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July 4, 2007

The Top SEOs ‘Give it Up’ In Seattle for SMX

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Early last month in a city known as "Seattle", a group of search marketers attended a magical gathering called Search Marketing Expo. You’ve already heard about most of the magic that took place, but there was one meeting Lord Sullivan would not let the peasant bloggers discuss until one month after it occurred. Anyone who broke the honor code would be banished from the land of optimization. Well, loyal readers, the one month embargo has ended and now we may share our story.

The Give it Up session featured search engine optimization tips, tricks and secrets presented by top industry’s top figures like Matt Cutts, Jennifer Slegg, Mike Grehan, Mikkel deMib Svendsen, Todd Friesen, Greg Boser, Bruce Clay, Stephan Spencer, and Jill Whalen. During the Give it Up SMX session we learned which search marketer prays to the almighty 301 redirect, who was taking potshots at the defenseless bloggers, who prefers pretty girls to boring blue text links, and at the end, which search marketer would be voted the Give it Up MVP.

The premise of the Give It Up session was top search marketers to get together and basically "give it up", revealing their favorite and most overlooked search engine optimizations secrets.

Matt Cutts wasn’t on the panel but spoke first thanks to yet another Lord Sullivan disclaimer (we heart you, Danny. Really.): Matt would only be allowed to stay in the room if he shared one secret the audience found worthy. If the audience didn’t like his secret he would be banished. In this case banished meant standing on the other side of a thin cloth curtain. Ooo, harsh punishment, Danny!

Being a good sport, Matt took center stage and rattled off a story about a Bulgarian spammer who, thanks to a typo, got his hands on 7,000 domains with the PR of eTrade for free.

Matt explained about DNS, stating that when you buy a domain you also need to get hosting. When a domain holder doesn’t park the domain, a lot of times the domain registrar will set the nameserver to lamedelegation.org. This means the domain isn’t parked, it’s just kind of sitting out there. (Susan would be an example of a "parked employee") Matt explained that millions of domains were parked at lamedelegation.org, but because site owners are prone to typos, some had set the nameserver to lame-delegation.org. A savvy spammer came along, picked up the lame-delegation.org domain, and was able to host a bunch of domains he didn’t even own. He got all these free links just for a typo from the registrar when he didn’t own anything. Sweet.

Yeah, yeah, fun story. Sadly, this meant Matt got to stay. I was kind of hoping he’d get booted. (What? It would have been funny!)

Stephan Spencer spoke next and turned out to be the Give It Up Most Valuable Player, offering up 7 valuable search engine optimization secrets.

  • Secret #1: Grouped Results – Google groups results from the same site together. To find the true position of an indented (grouped) result, simply add the parameter [&num=9] to the URL and see if the indented listing drops off. If not, add [&num=8]. Rinse and repeat until the indented listing falls away. (If the listing falls away after you add [&num=8] you know that listings true position is ninth.)
  • Secret #2: View (Potentially) Cloaked Page When "Cached" Link Not Available – To do this, use Google Translate and translate the page from English to English.

    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=en&u=URLGO
    ESHERE&sa=X&oi=translate&resnum=9&ct=result

  • Secret #3: Change Google Preferences to "English Only" – Stephan says that Google wildly overestimates its number of results. By setting results to English only, it eliminates all of the pages where it knows the page exists but didn’t bother indexing and/or crawling it. This will cut out about 2/3rds of the results.
  • Secret #4: Free Analyst Reports – Get free analyst reports from Forrester by searching Google for "forrester research grapevine endnotes filetype:pdf"
  • Secret #5: Build a link building spider — Look for sites one-click away from Google. Where does Google link to? Now, that’s a nice neighborhood! Look for sites with a super high PR. With preferences for sites that already give link love to patron/sponsor. Find places to get links from. Volunteer to help them out.
  • Secret #6: Cloak Your Home Page – For bots only, drop tracking tags and other superfluous parameters from the URLs of your links. Or, if you have search engine friendly versions of your secondary level pages, link to them instead. Use "user agent" detection and don’t "noarchive" the pages to obscure what you’re doing. Don’t mess with the content of the page – that gets into dangerous "black hat" territory.
  • Secret #7: Link Build Your Existing Links — Mine your existing backlinks for opportunities to revise the anchor text. Pull some favors with friends who link to you. It helps to be a blogger when reaching out to other bloggers. He lists two great tools to help with this:
    • WeBuildPages’ Neat-o Tool (www.webuildpages.com/neat-o)
    • SEOBook’s Backlink Analyzer (http://tools.seobook.com/backlink-analyzer/)

Bonus Tips: Site owners can display all of their supplemental results by doing a search for [- site:www.yourdomain.com *** -qerdafjadfs]. Use "Sticky" posts to improve keyword prominence on your blog. On your blog, define unique title tags that aren’t just based the post titles ("SEO Title Tag" WordPress plugin). Participate on Mark Cuban’s blog (blogmaverick.com). It doesn’t "nofollow" comments! (Note: Add value to the discussion, don’t spam).

