Sci-Fi & Reality Converge: Interview with Gianluca Fiorelli

50 Minute Read | Interviews

A self-confessed sci-fi lover and film buff, and with a passion for semantics and philology, Gianluca Fiorelli has an incredibly interesting way of looking at the world of inbound marketing.

Starting his career working in the TV industry, it was a fortunate transference into the web department that led Gianluca to discover his love for all things SEO. After building up his knowledge, and starting his consultancy company ‘ILoveSEO’, Gianluca has become one of the Moz community’s most respected SEO consultant, web strategist and inbound marketer. He also founded ‘The Inbounder’ conferences, as a way for leaders in the field to share the latest knowledge and industry insights.

Just a heads up… you may want to watch some of those sci-fi classics after reading this one…

Woj: So, we’re talking to Gianluca Fiorelli. Is that pronounced correctly?

Gianluca: Yeah, that’s perfect.

Woj: One of the world’s leading experts in international SEO and one of the few SEO consultants recommended by Moz. But I have a feeling we’re going to end up talking about movies too. Prior to becoming a Moz associate, SEO consultant and all around inbound marketing expert.. [coughs]… I had a fry in my throat.

Gianluca: We are eating fries.

Woj: We are eating fries.

Gianluca: So, excuse us.

Gianluca Fiorelli

Woj: That’s right. So, prior to becoming a Moz associate, SEO consultant and all around inbound marketing expert, Gianluca was in charge of programming for Digicast Cineclassics Channel. He recently put on an inbound marketing conference called “The Inbounder” located in Valencia, Spain and he also spoke at event that co-organized with Sha Menz in Adelaide called “Big Digital“.

I saw him speak at MozCon last year about unusual sources for keywords and topical research. He now joins me here in sunny Seattle again.

Hola Gianluca, la bienvenida a Seattle.

Gianluca: Wow. Thank you.

Woj: My Spanish is limited. I learnt a little bit up to year ten.

Gianluca: Yes.

Woj: So, I know colours and some of the basics.

Gianluca: Okay. Blanco, rojo…

Woj: I know that song.

Gianluca: That would be fun for you to come to Spain. You would be better than many other British tourists coming in.

Woj: Yeah. I actually enjoyed the Spanish language. I enjoyed learning all the basics. I wish I’d continued, but it wasn’t my path.

Gianluca: Well, you can do it as a hobby. Spanish is a very old language and it’s really a spoken language. So, if you know English and you know Spanish, you are able to go almost everywhere in the world.

Woj: Let’s go back to the beginning. Well, first, actually, how many MozCons have you been to?

Gianluca: This is my sixth MozCon. I started in 2011, I think was my first one. It was one of the first MozCons and it was still at the Westin.

Woj: So, you’ve seen the whole evolution.

Gianluca: Somehow, yes. I didn’t see the first one. I think Rand Fishkin was telling me about the story of MozCon. It was somehow a sort of semi-Moz SEO seminar or something, and it was almost just him talking all the time.

Woj: Yeah.

Gianluca: I wasn’t a witness of that early stage of MozCon, but yes. I think I live MozCon to MozCon. So, an evolution from a little interesting, really SEO-centered conference, to something bigger.

Woj: So, I’ve seen you very active in the Moz community and I guess how would you describe that community in terms of what it’s done for your career.

Gianluca: I think the Moz community for me was really essential to my growth, both as an SEO professional and also for being known by people all around the world. It wasn’t something intentional.

Sometimes you see people targeting a blog or targeting a follow because they know it’s really important. So, the good rule of personal branding is you have to be where the people are. So, to start, for me it was just really something more basic. Then came a time… it was 2007.

Woj: How big was the community then?

Gianluca: It wasn’t so big. But it was really active. Somehow also because I’m starting to be an old guy. So, I’m starting to be the one where everything in the past was better than everything in the present. But it was that feeling where it was somehow more active than now. And it was a really good core class, because it was kind of what people right now are considering the stars.

Woj: The superstars.

Gianluca: Richard Baxter, for instance.

As many of us do, I was a silent community member the first time. The first year because I’m not… okay, if I start saying something, maybe I say something really stupid, because at that time I was doing SEO but I was learning. I was really young, in spite of my age, I was still a young SEO.

I knew the Moz community, SEOmoz. That’s only because I was searching for information about SEO. So, I think I came across the really famous “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” by Moz. I think many people kind of discovered Moz because of that guide. So, I started reading. Then after I started commenting, but I started commenting too much.

Woj: That was the original content marketing, really.

Gianluca: No.

Woj: I mean what that guide did was a good example of some original content marketing. It built a community from it.

Gianluca: Yeah. I don’t think that Rand and Moz consider the guide as a content marketing.

Woj: Like it wasn’t planned.

Gianluca: I think if they did, it was in the spirit of Moz. And also because at the time you remember, one of the keyword was “link bait.” So, it was a really good link bait campaign.

Woj: Yes. That’s true. So, let’s go back to the beginning. What’s your first memory of the internet?

Gianluca: My first memory of the internet is I was already a grown up guy. I was in my 20s, and I remember the BBC, the first chats.

Woj: Did you every play any MUDs, multi-user dimension games?

Gianluca: Yeah. Yes. I remember I started with that around… it was something, 1993, something. This was the first time that the internet was something… started being more mainstream and not just academic.

Woj: Yeah.

Gianluca: So, I remember the classic CD-ROMs with all the software.

Woj: Oh yeah, multimedia.

Gianluca: Connect via modem. I remember all these companies which were also… some of them were also the first search engines in Italy, like Libero, Alice, Virgilio, and they were also the first search engine.

Woj: Are they still around, those search engines?

