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June 5, 2007

Better Ways

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After another delicious lunch, we’re back with our moderator and host Danny Sullivan for the Better Ways session in the Organic SEO track. Panelists this time around are Alex Bennert (Beyond Ink), Greg Boser (WebGuerilla), Jim Boykin (We Build Pages), Christine Churchill (Key Relevance), Todd Friesen (Range Online), Cameron Olthuis (ACS) and Aaron Wall (SEO Book).

Danny starts off by explaining why he’s dressed casually today–people yesterday ragged on him for wearing a suit yesterday. Should we have casual conferences going forward, he asks? Lots of support for that one. Me included, I’d kill for a pair of shoes with one inch heels instead of three.

Danny asks who is trying to hire SEO analysts. I put my hand up. We want writers too. Please? Help?

Apparently Danny’s vision of this session was ‘Better ways to do boring stuff’. Then he got the pitches in and discovered there was no “better ways”. (Except for Christine’s. Yay, Christine.) So we’re going to do a kind of SEO technique clinic instead; all Q&A. My poor, poor wrists. They promised us advanced stuff and this session should deliver. I already can sense that my fingers are going to fall off trying to keep up. I’m totally not going to get anyone’s name. Sorry.

Question: Ideas or recommendations for larger clients who are concerned about rep monitoring, especially in SMO space.

Cameron: You need a lot of education, reinforce that you’re going to be doing a lot of rep management and keep a close eye on it.

Aaron: Reach out to people who are speaking positive about them.

Greg: don’t expect it to get any better. It’s always going to take six months and hundreds of meeting to get anything done.

Alex: We had this problem with a company that wanted to start a company blog. They couldn’t get it through legal so they ended up with a sponsored blog in the space.

Question: How would you scale link-bait or back links? Tricks, tactics for links on a mass scale without having to do much? (Like PPC, set up the campaign and check it once.)

Aaron: Find the non-commercial related links. Spend a couple thousand on premier content then run ads on Google for that.

Christine: We used to give out little awards. They have longevity. Linkbait is often short. Try to look at something that’s going to have

Todd: We have a lot of interns that just kinda do what they’re told (so long as they’re told to do it). Have them do directory submissions. Just buy links–we think of it like a media placement. Another thing that we do is widget building. When the HTML is imbedded there’s a rotating link.

Jim: We do it the no pain, no gain way. Write to people as a human. You need to offer them something of value. Prove you’re human and offer them something of value.

Alex: You can build it into part of the business. Matching service. Every new provider, they get an incentive if they provide a link back.

Cameron: Empower a brand evangelist. Give them the resources and let them do the linkbait and viral stuff.

Danny: You can file a suit that something’s been stolen from you and then put it on digg. Alex: We have a client that’s doing that. Their entire PR is set aside for the lawsuit. (Danny’s joking. I hope.)

Question: does anyone have a way of logging into a lot of social networking groups very quickly?

Cameron: I don’t know of any. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth taking the time.

(The panelists are a little confused by the question. They think he wants to know how to get friends on the social networks. A little explanation clears up that no, he just wants to log in.)

Christine: Sounds like someone needs to create a tool for it.

Todd: Use roboform.

Danny: Session manager with Firefox. (Aaron says that it’s built in now.)

Question: How about a keyword research tool that actually works?

Todd: Have you seen Microsoft’s new keyword research tool? It’s pretty good. (AN: I’ve heard the same thing, by the way.)

Greg: Why do you think they suck?

Christine: You need to look at the sources of that data; for example, Wordtracker uses meta search engines and they’re starting to look at it from ISPs. She says that it’s not the hard number that you need to know, it’s the relative number that is what’s important.

Alex: If you see furniture is 10x greater than kid’s furniture, the number might not be right but the relationship probably is. (Other panelists agree.) The real data is your referral data.

Danny polls to see who uses which keyword research tools; I think everyone’s lying because the number of hands that went up are super low.

Question: Linkbait: In the beginning you put an icon and a link to digg. Now there are a million. Are there any good ways to consolidate or any research that says how much is too much?

Cameron: He prefers not to do it at all. If it gets submitted too often, you could be banned or buried. No more than 2-3 if you do use them and use the ones relevant to your user base.

Question: How do you explain to a corporate client the value of unrelated links from unrelated sites?

Cameron: They do tend to end up being relevant. The people who pick it up and link back to it and blog about are the ones who are relevant and interested.

Todd: It’s going to spread through your group of interests so it’ll go from one person who is interested to another person who is interested. If you’re using link networks, that’s different.

Christine: You should have a balance. You want a variety of sources. Press releases, directories, social media, professional organizations, etc.

Greg: Link baiting and social media is about stuff for general support not for keyword relevance really. You have no control how people link to you. You still have to go out and get focused targeted links.

Cameron: You can influence it by coming up with proper titles and URLs but you don’t have control.

Question: How many targeted links would you go after a month?

Aaron: Depends on your site’s size and it’s relevant to the field.

Greg: -agrees with Aaron- You want to make it look natural. What’s your site like, what’s the level of trust. Know what your site can stand.