Shari Thurow followed Stephan and shared the following tips:

  • Tip 1: Take a class: Shari says taking a class made her a better SEO. She recommends taking the class Organization of Information or Information Organization Access.
  • Tip 2: Read These Two Articles:
    • J.M.Bates’s "The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the on-line search interface.": Search is not a linear process. Shari says this article taught her that search encompasses more than just query behavior. Search encrusts a wide variety of behaviors, including but not limited to, queries. Refining, expanding, foraging, pogo-sticking, browsing, scanning and reading.
    • Michael Buckland’s "What is a document?": Article taught her that not all "documents" are text based. Is King Tut’s mummy a document? Taught her the limitations of many content management systems.

Shari ends that you can gather as many tips as you like but you have to move beyond the cat and mouse mentality. As advanced searchers we have to evolve. Don’t be afraid to read articles.

Mikkel took the stage and offered to simply give attendees Matt Cutts’ phone number. Sadly, he was kidding. (C’mon, Matt. I promise only to call a few times a week.) Instead, he spoke about content creation and stated one of the biggest challenges to search engine optimization is to create original quality content for all the keywords you want to rank for. So, he asked, why not do it like the engines and make it computer generated?

I know this happened a month ago, but I do believe I winced the moment that question came out of his mouth. In fact, I’m wincing right now

Mikkel argued that computer generated writing is here to stay and that it’s going to get bigger. Computer generated writing is all about randomizing phrases and word replacements. Try and recall the 10 million spam messages you got this morning. Kind of like that.

Mikkel said computer generated content can be used for cloaking sites, developing great keyword rich filler text, to create foreign language sites, data feeds, etc. If don’t right, Mikkel told the audience that the text that comes out won’t look much more silly than the average blog. Dude! I can see you!

[Side note: I don’t know what was going on in SMX but it was seriously two days of Let’s Pick on the Bloggers. I cannot count the many shocked and exacerbated looks Matt McGee and I gave one another. The many speakers who took blogger potshots did realize we were all sitting in the front row, right? Maybe we need blogger hats and blogger T-shirts or something.]

Mikkel used the idea of Markov Chains to further confuse us explain his points about computer generated content. If you understand what Markov Chains are then you’re about 3 levels above me. All I know is Mikkel instructed attendees to use them to adjust content keyword densities, blend with other methods of automated content and to create keyword-based cross-linking. Basically, from what I understood, using Markov Chains helps your generated text to have the same "footprints" and grammar structure as non-generated text. [Feel free to comment and school me on Markov Chains. You won’t hurt my feelings.]

Bruce took the podium next and accurately defined the culture here at Bruce Clay by explaining "the way a lot of us learn is to play". Yeah, that pretty much describes the Bruce Clay squad. We’re big on the playing learning.

Bruce offers up some tips:

  • Siloing: Properly siloing a site can yield a traffic increase of 30 percent or more. Align subjects by query, not random groupings. Landing pages receive internal links across themes. Anchor text management is critical.
  • Training: Experience tells us that success on a search engine optimization project more than doubles if the whole team understands what is happening. Arguing about every action slows down the process. Use training to pull the team together. Failure to speak the same language will result in missed expectations and blaming. Training is critical.
  • Universal & Inter-Galactic & What’s Next? : Large brands aren’t looking where to go next because they’re afraid to embrace change. Understand that participation in the internet is critical to brand protection. Do it all – blogs, video, podcasts, RSS, social, etc. Make it a religion or be gone in five years. Think inter-galactic. (I’m sorry Bruce kept saying "inter-galactic”, it’s just that he’s a really big nerd. It’s part of why we love him.) We really need to engage socially. From the standpoint of search engine optimization, we’re finding that a lot of the competitors we’re facing are not going to have the bandwidth to do podcasts; they don’t have the time for blogs, etc. If we do, we have a competitive advantage.
  • Increase Traffic: He puts up a blackhat Meta tag and joked for people to put it in their site and help our traffic. Heh. Nice Bruce.