Gianluca: Some are, yes. But it’s quite many years and substantially they are Google-powered. Around the beginning of 2000, it still was something to optimize for real Italian search engines like Virgilio and Libero. It made sense because they had their own controllers and their own search engine, really natural search engine. But it was still running from 2004 or 2005 when Google started doing creative partnerships with locals in order to spam.

Woj: A good strategy.

Gianluca: Yeah.

Woj: So, you’re a movie buff.

Gianluca: I study movies.

Woj: What are some of your favorite movies?

Gianluca: Well, if I have to think in classic movies, I would surely say something like “Citizen Kane” and also Frank Capra films. If I have to…

Woj: Frank…? Which director?

Gianluca: Frank Capra, like you know… What is the movie where usually it’s broadcast Christmas day, the one with…?

Woj: All the people come together, “Love Actually?”

Gianluca: No. Frank Capra is really old. It’s an old one. It’s in the 30s, 40s.

Frank Capra is the classic director who is showing that every-man kind of hero, under some kind of pressure, which is making his life impossible to manage and he’s always awakened to make his life better.


Gianluca: It’s a classic screenplay topic or story-line, but it’s really cool, the Frank Capra. If I said of directors, I’d say one I really love is Stanley Kubrick.

I would be able to say “The Shining”. I think I’ve saw it at least ten times.

Woj: He really makes masterpieces.

Gianluca: Yeah. And then of a modern director, I think a few movies like “Inception,” “Interstellar”, so, that kind of movie. I’m a sci-fi buff also. I really like sci-fi movies.

Woj: Have you seen “Ex Machina”? What are your thoughts on that movie?

Gianluca: I think because I’m in SEO, the first thing I thought is the search engine was a mix between a Google and Facebook search engines and the story was really nice.

Woj: Yeah.

Gianluca: And somehow scary.

Woj: It was… Yeah. It could be true. It could be something that’s going to happen.

Gianluca: Yes. It can totally be true.

Woj: Have you seen some of the Japanese robots they’ve already made that are very human like?

Gianluca: Yeah. I saw a special on ones that are used, for instance, in the hotel lobby for welcoming people. They are scary.

What is making me more worried about this, not really the cyborg, it’s because we are still in its infancy. It’s more of the artificial intelligence. I read on the news where Watson was able to create a trailer from watching a movie.

Or robots are able to write screenplays. Those are scaring me. I know because I’ve also heard the music composed by a robot and it was cool. That is scary. When you arrive to a moment where a piece of art, you are not able to distinguish it between bot-made and…

Woj: Human-made.

Gianluca: That starts to become scary.

Woj: Yeah. It’s an interesting world we’re living in. Yeah. I’m concerned about them outsmarting us and the human race in general. Could you imagine? Bots can very easily manipulate half of the Trump voters.

Gianluca: Yes, but I’m thinking positively. One thing I’m usually really pissed off is people who say, “These robots can be powerful. They are not following the three rules of robotics by Isaac Asimov.” I’m always pissed off because there are not just three. They are four.

Because three, there was a gap. Something that was not considered was that if you are using just the three rules of robotics, you could have some sort of “Terminator” future because robots can decide for the goodness to humanity to real humanity. But this is something that one of the last foundation books Asimov considered and added a fourth law, which is saying that, in any case, the robots can’t rule or can’t decide for the good of humanity. Which is also one of the classic rules that should be implemented, for instance, in the Tesla self-drive cars.

Woj: That’s going to be interesting because robots are extremely logical. Teaching them empathy, that’s going to be the trick. Did you see that… I think they made like a Twitter account that tried to emulate a human. It wasn’t long before the bot became a racist bigot.

Gianluca: Yes.

Woj: It learned all the things people were telling it.

Gianluca: Yeah. Sometimes in the future we’re going to have some sort of a mix between the “Battlestar Galactica” cylons and the “Blade Runner” cyborgs. Surely we’ll see everything first in porn because porn is real avant-garde for everything in technology.

Woj: That’s true. I think in movies as well, robots could be used. Like imagine extras or body doubles or like explosion scenes.

Gianluca: Yes. That can be an idea. I consider that CGI and motion capturing in the movie industry are advancing so fast. For instance, surely what we are going to see is, let’s say, a special Oscar category for motion actors. So, we are going to see finally Andy Serkis winning the Oscar because he was deserving for the gorilla for “King Kong.” He was deserving for the new “Rise of the Apes.”


Woj: Yeah. That’s true. Okay. In Adelaide, and in a recent Moz post, you spoke about using archetypes to create brand identities.

Which archetype is your favourite and which is the easiest to model a marketing strategy around?

Gianluca: I think this depends also on what kind of brand you are. I mean, if you are Dove, you should be the caretaker, so someone who’s taking care and showing that beauty and everything. If you’re Ikea, yes, the every-man kind of archetype because you are selling to normal people like me and you. Like, you can create your own decoration for your house without needing to spend too much and just doing it yourself.

Obviously something like this cannot be useful for a Mercedes or Audi. They need to show that you are going to be powerful. You are going to be entering into a selected kind of people using their cars. For software… usually the good ones for technological companies, the wizard archetype is a good one because we love our tools, we love our devices.

We are going to have some sort of magical power in order to dominate, let’s say, SEO, our data, social media management, communication. So, the wizard is a good one. I’m the master and you are my padawans and I’m teaching you. Maybe that’s also why “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” mythology are so part of the technology code.

Woj: There’s always the mentor and the student. There’s teaching and learning.

Gianluca: Exactly. Do you see all these technological companies using academies?  The Moz Academy, Wistia Hub… all so you can learn from them, teaching you how to use Moz.

