SEO is Dead. Long Live SEO! SESNY 2012
Richard Zwicky, Chairman, BlueGlass
Bruce Clay, President, Bruce Clay, Inc.
Thom Craver, Web and Database Specialist, Saunders College (RIT)
Kristopher Jones, President & CEO, KBJ Interactive
Marcus Tandler, CEO/Partner, Tandler.Doerje
Got me 1 hour left battery time. Let’s see if we make it. Lively group here at the end of the second day of the conference. The expo hall is now closed, so I think all the attendees are finding a session to entertain themselves. This one promises to deliver. Richard says he can’t recall how often SEO is declared dead. Now everyone talks about the rumor that Google is looking for sites actively SEO’d and whack them.
Bruce says he thinks the word is that “aggressive” SEO will be penalized. Obvs, Google is fighting links. Aggressive repositioning of text on a page. Google is a signal based company. You can do a lot of little things, but if it adds up to a lot you might get red flagged.
Jones: He thinks the statement is telling us what we already know. His philosophy is natural SEO, natural flow of content and how it’s presented. There were the altavista days, when keyword density was the focus. But the search industry has moved into quality, ad quality scores. Matt’s recent comment isn’t a surprise. We’re in an industry that’s computer generated. Matt’s trying to improve the algos in the computers. And as long as it’s a computer there will be opportunities for us to rank higher in search engines.
Tandler: It became a big business and money can buy results. Google doesn’t want to rank the page that does the best SEO but the page that does the best for user. They have to become independent of signals that can be influenced by people like us. Their own browser, ways to track, social signals, user intent – they have multiple ways to get signals that are less gameable, signals that reflect how people are actually using the web. Now it pays to have an organic great site with content people like to link to.
Clay: SEO definition is different today than 2000. Google often says they like SEOs because they aim to improve website quality. SEO is a way of measuring do you stack up against the competition. There’s a lot of research and feedback that needs to be done. The SEO of 2000 is probably dead. 10 years from now today’s SEO might be dead. It’s always evolving. How many people here think SEO is dead? (No one raises their hand.)
Zwicky: Google’s never announced they’re going to do an algo change in the past. This is the first time. They announce trends but never a blatant statement as this.
Tandler: You believe it? It’s the same thing Matt always does.
Zwicky: In the past companies have been examples of (BMW, everyone with Panda). Do you expect to see examples?
Tandler: Somone will be made an example of aggreswsive SEO. “Don’t be this guy,” Google will point to. Because they can’t handle it algorithmically.
Clay: It was presented as a sort of sidebar comment. He may have even overstated it. It was during a Skyped-in presentation at SXSW. Google probably won’t call anyone out. There are enough feedback mechanisms that someone will recognize they’re losing traffic and will write about it. They also have to do it because now we’re all expecting it.
Jones: My instinct is this is a conscious decision. Watching Demand Media go public –raising 100s of millions of dollars, stock trading in 20s, Panda 1 gets issued. Demand Media stock fell off a cliff. When Google makes decisions that affects publicly traded companies – this particular incident suggests Google might be willing to give us more information before it happens. When you start talking about affecting financial markets, pension funds and people investing in Demand Media, and suddenly Google makes an algo change, what happens to pension funds?
Social media + SEO?
Jones: At a Google event last night, talking to a senior Google person, a discussion that everything is starting to come local. How can Google change its model to make the experience local? If it’s true all our search experiences become personal, SEO as we know it is dead. It will all revolve on social cues. No longer experiencing web through search but through social. The whole game will change.
Tandler: There are a lot of conversations not happening on social, like medicine, for example. No one’s going to give me a like for hemorrhoid cream. Also financial stuff. There are a lot of stuff not happening social now and probably won’t be – maybe 57% of topics are shared socially.
It’s important for Google to get Google+ running. “It’s just a horrible product.” They’re all spammers buying +1s [Editor correction 2/22: According to Tandler, a large portion of all the new people that put him in circles look fake to him and are thinks they are spammers building up an army of fake G+ users, to later sell them to ignorant SEOs that think that buying +1s will help].
The comScore data isn’t legitimate [Editor correction 2/22: according to Tandler, comScore data shows that Google+ might be growing in user numbers, but since the time spent on there and engagement with the product is low, no one really uses it]. But they need the social graph to get valid data about social search. I’d rather get a link than a like at the moment.
