Keira Davidson (00:23):
Hello and welcome to The TechSEO Podcast, which is hosted by myself, Keira Davidson. I’m a senior SEO executive at SALT.
Keira Davidson (00:31):
This episode’s guest is Katherine, who is the owner of WA Strategies. It’s so great, you joining me today. I can’t wait to get into all the nitty gritty of migrations. How are you?
Katherine Watier Ong (00:45):
I’m good. Thanks for having me. This is going to be fun. I love chit chatting about SEO.
Keira Davidson (00:51):
Yeah. I can’t wait to get started. I think from what I’ve noticed so far, is that SEOs, their background differs from each individual. So, I’d be really intrigued to know how you got into the industry.
Katherine Watier Ong (01:07):
Yeah. So, I actually got started with marketing really early. It’s kind of odd, but I planned my first conference when I was 13.
Keira Davidson (01:15):
Katherine Watier Ong (01:15):
No joke. I negotiated with the hotel and 200 kids showed up for the first teen conference in the Mid coast Maine area. Anyway, I continued event planning through high school and started working on national and state conferences. And then I founded my first nonprofit, my only nonprofit, when I was 16. It’s called The Rainforest Challenge. So, I got press coverage from that and grant support and in-kind support. We became speakers at the first international Youth Environmental Summit in Loveland, Colorado. Anyway, so all that before I hit college. It was bonkers. Then in college, I actually got a job at a PR shop. I mean, I was still doing marketing stuff. Then in college I just lucked out. So, it’s 1994 and the college I went to had a build your own website class. There you go.
Keira Davidson Watier Ong (02:06):
Katherine Watier Ong (02:06):
Yeah. That was back when the exciting thing on the White House’s website is that Socks the cat would meow if you clicked on it. So it’s that era. There was no Dreamweaver or anything. We were uploading stuff via FTP. So yeah, early days of website. No, what’s weird is how long it took me to get to SEO. I studied social psychology in my undergrads. Really fascinated on how to persuade people, definitely marketing PR focused.
Katherine Watier Ong (02:33):
Then when I got to DC, still same thing. I went to start going to Georgetown for my master’s, but I’m still working full time in marketing type roles. So, I end up at the Points of Light Foundation because I was really involved in volunteer stuff, so I ended up there. I’m the director of marketing and sales for 1800volunteer.org, which is this, basically a home built CMS system and frankly, it wasn’t built to scale. It was built without a business requirements document, so there’s all sorts of issues. But anyway, I’m supposed to sell this thing because it’s a volunteer management system and underneath it are all these websites for these different volunteer centers around the country and ultimately the volunteer opportunity.
Katherine Watier Ong (03:15):
So envision it, it’s like a match.com for volunteers. So the opportunity which is, come to our shelter, volunteer with cats, whatever, in this certain geographic area. That is not posted by me, it’s posted by the shelter and the shelter works with the volunteer center. So multiple steps removed from the actual opportunity that needs to be optimized.
Keira Davidson (03:34):
Katherine Watier Ong (03:35):
So a lot of the people running the volunteer centers were actually, frankly, senior citizens. They’re three steps away from retirement or out of retirement, come back and run the volunteer center. So I started training grandmothers on SEO. So I joke because they were the ones who had to understand it enough to make sure that it wasn’t posted as a volunteer docent, and instead it was volunteer and museum guide like something somebody would Google, right? So that was part of the challenge.
Katherine Watier Ong (03:58):
The other part of the challenge there, and this is why I really got hooked on SEO, is I was really focused on the sales part because I had a quota. So here I am trying to sell this thing and not so much on the marketing part because that was sort of secondary. Well one day, because I told you this thing wasn’t built to scale, right? So the developer’s tinkering on the back end and I don’t know. We’d already lost this site once because the PR person at Points of Light decides that we should be announced at the end of Extreme Home Makeover. Like, “If you want to volunteer with families like this one, go to 1800volunteer.org.” It tanked, because it wasn’t ready for anything like that.
Katherine Watier Ong (04:33):
Anyway, so the CFO comes in and he goes, “Hey, we’re not on Google. Why are we not on Google?” I’m like, “Oh I have no idea.” Because my previous SEO experience was 10 HTML pages kind of website and here’s this home built, I don’t even know what platform it’s on kind of thing. So, luckily I didn’t panic, but I said, “I don’t know, because this is a level of site I’ve never worked on before, but you send me to SES Chicago-” This dates me, right? Because it’s not even a show that’s around anymore, and they had a nonprofit track.