Woj: And a community too because members can teach other members too. Ultimately that’s what makes a successful community, I think. It’s when the members start teaching other members. It’s not just driven by the leader.

Gianluca: Yes. This can be a problem sometimes because if your leader, maybe a company too much depending on the leader. That was one of the big doubts about Apple when Steve Jobs died. Apple was like more than Steve Jobs. That’s why we can see a different Apple from before with Steve Jobs and now with Tim Cook. Apple is more bureaucratic. It’s more standardized. Everything is brand.

Woj: Yeah, especially since he revitalized it when he came back a second time. That’s like, it used to be very dependent, and then he’d proven that really he was the visionary. They were so dependent on it. So, there would be a double punch.

Gianluca: Yeah. That’s true. But that’s why the idea is about a team. In “Lord of the Rings,” the wizard wasn’t just Gandalf. It was the white one and the brown one. So, maybe creating more of… using the archetype, using a person, the archetype of your brand. So, let’s say if it was Moz, the wizard should be known, Rand.

Rand should be a representative personification of the brand. But the real wizard should be Roger.

Gianluca and Roger

Roger is like R2-D2 in “Star Wars”. He’s always there. He’s the one, the Deus Ex Machina solving all the problems. He is the real wizard.

Woj: That’s true. I’m sure a lot of people follow him.

Gianluca: Yeah. Well, it would be harder to follow someone who is just beeping.

Woj: A lot of people follow, I think, the brand and they understand Roger Mozbot is the face behind it. It’s kind of clever in a way because a lot of brands, say on social media, they communicate with others but it’s just their logo, whereas the robot character…

Gianluca: I remember that this was also one of things in the first year of community management. Remember Moz was using just Moz and then people like Jen, like Rand himself and other Moz people used their own personal Twitter, instead of… They decided to go to create branded Twitter accounts for the employees. So, they went to create a connection between the brand and the person.

Woj: I remember when I first launched Kwasi Studios, I didn’t even have a personal account. I was interacting and engaging with people and I’d get no response. It’s not as real or as human.

Gianluca: I have one, a couple of official profiles for my… I’m not a company. I’m not an SEO company, SEO agency but I have a name, which is ‘I Love SEO‘. So, I tried to have, for instance in Google+, on Twitter, on Facebook, branded profiles. But also because mine is a really special case, I’m an independent consultant so it’s me. People weren’t considering… I was tweeting one thing as like myself and one thing like I Love SEO. Nobody was paying attention to I Love SEO who was paying attention to me. It was the same thing.

So, it’s really…when you’re a freelance consultant like me… it’s really about your person. So, it’s really hard to find the balance to what you are doing on your social media sites or social media profiles as personal things and professional thing. That’s why I really love Twitter, because over time Twitter just became my SEO space, social space. Also when I go more personal and not just sharing things, it’s usually related to my interests, instead of Facebook. It’s easier to segment people.

To my friends I can share photos of my kids, stupid posts about politics or movies or sports.Then sometimes I share something publicly about marketing in general. The difficulty there is how to choose your real channel. Where to post more professionally and so on. But for a brand, yes, it can be hard to make your brand human, your logo human. So, I think about Moz for a long time was quite able to… still this kind of… not making you think you’re talking to a logo.

Woj: Yeah. That’s what made it very important. It was that fact that you knew there were humans behind the computer screen. You weren’t engaging with businesses, buildings. It was real people.

Gianluca: Another thing, one of the things where people, where it still is about Moz playing off some of the most known community stuff, members of Moz itself. They know when there is Jen here and some of the things Roger was saying or that was Erica or it was someone else.

Woj: And they were very responsive as well. When I first started, there were a lot of places you’d reach out to and you wouldn’t hear from people, but you would at least require even if it was shorter or something, but it was still…

Gianluca: I think a funny thing is also because I know the person of Moz, I know them really well. It’s quite easy to understand when, for instance Jen, was using the Moz Twitter profile or when it was Erica or when it was someone else.

Woj: You can tell the tone.

Gianluca: You’re always able to distinguish the little variations, even if they really have a common language decided for answering how to reply to the pricing, how to reply to questions at some point.

Woj: Interesting.

So, where do you think the balance lies between reducing a brand to a type?

Is it too generic and making it too unique? Is it not relatable enough to customers? Is there a sweet spot where a brand is just generally unique enough the users can project identity onto themselves?

Gianluca: Yeah. That can be difficult. When you are using, for instance, archetypes in everything, you can go and number one make it really general. General is the use of an archetype. So, let’s say all the car brands.

If you are just listening to the advertisement without watching the advertisement itself, up until you come to the last line about Audi or the tagline or the slogan, they can sound all the same. That can be a risk.

So, it’s like when you are working on a website where you are starting to create buyer persona. Maybe the idea is, “Okay, this is my general archetype”. So, then try to create different patterns.

Woj: Should we be aligning archetypes to personas?

Gianluca: It can be. That should be the idea.

Woj: That’s the next post.

Gianluca: Yeah. But that is a real idea. So, you can find…even if you’re using the main archetype, then you can use some other kind of archetype for a different kind of persona. So, you’re going to try to expand to be also more human because we are not monolithic. We are just… it seems like a joke, but we are really 50 shades of grey.

Woj: That’s true. So, you’re passionate that the SEO field has a lot to learn from other aspects of marketing.

What are some key lessons you’ve learned recently or some things where you wish SEO is understood more?

Gianluca: Well, I have contrasting feelings because I come, as you know, from… I wasn’t born in SEO. So, I come from more a communication, marketing, real marketing, old school marketing kind of profession. So, what I was feeling in the past was that SEO were not paying attention to the marketing part of search marketing. But now I have a contrasting feeling because okay, I see many SEO talking about marketing… properly or not this is not my problem… but many are talking about marketing. It’s like a pendulum. Now we are talking too much about marketing and not about search.

