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The Top Six Takeaways from PubCon 2007

by Lisa Barone, December 15, 2007

PubCon took over Las Vegas last week and brought with it four days of informational instruction and search marketers from around the globe. Session topics ranged from search engine optimization, pay per click management, branding, social media, Web analytics and everything in between.

Bruce Clay, Inc. bloggers Susan Esparza and Lisa Barone were on hand to provide liveblogging coverage for an impressive 27 sessions. But in case you don't have time to sift through all that, here are the Top 6 takeaways from PubCon Las Vegas 2007. These are the nuggets that every search marketer must know to start 2008 off on the right foot!

#6: Google Reduced "Visible ToolBar PageRank"...Not For Everyone

#6: Google Reduced "Visible ToolBar PageRank"...Not For Everyone

The search industry has been abuzz over the topic of paid links for months. In fact, it's been our Hot Topic for months. So, it was no surprise that, when search marketers landed in Vegas, paid links was one of the hottest topics in contention.

One of the highlights of Tuesday's session agenda was the Link Buying session. During his presentation, Rand Fishkin revealed a conversation he had had with Senior Google Engineer Matt Cutts where Matt told him that the latest Toolbar update was intended to reduce the visible PageRank of sites Google suspected of engaging in link buying or selling. It was Matt's use of the term "visible PageRank" that really got search marketer's attention. Many wondered if that's all Google had done - reduced the visible PageRank, not the site's actual authority in the index.

Another tidbit revealed by Rand was that Google did not reduce PageRank for every link buyer and seller it knew about. Had they done that, it would have tipped off link buyers and sellers and sent them running to new networks. It was a clear hint to those engaging in link buying and selling, that just because you didn't take a hit this time, doesn't mean Google doesn't know about you.

Because of Google's harsh crackdown, speaker Aaron Wall hammered out some excellent alternatives to buying links. He recommended things like syndicating your content on other sites, bartering for links, buying competition Web sites, engaging in social media and running public relations campaigns to bump your publicity. Tactics like these help sites to build authority, send traffic and flow PageRank in very natural ways. They also allow you to stay in Google's good graces.

#5: Leverage Social Media as a New Traffic Source

With Google taking such a strong stance against paid links, many search marketers are now looking towards new traffic sources. Much of this traffic seems to be coming from social media.

Last year during SES Chicago, the concept of link bait was brand new and all the rage. There were sessions explaining what it was, how to do it and which sites were most important. A year later, the notion of link bait has matured fast. Sure, there were still beginner sessions like Social Marking 101 - The Playing Field and Link Baiting 96 Different Strategies, but much of the talk was about advanced link bait techniques and monetizing social media to turn it into a legitimate revenue stream. The Monetizing Social Media Traffic panel was a goldmine for search marketers eager to learn about increasing ROI and conversions. Panelist Vanessa Fox gave audience members tips on turning fickle social media visitors into loyal customers. She recommended the following:

  • Keep your viral marketing relevant for your site.
  • Make it easy for visitors to see what your site has to offer.
  • Provide multiple links to other pages on your site.
  • Think about what your goals are and funnel users into a conversion path.

To turn social media into an alternative traffic and revenue source, search marketers must create something viral that draws people in and then give them something else to make them stay on their site. There should always be another place for visitors to go once they've clicked through. There's a common ground in what your visitors want and what social communities find enjoyable. Find it. And remember, ultimately it's not the eyeballs you're after. You want to attract the kind of people who want to stay.

It's also time to start optimizing your landing pages for the users who are visiting you through social media channels. Digg users are the not the same as Reddit users. Test different entry points when releasing link bait to see which is more effective. For example, research shows that Digg users don't click on ads, so you may not want to even include them when you're creating link bait designed to appeal to a Digg audience.

#4: Content Isn't King; It's Everything

I know, you've been hearing it for years, but PubCon 2007 featured a number of great sessions designed to do one thing--help site owners create content that attracts attention and links from their target audience.

During the Content Creation - Cranking It Out session, Robin Liss broke the content creation cycle down for audience members. Her reasoning was that you must know what's going to happen and who's going to do what during each stage so that you can eliminate bottlenecks and keep fresh content flowing.

Rae Hoffman really drove home the importance of relevant content when she called it the single most effective way to differentiate your site from the masses, to develop traffic, and get the expert inbound links that will propel your site to the top of the search engines and keep it there. And she was right. Publishing unique content on a frequent basis helps to develop links, find new traffic referrals, positions your site as an authority, increases feed subscriber counts, creates new advertising opportunities and much more.

But it can't be all about you. Consumers ignore content that is too salesy or self-centered. In the Effective Action-based Copywriting session, Brian Clark explained how each piece of content should have a clear opening, elicit empathy, offer a solution, and include a call to action.