Katherine Watier Ong (05:00):
I said, “You send me to the show, I’ll figure it out.” Okay, so fine. I go to the show and they had a live audit session, which they don’t do anymore, which is a bummer. But it was a live audit session, like 200 people in a ballroom, right? Who wants their site audited? I’m first up, I forget who was on the panel up front. I wish I could remember. They say, “Okay, well I noticed a couple things wrong with your site. One, you’ve got multiple redirects going on, including a meta refresh redirect.” Because it was a phone number too, you could call it. So we had the dash URL and the non-dash URL. So that was part of it. They’re like, “And so you’re redirecting like porn sites do.” I’m like, “Okay, it’s good to know.” Then they also said, “So there’s this little file called a robot text file. Tell the robot to go away.” I was like, “All right, good to know.”
Katherine Watier Ong (05:46):
Anyway, I spent five days just absorbing as much as possible around how to fix this website and I came back with a full plan, and then I got hooked. I don’t know why it took me that long. My mom gave me a Commodor 64 when I was 13, because I grew up in Maine in the deep winter, there’s nothing to do. This Commodor 64 back in the day, the only thing you could do with it is program. I don’t know if it was C+ or what, but she got us a programming book. My brother and I would spend forever- You can save by the way, and you would just write pages and pages and pages of code, and if you got it correct, the thing would make a sound. It would meow or moo like a cow or whatever. That was thrilling. So I mean, I was coding early, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t until I was mid-twenties that I finally found SEO.
Keira Davidson (06:29):
Wow. That’s crazy.
Katherine Watier Ong (06:31):
I know, and I’ve never gone back. I’m like, this is my jam.
Keira Davidson (06:37):
Of all the stories I’ve heard today, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone to fall into the industry at such a young age.
Katherine Watier Ong (06:44):
Yeah, right? Because I was- Well, yeah. I mean, I was coding when I was 13 for a hot second, coding again when I was 18, right? I built my first newsletter then too, because that’s when you could do that kind of thing. 18, 19, whenever that time was when I was going college. But yeah, I was in my, yeah, my mid twenties when I found SEO. Somewhat early in the industry for sure.
Keira Davidson (07:07):
That’s crazy. I still can’t can’t believe you were coding at 13. I’m trying to remember what I was doing. I was probably just watching TV or playing on my bike or something.
Katherine Watier Ong (07:15):
I know, but this is before global warming. So in Maine, the snow was deep and it’s multiple days. You’re stuck inside with nothing to do, so I just put it in context
Keira Davidson (07:28):
Still, really impressive. So can you still code today?
Katherine Watier Ong (07:31):
Oh no. No. So the funny part is, is that when I started my program at Georgetown- So anyway, I started my program at Georgetown. It’s a master’s. It’s a build your own master’s program. It’s called the Communications, Culture, and Technology program. I eventually turned it into marketing technology and using technology to market. So it’s like online marketing plus marketing with technology. I wrote a thesis about consumer adoption of wearable computers. It was actually the first study of that back in 2003. But I was taking all that out in loans and I thought, “My gosh, I’m going to have to make money to pay off this Georgetown degree. So what am I going to do to make money?” I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll be a webmaster. I coded before.” Anyway, that’s when I realized that I’m actually much more of a strategic person.
Katherine Watier Ong (08:14):
I’m very much big picture and when it comes down to that level of detail, that’s really tough for me. They offered a cold fusion class, because that was the only platform you could learn on. But I really thought that in order to be good at online marketing, I still do think this, I needed to understand how database driven websites work. Right? That’s cold fusion. If that was my only option, I guess it’s cold fusion. But anyway, because I was the graduate kid in that class, they didn’t give me a partner, because I was literally the only graduate person, all the other undergrads were paired up. So here they are building a database that pulls stuff through to the website, but you’ve got somebody to troubleshoot the code with you. Well they decided to make it more challenging for me and let me do it by myself. Cold fusion is awful because any little moment that you’ve missed some piece of punctuation or something, the whole thing doesn’t load.
Keira Davidson (09:01):
Katherine Watier Ong (09:02):
So painful. So painful. Anyway, that was my big eye opening moment where I’m like, “Yeah, I’m not a developer. I’m so not.” My brother can, my brother actually does. He does UX development, but not me. That’s not my mindset.