Woj: Not technical on search. Yeah.

Gianluca: We are not talking too much about search. That’s why you are having blog posts like the one where you would say technical SEO is just made up.

A photo posted by Gianluca Fiorelli (@gfiorelli) on

Gianluca: So, right now I’m going to say…. okay I’m Italian, so in Italy, they make you study Latin when you are really a small kid. So, okay, let’s talk about marketing but don’t forget…

Woj: You always have to have a balance. It’s like everything in life. You eat too much, you get too fat. You don’t eat enough…

Gianluca: I usually say that SEO are somehow… what is the name of that syndrome? Manic depressive people… they have moments of, “This is fantastic”.

Woj: Euphoria.

Gianluca: “We found the solution”… “This is total shit. Google is going to make us disappear”.

Woj: So, we need to evolve from search engine optimization and search experience optimization. I previously wrote something similar to this effect. I call it user experience optimization. My idea was some of the best SEOs are the web developers that are building sites with best practice in user experience in mind. It’s a nice crawl-able site and they put all the title tags in order. They just make it a nice site. In some ways they don’t even realise they’re doing any extended SEO.

Gianluca: This is also a secret of really using automation.

For instance, again, the classic disparity and imbalanced thing that we were talking about before. Now talking about marketing automation is really mainstream and it’s like everything is going to be reduced to marketing automation.

This is also one of the things I don’t like about companies like HubSpot, Marketo – the classic email marketing companies – which is all based on automation.

I consider that automation is really wonderful, both for the daily work, for making easy the marketing flow of every channel, not just SEO.

It’s social media, email marketing, all the follow up and sending out to the customer and the customer journey. It’s really wonderful. When you touch a trigger, just fire something at a partner or something.

Woj: I think it’s really good for top of the funnel or even getting people into a funnel.

Gianluca: It’s good for every kind of funnel. The problem is when you just rely on automation, I think of this for the problems. When we were starting about artificial intelligence in the beginning, it’s like we are getting into automation.

Woj: There are still human sales people at the end. There are still people in the dispatch from a sales. We still need a set of humans.

Gianluca: You can do really good bots that are able… like Facebook Messenger bots or something. I think that marketing, marketing is a really humanistic practice. So, it needs to…

Woj: Yeah. I can feel it from the wall.

Gianluca: Yeah, it’s a sort of poltergeist. So, marketing for me is really humanistic. We all think about the technological part of marketing, but I think marketing is really humanistic. It needs space in nature, core nature.

So, if you have a business, humans should always control. You cannot create rules that are good for everything. You are able to take control of whatever is the face of a follower and you must be able to control the automation.


A photo posted by Gianluca Fiorelli (@gfiorelli) on

Woj: I don’t think you can automate empathy. I think it’s one of those things where you can predict. You can’t understand if someone’s having a bad day.

Gianluca: Yeah, we have this sort of myth that you can automate everything. I don’t know. That’s why sometimes I ignore the grumpy men when I see things about automation or really pornographic use of email marketing techniques. Also because I think one of the risks of automation, not that one, is what we are really seeing, that 90 percent of the websites with the logo, you can’t recognize what site it is, they all look the same. We are seeing a lot of standardization.

Much of this is because people just rely on automation not in a creative way. They are using automation in a curating way, which means the man is leading the automated stuff, then you are going to see conformance.

Woj: Yeah. There’s always someone like controlling the levers.

So, you once said the Apple website is a good example of bad international SEO. Do you think that’s still the case?

Gianluca: No. Maybe because also I saw many other examples of really bad international SEO. I think the greatest one or two… I don’t know if they corrected it… but for instance Dropbox was doing the classic mistake of showing always Dropbox.com independently over each.

Which is a duplicator mistake, duplicate content mistake, which is a mistake that I saw recently in a client. They are doing multilingual, but they are targeted at the same time. I said usually it’s a mistake, but not done because they don’t know how to do international or technical, but because their boss is saying things like, “We don’t want to show to people in Spain the same offer we are showing to Mexico”. So, we are using targeting… they don’t want to geo-target because geo-target is making things visible. The one from Spain can use and assess any way and can access the Mexican content in this case. So, they decided to go multilingual and change the content based on IP, so, the same problems.

Another example of really shitty international SEO, was also it was linking with the national version to the international one, the dot-com one. So, usually I suggest that as an international SEO example… I mean Apple.com is done well.

The rest of it is well done. They are targeting all the customers in the world. So, sometimes certain companies in Latin America, they don’t have an original country office. Usually an example is do a good way to do a good country selector.

Woj: I always call on the Apple model when I make recommendations when people start expanding as well. I like how they have the subfolders.

Gianluca: Yeah. They use sub-domains for the stores, but it can be justified because the store is in commerce and the commerce can be complicated from a maintaining point of view, database point of view. So, I kind of decided you can use sub-domains sometimes for stores. But if you see the different product page and landing page, they are all in for example, www.apple.com/es for Spain.

What I like is the Amazon cart.

Woj: Amazon cart?

Gianluca: So, they are using country code domain names. They are not making you free to using the alert, for instance you are in the United States and you go to Amazon.co.uk, the alert advising you, “Maybe you should prefer to go to the .com.” I think that is a good one. I’m not saying that it’s perfect because neither Amazon is perfect, but it’s a good model.

Woj: I just recently discovered Amazon Lockers. So, when we were in Portland, we ordered some things and got free shipping. There was a locker at a 7/11 two blocks away. So, we could go and pick it up. It takes five to eight days, otherwise you have to pay for delivery. It’s pretty good.