The days of adding a tag and beating your competition are over. If you think there is a magic pill, you need more training. Align your architecture correctly, Follow the right concepts.

Mike Grehan followed Bruce and gave attendees his "current thoughts". Mike challenges attendees to think differently, saying that Google’s new Universal Search is ten times scarier than the algorithm update in 2003 that caused a lot of people to lose their rankings.

With Universal Search, everything is getting pushed down below the fold. Writing a compelling Title tag is important, but it almost becomes less important when there’s a provocative image staring users down on the search results page. Mike argued that he doesn’t care how compelling your Title tag is, if there’s a provocatively dressed woman on his SERP, that’s where his attention is going.

[Hmm, so far Bruce Clay employee’s like to play, throw out nerdy words, and to stare at half naked women. Way to represent, boys! :)]

It’s not enough to be on the first page when it’s only the first result that is above the fold. In today’s world, content is more than copy. There are tools and other media to worry about.

Jill Whalen took the stage next and covered several basic search engine optimization "tricks".

  • Alt attribute of a logo: Use keywords when possible.
  • Alt attribute text = anchor text: Put a big money phrase or word in there, it will be linked to from every page of your site.
  • Dynamic titles and descriptions:
    • For titles – Use last three phrases from breadcrumbs in reverse order plus company name. Do your keyword research and name your categories after the biggest search terms. If you take the breadcrumb trail in reverse order you can put them in your Title. Example: "CostaRica 7-day Cruise – Royal Caribbean – CruiseLine – Company Name".
    • Dynamic Descriptions. Generic description at each category and page level. Substitute keywords appropriately.

Jennifer Slegg’s presentation was focused on linking. Talking about internal link love, Jenn advised always linking to new content from the home page and giving each content page at least 2-3 related articles. This will help you be seen by the search engines as a subject matter expert. Jennifer mentions something we tell our clients when talking about siloing which is not to bury pages multiple clicks or directories deep. If a user (or spider) can’t get to an important site page within two clicks, it’s too far.

When buying links, Jennifer advises site owners to vary keyword phrases. Mix it up with 10-20 variations and always check the backlinks of the link page. Avoid common placements, known link networks, and anything that’s already on Matt Cutts’ radar. Heh.

In regards to external link love, link to authority sites in your niche, use nofollow tags on reference links you cannot give a vote of confidence to, don’t link to someone just because they linked to you, and use target_blank for external links.

Jennifer also spoke about linkbaiting and stated that carefully crafted link bait can get you a lot of links very quickly. She mentioned crafting things like Top 10 lists, useful tools, giveaways, quizzes, contests, rants, controversy and anything "shocking". However, use caution. All link bait has the potential to backfire, badly. Even if you’re not the only one taking that controversial stance, you could be the one that everyone decides to jump on and criticize when things turn ugly. Before you say anything negative about someone, know their friends and who might jump in to fight their battles.

Todd Friesen followed Jennifer and started out by speaking about multi-variant testing. It’s not just for pay per click anymore! Site owners should use it to for natural search landing pages and to help bump up conversions.

[Side note: I’d like to call for a moment of silence. This is the point in the session where Matt McGee’s laptop finally died. It was at least the third time during the 48-hour period that I watched it run out of power. Dude, invest in an extra battery.]

Todd advocated thinking about buying links as "media placement". If you are going to go out and buy links don’t buy from a site that’s not related. Also, if you’re a link network and you sell links, don’t think that Google doesn’t know about you. They do. The link campaign Todd is running pays out on direct traffic.

Todd touched on Mikkel’s Markov Chain rant and said it sounds nice but you can’t do that on a client’s Web site. If you’re looking for cheap generated content there is a company called Bizzarevoice that does reviews that are unique for every site. It’s real, great content and plugs in really well.

For larger sites, Todd advised dropping 3 or 4 of the top level categories into the footer where you typically stuff your legal info. His logic: No one cares about your legal info anyway. Give them category pages.

Todd ended by giving site owners some tips about moving a site from one domain to another. First, build out your XML Sitemap and get your new site all ready to go. Once that’s done, 301 redirect all the links on your old site to their new location on the new site. Launch your new site and submit your old Sitemap into Webmaster Central and Site Explorer. The engines will then go check out the links and work their way through your site map. You already have your 301s set up and so you’re encouraging them to check out the new URLs. Once the process starts you can submit your new site map.

Greg Boser was the last to speak and got some early laughs by thanking Danny for being way more flexible about things than that other search conference. Danny turned about 12 shades of red and it was cute. I really want to snuggle Danny. I know that makes me weird.