Keira Davidson (09:15):
That is so interesting. Such a really cool back story. That is definitely not what I expected. So I think let’s just get stuck in with the whole migration side of things. So I’m aware, we’ve just been previously talking and you’ve been doing like a really large scale migration. When you were coming to plan that, what were the key considerations in your mind that were needed prior to migrating?
Katherine Watier Ong (09:48):
Sure. Yeah. So this is actually, I was explaining, this is my first migration. Usually I come in after people have migrated. So I do a lot of traffic drop analysis or why do we not have the traffic we used to have? Kind of analysis and help us fix that. So that’s usually when people bring me in, but I do have this long term client that referred me to another client and they were migrating platform. So I’ve ended up working with a few associations that have academic journals.
Katherine Watier Ong (10:14):
So this is one of those and they were migrating from an old platform that’s not very SEO friendly and frankly, the developer’s not very nice. I don’t know how to say that much more delicately, but so they decide to move off that platform to a new platform that supposedly is more SEO friendly. But they have 18 different journals that they were migrating. 18, 17, 18, I think, and some of them have been publishing since the beginning part of the century and they’ve digitized it all. So I think we figured that the old site, because it had a really funky URL structure, lots of duplicate content, was around 7 million URLs and they migrated to about two and they have 30 million back links that we had to map. So I went from no migrations to that size of a site, just because I thought, “I’ve been in SEO for 17 years, I’m bored.”
Keira Davidson (11:11):
That was a big reason.
Katherine Watier Ong (11:13):
Let’s do something challenging. Yeah, I mean, part of it was that, but then the other part is that I’ve discovered this Tech SEO women’s Slack group and they’re super supportive. I thought, this is the first time in my career, and I’ve been in SEO for 17 years, this is the first time in my career that I feel like I have people that can help me. I’ve always been in-house, the only one or, I was at Ketchum running the online marketing analytics team there for five years. But again, I eventually brought on some other SEOs that could help me. But for a while it was just me and a bunch of junior kids I trained. So again, it was kind of just me. This time I feel like I had support. So I was like, “I think I can do this, and if I can’t do it, I’m sure somebody in that network could give me a hand when I need help with something.”
Keira Davidson (11:54):
Yeah, I definitely agree with you that the community that has been built is amazing. If you ever have any questions, or concerns, or just need a little pep talk, there’s always someone in the group that will help you out.
Katherine Watier Ong (12:07):
Yeah, it’s been really amazing. I did run into two moments where I got stuck, I didn’t really know what to do. At one point somebody literally hopped on the phone with me for an hour, because I had to get some quick memo back out to the client about something that was kind of anxiety producing and, yeah, she walked me through for free just to help me out. It was amazing. So I mean, I try to help other people out as much as I can in that group. Every day I scour for questions I can answer.
Keira Davidson (12:31):
Katherine Watier Ong (12:32):
Keira Davidson (12:35):
Areej has done an amazing job there, so I couldn’t congratulate her anymore. She’s done really good.
Katherine Watier Ong (12:42):
Yeah. So I mean with this migration, it’s a bit more challenging because I was still getting my feet wet with Google Scholar and how that interacts with Googlebot, because these are academic journals. I learned quite a bit over the last year about how that works, because as an SEO, you can’t meet with a Google Scholar rep. There’s very little published online. I’ve now published an article about the difference in case you’re curious, you can go to my website wostrategies.com and read it. It was quite a bit about that because the first web platform pushed back on a lot of the changes, because they’re like, “Well we have a Google friend.” Because they’re a Google Scholar partner, but I’m clearly seeing stuff that I know is causing problems in Google search console for Googlebot. So I’m like, eh.
Katherine Watier Ong (13:22):
A lot of these, I mean the scholar part’s important, don’t get me wrong, it’s very important for them. But the vast majority of their traffic is coming from big old Google, Google search. So you can’t do stuff with Scholar that’s going to bite your nose with Google search. That doesn’t make sense for these folks. They’re going to lose a lot of traffic. But the big thing that I’ve seen with a lot of these journals, because obviously I’ve done some competitive analysis too, so I’ve seen the two I’ve been working on plus a handful of other competitor ones and I’ve seen their back links and traffic patterns and that kind of thing. We know when some of them have also migrated and stuff. I just don’t think a lot of these platforms help them with 301 redirect mapping, because you can see when they move and how much traffic they lose, unfortunately.
