SMX West 2012: Ask The SEOs – Open Q and A Forum

This session is a panel of SEMs who have been in the biz for quite some time. They’re going to lend their insight in a Q and A forum in front of an eager crowd that wants some answers! BCI liveblogger Virginia Nussey and I (guestblogger Kathy Long) tag-teamed this session and combined our coverage so you wouldn’t miss a thing. Let’s get started!

Moderator: Danny Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief, Search Engine Land (@dannysullivan)


Alex Bennert, In House SEO, Wall Street Journal (@seosylph)
Bruce Clay, President, Bruce Clay, Inc. (@bruceclay)
Vanessa Fox, Contributing Editor, Search Engine Land (@vanessafox
Todd Friesen, Director of SEO, Performics (@oilman
Rae Hoffman-Dolan, CEO, Sugarrae SEO Firm (@sugarrae)

What did you recommend a year ago that you do not recommend today?

Vanessa: It never changes. Nothing is different. Structured data is more important, pagination tags are useful.

Todd: Using engagement tools that show engagement can hurt you.

Rae agrees with Todd. If your site is not being tweeted, make sure engagement buttons aren’t there. Think ahead – don’t put up engagement buttons if you don’t expect there to be much buzz. If you don’t think it’s the kind of site that’s going to be shared, she wouldn’t advise people include them. So the signal’s not: people *can* engage with me, but they’re not.

Alex: The first few years I was at the journal I pushed a lot for rearchitecting our URLs. It was one of those things I couldn’t push through. At this point, I’m no longer recommending it. Even tho the URLs are awful, they’re aged and other factors are making them work, it would actually have a harsh impact if changed now.

Danny: If you rewrite old URLs, all the social stuff drops off.

Vanessa: Generally not worth the tradeoff to migrate URLS.

Bruce: It was common for poeple to reposition code within the HTML, for instance, so nav would load from bottom and go up. We don’t think that has merit now. Google uses Chrome rendering engine, so now the bot renders and sees it all. They might perceive repositioned code as a bad signal.

Google recently removed a link evaluation method.

Todd: Asks: Did anyone see anything change? [seems to be implying he didn’t]

Rae: Some of the changes rolled out early in the month, others still ongoing. I didn’t see anything in sites I track. But Valentine weekend I saw huge shifts impacting some sites, which then bounced back halfway. It was her sites that had lots and lots of links but little social engagement.

Vanessa: There might be over 100 link evaluation signal, so if they took one away it would be hard to pin down which one it was. There are connections between many signals. A lot of peole think of signals as a single signal, but “link evaluation” might be made up of hundreds of signals. I think people sometimes forget how much variation and nuance are a single signal.

Bruce: Could be the IP where they are linking from.

Answer: We don’t know.

There have been a lot of problems with links. Now you buy them. [ha ha.] We have a new happy world of social signals. What do you think of them? Do you think they’ll continue to be important?

Todd: Definitely coming in. Same as linking to a certain extent. There are lots of pieces of data associtated with social “links.” IP it came from, location it came from, followers, followees – a single Tweet has 40 pieces of data assocated with it.

Vanessa: Google is trying to find most useful result. Harder to fake social. I expect it to go up and up and up.

Rae: Anything they can use to verify popularity they will. Used to be if you were #1, you’d get hits, and your popularity would grow. But better to be popular first, rank second. They’re going to look at as many signals as possible to validate what is going on, to approximate the actual value of a site.

Alex: There’s also a big push to diversify, such as author trust, so it’s not necessarily site specific. They want to be able to trust individuals.

I’m told I can now  break  two or three keywords and spread them across a sentence instead of right next to each other. Can a search engine really put them together? 

Vanessa: Sure, they are getting better and better at this.

Todd: Breaking it up is likely breaking relevancy – so if you’re competing with a site that does use exact match, you won’t be seen as relevant.

Bruce: LSI has been around a long time. We sometimes break things up intentionally for long tail. it multiplies the number of phrases you’re able to rank for.

Rae: Determines on competition. Won’t break up used cars but longtail, yes. Some phrases don’t READ well, but they will be entered into a query. More concerned about getting links pointing into pages for those longtails. Small longtail phrases, sure.

Danny: Overall you’re looking for natural copy with a little tweaking.

Personalization; logged in and logged out. Do we have to have two different SEO strategies for those.

Vanessa: Million, not just two. You probably do need a Google + strategy.

Rae: You’re dealing with personalization, localization, Google +. Much more complicated today. At the end of the day, Google is looking to rank popular sites that engage users. If you try to achieve that, you’ll rank well across all.SMX West logo

Bruce: Four years ago, we’d do a search for “drug rehab” and would get a message that said results were modified based on recent search history. At a different location, you’d get different results. This was four years ago. Now it’s become more visible. Persona, community, location and intent of every word you’re optimizing for needs to be understood. There’s a lot of science to be applied to keyword research, engineering content, structure of pages. Does everyone remember how under Google advanced search, you can turn on page complexity and get a reading level score? Why would Google bother doing that if they didn’t use it?

Danny: When we first have personalization, it was you and what you did. Then separately we have social search and and what your social network is doing and sharing. They’re basically the same now. Then there may also be aggregate social signals influenced by what the group is doing. Google couldn’t do more to tell you that G+ is important than when they shoved their ads in your face for G+. You can complain about it or use it.