Your existing Web site is a breeding ground for new content opportunities. Go through your site and find topics that can be expanded. Take advantage of the Google snippet, product reviews, page titles and any other area that will help you get in your customer's line of sight. Every piece of content you write should have independent value, a headline and hook, and a scannable structure.

#3: Control and Maintain Your Brand

With social media becoming increasingly influential in the search engine results page, companies must be vigilant about controlling their brand. Luckily, the Brand Management session was able to teach search marketers a few things regarding the value that content has in building their brand.

Matt Tuens used his presentation to explain to audience members how content and brand management can help generate high quality organic search traffic, establish trust with your visitor, and maximize the monetization of each page. Every page of content out there about you or your company represents another opportunity for you to spread and reinforce your brand message and value. But you have to be aware of it.

You can't just live on your site. You have to go out and find where the conversation is taking place. Be on Facebook and on MySpace. Set up Google Alerts to track any and all company references, as well as references of your competitors. Find the holes they're leaving and fill them. Empower your brand evangelists. Respond to negative criticism without feeding it.

Addressing negative criticism head on is actually a really important facet to brand management. Customers like dealing with companies who can admit wrongdoing and address concerns. Anything negative out there is a risk. Don't think that just because it's not ranking yet doesn't mean that it won't. If you can find it, your customers can too. Make sure the problem is addressed.

#2: Keyword Research Isn't Just for SEO Anymore

You know how important keyword research is to your search engine optimization campaign and you're already using it as a tool to craft new PPC ads. But are you also using it for competitive research and to help your company become a social media king? Your competition is.

During the Keyword Research, Selection and Optimization panel, Ken Jurina delivered a fantastic presentation where he identified 6 other uses for keyword research. In order to stay ahead of your competition, keyword research should be used in the following areas:

  • Business Research: Product research, competitive intelligence.
  • Social Research: Political topics, publish issues, celebrity brand.
  • Brand Equity: Find the relevant words for your niche. If you're selling television sets, learn what sets are popular. What are people looking for?
  • New Product Ideas: What are people looking for? Find new opportunities.
  • Consumer Feedback: What problems are people having? What parts are they looking for? Customer service issues?
  • Celebrity Brand: Find PR issues.

Larry Mersman from Trellian was also present for the discussion on keyword research explained how he was able to use it to increase the sales of a German beer company by 200 percent. Keyword research can be used not only for search engine optimization, but to help find related search terms, identify alternate spellings and misspellings, learn which terms your competitors think are important, etc. It's also good for competitive intelligence and finding what terms others are using and using well.

If you need some more basic keyword research advice, make sure to check out the session recap where Stoney outlined a three tiered keyword research process. You can find a more detailed process in our article entitled 5 Steps to Effective Keyword Research.

#1: Corporations Must Invest In SEO Training

There wasn't a PubCon session specifically focused on the importance of corporations investing in search engine optimization training; however, it was an unavoidable theme throughout. Time and time again we heard panelists school the audience on how important it was for their entire team to well-versed in the basics of search engine optimization. It's the only way for a campaign to be successful. When everyone understands the basics of SEO, it makes the whole process easier.

One of the biggest proponents of search engine optimization training was AOL's Melanie Mitchell. During the SEO and Big Search session, Melanie was adamant that corporations, especially larger ones, will absolutely not succeed without the support of the entire company. SEO has to be part of your company's DNA, it can't be looked at as just a responsibility of the designated SEO team.

Melanie used her own company as an example and explained how the disorganization she found in AOL when she first joined was preventing them from making any progress. She was forced to work her way up the ladder convincing executives to get behind her and invest in SEO training.

Experienced search marketers like Melanie know that education is the only way to get the entire team on board.

Paul Bruemmer brought up the same point in his presentation during the SEO Design and Organic Site Structure panel. Training is a quick win, he said. Training your staff is obviously great. But don't just stop there. When you train your clients, their accounts will do better.

This attitude has been part of our corporate culture for years. It's why we require our clients to take search engine optimization training. In fact, Bruce Clay, Inc. is so committed to the promotion of search engine optimization education and training, we're offering past students an opportunity to experience our brand new, expanded SEO training program at the old rate. New students can get in on the action too with a newsletter exclusive code. For more information regarding this offer, please check out the front page of the SEO Newsletter.

And there you have it! Everything you need to know about PubCon 2007 to start 2008 off on the right foot. If you're looking for more detailed information, you can access our PubCon 2007 archives via the Bruce Clay, Inc. blog.

For permission to reprint or reuse any materials, please contact us. To learn more about our authors, please visit the Bruce Clay Authors page. Copyright 2007 Bruce Clay, Inc.