Gianluca: Yes. I think they are going to do something similar in Spain in the future because in Spain has one of the biggest warehouses… Amazon warehouses is in Spain. I think they are going to do it.

Woj: So, I read that you studied philology.

What can we learn from studying the structure and development of languages when we do keyword research?

Gianluca: I’ll just give you an example. I did humanistic studies when I was at university and one of the studies was philology: language philosophy. Specifically for philology, you really learn how a word evolved from its original root to how we are using it now. But, just to give you an example, I don’t think I’m really good at speaking English, for instance. I’m able to trick people with a trick my father taught me and it’s really related to philology. If it’s in English, there are two kinds of words. You can use two different words saying the same thing in English. You can use the one coming from a German root, which was the mainstream use by the people and one coming from Latin because of Roman domination, because of Norman domination. They were speaking some sort of French. That was usually the academic version.

So, if you don’t know what word to use, just consider what was the Latin root of a word. So, for instance, it’s not an academic word, but ‘street’, for instance, is coming from ‘strata’ which was road. So, you can do it with… it’s a way to understand how words are creating a compulsion. So, how people were using the words… if you’re considering combining semantics with sociology and other studies, you can understand what words are better to use for certain kinds of audiences and what words are better to use for that other audience.

So, the better you know the word, the better you know how words are created and are used together. The better is going to be your word. What we are saying is not better.

Everything related to keywords and topical is just plain root natural language. Good natural language is all about meaning and the meaning is about really knowing what the word means and what that meaning became and evolved during the time.

So, philology, especially when you are doing international SEO, it’s really a help. For instance for me, I don’t know French, not fluently, but thanks to my studies, I’m really able to write in French, to start doing first level keyword search in French and then passing it to local SEO in order to correct it or do a deeper analysis. But so doing so, you are going to dominate your SEO world.

Woj: Interesting. I’d imagine Europe would be a tricky place for an international SEO to be able to broadly cover all countries.

Gianluca: This is something I always say, but for an Italian, SEO and international is the same. The Italian is just Italian. It’s just talking in Italy. Italy can be a rich market, but it’s just one tiny market.

So, before internet, all marketing was multilingual in Italy because of industry and so on. And now with internet, even more. So, when I started doing SEO, my first job was an international SEO job because it was a small tourist portal and it was Italian, English, French, Spanish and German. I needed to target five different languages in five different countries.

Woj: Interesting. So, you’ve referred to literary theory in your work before.

Do you think there’s plenty to learn from the writings of Jung, Derrida, Barthes, etc. for SEO?

Gianluca: I think you are referring to an old post I wrote about literary… I think they are really interesting to use. The literary material, literary modes, it’s also based on what we are talking before about archetypes. It’s interesting because obviously when we were talking about archetypes, you can decide, “My brand is a wizard”. Okay, but how to develop a story. So, the theory of genres, literary genres or movie genres is so implored in our psyche, our way of thinking to everything. We think, “You are just a comedian. You are just sarcastic. You are drama.” We think like this because we are, let’s say, categorizing, the human thinks in categories. We categorize everything naturally.

So, depending on what path you want to follow, usually choose one kind of story. Usually when it comes to brands, you are not going through a tragedy. But you go usually you to the comedian one, comedic one using irony or you can even choose parody, right? For instance, what was the name of the site all based on cats?

Woj: Cats? Was it I Can Has Cheezburger?

Gianluca: Yeah. Cheezburger was especially powerful. Flickr, it was a cats Flickr, funny cats Flickr. It started like many blogs for something else, but it was a parody. Usually websites are using irony, the comedy. The comedy literary mode is where the brand… the hero can be the brand but also the user, but it’s all the same. But in the comedy, usually something is happening but it’s making the hero be torn apart from society. And then like Frank Capra, but he is able to come back to overcome any difficulties.


So, for instance in fashion, you are the hero. You are like me. But you are estranged at the moment because you are not using my clothing. You are not using my apparels. But if you stay with me, you are going to overcome this difficulty because I am making you see the difficulty to not have my shoes, to not have my trousers. Because if you are not fashionable, you are not hipster. So, if you start following me and buying my products, you are going to come back to the society of hipsters, of neo-traditional couples or something like this, all these other classifications made about fashion.

So, obviously, let’s say areas where you can use really well, like tragedy, like drama. The first sector is using drama really well for obvious reasons. They are showing…

Woj: First sector?

Gianluca: First sector is like Save the Children, all these kinds of things.

Woj: Not for profit charities?

Gianluca: Yes. In Italy we call it first sector.

Woj: Okay.

Gianluca: It’s not B2B. It’s not B2C. It’s humanistic. So, for instance, that’s why we see the classic photo of the little boy which is starving in Africa. The other one is politics. In politics you can use a lot. Maybe in the campaign year in the United States, they are using parody a lot with Trump.

Woj: It’s usually of the opposition.

Gianluca: Yeah. But dramas can be used, especially when it’s coming to propaganda, the tragic ones are really the ones used. So, you have the heroes and we are fighting. It’s epic. Epic usually is tragic.

Woj: Interesting. So, you mentioned that Google is investing very heavily in understanding not just user intent but the meaning of content across too. We know that work from philosophers like Barthes, Derrida and Lacan that in fact almost every text has a multitude of valid interpretations. Can we talk about this for a while?

What are the consequences, not just for SEOs, but anyone publishing content or performing searches, of this idea of Google creating a monopoly of meaning?

This idea that Google can come along and say we think this is the most valid interpretation of this text, whether it’s content or query, and because we’re so dependent on Google to find us information or to connect us with audiences, we kind of have to go along with it.

