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FEATURE: High Level and Hands-on Tactical SMX East Takeaways

by Virginia Nussey, September 27, 2011

Want to know what the experts in SEO, paid search, social media, local and mobile marketing were sharing at this month's SMX East conference? Here we've broken down the info into two categories:

1. High level trends to expect in personalization and the increasing influence of social signals on search and consumer behavior. Understand how multiple marketing channels work together allowing you to get the most from your marketing and maintain relevance as the Web evolves.

2. Tactics and best practices that you can apply to Internet marketing campaigns today to see improvements to KPIs and ROI. Skip to this section below if you're interested in hands-on info you can use right now.

High Level: Personalization, User Behavior, and Your Site and Social Content

The major Internet players are seeking to connect as many dots as possible on the Web. The more nodes that can be linked (be it explicit or inferred), the better ad targeting capabilities that parties like Google and Facebook can offer. Personalization, search engines say, is good for users receiving more relevant results, and it's good for advertisers and marketers, connecting them with a better targeted audience. Several sessions at SMX East looked at the overarching effect of personalization on the Web and how consumers engage with socially influenced content.

Personalization, Social Signals, and the Advantage for Marketers

In our International article this month, Measuring Performance When Rankings Are Dead, Olivia explains how to measure results of SEO campaigns when search results are tailored to individual users.

At SMX East, Google product manager Jack Menzel and Bing's Director of Search, Stefan Weitz, spoke to the Current State of Personalized Search at the two dominant search engines. As Menzel explained, when we speak of personalization, the concept is closer to contextualization done in order to fill in gaps that search engines feel will provide more relevant results. Personalization occurs based on location, search history including previous queries, a user's preferred sites and social signals such as Google +1s displayed alongside results.

Some SEOs lament personalization as factors that make website optimization more complicated, and therefore, more difficult. Indeed, evolving personalization of SERPs mandates that SEOs take into account audience personas and have an understanding of how social factors influence SERPs and affect user behavior. However, Menzel argued during the session that personalization is a win for search marketers as the end result is website's reaching the most relevant audience. No longer do you have to be the "best" in your industry ─ and what does that even mean, anyway? Instead, you just have to be the most relevant to the people who are looking for you. While it may be harder to measure in terms of rankings, we all knew that rankings as the end-all-be-all metric was found insufficient long ago.

Panda Updates: Behaviorally Based Algorithm Adjustments

When the Panda Update first hit the Web in February, a number of sites saw their Google rankings tumble due to the algo change aimed at removing low-quality content and content farms from SERPs. Several iterations to Panda have occurred since, each one refining the way sites rank. Those types of sites primarily affected are sites with thin content, heavy content aggregation, a heavy ad-to-content ratio, and article and Q&A farms.

At the SMX East session Google Survivor Tips, speakers made a connection between the Panda Update and the behavior of a user when interacting with a website. Presenter Mark Monroe explained that with the Panda Update, SERP positions are modified based on a site's overall quality, which he believes is primarily determined based on how users interact with a site in the SERP. Recognize how a user's behavior on the SERP, including bouncing back to a Google SERP from your site, query behavior after a Google bounce, average time before a Google bounce, click-through rates and repeat visits are influencing Google's perception of your site content's quality.

Social Indicators Influence User Interaction with SERP

Two sessions at SMX East spoke directly to social signals, namely Google+ and the +1 Button, affecting organic and paid search results. During Up Close with Google+ and Google +1, it was indicated that +1 is a social endorsement platform that will influence search, including video and mobile results.

In another session, What Every Paid Search Marketer Needs To Know About Google+, +1s were defined as an indicator of trustworthiness, with Matt Cutts having mentioned it could be used to personalize individuals' SERPs and as a signal for broader search quality as well. Read the coverage of this session linked to above for a full run down of how Google+ might influence paid search via Quality Score, average position, click-through rates, CPA, landing pages, demographic bidding and more.

