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October 4, 2012

Where is SEO Going in 2013? — SMX East 2012

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This session is a no-slides track where SMX brings together minds of the SEO industry to have a discussion between panelists and attendees about the future of SEO in 2013. On the panel is Alex Bennert of The Wall Street Journal, Duane Forrester of Bing, Scott Gardner of Bank of America and Rae Hoffman of PushFire. You can follow the hashtag #32A for chatter on this session. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land is leading the conversation.

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Question: Is SEO dead?

People have been saying SEO is dead since 1997 …

Bennert: It’s been years and years and the search engines still struggle with the fundamentals of crawling and parsing. Search engines are imperfect and SEO helps them do their job when done correctly.There’s no way it’s dead. It’s needed. And search as a marketing tactics is growing up.

Forrester: Bing is inventing a button that will kill SEO, so stay tuned for that; it’s going to be the “Danny Sullivan” button [hee]. But SEO is about usability and user experience, and if you are focusing on that, you’ll be fine. Create good content.

So SEO is not dead; it’s growing up and finding its place in the marketing world as a discipline that can stand on its own. AND it’s now known that it can be used safely as a marketing tactic.

But if you don’t understand how your content interacts in different platforms and areas of technology, then you can’t call yourself an SEO. And for many people, SEO is still new to A LOT of people. At conferences, we are at the leading edge of information, and to many, this is all new info.

Hoffman: The mainstream media doesn’t understand it, people were afraid of it, like it’s voodoo. The crappy SEO might be dead, but actual SEO is alive and well. Ask everyone who was hit by Panda and Penguin if SEO is dead. Obviously not.

Sullivan: There was an awakening after Panda and Penguin of what SEO really is. It’s not about buying some software and throwing some keywords in and adding some affiliate links. Lots of people honestly thought that what SEO was. But the industry is thriving — this is the biggest SMX show they’ve had in New York to date.

Question: How do you see the role of social?

Bennert: I think search engines are dying to replace links with social. Links still do matter, so it’s taking longer than they want.

Forrester: Social fills in the blank of the context behind the query. Someone queries “home gym,” we don’t know much about what she wants to do with it. But, if we see her social profile, the search engine knows intent and can deliver relevant results. This is why social plays such a role and will continue to play a role. This will continue to spur the whole “SEO is dead” thing. Social is a signal of topical authority. If you become the most popular thing overnight, it can justify why there are a lot of links pointed towards you.

Hoffman: I look at social as a validation tool. If you’re a website getting a lot of inbound links, they are probably sharing your content and social validates outside of SEO signals. And as much as Google tries to blackmail the industry in using Google+, it’s hard without the data from places like Twitter. I agree with Alex, the search engines would kill to find something as important as links.

Question: As we go into 2013, seems like being social is one of the top SEO things we should be doing …

Bennert: Go where your customers are. If they are on Pinterest or Facebook, be there. Search and social support each other. And Google+ is probably the most SEO-specific social platform.

Forrester: I’ve always thought that way. It’s about getting your content shared. You have to be a savvy SEO so you understand how social and SEO work together. Combine those disciplines.

But don’t forget about rich snippets. It matters that you are using them. It goes a long way to helping search engines understand or find the content. The trust increases when we include it and it becomes the best thing to return in the search engines eyes.

I have a theory that Google+ is only used by people in our industry. Duane asks, How many people see business-related activity, raise your hands. [No one raises hands.]

Hoffman: Do not shift gears to social, just add it to your mix. It helps your link development efforts, but don’t slash your link building or content dev efforts. She asks, How many people expect you should get customer service on Twitter? [Lots of people in the audience raise hands.]

Gardner: Search is multifaceted. Don’t forsake any part of the pie. Make sure you don’t lose the market share you’ve gained in other areas. You need a balance.

Question: What skills do you need to be successful in 2013?

Bennert: Think about how search supports your brand or your product. Go beyond driving traffic and driving sales. The technical SEO part is important, again, for search engines to do their job better. And mobile — understand how your users are going to interact differently on different platforms.

Forrester: You have to understand marketing; the psychology of selling an object to a person. You have to be an excellent people manager. Be a top-notch negotiator. You need to know the basics of SEO — non-negotiable. Understand the social space and what’s coming next.

If you haven’t heard the opportunity to hear Matt Bailey do a presentation, check him out. He assigns dollar values to everything. You have to be able to do this with your discipline.

Understand responsive design and why it’s important to the future of SEO. We’re telling you to start using responsive design. So many websites depricate content when they move me to mobile.

Gardner: Journalists, from a content development perspective are huge. Engage and educate writers about how their content can get more visibility, so they can weave SEO into it naturally. Also, you need to be an evangelist to sell SEO in-house. Put on the sales hat to win people over.

Sullivan: Speaking to Duane’s point, you might not be able to do everything. You might be so busy with SEO, you can’t d social as well. So you don’t need to know everything about it, but you need to work with those teams that do.

Hoffman: Many times, your employers think you should be able to know everything. Rather than doing everything half-assed, focs on one thing and bring ROI through that channel. Then, get additional support in other areas. Technical skill sets are also still very important.

Question: What’s the most frustrating and gratify thing to you in SEO right now?

Gardner: The ability for end-to-end tracking in analytics packages is one of the most frustrating. There are still gaps. Attribution modeling in the sales funnel is challenging. But, I love the evolution of search. It’s not siloed anymore.

Bennert: It’s frustrating how much the search engines still need help. But the most gratifying thing is how much help they need, because it pays my bills.

Forrester: Most frustrating:  The people. Most rewarding: The people. The amount of misinformation is staggering. I cannot fathom how someone can get off track on a technical topic when the search engines is telling you how to do it. I swear the people are the most gratifying though. They are the most approachable group of professional-level people that can change a business in this way that you would ever meet. Knowing that I can pick up a phone and ask a colleague in the industry and ask them what works is awesome.

Hoffman: There’s so much BS in this industry and everyone talks out their rear end without research and testing. The rewarding part of it, I love playing the game; on the affiliate side, I love knowing I can make something up in my head and make it into a brand in two years. On the agency side, I love being able to double and triple the business just by giving them the basic tools.

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3 responses to “Where is SEO Going in 2013? — SMX East 2012”

  1. Joy writes:

    Nice compilation of industry specific insights by influential people. More surprised to learn about Bing developing a button to kill Seo. This is the thing to watch out for even though fewer people do seo for Bing. I agree with most of the thoughts shared here and think content and presentability are the important factors to rank in 2013. Social is definitely going to play a bigger role.

  2. Rob writes:

    The search engines are always trying to find new ways to identify real popularity. Social is another way to detect it but I think still far from perfect. If it is digital without human judgment it can be manipulated. The algorithms are digital. Humans only get involved when the digital algorithm is smart enough to tell them to go look as a human. Sites need to be focused on giving good reasons to visitors why they should come back. Real followers/customers creates real popularity which will make sites rank for the long haul.

  3. Azhar Nadeem writes:

    Google is making blogging a real challenge with every passing day…SEO is also becoming obsolete everyday…



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