Pubcon 2009 Live Blogging: Top Shelf SEO – Hot Topics and Trends

Moderator: Carolyn Shelby
Speakers:
Bruce Clay, President, Bruce Clay, Inc.
Greg Boser, President, 3 Dog Media
Jill Sampey, Director of Search Marketing, Blast Radius
Jill Whalen, CEO, High Rankings

This is the big one, people filing in like crazy to find out the latest trends in SEO – everybody in the audience is hungry for a little top-shelf advice, something actionable and real, a complete lack of fluff. This is my expectation, or at very least my hope.

Jill Sampey is on the panel, who also shared a panel (site architecture issues) with our resident SEO expert Naoise Osborne at SES Toronto last spring where she gave a nice overview of SEO for flash (essentially). Jill and Naoise are thinking of combining pitches at a future conference event so that we can delve a little deeper into the issue, as 15 minutes of floor-time is rarely enough to impart enough information.

Up first is Bruce Clay of … well, Bruce Clay infamy.

Bruce, appropriately, explains that he can’t explain SEO in 12 minutes, so he’s only going to cover a part of things. So let’s go.

Linking is a big part of SEO, understand:

  • Unidirectional – inbound links are necessary
  • Keyword anchor text is no surprise
  • Supplemental / complimentary content sites, match things up
  • Direct, followed links
  • No javascript, no flash (quite yet)

This is all standard – this is how you do linking. Where it gets a little more complex is dealing with nofollow, paid links, link life, pagerank, random IP.

Anybody buying advertising? Is that not paid links? You should be buying traffic, if you are, you’re unlikely to get in trouble. Link life, something people don’t talk about much – if I beg for links today, and they all last six months, and then they vanish, it’s an obvious sign they were paid. Give them RANDOM life expectancy. Make it impossible to detect a pattern.

Pagerank is important, what people don’t consider is how PR gets passed around within a site – the most common link is ‘home’, but how many people here are realtors? Use anchor text internally, link appropriately between your pages.

Random IPs. A thousand inbound links from the same IP? I might be a redneck. If you don’t want to get caught, you have to randomize everything that comes to you.

In attracting links – we build things worth linking to, and achieve about 100 to 1 better ratio of effort to productivity in building things compared to link begging.

Social media – are you doing it so you can get links? Social has a tendency to behave like a press release. It makes people aware of you, and they may in turn link to you. Social is valuable if it generates links. Get eyes to your site and show off other things worth linking to. Social links look very natural.

Local – if I want to rank in a geographic zone, i need people in that zone to link to me. The word Chicago doesn’t have as much merit as a link if it’s from a non-chicago based site.

Sequence matters: text over image-alt, first counts, nofolow kills target, link stop words. If you have an ALT tag link and a text link on one page, the text link anchor trumps the ALT anchor. If you have subsequent text link on the page, it does not pass much anchor text, only the first does. Next, back and home are stop words for links – if you have another link on the page in addition to a ‘next’, the other link will pass its anchor.

Bruce says: IF YOU HAVE A BUNCH OF LINKS TO ONE PLACE ON A PAGE, AND YOU NOFOLLOW ONLY ONE OF THOSE LINKS, AAAAAAALL OF THE LINKS TO THAT PAGE WILL EFFECTIVELY BE NOFOLLOWED. On top of that, if you have two links to a page, and only nofollow one of them, the second link will still be included in the denominator of the PR algo calculation for that page, and you’ll effectively evaporate a tiny bit of your pagerank. So if you nofollow one link to a page on a page, nofollow ALL of them.

That’s weird, but he claims it to be consistent.

If you disallow a page in your Robots, any link at all on your site to that page is effectively nofollowed.

Tada

Hell of a speech Bruce, you packed a bunch into ten short minutes.

Next up is Jill Sampey

Talking about how to compete with the bigger brands.

