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March 20, 2014

#Pubcon Liveblog: SEO Moshpit — Q&A with the SEO “Old School”

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What follows may be one of the most interesting conversations that took place on SEO in New Orleans this week.

This assembly of online marketers has 150 combined years of experience in SEO, Brett Tabke, head of Pubcon, estimates.

  • William Leake (@Marketing_Bill) — CEO of Apogee Results
  • Bruce Clay (@BruceClayInc) — President of Bruce Clay, Inc.
  • Tony Wright (@tonynwright) — CEO of WrightIMC
  • Rob Garner (@robgarner) — Chief Strategy Officer of Advice Interactive
  • Stoney deGeyter (@StoneyD) — President of Pole Position Marketing
  • Greg Boser (@GregBoser) — President of Foundation Digital
  • Joe Laratro (@jlaratro) — President of Tandem Interactive

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Question 1 (Brett Tabke): Google has been taking proactive steps against SEO the last year; not provided means referrals are dead and we don’t know where traffic is coming from anymore. How are you coping with what are the most dramatic changes to SEO in the last 10 years.

Bill: What Google did by requiring a higher standard of content is on-shore a lot of jobs back to North America. You need to have someone writing, optimizing and promoting content that is part of the culture. This has dramatically increased the cost of content and SEO and made content marketing much more integrated into SEO.

Bruce: Everyone has had to figure out that we’re in the traffic business and not ranking or attribution. It’s not clear if Google is going to continue to provide keywords for PPC. There’s agreement we’re going to be doing more content work.

Tony: The biggest thing about this industry is most of us are mavericks and we work in this industry because we didn’t fit in other industries, and so we adapt. What we’re seeing in the industry is a shakeout and some are getting left behind. Tony says this has been good for him because he comes from a PR background. He hires writers; people who are good at making something someone wants to read. He says it’s more about the message than the method anymore.

Rob: Google can keep doing what they’re doing because it only gets the bad players out who can’t fake it and that helps the industry. SEO may come to live under different names like digital asset optimization. He’s going back to what you can control, like how you’re pages are laid out from a linguistic content perspective and if you lay out your structure so that you can see sales tied to traffic from the organic channel you know what topics and keywords are important to your business.

Stoney: Our job is getting attention and Google is an avenue but they don’t dictate how we get that attention. They can penalize guest blog sites but they can’t penalize guest blogging. Besides, quality of content and what we’re doing with content and how we promote ourselves is always what we should be focusing on.

Greg: If what happened with Google is about quality control, then those sites wouldn’t have any impact on the algo. But instead they had an infiltrated spy job. The lesson of the MyBlogGuest penalty is that you can’t pull together groups of people, you have to be out on your own. SEOs have always been the cockroaches of the Internet and we adapt and survive. Deep content strategy and content performance analysis has long been the most important thing for good SEOs.

Joe: I don’t like the terror marketing that this is causing. Marketing companies are spreading misinformation that’s able to gain traction because of the fear.

 

Question 2 (from Brett): One of the themes of the conference has been, now that keyword referral data is gone, rankings are again in vogue. Have you found that?

Greg: I don’t think rankings ever went out of vogue. It’s not an either-or thing. You can’t say that because I care about rankings I don’t care about conversions. You have to have an idea of how your content is being displayed. You need an idea at the page-level analysis because then you can narrow it down based on phrase popularity and where they’re ranking what it is that is attracting viewers to that content.

Bill: I don’t think we can get away from rankings completely. Rankings are one of the few things we can provide when the client has analytics set up incorrectly. And rankings reflect how branding is affecting things. If you’re not visible on branding and visibility keywords, we’re not building a brand. We have to talk about concepts like brand, not just direct response and sales.

Tony: I care about control of voice. I want mentions on my SERP. There is a mini branding effect on a SERP. If a user is querying multiple keywords and they keep seeing your name, you create a perception of prominence in that field. You’ve just become the leader in their perception. There’s client perception and agency perception. A client thinks ranking is ego more than conversion — they have to be number one because they feel they’re the best. At an agency we recognize rankings more as an indicator because rankings are relative. And from a deliverables standpoint, rankings show that you actually did something.

Bruce: Ranking is important to anybody with a reputation management problem. When we look at ranking we back up to a paid API from Google — it’s raw data from the index without any personalization. What it allows me to do is make a change to the page and let me see if it makes a difference. This is the only way to make a difference in an apples-to-apples way.

Stoney: He tells his clients if your business grows without getting a single top ranking then we’ve done our job. A good example of where rankings don’t matter so much is a client that they got a top ranking for and the client was happy. After an architecture change they lost the pet keyword but they got a lot more pages on the site ranking and created a big lift in sales overall.

 

Question 3 (from audience): Do you see a trend or a social coups of websites blocking Google from crawling as a response to Google scraping and cutting sites out of the equation?