Katherine Watier Ong (14:03):
Katherine Watier Ong (14:55):
It didn’t, we sorted it. I didn’t, but I was constantly checking that. We’re still trying to fix some stuff. The old platform had… It’s a platform basically on top of Drupal and I’ve worked on a bunch of federal websites, so I’m very familiar with Drupal. So the site map’s like what you would expect, it’s a plugin. But this new platform did not have XML site maps, so we’ve had to-
Keira Davidson (15:17):
Katherine Watier Ong (15:18):
Get them to implement that. Then there’s issues, it’s not quite as what we would like at this point. I don’t think it’s even auto updating. So anyway, we’re still working on some of those issues too. For a site with this many millions of URLs, the site map’s really going to help with discovery. Yeah. So those were the things that I was obsessed at. Then the scale of checking these redirects, obviously we’re doing patterns, but it’s a new platform and they searched through their database in order to pull the articles out. Then there’s different views per article depending on whether or not you’ve paid for it, it’s freely available, that kind of stuff. So the mapping was more challenging than I think I even expected.
Katherine Watier Ong (15:57):
We probably had 1300 root patterns, which we called sample URLs. Then I couldn’t check all 18 different sub domains for every single one of those patterns. So I ended up randomly pulling three or four articles per pattern. Then we finally got to a point where we just started pulling everything that wasn’t working and testing all of that. So on the next project, I would certainly start first with building a backlink database using BigQuery, which is what we ended up doing. But that was more near the end of the projects. Really bummer, because I would definitely do that at the beginning. Because then you can query with RegEx and some other things when you’re trying to look for specific patterns and see if they’re getting duplicated on a different sub domain.
Keira Davidson (16:40):
Wow. That is- Considering you’ve never done one before and you’ve just jumped into the deep end, that is crazy what you’ve ended up dealing with.
Katherine Watier Ong (16:51):
Well, I also got help. I mean, yes I’m solo, but I have a couple technical SEOs that can help me out when I just get too flooded with volume. But then I also knew with this project that I would need to crawl in the Cloud, which I’d never done before. I need to do BigQuery, that kind of stuff. So I actually have a friend who works on Big. His day job, or his day job used to be working with big hotel websites, but he’s more of a data analyst kind of person. He can code Python. So I brought him on board kind of part-time to help me with some of the more technical stuff from setting up BigQuery and some of the other stuff, and he tried some Python stuff for me.
Katherine Watier Ong (17:26):
But then I also have a Google analytics data analyst that I love who I’ve been working with. She actually never done BigQuery either, but she was at the point in her career where she was really excited about doing something big and she’s helped me with a bunch of the federal websites. So she’s already been working with sites that are half a million, maybe even a bigger, so she was ready for the next step too. So yeah, she helped me with a lot of that stuff. I wouldn’t say that I figured it all out myself. There’s only so much of me to go around, especially with a pandemic and two kids at home. It’s just like [inaudible 00:17:56]- At some point you get help.
Keira Davidson (17:59):
Yeah. I’m not surprised with what you were saying about this project. You’d have been spreading yourself very thin for sure.
Katherine Watier Ong (18:05):
I think it would’ve been impossible. Also, got to ramp up fast enough too. But, yeah.
Keira Davidson (18:12):
So Jeanette, you mentioned about obviously the backlinks being a main priority in trying to keep as many of those, how did you approach this?
Katherine Watier Ong (18:23):
Keeping the backlinks?
Keira Davidson (18:24):
Yeah, trying to. I can’t imagine on a scale of that large, it’s not like you can just reach out to the people, asking them to update it. Instead, I’m guessing you just basically redirected all the pages and tracked it that way.
Katherine Watier Ong (18:38):
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, so for this one, it’s a long story, but they also had some issues with some knowledge graph stuff in Wikipedia, because some of their journals were not listed in Wikipedia. They probably should be, and so I actually introduced them to the Wikipedia coach I work with. I was actually on- It’s the long story, but I was actually on a panel with Wikipedians about PR and Wikipedia back in the day. So I know some people that are legit, legit Wikipedia people. So they’ve been helping this client improve some of their Wikipedia pages. So some of those got updated manually or in the process of being updated manually, but everything else was a redirect.
Keira Davidson (19:18):
Oh, that’s cool. I’m surprised that you… I didn’t expect you to go down the route of doing some manual. I just thought it might have been too time consuming, but like you said, you did have some help there.
