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November 11, 2008

Top Shelf Organic SEO

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Five minutes between sessions is not enough. In case you were wondering. Here we are in the very first real session of PubCon with moderator Mark Jackson, President and CEO, VIZION Interactive, Inc., and panelists Jill Whalen, CEO, High Rankings; Bill Hunt, CEO, Global Stragegies; Ash Nallawalla, Traffic Manager, Yellow Online, Sensis Pty Ltd; and Bruce Clay, President, Bruce Clay, Inc. This room is packed and I am so going to end up elbowing someone.

Jill Whalen is up first. She says this session is the Grey Goose of SEO.

She’s going into the mythbusting business for her presentation.

SEO is NOT:

  • Submission. You don’t need to submit URLs to search engines, either by hand or using an XML Sitemap. If you have millions of pages, consider it but don’t worry about it.
  • Tricking the search engines. Work with the engines instead of trying to trick them.
  • Following Google’s guidelines. They’re not your Bible.
  • Stuffing keywords. Use them in ways that are natural to your content.
  • Optimizing for one keyword phrase. You need to focus on more than one keyword phrase. The more phrases you optimize for, the more you have a chance to be found. Do your keyword research.
  • Optimizing for the long tail.
  • Creating validated XHTML with a tableless design. It’s not a bad thing to do, it’s just not SEO. So long as your page renders, don’t worry so much. The engines will read your code.
  • Submitting to low quality directories.
  • An attempt to increase toolbar PageRank. Your goal is to increase qualified traffic, not to increase your PR.
  • Placing your page in a specific position in SERPs. Rankings, in general, are a poor measurement these days.
  • Proprietary methods and automated tools.

What is SEO? Making your Web site the best it can be for your site visitors and the search engines. Have something remarkable (Seth Godin). You need to stand out from the crowd.

What’s the best time for SEO? During the planning or redesign phase. You want to build SEO into your Web site.

Basic SEO strategy:

  • Keyword research
  • Site architecture layout
  • Map phrases to pages
  • Write compelling keyword-rich Title tags
  • Write descriptive benefit-laden copy
  • Get the word out (link building)

Next up is Ash Nallawalla who will be speaking on content.

SEO is always evolving. He works for the Australian Yellow Pages. Their challenge was to get content onto their pages, which usually consist of just a name, address and phone number. A more robust page might have a few “ad points”, but there is very little crawlable content.

Since they couldn’t add more content to the pages very easily, they built feeder sites to bring in qualified traffic and then take users to the listings.

The initial thinking was that they didn’t want the search engines to see their content. As new thinking came in, they started adding Heading info. Traffic actually dropped because people were clicking the second result. They didn’t submit a Sitemap and he wishes that they had. It would have sped up the indexing process.

They also tried to build an online magazine to bring in traffic. It wasn’t bringing a lot of traffic. He looked into why this was so.

  • Homegrown CMS was not fully optimized.
  • The articles were good but did not have a clear call to action.
  • The search box was below the fold.

They replaced the CMS with Joomla as a free trial, licensed a theme and borrowed some articles from the parent site. Every article linked to the index and to the advertisers. The search box was moved above the fold. They went from a 3 percent click through to a 33 percent click through.

They stopped PPC campaigns on the old site. He’s trying to prove that the smaller site on the Joomla CMS will overtake the old site in traffic by Christmas.

Tips for outsourcing content:

  • Use professionals from the specific niche that you’re targeting.
  • If you’re using writers from Asia, budget in a local editor to fix the spelling, grammar and style (U.S. vs. British spellings).
  • Local university students might be a good source of cheap labor.
  • Have a good contract in place.

Remember: What you intend and what a search engine sees might not be the same thing. Double-check how your PDFs are getting indexed.

Our next speaker is Bill Hunt, who will be talking about hierarchy.

Apparently he’s surprised by the number of people here. Seriously, packed room. The guy next to me just moved. I think he’s tired of my typing.

There’s some discussion of the algorithm that I don’t understand but that’s okay. I don’t have to because the point is that it’s all about relevance.

Keyword relevance requires prominence: in the Title tag, in the Heading, in the sub-heading, in the body and in the link text. Can a simple, non-thinking spider figure out what something is about?

Competitor research is a good way to figure out where your target should be.

He disagrees with Jill in terms of placement. You can do placement a little bit through competitive research.

Disney World’s site is Flash heavy, but they’re good with “progressive degradation”. When you surf the Internet on the phone, degradation is what makes it actually render gracefully. It ensures that error traps are not blocking the engines and that key text is available in XML layers (if you’re using Flex).

Internet relevancy relies on:

  • Link authority
  • How many quality sites/pages are linked to this site/page?

Thematic hubs:

  • How relevant are the sites/pages linking to the page?
  • Does the exact keyword phrase appear?
  • Use tag clouds.

Creating theme hubs:

  • It’s about linking to the relevant pages and back to emphasize the authority of the page.

You need to balance link authority, link popularity and relevancy. Look not just at the number but at the relative page rank. More high-quality links is the real goal. Run a link tool and find who is linking to your home page and ask them to link to the right page instead of just the home page.