Greg: Google is cannibalizing industry after industry and Knowledge Graph is a click black hole and making it even worse. That’s why he focuses on audience building and creating direct connections to your clients. You need people to direct navigate to you, RSS subscribes, newsletter signups or capturing email so you can market to them later.

Rob: Will more sites start blocking their content? Most businesses have an economic dependency on organic traffic, from 5-50% of revenue. So while they won’t cut the cord, there’s huge pent up frustration.

Tony: He has no faith in the general public changing their behavior of not going to Google. The only thing that might work is government intervention a la Ma Bell split into Baby Bells. The DOJ is already looking at it.

Rob: When we start to regulate Google to not crawl the open Internet, that’s a huge problem as a matter of policy. He thinks net neutrality and open Internet is a big issue right now.

Greg: We held Google to the goal of connecting us to the world’s info. But Google baited and switched and now they want to own the world’s info. We have to hold Google to not delivering all their own products. The only third-party aggregate that Google wants in the world is Google.

Bruce: Are we in any position to legislate that Google will remain a hub and not an authority? Google doesn’t make money from organic, even though they have to have it, but the less they can get away with they will.

Bill: If Google becomes the trusted brand. Remember you’re not Google’s customer, you’re Google’s dairy cow. What’s the least we have to give you so you keep coming back, Google treats advertisers. If you don’t conform to their terms, that’s a long term danger for any content publisher out there. Google learned from Microsoft and they own more politicians than anyone but maybe Oracle.

Stoney: Google has done such a masterful job of making us dependent on them. He loves Gmail and Google Docs, and we don’t want Google to be the monopoly but it’s too convenient and we love it. When do we say that’s enough, I’m getting off the drug?

Brett: Almost 85% of the traffic to Microsoft is from Google. For the most part his business ignores Google and focuses on social.

Bill: Publishers are putting a lot of content behind paywalls and it may be working so maybe it’s time to say do not index our deep content and allow indexing of just our top pages.

 

Question 4 (from Brett): Where is SEO going in the near future, the next 12 months? Do we keep feeding into Google, with more products like Google+?

Bruce: For background, understand that Google has stated that KG is just another tool in the Swiss Army Knife that makes their experience more useful. So understand that as we at the same time, as marketers, feel it from a different perspective as a loss of traffic and visibility.

Bill: Google believes that. They can say, look what we do for you with 85% of the traffic. Imagine what we can do with 99%! Now for ecommerce, keep in mind that Google is cuddly next to Amazon.

Tony: Back to “where are we going?” he has faith that if he builds great content they will come. He hates digital sharecropping, which is essentially building on Google’s land. He works to build value on his own property or no one will visit.

Greg: The next step is leveraging what other people are doing, and apps are a great place. He finds more of the searching he does personally is on apps and vehicles pushed straight to his phone.

Joe: Why is Google penalizing guest blogging so aggressively? That’s a sign that social search is where they want to make progress over the next 12 months.

Bruce: There’s going to be a period of time that sites that answer the how question will be doing well, as it avoids dependence on the delivery of simple facts that Google has subverted with Knowledge Graph.

 

Brett changes the topic to MyBlogGuest.

Brett: Yesterday’s announcement that Google penalized the guest blog network run by well-known SEO writer Ann Smarty sent major waves through the community. It was first hinted at by Matt Cutts at SMX West last week.

Greg: If they had never mentioned the word “links” in the promotion of it, they would have been safe from Google. And it’s sad you can’t be honest about that benefit. He also points out that there are much lower quality guest blog networks and that for what it did, Ann’s network did it best.

Rob: Guest blogging and posting being an illicit tactic is ridiculous. Is Woody Allen’s guest editorial on the New York Times spam? Of course not. And there’s a lot of meaningful discourse that occurs from guest contributions. When you are public shaming to a small audience, most of the world doesn’t see this, it’s clear it’s a ridiculous tactic that’s trying to overcompensate for a weakness in the algortithm. He’s seen the quality of search results going down in the last year. Now that content marketing has become in vogue with marketers and as the web expands he thinks Google is finding it harder to sort through the quality. They’re needing to scale to the quantity of content that’s coming out.

Tony: Yesterday’s actions are more disturbing than any penalties he’s seen because there’s value in guest blogging. It comes back to economic value and businesses afraid of getting on Google’s bad side can be hesitant to participate in a very legitimate marketing practice.

Bill: They’ve slammed sites that are entirely guest sites so your site having mixed in a little bit of guests with a broader stew, you’re probably still okay.

Bruce: There’s a common theme. When Google started penalizing links it was looking for sites to commit to a theme. And he suspects that the guest blogging that’s penalized are examples of writers that are not focused in their content topics. We’re seeing networks penalized when there’s no topical focus.

Greg: You see this in the disappearance of Authorship photos as well. The topical focus of a site, of your body of work as an author, those are going to be considered in author authority and whether or not Authorship is displayed in a SERP.

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