Again, huge topic, but we have to limit ourselves a bit – when Jill was putting this together she noticed the idea of having to compete with big brands kept coming up with little clients. Big brands used to think they didn’t need SEO, but these day’s they just want the little bit of extra juice that an SEO could bring. She sees a lot of global RFP from fortune 500s putting a lot of money into SEO, which is discouraging because Google prefers big brands already.

Let’s start with your log files. Looking at your log files give you information like 301/302 redirection strings – if they don’t go directly to a 200 OK, clean them up. She saw a 301 to 302 to 301 to 301 to 302 to 200 recently.

Then look for 404s – obviously you want to give your users some information. If someone is linking to these 404 pages, you need to do a 301 to your money page. If someone came in from that referrer (that links to the old page), give them a message saying content not available.

Just take inventory, if there are links coming into your site and not being properly utilized, your logs will help you find the issues.

Optimizing for conversions – for me if it doesn’t convert, I don’t need it. Look at the pages that aren’t converting, ask if you need to be sending any traffic here. She recommends launching PPC, analyzing conversion over the course of weeks, then refining.

Seasonal issues with URLs can cause issues, eg /2010-holiday/ vs /2009-holiday/, the issue is, eventually you’re going to orphan /2009-holiday/, instead just do /holiday/ and switch the content out. What should EA do with /madden08/ vs /madden09/, the 08 will get links and rank even in 2009. Again, canonicalize this info to one url, like /madden/ – it will always rank, you can always control the content.

Listen and learn – set up a listening tool to monitor what’s being talked about (radiant6, google alerts, twitter, etc). Look to engage in industry, brand and competitors. Jill loves to take advantage of bad press, have your evangelist go out and engage the passionate people who are talking about the negative press. You can get links from those conversations, appeal to the passion.

Link opportunities – twitter lists are ranking – pay attention. Always buy domains, acquire small sites, hire people with pagerank, PARNTER with people. Big brands can partner with other big brands, widgets gadgets etc, you get to use other people’s brand presence to bolster your own.

New social strategies – off site, unbranded, comical satirical. Jill likes to create a concept, a microsite, create some presence (even on radio, local tv, local print) to the comedic site. Just as you get some eyeballs, do a second reveal and show your brand is behind the site. After you could 301 the whole microsite to your site, or just choose a nice page place a nice contextual link to your site. As an example Jill did a campaign for Nike with ‘leroy smith’, a fictional character – they did tv commercials, and it was successful with interviews of the fake Leroy on CNN etc, and now he even has a shoe line!

Jill Whalen is up next

Jill starts with – how many ppl out there check rankings for yourself or clients? My company is named high rankings, so you’d think I do that too, but I often say checking rankings is a bit fake. Specific rankings are not the heart of SEO, and these days there even less useful, because:

SERPS are different from different places, different computers, logged in or not, if you have cookies enabled and have made searches, even browser settings can make a difference. For example, ‘greek restaurants’.

Google gives you some greek food result first, then two local yahoo results, which is kind of Google, and then some image results. Jill was logged in to Gmail and on firefox, typical for her. Then, on Google chrome, in incognito mode, logged out, the first result is a Greek Boston result, where she lives, then greek food, then yahoo. Similar but different. Who ranks number one for ‘greek restaurants’? Nobody absolutely. From Vegas, greek foods is first, a yahoo listing, a Chicago greek restaurant site, again quite different. Who ranks #1? Nobody.

Jill shows some non-local examples like ‘toddler toys’, and showed that the differences are not just for local results. Pretty big differences between the Boston based search for that term, and in Vegas.

So what does this all mean? Everyone sees something different, and eventually you’re not going to see the same results from different computers. As an SEO you have to determine your target market. Cater your site to them. Where are they located? Go above and beyond others in your niche. Use your analytics – everything is there and that’s what tells you how you’re doing. You need to know what’s converting, you don’t need to know what your rankings are. (I happen to think that’s only half the issue – authors note).

Learn where buyers are located, learn which words convert, measure success on more targeted visitors and conversions. Not rankings.

Education of clients on the topic of rankings not being as important is a challenge to SEOs these days.