Gianluca: I don’t know if it’s all in Google. If it was in Bing, for instance, in voice search, people are always talking about Google, but really look out for Bing because Bing is also Cortana. Bing is also Siri when Siri searches something on the internet. Bing is also Alexa, the Amazon, when Alexa searches something.

I think probably Bing has more information in voice search than Google search. And I think it’s, again, it’s like the classic question. Sometimes you can read articles saying that because of Google  because of the internet, people are becoming stupid because we don’t have difficulty to start the search by themselves, take information from many sources, just ask. Just ask Google, just ask Wikipedia in order to receive an answer. Maybe yes. Maybe we can have this kind of risk. Who is controlling the game? Who is judging the judge?

Woj: Yeah. In some ways it’s a very intelligent blind person leading the blind. I’ve even noticed that in PPC. Some people are just clicking on the first result without reading the details because they trust Google so much. They trust it too much.

Gianluca: Maybe this is why the latest database tools start understanding something which is really European, which is the fight against monarchy, monopolies, because in diversity you can find richness. If you are going to have just a monopoly, you are going just to have one answer, one point of view.

Woj: It’s a dictatorship.

Gianluca: Like when you are in Facebook because Facebook is showing you just your friends, so you think all the people in the world are democratic or libertarian. No. Many are not libertarian. Many are voting le Pen in France or voting neo-Nazi parties in Germany.

Woj: And it’s just people who have recently interacted with you anyway.

Gianluca: Exactly, the classic social barrier, which is also a search barrier because of the personalisation of search. Google is only showing you what is supposed to be what you will like. In that sense, Google is not so much like Facebook or Twitter because Google, the algorithm always has something that is showing you something new that you weren’t able to find.

Woj: So, what do you think of Google Assistant?

Gianluca: I think that coming back to why Google is investing so much,  I think of it as also so much because we are going to do… before it was mobile types of searches. I think now we are in the other kind of race, where I think in the future we are going to see more search. It’s surpassing types of search because it’s natural. It’s going to be easier. We are going to have self-driving cars.

So, when we are driving we are asking, “Google, show me how to go someplace. Google, show me a pizzeria close.” It’s becoming quite natural to do. Something that was looking really stupid once, but it’s become quite usual to see people searching.

Woj: Now there’s a conversation happening.

Gianluca: Yeah. That’s what Google needs to understand better, what is the meaning of what people are searching. So, right now I think that it’s more like the real scope of semantics and artificial intelligence applied to language recognition and speech, understand what the water and rain means… because when we talk, we usually imply something. We don’t speak as we type. We don’t say, “I want to go to Rome.” Okay. “Show me Rome, how to go there.”

Gianluca: So, we imply many things. The next problem Google has, I think it’s the next step, is what I call understanding the rhetoric because you can say a phrase with a tone of normal tone, literally meaning what you’re saying, but you’re also going to pronounce the phrasing ironically, sarcastically.

The problem is Google is not able to recognize the rhetoric beyond the phrase. That’s why I talk about rhetoric because rhetoric, it’s a segmentation of semantics. So it is able to use certain words and groups of words and you can understand their meaning and how these words are used, these groups of words are used. It’s easier because of semantics, rhetoric usually follows some rules. Rules are what Google is needing in order to understand.

So, that’s why, coming back, I was really lucky to study all this when I was at university. So, I had a brilliant professor, very few can say they had Umberto Eco for professor for semiotics.

Woj: So, the second part of my really long question – how do we use it? How can we figure out just how Google is interpreting our content and our queries, and make sure we’re optimizing for intent?

Gianluca: I think it’s easier when we are talking about formal things. We can see those in evolution of search engines. Once it was really easy to write a good SEO –  copy, okay the keyword of the site, the keyword of two free tags, the keyword of the anchor text and so one. Now we are seeing if you are using the keyword in the anchor text, they’re going to penalize.

So, when we talk about meaning it’s talking about context. When you talk about context, another language is talking about using is related entries. That’s why everything in the search is so important in semantics.

Because if you are talking about, for instance, Seattle, we are naturally going to talk about the Space Needle, the Pike market and Broadway, Capitol Hill, the Seahawks if we were talking about Seattle. But not mentioning also these other entities, surely we are going to have less opportunity to rank for all Seattle queries.

That’s why sometimes when we say long-forms are working, or why yes, they are working because we want to be cynical because people are sharing a lot and making a lot of long-form, because some of it looks intelligent. If I had a business where also because of long-form… usually it’s really dense to organize thought… written text about something with all the related topics inside. So, usually the long-form is formal and really well-organized. It’s H1, H2, H3, H1, H2, H3. So, the results, all the HTML semantic signals, Google is able to pick up to understand.

Woj: The importance of keyword, so a different weighting.

Gianluca: That’s why we can see that sometimes if your page is already ranking in the first page and you simply had a ton of clean HTML using ul, ol, so the bullets or the numbers, using the H1–just really clean HTML, you can eventually be picked up because if you are giving them to Google in context, the words. You’re giving a structure…

Woj: And also clues.

Gianluca: A structured list.

Woj: And clues as to the relevance of topics that it might be related to by your internal links.

Gianluca: Yeah.

Woj: Yeah. So, with voice and semantic searches on the rise, what challenges do they bring up for international SEO in particular?

Gianluca: I think that it’s more… I don’t think SEO is going to face really different challenges than it is facing right now. I think it’s more a sensation of certainty that SEO can have. When it was easy before just, “I want this page to rank for pizzeria in Madrid”, it was easy, meaning you were just targeting the keyword. But now people are using implied searches, coming from implied searches.