Katherine Watier Ong (19:29):
It was for knowledge graph purposes because for some of their journals, they’ve got a knowledge graph appearing and other ones they didn’t and they wanted to fix that. So that was the reason they were doing that. Now I have, when I launched healthit.gov when I was at Ketchum, that was also- It was actually a redesign, now that I talk about it. So I guess I was on board. They went from the Office of the National Coordinator, whatever page they were on, and we migrated that to healthit.gov, but healthit.gov was also this big campaign to get everyone in the U.S. using electronic health records. So it served a bigger purpose anyway. But we did manually actually outreach because it was a new government website, we needed to link build because everyone thinks that dot govs get some special treatment, they don’t.
Katherine Watier Ong (20:17):
But I knew we needed a link build. We were in the sandbox for six months. So one of the easiest ways, because we had to be very transparent about what we’re doing, because we’re doing federal work and there’s a bunch of bloggers who love to see if PR people at Ketchum are doing something not above board, believe me. So anyway we did, we outreached to previous webmasters who had linked to the old website and we took it as an opportunity to introduce them to this entire new campaign, right? And a new website. It was a kind of- Very manual mind you, I mean we used BuzzStream, but still pretty manual. But it generated more back links, because these old web masters who had linked to this old thing ages ago were like, “Oh look at this new thing.” Right? So they’d put that link back in place, the one to the homepage, but then they would link to other stuff too.
Keira Davidson (21:04):
Katherine Watier Ong (21:05):
So it actually really worked. So we did that and then we did other link building to build up links to the site and we strategically created content in different disease areas to outreach to different networks. So we’d interview a liver cancer person getting treatment who, where the electronic health record helped them or whatever. Then we’d outreached all of the liver cancer websites that talk about such things, right? As intro trying to get them to link to the story on healthit.gov, rinse and repeat for every disease group. So we did a bunch of that kind of stuff too to build links to that website back in the day.
Keira Davidson (21:42):
Oh wow. That’s really interesting. You also mentioned how traffic losses there, you’ve done plenty of them in your time and you’ve been there to sort of unpick migrations when they’ve gone wrong and try and recover performance. Do you have a set procedure, start the process or do you literally just get stuck in?
Katherine Watier Ong (22:10):
That’s a really good question. No, I mean, I think the first thing is really just taking a look at when the traffic drop happens and trying to get as much intel out of the client about whether or not they did something because oftentimes they did something, right?
Keira Davidson (22:20):
Katherine Watier Ong (22:20):
That’s the most obvious place to start. So one of the federal websites that I worked on, they came to me, I’ve had two that have come to me because they lost traffic. No, sorry, three. Threes federal websites have come to me because they lost traffic. So one, the traffic drop occurred about the- This is going to make you cringe [inaudible 00:22:43]. They decided to launch a beta version of their website on purpose, because they thought this was a good idea, not block it from Google search so people could look at it for six months,
Keira Davidson (22:54):
Six months? That is crazy.
Katherine Watier Ong (22:56):
Six months. So anyway, there’s that. Then I had another one that was actually a little more challenging. So I worked for a while with National Cancer Institute, and for them… So I knew the head of communications there because he worked with healthit.gov back in the day, and so he was somewhat SEO savvy. He was like, “I think we’re not paying as much attention to SEO as we should.” Which was accurate, because when they started with them, I said, “Okay, here’s your challenge, you have SEO’s driving-” Or I’m sorry, “Social media’s driving about 11% of your traffic. You have one person in-house and a team of six helping you with that. Your SEO traffic, organic traffic is driving 80, 85% of your traffic on a normal day or whatever, and you have nobody in-house managing that.”
Keira Davidson (23:38):
Katherine Watier Ong (23:39):
Or no agencies. I think there’s a problem here. Anyway, they’ve built up a little bit of a team, but for them it was more difficult to piece out what had happened because part of it was Google was starting to surface those symptom panels in search. So all of the basic questions about, “Do I have melanoma?” Were being surfaced right in Google search and they weren’t getting the clicks anymore.
Keira Davidson (23:59):
Katherine Watier Ong (23:59):
The other thing for them is that that space, especially now, it’s gotten very competitive. Google started to white label a lot of the other competitors and they’re out manned. So, I mean, I basically had to tell them you’re never going to rank for breast cancer because Medical News Today- WebMD turns out has been doing SEO since before Google. I did not know that, but that’s a long time that they’ve been doing SEO. Medical News Today’s got 113 people with SEO in their title, just epic amounts of manpower. They’ve been at it for longer and they’ve got a head start and they’re savvier. So some of these federal websites will get pushed out even though it’s the official national cancer- It doesn’t matter. It’s going to get pushed out if better content’s living somewhere else.