Key questions:

  • Is my content linkable?
    • Does this product, news release or event create interest where someone would link to it?
  • Is my content portable?
    • Do you have anything you can pass along? PDF, video, widget?
    • Have you included “forward to friends”? Make sharing easy.
  • Is my content findable?
    • Have you given it a relevant name and meta data?
  • Have you syndicated your portable content?
    • Has it been submitted or shared with key influencers?

Last but not least is our own Bruce Clay. He’s taking us to the future. Talk slow, BC.

There are a number of things going on that he’s going to talk about.

Behavior-based Search Impact

It’s not just personalization, it’s overall behavior. Java can be code, coffee or the Caribbean. But even if everyone is looking for travel, it’s still granular.

Behavior-based search changes the perception of ranking entirely. Monitors will only pick up the “vanilla” search before the community results get factored in. Bruce can’t pretend to be a 17-year-old girl in 90210.

Intent-based Search Impact

Yahoo’s Mindset was a great tool that no longer exists. It categorized searches by intent. “Ford Mustang reviews” is research. “Ford Mustang 2008 dealer” is shopping.

Local search tends to include more shopping queries. You must have an address on your site if it is local. But even that’s intent based. “Las Vegas hotels” isn’t a local search because you probably aren’t in Las Vegas. However, “New York pizza” implies that you are in New York.

Universal Search Impact
[Ed: Universal is Google’s product. Blended is the generic term.]

When universal came in, Google went from 130 points in the algo to over 200. Bruce doesn’t think that we’ve yet seen the impact of that yet. They’re still working on getting words out of video and out of audio.

If you don’t have engagement objects, your site is going to drop like a rock.

Overall, ranking is dead. Behavioral, universal and intent are all going to bias the search results in a way that makes ranking worthless. What you’re looking for is TRAFFIC. Your only measurement for success is from analytics. If you’re not doing analytics, you’re missing out. It’s going to be hard to defend that you’re doing SEO on the basis of doing rankings.

If you’re in a behavioral group, use their words on your pages. Design your site for what it is. If it’s a shopping site, make it look like a shopping site — include bulleted lists and shorter pages.

Experiment with and understand how to include engagement objects: images, video, maps, audio, etc.

Q&A

How important are backlinks from syndicated content?

Bruce: We’ve had many cases where you’re syndicating to a site that’s higher authority than you and they’ll end up outranking you if you’re not careful. I don’t think it’ll help you get ranked.

What is too many links on a page?

Mark: The guidelines say less than a hundred but can you do more? Don’t over do it.

Jill: Do what’s right for usability. Don’t put so many that it’s confusing and dilutes your PageRank. However, you do want to link to your important pages. Don’t design for search engines. There’s no magic number.

[The asker wants a particular number and everyone declines to give him one. Heh.]

How do you balance research and shopping in one site?

Bruce: The architecture tends to reflect one or the other. You can add user-generated content. If you want both, make two pages. Don’t try to make one page serve two masters.

Bill: It’s a matter of keywords taking you to different places. The pages would look like shopping or research.

Bruce: It’s about tie breakers. There’s no such thing as a minor part of your Web site when you’re in the top 10.

How does one machine do competitive analysis?

Jill: You can turn off personalized search. Firefox has add-ons that can do it.

Bruce: There are third-party products that will bias you across multiple sites. That’s really the challenge.

Ash: On my blog, I have links to places where you can opt out of customized ads.

In our experience, Google leans more toward quantity over relevancy. How big of a percentage would you say it’s the other way?

Bill: He thinks it’s a large percentage. He says that quality — not just contextually relevant — links are the real goal. That’s the most important part. He totally disagrees that quantity is even a factor.

Mark: He reminds everyone to link to the RIGHT page with the RIGHT keyword.

Does Google treat the top three positions as pretty much equal?

Bruce: You’re talking about Wikipedia, Wikipedia and Wikipedia?

Jill: I think it’s the authority of sites and the competitiveness of the phrase. If you’re looking to buy something, Wikipedia isn’t going to show up.

Mark: There’s a discussion on Webmaster World about this.

Bill: To get to the number one spot, it’s just about having a higher score. No one is going to build a page that looks like Wikipedia because it looks like crap but it’s highly functional. It’s hard to beat something like that because it’s a page that works with lots and lots of relevant links. It depends on what you’re looking at. If you’re trying to buy a digital camera, it’s not going to be Wikipedia that you’re going to go to.

Is embedding video to your site just including YouTube videos or hosted?

Bruce: It’s hosted. It’s got to be yours and it’s got to be tied in thematically.

Bill: He agrees with Bruce. If you’re embedding YouTube, you’re just giving them a backlink. Put it on your own site.

Vertical feeder sites are getting discounted. How do you save them?

Ash: You really need good backlinks. Your content has to be terrific. You need an element of engagement.

IP targeting: How much is that playing in? How do you target that?

Bruce: That’s intent based search. It sounds like they’re looking at that as a shopping query instead of a research query and so behave in a common way. You can’t try to be research for a shopping query.

Bill: It’s an even worse position internationally. I was in Switzerland and trying to find snow tires for my daughter in Connecticut. I couldn’t do it. You MUST have a local IP and a local TLD if you want to show up for geo-targeting.

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One response to “Top Shelf Organic SEO”

  1. dave writes:

    I agree with outsourcing articles! You will have to double check the work if outsourced from another country. Also, I agree with having everything done naturally with in your website. If it’s all created for the viewer and not for the search engines, you will be ranked naturally.



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