So, it’s really hard to say, “I want this page especially targeting this keyword.” Now you’re saying, “I want this section, of this page, targeting this topic, and all the related queries around this topic.” This is so hard to explain to your clients. Clients still have the mentality of, “I want these ten keywords. Okay. Whatever keywords would work, especially this one.” It’s true… you have to maintain this kind of philosophy because you have to still target the keywords. But then you have to know when it’s stupid to just optimize for one keyword. It’s better to create a section where Google is going to consider it a logical entity about something. So, you are able to…

Woj: That’s probably what it’s doing. It’s just matching entities to replicate the real world.

Gianluca: But Google is still doing some gross mistakes. For instance, yesterday, I don’t know why, I was using Google search as a calculator.

Woj: In what?

Gianluca: I was using Google search, the search bar as a calculator. If you put equal nine plus eleven…

Woj: It doesn’t understand?

Gianluca: No. It showed me the results in the answer box. So, it’s a tragic thing but it’s 9/11 and Google showed me a knowledge box of 9/11. I was doing a sum. I wasn’t putting 9/11. I put a nine plus eleven and it recognized it as it was nine eleven. So, it showed me the answer box of the sum and the knowledge graph of the 9/11 attack.

Woj: So, it still can’t disambiguate between its advanced features. It does that well in simple search.

Gianluca: Google is getting better, but it’s still a kid.

Woj: Yeah. It is. It’s a young company, really in the whole time of the world, 18 years now. So, you mentioned in your latest Moz post that you look at patents as part of your investigations. What’s the most significant thing you found and what’s the weirdest?

Gianluca: First of all, we should always do a disclaimer for talking about patents. Patents are interesting in order to understand what Google may be able to do. But until we are not able to… this patent is saying, “Let’s try to do an experiment in order to see if Google is doing these kinds of things.” We are never able to say if Google is really applying what is written in the patent. We have to know that sometimes patents are written also in a defensive way in order to somehow prevent that others are going to patent. Or all the patents were between Apple and how much money it is.

That said, I consider that there are some patents that are really, really key. Not all of them are really new because there is the Reasonable Surfer patent. It’s not really new.

Woj: Which one?

Gianluca: It was recently updated. It’s really interesting because it’s telling you how Google considered that people are using different sections of a webpage. That’s why footer links are less relevant that links in the bottom or on the sidebar are less relevant than navigational links.

I’m really bad to not remember the long name of the patent… but it’s talking about search activities. I think it’s really interesting because search activities are not considered, like enable the planet, enable person… search activities are things that are related to the process of a query. People are doing a query. What queries are they doing during a search question? The dependence of a query with respect to geographical content, the historical search and so on.

Woj: So, kind of like behaviors almost?

Gianluca: Yeah. This is really important because all these search entities are substantially telling Google how to really personalize search. We are always talking about right brain, all this stuff, but never forget that personalized search is for real search.

Woj: And also the person behind the keyboard, we should understand their behavior.

Gianluca: Yes, exactly.

Woj: And the different steps, sometimes they’ll do multiple searches, multiple tabs. They have a number of different inputs.

Gianluca: The benefit is at first the patterns, which is about watch type as a ranking factor. We usually talk about CTR, CTR, CTR. CTR is nothing if people are bouncing back. So, the watch time usually is referred to physically watch a video, how long someone is watching something. People usually think it is just related to video search or YouTube. But if you’re Reddit, it’s related to all kinds of stuff.

Woj: Scrolling…

Gianluca: How much time someone is taking for reading a page of text, to watching a video, listening to a podcast. So, that is the real engagement metric, more than the CTR because I remember at Inbounder, Natalie and I was talking about the different between a click bait and a good piece of content, a good title. A good title, which is making you earn a big CTR and a click bait title.

The piece is going to respect the promise the title makes. The click bait, usually the content behind the click bait, usually don’t respect the promise made by the title. People usually think, “Ugh,” and they bounce back. In the other case, people are going to watch. So, a real engagement metric, you want to choose one engagement metric. In analytics it should be page of type is using Google tags, seeing if people are scrolling to the end of a blog post, or with just the heat.

Woj: Yeah, the heat map tools as well do a lot of tracking.

Gianluca: Yes.

Woj: Like Hotjar and Crazy Egg. They’re good as well. What about the strangest thing that you’ve discovered?

Gianluca: Sometimes when you look at patents you can find not about search, but maybe all this kind of Google kind of patents or Facebook strange projects. So, one was, I think one of the stranger I read was one about the lens, contact lens as a monitor.

Woj: Wow.

Gianluca: Wouldn’t that be interesting to understand why Google bought all the robotics companies and just after a few years they resold US Robotics and all of these things.

Woj: Maybe we don’t need information that close to our eyes.

Gianluca: Like you know “Terminator.”


Woj: That’s scary stuff. Yeah. It’s amazing how close we’re coming to that sort of reality. What’s the next most important thing that you personally want to learn?

Gianluca: I don’t know. I will usually discover these next things at the same times that I’m learning about them. So, now I don’t know.

Woj: But maybe personally like outside of search. Our lives are a constant evolution, a learning journey. I think now I’m at relearning Spanish.

Gianluca: I don’t have something really that I would like to learn. Maybe I would have something that I would really restart doing again. For instance, this is more private personal part of me. One of my hobbies when I was young was to paint miniatures.

Woj: Paint what, sorry?

Gianluca: Painting miniatures, like little soldiers.

Woj: Oh, like the Warhammer, those guys?

Gianluca: No. You build the little soldiers and then you start painting them and you can be the classic Warhammer figures.

Woj: Yeah, and make a diorama?