Katherine Watier Ong (24:43):
Keira Davidson (25:10):
Oh no. Was it left long before you were brought in or was it-
Katherine Watier Ong (25:13):
Yeah, I mean, so it was a simmering thing. What happened is that the developers met me at a show. I was speaking at a conference and they tracked me down because of my background in federal websites. They’re like, “The CIO’s upset because the design was supposed to improve traffic and it hasn’t. So we need you to take a look, basically.”
Keira Davidson (25:33):
Katherine Watier Ong (25:35):
But again, developers don’t, a lot of them still don’t know you need to 301 redirect and they have no clue how to test. You and I know that’s one of the biggest pieces of moving, the URL, the structure exactly as it is. I always explain to people it’s like a map pen and that 301 redirect is like a string from map pen a to map pen B, right? If you don’t have that string in between, you start all over. You start all over. I have a very- 17 years of being an SEO, I am obsessed about URL structures and patterns, right? Google is too, and it’s really painful. It’s the most painful part of the web migration I’ve decided. Absolutely. But it’s also the most critical.
Keira Davidson (26:12):
Yeah. I agree on that. If we accidentally miss something or mess something up, it could cause massive repercussions.
Katherine Watier Ong (26:20):
Oh my God. If you do an underscore versus a dash or something, or uppercase to lowercase, all of that is going to mess it up. So, yeah.
Keira Davidson (26:32):
Wow. You’ve definitely had some interesting projects there to deal with. I guess based on that, there’s no one fit approach that suits all. It’s all based on what that initial conversation with the team, whether any changes have been made or haven’t that kind of creates your path of investigating.
Katherine Watier Ong (26:56):
Yeah. Well, in some of them you can’t recover. So for one of the federal websites, when they did the redesign, their mission as an organization had changed. So that was part of the reason why they got rid of some of the content, top performing content. But if it’s not what they do anymore, okay. Right? Yeah, how can I argue with that? It’s not what you do anymore. Federally mandated, so you’re not going to get that traffic back because you don’t want to show up for that anymore. For some of the other ones… Yeah, especially on the federal level, I was just thinking about how there’s just a bucket load of red tape around what content they create and why.
Keira Davidson (27:38):
Yeah. I can imagine a big legal team to sign off.
Katherine Watier Ong (27:42):
Right? Then if Google comes after your launch with the symptom panel, you’re not getting that content back. You’re just not. What’s interesting for them, there’s a lot of other stuff that Google’s doing in the cancer space, which is also the interesting part. So I like to watch what Google is doing in their more, their labs, the more advanced stuff, because I think it overlaps. I also think Google over the years has gone into quite a few industries and ruined business models for websites, right? So if they happen to show any sign of doing that in your industry, you should be aware of it because you might have to pivot quite a bit. Like travel.
Keira Davidson (28:20):
Katherine Watier Ong (28:20):
Right? So yeah, and if Google’s how people are finding you, I mean, unless you have enough sway at the federal level, like the White House decides to sit down with Google and talk to them about it for your topic or something, I don’t know how you would, right? I don’t know how you’re going to compare.
Keira Davidson (28:39):
Yeah, there’s no way.
Katherine Watier Ong (28:42):
Right? You just have to pivot, you have to try to show up for-
Keira Davidson (28:45):
You don’t have a choice.
Katherine Watier Ong (28:47):
Possibly build your email list, which is what I tell all of these folks, because it’s usually not front and center. So you have an ongoing audience you keep talking to you that you don’t have to fight to have them find you again, right?
Keira Davidson (28:57):
Katherine Watier Ong (28:58):
So, I mean that’s part of it and also diversify, because usually they’re not focused on Bing. They’re not focused, I don’t know, on all the other places you could get traffic, they’re usually pretty singularly in one bucket, usually all in the Google bucket. I just think that’s risky.
Keira Davidson (29:14):
Yeah. That’s such a good point, actually. I’ve never thought about making sure to be almost considerate of Yandex or Baidu or anything like that. So that’s such a good thing that I should bear in mind for future.
Katherine Watier Ong (29:26):
Yeah. I mean for most of U.S. based ones, probably not those two, but definitely Bing. I mean I know Bing is a small percentage of search traffic, but it’s still a percentage and it still powers quite a few more voice responses than you would expect. Last time I looked at it, it was like 45% of the voice responses were actually powered by something in the Bing database. So it’s less of an underdog than you think. So depending on your industry, it would make a lot of sense to be focused on it harder though. Because man, Bing Webmaster Tools is just not as helpful. I was definitely trying to use some of those features in this last migration. I was like, “There is a reason.” The tools are not as helpful.