Greg Boser, well, didn’t show up – so we have Scott without a presentation, cus he was on five minutes notice. So here we go with Scoot, giving an on the fly presentation.

What would Greg say? “spam”. Okay lets move on. So what should you be concentrating on in SEO? The site architecture, content, and the big one LINKS. You need to have a strategy, you need to build a natural looking link portfolio. This is a blend of low, mid and high-end links. Build it naturally, and by that I mean look at your competition and build accordingly. You don’t have to build the same links, but from the same types of places.

Social media is great at setting a baseline profile – the links you get are so natural looking it helps your profile look normal. Be aggressive about the words you’re going after.

A lot of people talk about white, grey and black hat. They don’t exist, it’s all about risk. Forget the labels, just be aware of the risk you’re taking. If you’re not testing, multi-variate or A/B testing, you’re not really doing your job. You need to be increasing your conversions, it’s where they money is. You can do that without affecting SEO.

Be sure to outsource what you’re not good at. If you can’t build links, outsource it. The last thing I’d like to say is, please get over the toolbar PR, it’s very annoying. Thank you.

Time to go over the questions – twitter and audience

Q: Where do you find good people to link build for you?

A: look around the room.

A: Odesk is software you should check out – it monitors the work. Outsourcing.com and places like that.

A: Do you have something worth linking to? That’s the key.

Q: local search is huge and we all have to deal with it, but with regards to Google, having to optimize a website where there’s only one page about your topic, and build that page properly, how do you optimize that page for local results across the big three, when Google is making changes that the other big search engines aren’t. How would I cover the gambit?

A: Google are the ones to worry about, so pander to Google, and it is worth the most.

Q – continued: agreed, but the same page on Yahoo is on page 4 and not on Google – do i need a page for each?

A: do your localization with inbound links. Get your inbound links, the local business listings, links from websites based there.

Q: do i want links from pages about ‘chicago’ or with an IP address in Chicago?

A: both

Q: no different optimization for Bing than Google?

A: Bing who?

Q: is there a negative effect of a subdomain being the main page of your site, and the root domain being a secondary page.

A: I’d say no.

A: I’d say yes, just because people just typing in your domain.com, so you’ll get traffic and links to it, so if you want the subdomain to rank, it will be more difficult

A: a subdomain is considered to be a separate domain (bruce saying this – it’s underinformed, strangely). Take advantage of subdomains if you have an old domain, because you’ll automatically have a new ‘old domain’. ATandT/wireless sold the division and sold it to cingular, and then bought it back and put it on wireless.atandt.com. Having it as a subdomain was infinitely worse, because the branded domain was wasted in advertising. It wasn’t seen first.

Q: have you looked at google caffeine?

A: I haven’t seen much change – if you’re doing quality SEO you likely won’t see a huge change in caffeine results

A: I agree but in international, utilizing subdomains, caffeine is having a difficult time figuring out which one is correct, though it’s getting better.

A: I’ve noticed the results set in general on Google has gone up – two weeks ago I was doing training in Milan (poor me), search engine optimization has 1.4 billion results in Europe. There is going to be a massive change in number of results, but I haven’t seen the first two results pages change too much.

A: I like the point Scott made – if you just created a great site and make it better all the time, when Google does and algo change, they going to want to improve your results. So you shouldn’t be negatively affected if Google is doing their job.

Q: domains that you buy and 301, should you ever bring them back from 301?

A: How long has it been 301’d? If it hasn’t been generating inbound links it’s going to lose value.

Bruce said: if you discontinue the 301, the site will get its link juice back, because it owns it, because it still has the links. You can reverse and it ranks fine.

Q: does it make sense to restructure the sequence of links on any page so that the first link is the most anchor-text rich?

A: Yes, definitely.

Q: recap nofollow

A: if you’re going to nofollow a link on a page, and there are other links to the same place, nofollow all of them, or you’re evaporating your PR.

Q: do you see social media brand mentions affecting SEO a year down the road?

A: I see it affecting a little bit now, and I think it will become more integrated.

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