Gianluca: The Roman figure soldiers. It was something that I learn with my father. Since many years because the strange hours I do with working, my kids, this is an hobby that I put on the side and I would start it. It’s really interesting because you have to be passionate and you have to learn how to combine colors and you have to think. You have to know a technique but you must be also creative in order to do things well.

It’s a really relaxing activity. I’m not a sporting guy, so I would never tell I want to learn how to scuba dive or learn some extreme sport because I’m not that kind of person.

Woj: Sure. That’s good. Everyone needs something to relax.

Where do you see the internet in 2020? How will virtual reality and the internet of things impact our lives?

Gianluca: I don’t know. I think that too much is all around these topics. Also we put out also big data, another topic.

Woj: But there will be a time where there will be RFID on this, it’s finished and everyone will be here already and maybe in some ways the internet of things will…

Gianluca: I don’t know but I think about people especially now I feel there’s too much thinking in a “Star Trek” way. On the other hand, maybe because I read also a lot of Steampunk and cyberpunk sci-fi novels, I know that maybe we are going to have a future where the tables, like you are saying, are going to advise the waiter that we have ended our meals, so to come back and ask, “Do you want another meal?”
But I also think that we are going to have a long period where we still find many bars with normal tables which are not able to understand if we are done with our meal or not. So, I think it’s interesting, all these kinds of things.

But if we are considering that in 2020 we are going to see some sort of “Blade Runner” kind of future, I don’t think so.

I think we are going to sincerely see street cars with wheels for a long time. For instance, instead of the one without wheels and automated cars like in “Minority Report.”

What we are going to see… talking about “Minority Report,” I think we are already there. It’s all related to advertising. Now advertising is to target each one of us really personally. So, really it’s a re-connection of all these kinds of things. I think that kind of thing, we could be able to do it already. But somehow fatefully legislation is not really allowing us to do all the things we could do right now.

So, coming back to big data to virtual reality, I think that we can see obviously some big use of that, especially in big data because of understanding data mining and so on. But for instance, virtual reality, it doesn’t seem that modern for VR glasses. I’m also in the kind of age where I lived in a analogical era and now I’m living in digital era.

So, for me it would be harder to not speak about virtual reality as a funny thing, as a new interesting way to play video games, for instance.

Woj: I think it’s going to be a culture of convenience. I think there are going to be the people who are already overweight are going to get more lazy and overweight and the people who are in to the health movement, I think there are going to be conveniences for everyone.

Gianluca: Yeah, sure. I think I’m really lucky to have known what to be fully analogical means because let’s say if all the things we are using are going to disappear for some reason, I’ll still know how to think. I think that my son or either my cousins, where they are totally digital, they would go into panic.

Woj: They would. They wouldn’t know how to survive.

Gianluca: Just imagine if you put a millennial into an Amazonian forest without mapping.

Woj: I was going to say… Put them on “Survivor” or some kind of show.

Gianluca: Yeah. Maybe they can do something.

Woj: Yeah. So, we’re going to take a page out of your book and finish with a few questions from Proust, the Proust Questionnaire. Are you ready?


Woj: If not yourself, who would you be?

Gianluca:If it was a fictional character, I would like to be the protagonist of time traveler, H.G. Wells. Because that is something that I always liked to do, to do time travel.

Woj: It would be interesting. Your favourite prose authors?

Gianluca: Ah, prose authors. I don’t have just one. It’s hard to say one. Let’s say in the classics, Flaubert. Then Stephen King and Tolkien. Stephen King and how he’s able to create a story from nothing and Tolkien how he was able to create a world from nothing.

Woj: Yes. I didn’t mind some Stephen King. He’s a good storyteller. Your main fault?

Gianluca: Procrastination. But I don’t know.

Woj: Procrastination?

Gianluca: Yeah. Yes, but it’s since I was a student. I was always the one who had, “Okay, I’ll go to the library,” instead I was talking with my friends. I was putting myself in the last two days trying to study everything.

Woj: I was the same. I’m getting better now.

Gianluca: Yes, I’m getting better now too.

Woj: Now it’s more dependencies.

Gianluca: That’s maybe why I am a freelance consultant and not a boss of an agency. One because I would be probably a terrible boss. I would be the one that would tend to over-control my employees. Second because being a procrastinator, I would be really bad in saying something, “Let’s do this planning.” And I am the first one at the table to follow it.

Woj: Right. That would be a problem. Your favorite food and drink?

Gianluca: It can sound really boring but I think a really fresh glass of water is the best thing to drink ever.

Woj: It is, especially when you’re very thirsty.

Gianluca: I like beers. I like whiskey. But nothing like a glass of water. I’m Italian. So, I think I’m going about saying that I love pasta. But there is a special kind of pasta which is Cacio, which is just plain white spaghetti without tomato sauce with a really good olive oil and pepper and parmesan, which is really simple to do, but I think it’s one of the best ones. Then if I have to choose one, another pasta would be the Amatriciana, which is also the… in case you remember the earthquake that hit Italy that destroyed the little town where the Amatriciana was invented.

Woj: Very good. Well, thank you very much for your time.

Gianluca: You’re welcome.

Woj: Where’s the best place to connect with you online?

Gianluca: Twitter, for sure.

Woj: Twitter for sure. We’ll put some links up after this interview. But hopefully I’ll attend Inbounder one year.

Gianluca: Yeah. You are going to be invited. Maybe you are going to make Inbounder come to Australia. Let’s see.

Woj: Inbounder Down Under.

Gianluca: Yeah.

Woj: That could be good. Thank you for your time. It’s been a long interview, almost an hour and a half.

Gianluca: I’m really wordy like my posts.

Woj: Fantastic. I appreciate it very much.

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