Keira Davidson (30:10):
They’ve even updated them not too long ago as well.
Katherine Watier Ong (30:13):
I know, but they don’t tell you. They don’t break out your server error issues at all in any sort of way that’s easy to export. It’s just not clear what’s going on. Sometimes they’ll show it to you in a line chart, but you can’t get to the raw data. I’m like, “Please give me the raw data.”
Keira Davidson (30:28):
Yeah, it makes such a difference being able to access that.
Katherine Watier Ong (30:31):
Yeah. I’m like, “Why even show it to me on a line chart if you can’t give me the raw data?” You’re just going to give me a panic attack and then I can’t do anything about it. It’s just dumb.
Keira Davidson (30:39):
That is literally what they’re doing, yeah.
Katherine Watier Ong (30:41):
Yeah, that’s literally what they’re doing. They’re like, “Oh, but see, look, we can’t even access something over here. Look at all these 404s and sever errors.” “Which ones?” “Oh, we’re not going to tell you which ones. Why would you want to know that?” Maybe so I can fix it. Anyway.
Keira Davidson (30:56):
Yeah. Wow. Yeah. At least we’ve got Search Console, which is good and helpful.
Katherine Watier Ong (31:01):
Yeah, and now it’s got some sort of log files in there too, which is super helpful since log files are kind of impossible to get out of most clients.
Keira Davidson (31:07):
Yeah. I think we’ve been waiting like six months for logs off log client at the moment.
Katherine Watier Ong (31:13):
Some of them, I can’t even get them. It’s really frustrating. Yeah, especially with the developers who you know that can’t check the logs themselves. So I’ve had clients where I can see access issues for instance, the intermittently bots are getting 403s. I’m like, “Just hand over the bloody log files and I can tell you what’s going on.” They’re like, “No, we can’t do that.” I’m like, “Well you don’t know how to do it, so just hand it over.” They don’t know, right? Let me help you.
Keira Davidson (31:45):
For example, if there has been a traffic loss, would you ask for the logs if you can get them just to see how search engines are interacting with the site?
Katherine Watier Ong (31:54):
Yeah, maybe. Some of the sites I’m on are kind of big, so I’d have to be strategic about what days I’m going to get logs from, because the files get huge. But yes, I use that for one of my clients and I noticed for instance, and this is usually what I tell people when they get log files, is that they were saying, “Everything is gravy. We look at the files, we look at the logs and it seems like the engines aren’t having any trouble.” Well, I start looking at the ones that are showing 200 status and they’re garbage junk URLs that should be showing 44 or miscoded server error or something. You’re like, “Well, that’s part of the problem. Of course it looks fine, because you’re only looking at the status.” But the actual URL’s blank, or it’s got some [inaudible 00:32:42] code in it or something. I’m like, “That’s a problem.”
Keira Davidson (32:44):
Yeah. So, to wrap things up let’s finish on, what would be your top three tips when approaching a migration?
Oh my God. So gather as many checklists as you can. I know I ran off of one, but I think in retrospect I would’ve gathered quite a few. The other one is trying to figure out who the players are to see if you can influence that at all. There was one part that it was kind of clear in this last migration that… I don’t know, the client just didn’t want me involved, but it actually turns out that was the one part that didn’t go so well. So maybe I should have dug a little bit more to know a little bit more about what those players were to maybe at least set expectations about how that might have been a weak spot when we came up to the migration. The folks dealing with the [inaudible 00:33:38] switch were a little… Yeah, that was where we had a little bit of trouble. So get to know the people.
Katherine Watier Ong (33:45):
Honestly with this, because of my experience with this one, I’m always now going to ask whether or not the developers are going to QA their own work. Are you going to QA your own redirects? If not, I need to obviously budget for a heck of a lot more time QAing your work, because you’re going to say it’s done, ship it over, and it’s not done. I mean, they weren’t even… It’s like one to one redirects. They’re not even executing correctly. Like A to B, that’s not executed correctly. I don’t know. I spelled it out for you. I don’t even know why it’s going haywire.
Katherine Watier Ong (34:15):
And I realize that these are like more complicated platforms. There’s coding involved in order to get the redirects in place. I get all that, but the SEO in me that built my first website in ’94 gets a little annoyed when I know with some of these, it’s a file you upload at the server level that literally you write out one to the next, you know what I mean? At the baseline, it could actually be executed that way. It could be very simple. I could literally do it for you, which I realize I can’t in this context so I try to be patient, but that is rattling around in the back of my head.