Personalized results and ranking reports: where is SEO going if clients think ranking matters?
Craver: It’s not a popularity contest. It’s about dollars at the end of the day. Why do they care about ranking and not revenue?
Clay: SEO is focused on traffic. You need analytics data if you’re doing SEO. The problem today is that the analytics lies, attribution, personalization… this is separate from ranking reports. The biggest tools users aren’t our customers but ourselves. We use ranking as a signal, not gospel.
Craver: Not provided is on the rise. He’s collecting data on this and it’s always been in 20% and more, well over double digits. It’s a problem if you’re a newer site adding content. What you do know is that people signed in are the only ones affected by keywords not passing through. You’ll never see absolutes, so look for trends. Traffic bumps. How many conversions are you getting?
Does Google practice what it preaches? Is it fair? Why do only big brands show up?
Jones: We’re talking about computers. I believe there’s an honest intention to practice what they preach. But you can find a lot of examples where it doesn’t seem to work. Despite best intentions and filters in algo to focus on most relevant results, inevitably stuff gets through and those anecdotal examples stand out. Google does an incredible job at what they preach. Also, talking to Google people leads me to believe Google is very frustrated. Facebook is winning. Where did Pinterest come from? This isn’t a sweeping statement, but the social part of who we are as online consumers of content is frustrating the crap out of them. How many of us in here have served hundreds of happy customers and one unhappy one makes a big stink? Google probably feels the same way – they have an amazing product and don’t get credit for it.
Clay: We’re dealing with perception. When thinking about ranking there are 2 schools. Look at your own site and see you’re better than everyone else. But are you better than millions of other sites for other queries? The algo has 200 variables, some are architectural. They might do one of those better than you.
Tandler: When you look at a competitor you’re looking at backlinks, but you’re not seeing everything Google does. If you always see the same shops ranking, it may be that people are buying from it over and over. This is stuff Google knows more than we do. Detach yourself from focusing on just backlinks and on-page structure.
Jones: If Google loses social and can’t figure it out, all I’m going to say is MySpace. Something like the average user spends multiple of 3-5x more time on Facebook than on search engines. The Internet is now consumed on devices. We still need to talk about search engines, it’s an enormous industry, but everything’s changed.
Clay: If you’re out to buy something there’s 3 stages: hunting, shopping, buying. We’ve found that the hunting stage has shifted to asking people on social media. The whole front end of traffic using Google has moved to Facebook. We have to understand that social has become the stage before search so we need to work there.
Craver: Google+ isn’t as much about social as it is identification. It’s about getting behaviors. Google is too smart not to see the shift. Are they going to change their biz model to provide more info down the road.
Clay: This is maybe the first time in 15 years Google hasn’t been the bright shiny object at conferences. There’s a lot of panic happening in Google boardrooms. Google has tied 25% of bonus compensation to success of Google+.
Is it possible to over-optimize links?
Clay: A year ago I proposed to Matt Cutts to make modifications to Webmaster Tools to nofollow a link at receiving end. Matt said he finally got traction from Webmaster Tools team and looking to implement. I can get out from under an attack and now my competitor is sending me traffic.
Tandler: Doesn’t make sense. I could then buy all the shitty links I want and then if any work against you, claim they’re not from him and see if any stick. If they gave us the capability, I’d abuse it. It’d be Google saying oh I lost my way, help me. You don’t need anyone to tell me this is a bad link, this is a link I don’t want. They want to be able to say we’ll take care of it.
Clay: Example. I build a site today and in 48 hours I have a million links. Am I spammer? More context: I find a cure for cancer and build a site. Now every news source and hospital links to me. The best way to get a link is to earn it. Now we’re back around to the concept of aggressive SEO. If you earn it, Google doesn’t have a problem with you.
Zwicky: Google has said to me: your job is to explain to customers why when Google is wrong, they’re right to be wrong.
Craver: Rel=”me” is tell us, we can’t do it. Help us please. It’s a signal, not the end-all-be-all. On the altruistic side, they provide the author pic as a value add. Rich Snippets, semantic data helps you decide what you’re looking for.
Zwicky: We’re out of time. Judging from this discussion, next conference they can retitle the session to “Is Google Dead?” ;)