may have said is that if you use Schema markup, you are explicitly telling them they can use that content in their search. Which means Google are now saying by default, not for everybody, basically by default, they can use anyone's content. You get the option to opt-in to this protection idea. Everybody has this option now within Search Console. If you opt-in, you need to markup the content you want Google to show in the search. 

We're moving towards a world where Google is saying, "Schema markup explicitly tells me I can use this content in the SERP for my users." I would say Schema markup, perhaps thanks to this European law, is now becoming the bedrock, as in the Flintstones bedrock, of what Google can and cannot show in the search, or will or won't show in the search. We're not there yet, certainly, but I think if you're not putting Schema markup into your pages, you're getting left behind.

Switching a WordPress Site to Gutenberg

Peter: Wow. Yes. That's a very daunting prospect for people who are still catching up, I guess. I mean, if we want traffic to our site, we need to be doing lots of work to get all this kind of work done. Right? What do you say for maybe a small business? Or perhaps a smaller blogging site? Or even bricks and mortar business who's trying to compete? Just the manpower required, what can we do? What can these businesses do? 

Jason: Well, one thing I think is a real pity is that anybody who can't just switch to Gutenberg has had their site developed outside the core of WordPress. Because all Gutenberg does is replace the traditional text editor. The idea that Gutenberg is this incredibly complicated beast is, in theory, false. The problem becomes when the developers who have made your site have not stuck to the core ideas behind WordPress. 

Theoretically, you should just be able to swap out the core edit and put in Gutenberg, and the content should still be there. If that isn't the case, go back to your developer.

I mean, the other thing, as well, you've got to remember all this data is in a database, as the name implies. In fact, theoretically, the developer could actually write a script that can just convert all this. You don't need to do it by hand. Perhaps, as a smaller business, you could find a developer who is capable of doing that. 

If you think of in terms of blocks once again, if your post is in the visual text editor and it's in a kind of messy HTML chunks, then you start to understand why Google's having so much trouble understanding and extracting this information to digest it correctly. It finds it very difficult to do it on a site-by-site basis. 

But if your developer goes in and sorts it out for Google, and sticks it into Gutenberg, it all becomes terribly standardized, and you're helping Google. Unfortunately, if you don't help Google today, Google will no longer help you.

Peter: Okay. Well, that leads me onto another question here from Candice DeVille. “What are your thoughts on re-engineering an entire site content in Gutenberg? Especially if we're talking hundreds of pages of posts. Where would you draw the line?” 

Maybe some people have thousands of posts. I'm not sure. Do we pay someone? Do someone sit down and spend hours and hours, I guess, going into Gutenberg and doing all the layouts? The formatting? What do we do, Jason? 

Jason: I switched my site to Gutenberg to see how it would work and I realized that I hadn't organized the content as well as I thought I had. It gave me a bit of a slap in the face and taught me a bit of a lesson, which isn't a bad thing. I felt a little bit embarrassed, but then I switched to Orca. I've only got 10 or 11 pages, so it's not a big, big deal. I did it in a morning. You mentioned design. The design is something else. The design is the CSS.

In fact, the design and the organization are two very separate things. All Gutenberg is doing is organizing the content. It isn't to do with design. You need to look at your CSS to get the design right. Look at Gutenberg to organize your content correctly so that Google can correctly both ingest it and deliver it. If you've got thousands and thousands of pages, then you need to pay a developer to write a script to do it automatically. 

There is that problem, as well, is even if you get somebody to do it automatically, you still have to go through and check the whole thing. 

We have to move forward with this because that's where the world is going. That's where WordPress is going. Google is investing in WordPress for a reason, because it's trying to make its life easier.

Oh, the other thing is Bing have introduced an API that you can actually inject the pages. You can submit your pages so they're indexed immediately. Google also had the same thing. But that's coming. Cindy Krum, our fraggles friend as it were, is now obsessed by an API to inject individual chunks, blocks, or fraggles of content into Google. If you ever want to do that, you have to organize in blocks, fraggles, or chunks, which means you have to use Gutenberg.


Peter: How about if we have previously been pretty good with our HTML layouts before? You know, going back to the old days of the tiny MCE. And if we were using H1s, H2s, H3s, ordered lists, numbered lists, captions, titles, all kinds of things? If we were doing all the HTML the right way, how much easier is this going to be for us switching over to Gutenberg?

Jason: I think if you're already organizing your content well, if you already organized it well, the switch should be relatively simple. I organized it reasonably well and my switch was pretty simple. But it did, as I said, give me a slap in the face for some things that I hadn't done as clearly as I thought I'd done it. 

If you've organized yourself well, this switch shouldn't be too difficult. If you've organized yourself perfectly, you should just be able to switch yourself from one to the other and there should be no problems at all. 

Install a dev version of your site. A development version, a development platform. Play around with it. See what happens. If it breaks it terribly then you're going to need to call a developer. If it doesn't look too bad, you can do it on your own. Don't do it on your live site. 

Peter: Any last words? What about a takeaway for us? What's the takeaway that everyone can go away and implement today? 

Jason: You have to think in blocks. You have to think in multimedia. You have to make your content varied. You have to make sure that it's deliverable, i.e. that it's the most relevant format for the user in the context they find themselves. Whether it be video, image, blue link, feature snippet, carousel, list, table. 

Peter: Okay. So, it's evolve or die. Thank you so much, Jason. 

Jason: Thank you very much, Peter. That was absolutely, gloriously lovely. 

Peter: Thanks to everyone. See you later.

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