Jim: it’s not a sheer numbers game, it’s a quality game. If you get a backlink from someone’s subpage and that page has a 1000 pages linking to it, that’s better than someone’s link page which has no links in.

Todd: -backs up Greg and tells a story from his bad boy days-

Question: How do you deal with cultural differences like editorial styles aren’t compatible or designers who don’t want to compromise?

Todd: It’s about education. You need to explain to a client how search engines work, why you have to talk about certain things in a way that’s going to help. Make it as simple and low maintenance and low impact as possible. What you’re dealing with is really a resource issue. You need to make it simple for them.

Greg: If they give you grief, I just fire them. There’s always someone in the space who will listen. Lawyers ruin everything.

Alex: danny once wrote an article that I refer to a lot. Any good designer makes sure they’re cross browser compatible and the bots are just another browser.

Christine: You’re always going to have clients who won’t listen no matter how much you tell them. Sometimes you just have to wait for them to learn it the hard way. Make sure they know what’s going to happen but if they won’t listen, then they won’t. If you can show them good numbers, that helps.

Todd: We have a client everything’s in Flash; they have unique URLs. They’re never going to change it. So we just built the entire site again and that’s what gets served with a user-agent cloak. It’s not any different from the flash site but it’s readable.

Greg: We use cloaking to prove our point with clients like that. We would build the site and serve it and they’d start to believe when we put it in the engines and it started to rank.

Danny references the NYTimes article that discusses how newspapers are addressing the need to write headlines for the search engines. 25% of newspaper visits are driven by search. And now we’re onto the SEO is BS debate. Oh please don’t go there.

Man, Danny’s brilliant. Which is one of those things that Seth Godin would say wasn’t useful for the readers but really? Danny’s brilliant. The guy knows so much about search. Okay so we’re talking about how search engines are the third browser and they’re the browser that everyone uses. It’s more than IE, more than Firefox. There’s nothing for search engines to support in Flash, even if they could extract the text, it would just say bouncing ball.

You have to understand the difference. Danny compares it to a great visual television ad that plays on radio and it’s just 30 seconds of silence. They’re different media.

Advice from the audience: Never mention SEO when you’re trying to convince a client to change how they write–they’ll tune out. Tell them they’re not writing for search engines, they’re writing for the people who use search engines.

Question: How relevant or important is page freshness? (There’s a specific example here but I’m skipping it.)

Jim: Google will try to feed in a fresh article or fresh page that may not last. If you have a page that’s been around since 1996 and you suddenly change it, the old links may not mean as much because what they were linking to is not the same.

Todd: Google’s backlink command are lying to you. I know a site had 5000 backlinks and Google said they had 8. SEO is not a one time deal, it might be a freshness issue but it could just be that that’s the day that Google tweaked their algo.

Greg: Check your header dates. See when the page was last modified. It might help, might not.

Christine: I have pages I haven’t touched for 8 years that are still ranking.

Danny mentions another NYTimes article, summarized by Google Blogoscoped. Google Keeps Tweaking It’s Search Engine is the headline. You can look it up.

Question: Any tips for optimizing Google Base stuff?

Todd: We do feed work but we don’t talk about it at conferences.

Danny: To my knowledge, they’re taking more and more databases. If you have database driven information, they’ll take it. I don’t think they’re subbing out organic for base it’s that they’re crawling base itself. It seems like they’re not internally certain which area they want to go. Go ahead and try base. There’s going to be Google Real Estate or Google Classified down the line.

Question: Something about MLS distribution in Google Base, people scraping the MLS

Greg: There’s never a level playing field.

Todd: These spaces are spammy and you don’t take a sword to a gunfight.

Danny pulls up a help page for Real Estate in Google Base. Mentions universal search and how it’s affecting the way the search results pages on Google appear. For an example he pulls up a search on [Madonna]– the SERP is her music discography link, wikipedia, wikipedia, Google News, more organic listings, a Google Local result… New example [New York Dental Schools] SERP: Google Local replaces the first three listings.

[I have a dream speech] SERP: Four organic, then Google Video.

Goes over to Ask.com to see their new SERPS. It’s incredibly slick. Very dramatic.

Danny says regarding Wikipedia: Get them one spot on the page and get them out of my way.

Use Google Local. If you’re local and you’re not using it, do it now.

Question: Favorite tools

Greg: We used to have this link tool called Project Mayhem but we don’t use it any more. All our stuff is internal.

Todd: Favorite Firefox extension-search status. Web developer toolbar. Aaron’s SEO for Firefox extension–modifies your SERPS. Xenu Link Sleuth (everyone’s a big fan of this one.) — find broken links, redirects (Christine adds that you can do a file export and you get great reports.) Sam Spade’s desktop.

Cameron: Serph–it’s a relationship management tool. Links into the

Jim: Top Ten Analysis Toolbar– you can find it on we build pages.

Danny: Groowe–changes toolbars; firefox version has social media sites.

I can’t feel my fingers anymore. Thank goodness we’re over.

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