SoLoMo Activities Signal Ready-to-Buy Consumers

One final big-picture component of the online environment that's important for forward-looking businesses to pay attention to is consumers' reliance on SoLoMo, or social, local and mobile platforms and devices to make decisions and navigate the world. At The SoLoMo Landscape session, attendees learned that 7 of 10 searches on social networks lead to a purchase, and where local and social and mobile converge, a marketer can reach consumers at the final stages of the conversion funnel.

Consider the daily deals and local offers space to reach new potential customers. But, be sure to calculate beforehand what's needed to receive a return on investment, and follow some outlined best practices to keep people coming back as repeat customers. According to data shared at SMX East, 45 percent of consumers say they have products and services in mind, but aren't conducting local searches for specific businesses but rather are willing to be marketed to.

Tactical Approach: Implement Tactics and Strategies Across Various Internet Marketing Fields

A number of speakers at SMX East presented instantly applicable takeaways for those marketers interested in info they could take straight to the bank. Covered on the Bruce Clay, Inc. blog, we bring you efficient keyword research recommendations, keys to developing persuasive content, and emerging tactics and strategies for reaching the social, local and mobile consumer. These tactics can often be used within and across online channels, including SEO, PPC and social media.

Keyword Research Best Practices

During a boot camp-style session on how to do keyword research, the following recommendations were drilled home:

  • The cycle to follow when doing keyword research is: evaluate, brainstorm, discover, expand, repeat.
  • Use analytics data to identify search queries users have found your site with, uncovering potential keywords.
  • Competitor sites can help in the keyword discovery stage, but don't assume competitor keywords are successful traffic and conversion drivers.
  • Keywords with insider jargon are unlikely to find search visibility among your target audience.
  • Target long-tail keywords as they're more likely to drive traffic than highly competitive popular short-tail phrases.
  • Google Keyword Tool, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Trends, Google Insights, Google Content Targeting, adCenter Labs Tools, and Microsoft adCenter Add-In for Excel are all free tools that can aid the keyword research process.

Persuasive Copywriting and Content Recommendations

Churchill's presentation along with the Google Survivor Tips session offered attendees an updated perspective on writing content that engage users and will find favor with Google in light of the Panda Update and an increasing demand for quality content.

  • In creating content your overall goals are two fold: engage the human reader and demonstrate clear subject relevancy to search algorithms. These qualities separate strong content from spam.
  • Google is paying attention to a user's movements between a SERP and a site. As such, the user's perception of a page's value is vital. The following recommendations are aimed at improving user experience with site content:
    • It's important to avoid bringing less relevant traffic and the inevitable accompanying bounces off the site.
    • Any page that does not deliver value to a user should include a "no index, follow" tag.
    • Avoid content or layout that will annoy the user, including excessive ads.
    • Link freely to relevant content. If users can't find what they're looking for on a page, point them to relevant content that gives them what they want.
    • Be highly cautious of content types and strategies indicated by Google to be the target of the Panda Update.
    • Examine all new content initiatives in light of search usability.

Local SEO Tactics

When it comes to optimizing a Web presence for a location-sensitive business, there are local SEO best practices to take into account that are specific to local search ranking algorithms and the way Internet users search for local businesses online, as explained in the session Hardcore Local SEO Tactics.

  • A local SEO strategy should focus on three things: exactness of place across the Web; authority of site through links; and trust signals through reviews and user generated content.
  • Citations are anywhere the business name, address and local phone number (NAP) occur on the Web along with a link. A consistent NAP and a high number of citations are two of the most critical factors for local SEO.
  • Establish exactness of place through consistent categories, citations and content.
  • The more reviews a business receives, and the more places the reviews are submitted, the greater the factor of location prominence attributed to the business.
  • Do: Submit your website's contact/location page as your URL/landing page in Google Places.
  • Don't: Use a tracking phone number anywhere ─ online or off! This can confuse your NAP. The only exception is if the number appears as an image or un-indexable JavaScript.