Bruce: Only by looking at signals like “what do my friends like?” and “what do I like?” can they disambiguate queries. Marketers can help google understand the intent of a site and match relevancy with a group interested in the same thing. Google cares about the person doing the search. Will they get better targeted results? We have to adapt to understanding where the ambiguity and how we can eliminate that from our sites. Social signals are trying to eliminate an ambiguity problem. They just want better targeted results so people don’t switch to Bing. As marketers, we need to find the ambiguity and remove it. SEO is becoming more complex, not simpler.

Alex: I think they’re using structured data to address the issue of ambiguity. I think the social push is more about selling data to advertisers.

Danny: They want to know authors, the person that built a page, and to know over time who that person is.

Rae: It’s not going away. You can’t work around it. She can’t figure out how to turn off personalization; others can’t either. The biggest problem is for people running large number of sites like affiliate marketers. It’s frustrating as a marketer to have to use Google+. They want me to engage in Google +. Twenty-four people in circles and hundreds or thousands in Facebook. What makes more ROI sense? We can’t sell links but they are making us promote their social site for free. Feels like blackmail; rank for engagement and promotion. One personal signal that definitely increases CTR is an author/profile pictures in your stream BIG TIME. They need to make the process easier. Takes weeks to validate authorship.

Vanessa: Easier now. Much more streamlined. Took just a couple of days to validate.

Rae: Can you write an article on on how to do it?

Vanessa: Yes.

How do you control site links in results?

Rae: You can remove things. You can’t add them.

Vanessa: Make sure the ones you want are prominent on your home page and people click on them and go to those pages.

Rae: Top navigation, most linked to and most popular pages are the ones that most commonly become Sitelinks.

Vanessa: Sitelinks purpose are to get people to the most popular pages on the site. This is why you can’t really control it.

Alex: I’m finding the navigation is influencing sitelinks a lot.

Any thoughts on “not provided”?

Vanessa: Not provided makes historical info hard.

Todd: Aggravates me. Google continues to take data away, yet take more from us.

Bruce: Actual attribution of sale becomes more difficult. My own site has 28.2 percent “not provided.” I can’t definitely know whether those words convert at a higher rate than people who aren’t. I can’t say I got an action or goal achieved due to a keyword.

Alex: You don’t think the rest of the keyword data reflects the same?

Todd: Your only option is to gross it up. The whole thing really aggravates me. we’ve done everything Google said about having profiles and pictures. They contintually take information from us.

Rae: The amount of “not provided” depends on the industry. Marketing industry has a really high percentage of not provided. On a tech site, it’s 14 percent. On sites where non-Internet friends (no tech) go, it’s single digit.

Danny: The hardest thing is when it was first announced, they said they had to do it for some explanation, to be more secure. But the real reason was Search, plus Your world – a secure connection that people can’t eavesdrop on. but that still doesn’t prevent that data from flowing out to paid search advertisers. you said you’re doing this for privacy, you left a huge gaping hole for SEOs, but you’re not going to cut your own (Google’s) bottom line.

If you had to start with a few link building tactics, what would you do? 

Rae: Guest blogging. Not hard to find guest blog opportunities. Change email subject to “Hey, name” open rate on guest blog pitches from single digit to 20+ percent. Hands down, guest posting Get on good sites, you also get direct referral from those sites.

What are your predictions? What’s Google going to do next?

Vanessa: Search will be integrated into everything. Already search is in Google Glasses.

Rae: There will still be Panda cleanup for the  next six to 12 months. She has plagiarized sites and sees pages drop and give up rank to copies. Not improved on identifying the original. Panda algorithms need some cleanup.

Vanessa: Google looking for ways for better user experience. That’s the direction they are going. Focus on usability and user experience. It will benefit you anyway. The caffeine infrastructure update allowed them to connect more data to pages than before and they’re going to keep moving in that direction.

Todd: Social will continue to grow as raw linking goes down. Forcing us to be smarter with how we engage with user base. Write good content first to get those good social signals.

Bruce: Personalization is going to be big, but Google’s in the business of money. They make more money by localization as well. Eventually the PPC space is going to run out of space. They’re going to have to manufacture ways to make money and will probably start inserting paid in the organic space.

Alex: They’re pushing the way people are using different devices to use sites. Their very aggressive push of social. They’re hellbent on people using G+ one way or the other. And privacy, where they say we’re going to share all info among different platforms, devices and products will manifest in our world.

Danny: The classic example is search informing YouTube suggestions.

Vanessa: In Gmail ads, they’ve started pulling in topics you’ve been searching, where it used to be just what’s in the mail.

And that’s a wrap for our SMX West coverage, folks!

Kathy Long is one of the original "Digital Divas," having jumped on the Internet bandwagon back in its infancy in 1995 when she started her own company, Kat & Mouse. Her current passions are SEO, Local Search and what she calls "SECRO" (Search Engine Conversion Rate Optimization), as well as public speaking and teaching groups of SMB business owners on how to get their websites to ka-ching.

See Kathy's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (4)
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4 Replies to “SMX West 2012: Ask The SEOs – Open Q and A Forum”

I had to learn the hard way about the social stuff falling off a URL that gets updated. I lost over 1,500 tweets on a post once and didn’t even catch it until a month later.

Anyway, lots of good info in this post, thanks :)

So glad you appreciate it, Brett! Thank you. It’s really hard being a live blogger. Everyone deserves a big hand of applause.

Awesome write up! Your’s and Vanessa’s summaries are way more detailed than others out there and it is much appreciated!

Thank you! Good to know!


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