Hi Lily, For those who do not know you. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and how you got into SEO?
Hi! I’m Lily Ray and I serve as the Senior SEO Director & Head of Organic Research at Amsive Digital, a digital marketing agency based in New York City.
I started doing SEO in 2010; although I was studying Politics and Spanish at NYU, I found a job posting for a job doing SEO and social media marketing and it sounded interesting to me. After a few months on the job, I quickly realized I had a knack for SEO and decided to pursue it as a career. Best decision I ever made! I moved into the SEO agency world a couple of years later and have been there ever since.
I’ve read that you are a DJ and a drummer. After heavy techno sets on the weekends, how do you manage to keep yourself fresh to dig into Google Patents and E-A-T the next day?
I’ve been living somewhat of a “double life” for as long as I can remember. I started playing drums when I was 6 and began playing in rock bands when I was about 12. I spent my high school years playing in rock bands in San Francisco at night, and trying to maintain straight A’s in honors classes during the day. That set me up for a life of balance, as a DJ, drummer and SEO. I love working and using my brain, but always need to let loose and enjoy music and dancing in my free time. Balance is everything.
You’ve been an SEO for over 12 years now. How do you keep being inspired and what keeps you motivated?
I’m lucky to have an incredible SEO team of 32+ people (and growing!) at Amsive Digital, all of whom are brilliant minds who challenge me, teach me new things, and inspire me to think differently about SEO. Learning from them and serving as a mentor for many of them is an honor for me and deeply fulfilling, professionally.
I used to be much more hands-on with tactical SEO work earlier in my career, but have been lucky to evolve my day-to-day role into doing more research about what Google is up to on a broader scale. This shift has kept the job really exciting for me.
Lily Ray and E-A-T are almost synonymous. At friends of Search, you are talking about it as well. What makes E-A-T so important for digital marketers, and SEO specifically?
In my honest and controversial opinion, any SEO who hasn’t jumped onto the E-A-T wave is not paying close enough attention to what Google has been up to in recent years. Google has clearly been trying to solve for what it means for individuals, brands, and websites to demonstrate expertise, authority and trust, as a way to improve the overall quality of its search results. We see the results of these efforts every day in our work, especially when Google rolls out broad core updates. E-A-T is a hard concept to grasp and even harder to optimize for, but understanding that it should serve as the backbone to all SEO activities is crucial. This is especially true for Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) sites.
In a lot of presentations about E-A-T, you evaluate winners versus losers in organic performance. Can you pinpoint some insights the winners have in common?
In previous years, I would have told you that the winning sites tend to double down on providing “transparency” signals to the user, such as who writes the content, which experts review it, their editorial process, why you should trust them, who they are, etc.
This is all still true, but I believe Google is becoming increasingly more sophisticated about identifying who the true experts and true authorities are. It’s not enough to just add E-A-T enhancements to the content or look for shortcuts; if the site doesn’t have a proven track record of demonstrating authority on the topic (in the form of robust, high-quality content, authoritative backlinks and depth of coverage), it will be very hard to compete across many categories.
Over the last years, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the way Google shows its organic results. Some examples are the prominent FAQ boxes, more local packs and for affiliate sites, it’s getting harder to get organic traffic because Google is showing product comparisons directly in the SERP. With these updates what’s your opinion on how websites should monitor their organic visibility?
It’s true that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to monitor changes with all the new SERP features, which seem to change almost every day! And given that Google Search Console doesn’t report back on all these features, it can be very confusing to get a good handle on how exactly your site is appearing in the search results.
I would strongly encourage all SEOs to use rank tracking tools that include screenshots of the SERP, such as Stat or SEMrush, and to track keywords from a variety of relevant locations and devices. It’s also very important to understand all the reporting metrics in Google Search Console, because they can often be confusing, even for advanced SEOs.
You are mentioning in one of your talks that when websites focus on a lot of different categories it is harder to build authority for all those categories. Do you see a chance for niche websites to gain more organic visibility when they are focussing on E-A-T?
Yes, I do think this is a trend that is growing and one worth paying attention to. That said, it’s not enough to just build a “niche site.” The site has to be built with real expertise, not just re-hashing what everyone else has already said on the topic. Google seems to be rewarding sites who focus in one area, or a closely related set of topics, and demonstrate first-person expertise in these areas with original ideas.
E-A-T is especially important for YMYL websites. How does Google check if an author is actually an expert or that the article is evidence-based?
I believe that Google has been doing this for a long time, starting with Author Rank and moving into the Knowledge Graph. Google is trying to identify all the relevant entities in the world and evaluate E-A-T on the entity level. Google obviously can’t know every single author and certainly doesn’t have all of them included in the Knowledge Graph, but there is evidence showing that Google can still recognize entities outside of the Knowledge Graph, such as in the “Articles” carousel.
Authors should focus on building out a robust profile for themselves and provide quality content on the topics where they have proven expertise. Sourcing other authoritative sites is always a good practice, as well.
What are the challenges for us SEO’s in the coming years?
Google continues to roll out SERP features that cut into organic traffic, which has always been somewhat of an existential threat to SEO. Also, as Google gets smarter with looking for information in different formats and different languages, this makes it even more competitive for your content to rise the top. It’s important to make your brand and your content as visible as possible not only across search, but with video, audio, podcast, multilingual content, and any other medium that makes sense for your business.
Is there any chance you are dropping a set in the Amsterdam nightlife scene any time soon?
I would love nothing more! Let’s make it happen.
Lily Ray will be speaking at Friends of Search 2022 on June 14 (Amsterdam) and 15 (Brussels).