Katherine Watier Ong (34:48):
Like, “Maybe I’ll just write them all out in a text file.” Maybe we’ll get to the end result faster if I do it that way. But yeah, I would definitely ask about what is the process for particularly QAing redirects? Because we introduced this platform to Screaming Frog and it was cute. They tried to run it on their own machine for a hot second. They’re like, “It’s never finishing.” We’re like, “Of course it’s not going to finish on your own machine.” I’m crawling in Google Cloud, the client’s crawling in AWS. It’s just too big.
Keira Davidson (35:19):
I imagine that computer was going to take off.
Katherine Watier Ong (35:22):
I envision steam coming out of it. It was adorable that they were trying. They’ve never used it before, so of course they’re doing… We tinkered with the settings to get the most efficient crawl possible, because there’s a lot of garbage that could get picked up, that kind of thing. Of course that’s not what they’re doing. So it’s just like steams coming out of the machine. But the instructions for Screaming Frog to check redirects is not that complicated. So I’m still stumped as to why they couldn’t QA their own work since I know they eventually got a copy of Screaming Frog, but whatever. They didn’t, which was more work on our end.
Keira Davidson (36:00):
Yeah. At least you know now for future projects like the ones coming up to factor that in.
Katherine Watier Ong (36:05):
Yes, exactly. I can set expectations. It’s tough though, because you’re working with people that have never done migrations before. They’ve never done SEO before and here I’m telling them that the most important part that we should obsess about are these back links, because they’re high quality ones coming into high quality content, right? So we have to get most of these back links in place, that will be the success factor. It’s also going to be the most bloody painful thing you’ve ever done in your entire life. So that’s been really hard for me to sell through. I mean the current client that’s working with me, yeah, she’s got it for sure. But it’s just hard, because you’re like, I can’t tell you this is going to be fun for hours and hours and hours in the spreadsheet.
Keira Davidson (36:48):
But it’s got to be done.
Katherine Watier Ong (36:51):
It’s got to be done. It’s the most important part.
Keira Davidson (36:53):
I’m sure if they decided not to do them, they’d then be questioning you why performance had dropped or what’s gone so wrong.
Katherine Watier Ong (37:01):
Well, I mean, that’s where I sort of explain other sites that I’ve seen go through migrations that didn’t map and you can show them the reports and HRFs about how things got broken. You can sort of demonstrate some of that.
Keira Davidson (37:14):
Which probably helped your case.
Katherine Watier Ong (37:17):
Yeah, but I mean, it’s still really painful. I mean, I spent all summer in Spreadsheets I think, so did my client. There was thousands and thousands and thousands of redirects to check and then stuff would revert and stuff that you thought was fixed is now not fixed and just painful.
Keira Davidson (37:32):
Yeah. Not fun.
Katherine Watier Ong (37:33):
Not fun. So if anybody listening has this magical solution for [inaudible 00:37:40] redirects that’s not as painful, let me know.
Keira Davidson (37:46):
Yeah, I’d be really intrigued to know as well.
Katherine Watier Ong (37:49):
Yeah, because eyeballing at thousands and thousands- And some of the stuff I just couldn’t figure out a way to do a pattern. Just too complicated with the current situation, but-
Keira Davidson (37:58):
Katherine Watier Ong (37:59):
Keira Davidson (38:00):
It’s been great speaking with you today and I’ve definitely learned around some of the more interesting, intricate details when it comes to large scale migrations. So I really appreciate that. Thank you for joining me.
Katherine Watier Ong (38:16):
Oh, you’re welcome. This has been fun.
Keira Davidson (38:18):
Just to round things off, where are the best places that people can follow you, find you?
Katherine Watier Ong (38:25):
Sure. So my website is wostrategies.com and there you can check out my semi-daily SEO tips, which is actually an audio micro podcast. It’s also actually on Alexa flash briefing. If you’re an Alexa fiend. I also am on Twitter at kwatier, which is my maiden name. Find me on LinkedIn, and I also host a podcast myself called Digital Marketing Victories, where we focus on the soft skills that are required to actually sell through digital marketing strategies. So feel free to check that out too.
Keira Davidson (38:57):
That’s amazing. Yeah, thank you very much for providing those details. I’ll be sure to check out your sites.
Katherine Watier Ong (39:03):
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