Greg talked about 301 redirects and how they can be used for good or used for evil. He thinks of it as a robots.txt file on steroids. You can use robots.txt to exclude links or you can 301 one copy of a page to another. The juice of the two pages will be consolidated and help that page to rank higher. He said the thing about Google is that it finds and credits links very quickly but the backlink won’t show up until about 45 days after Google finds it. This gives you time to mask where your juice is coming from, you know, should you want to do that.

He also mentioned the Googlebomb that has him ranking for Razor Clam Crudo and how Greg, Todd and Michael Gray used 301 redirects to win during the Dave Pasternack contest.

[Correction: It appears I misquoted Greg above. The true winner of the Dave Pasternack contest was James Beard Foundation’s page. I apologize for the error.]

For small sites, Greg says you can buy links from crappy directories and test redirection to another popular site. If the domain tanks you can turn it off or direct it at a competitor. (Um, Greg!).

Danny chimed in after Todd to give two final tips:

  • Use the NY Times Link Generator to read NYT articles without paying for them. You can find the URL at nytimes.blogspace.com.
  • The Google blog, you can use the "create a link" feature to get some good traffic. Danny said you either want to be the first person to link or the last person because that’s where users’ eyes go. They won’t clink on links in the middle of the list.

And with that the session was over! If you didn’t hear the search engine optimization nuggets you were looking for, my advice would be to try and learn about SEO the old fashioned way – by buying your favorite search marketer a few drinks at the bar. For some reason that seems to help increase the flow of information. You didn’t hear it from me.

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11 responses to “The Top SEOs ‘Give it Up’ In Seattle for SMX”

  1. Sökmotoroptimering writes:

    Thanks for the info!

  2. Peter van der Graaf writes:

    Sounds like Mikkel was the only one with some cutting edge info. I was worried I had missed much by putting my customers first and not attending.
    Some geeky programmers I worked with once explained me the Markov chain principle and they made it work in a fake text generator (scrape rewriter) as well. I have to admit that their explanation didn’t make it much clearer for me. But as long as it works, the details are unimportant.

  3. Samantha writes:

    hi. thanks for the break down of the session. i have two questions though.

    where can i take this class: Organization of Information or Information Organization Access

    and where can i find this article: "The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the on-line search interface."
    i put it into google and the title of the article didn’t show up, at least not that i saw.

    thank you again!

  4. Lisa writes:

    Peter: Personally, I really enjoyed Stephan’s presentation. I thought he gave a lot of useful tips. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t quite understand the process behind Markov chains. :)

    Samantha: To answer your two questions:

    1. My advice would be to check out the information architecture classes being offered by the local colleges. Your Web site says you’re from Arizona, so I did a quick Google search for [“organizaton of information” arizona] and it looks like the class has been offered in the area at some point. I don’t know how close you are to those colleges, of course, but I’d keep an eye out to see when they come back around.

    2. The design of browsing article can be found here.
    Hope that helps!

  5. SEO Honolulu writes:

    WOW! This was the motherload of juicy stuff. Man.. I need to get a “SMX Honolulu” going…

  6. Samantha writes:

    thank you very much for the links! they were a great help to me :)

  7. Graham writes:

    The Top Seo’s, this should be good. Thanks for the information.

  8. Dave Pasternack writes:

    Fascinating that Greg thinks he can get away with claiming that he won the contest, when all anybody has to do is go to Threadwatch.org to see that the James Beard Foundation won.
    You guys have fun wasting your time with these little black hat SEO tricks. Eventually, Google will figure out what you’re doing, realize that you’re not as relevant as you think you are, and sink you to the bottom of page 10.
    This post confirms for me why SEO firms are going out of business. People go to shows like this, see how simple it all is, and they decide to do it themselves rather than pay someone else $500/hour to do it for them. You guys are in trouble, and no amount of anger and name calling will make it go away.

  9. Susan Esparza writes:

    Thanks for stopping by Dave!

    You’re absolutely correct about the official winner of the contest being the James Beard Foundation. I’m pretty sure Greg himself admits that. We’ll go ahead and edit the entry to reflect that.

    Have a great weekend!

  10. Tom Steves writes:

    Mikkel was just kidding! The whole thing was a put-on! It became hilarious after you caught on (if you did). … or I’m an idiot…

  11. Paul Anthony writes:

    Hi Bruce, realise this is a comment on an extremely old post…but then stands to reason that I might be the last to comment on it? Picked up a good few tips from a seminar I would never have attended. Thanks for the rundown.



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