- Alex Bennert, Director of Client Services, Beyond Ink
- Greg Boser, Search Engine Marketing Consultant, WebGuerrilla
- Jim Boykin, CEO, We Build Pages
- Christine Churchill, President, Key Relevance
- Todd Friesen, Director of Search Engine Optimization, Range Online
- Cameron Olthuis, Director of Marketing and Design, ACS
- Aaron Wall, Author, SEO Book
Think of this as an â€œSEO technique clinic.â€
Basically I think I have enough people on this panel to field all your questions and to collapse the stage. [There were seven experts on the stage, plus Danny, for this session. Next hour, they would have a total of eleven people on stage.]
How do you make money?
Danny: Letâ€™s get a more focused question to start. Let me get a microphone.
Iâ€™ve seen great results with social media for smaller clients. Bigger clients are hesitant. It took us six months to get a corporation to launch a blog. How, then, should we convince them to get more into online reputation monitoring & social media marketing?
Cameron: Thereâ€™s a lot of education that goes into it, and a lot of the bigger companies are slow to understand. I think you just need to reinforce that there will be a lot of reputation management & reassure them that youâ€™ll catch it quickly.
Aaron: If they absolutely will not blog on their own site, reach out to brand evangelists. Thereâ€™s less corporate infrastructure to deal with.
Greg: Donâ€™t expect it to get any better. Even if you get approval, it takes forever to get things through.
Alex: We have one client thatâ€™s a subsidiary of a large corporation, and they wanted to do a blog but they couldnâ€™t get it through legal. So we had the blog generously sponsored by them, but run on its own community. Then itâ€™s not the product voice, itâ€™s the community, and thereâ€™s less legal stuff to contend with.
How would you scale back links/linkbait?
Aaron: Find key ideas for your topicsâ€”related searches. Find noncommercial thing, things people interested in the topic would want to learn and write about. Buy some content & run a PPC campaign for those keyword permutations.
Christine: If youâ€™re an authority in a certain area, create awardsâ€”thereâ€™s longevity in those, as opposed to the temporary peak of linkbait.
Todd: we have a lot of interns & itâ€™s a great way to do directory submissions. Also link buying. Think of it as media placement, and look at relevance. Also, widget building with an embedded keyword link.
Jim: No pain, no gain. We do it by hand and try to send real emails. It takes writing to someone as a human and proving that youâ€™re human to them. You need to offer them something of value.
Alex: Offer links for referrals/discount or discounts.
Cameron: Empower brand evangelists.
Danny: File a suit that someoneâ€™s violating your copyright.
Iâ€™d like to know if thereâ€™s a tool or trick for logging in to lots of social network groups very quickly.
[The panel is confused.]
Cameron: You gotta pay your dues to social sites.
Todd: I recommend RoboForm.
Danny: There was a plugin, Firefox Session Manager
Aaron: No, itâ€™s built in now.
Danny: Well, you can set up all the pages you want to load as soon as you launch your browser, you should be logged in unless youâ€™ve logged out.
Christine: Use the toolbar to populate your forms.
Is anyone developing an accurate keyword research tool?
Todd: Have you seen MSNâ€™s new keywords lab? Itâ€™s amazing.
But how accurate is it?
Todd: Itâ€™s pretty good. MSN has a lot of data , a lot of demographic data.
Greg: Why do you think the tools suck, specifically?
The inconsistencies and inaccuracies in numbers between WordTracker, KeywordDiscovery, etc.
Christine: Look at their sources of data: metasearches. WordTracker throws out aberrations. KeywordDiscovery has multiple databases, but the default is from user data from the toolbar. The numbers are lower, but highly really accurate. I look at a lot of different tools. I donâ€™t care about numbers but I look at the order of magnitude, if itâ€™s consistent across several tools.
Alex: Youâ€™ll get it out of the relative stuff. Ignore daily search numbers [in favor of using the data relatively].
Greg: I prefer KeywordDiscovery now, but the relationships of the words always do pan out fairly accurately.
Alex: The most accurate source for keyword data is your referral data once you rank.
Christine: You could run PPC for more accurate numbers.
Danny: Were you getting less traffic than you were expecting or more?
Some of each (Alex or Christine): Yahoo/Overture is still good for brainstorming.
In the beginning youâ€™d have your social bookmarking links at the bottom of the page. I think it clutters the page. I tried addthis.com. Is there any research on how much is too much on a page? Iâ€™m sure it depends on the audience.
Cameron: I prefer not to use those at all in general, though occasionally I will. If you do it, place no more than 2-3 on there and make those the ones most relative to your audience.
How do you explain to a corporate client that youâ€™re going after a link from an irrelevant site and that it will be valuable?
Cameron: People that link to your site from Digg will most likely be relevant.
Aaron: Lots of links are polluted & sketchy anyway. You should be addressing the people who are really interested in the topic and related overlaps.
Todd: Thatâ€™s the definition of viralâ€”spread through your group of interest & thatâ€™s how it spreads. You have a very different battle to explain there.
Christine: You should have a balance in your link building. You want a variety of sources of your linksâ€”press releases, directories, other campaigns, content development, business relationships that youâ€™ve developed, professional organizations.
Greg: Those are two separate activities in my mind. Social Media Marketing is about building links for building trust, not targeted anchor text. Helps to develop trust to your site so that your other content ranks better
Cameron: But do come up with proper titles and descriptions etc. in your articles and your submissions to social media sites.
How many targeted links would you go after a month?
Aaron: Itâ€™s relative to the industry. In some areas they get thousands of links a month & itâ€™s not enough. Sometimes youâ€™ll get 10,000 viral backlinks but maybe only a couple hundred of those links are worth anything anyway.
Greg: Itâ€™s relative to the space youâ€™re in. We look at it as whoâ€™s the dominant site in this space. The rate that we add links or grow is design to target or hit that model so we stand out like a sore thumb. Whatâ€™s good for one isnâ€™t good for another. An older site can get a high volume of crappy links & theyâ€™ll help you. But if youâ€™re a new site, it wonâ€™t.
Jim: A lot of people are concerned with the number of backlinks. Itâ€™s not a sheer numbers game, it really is a quality game as well. If you get a backlink from a subpage that has a 1000 incoming links, itâ€™s worth more than someoneâ€™s insulated link page [I believe his exact words were a link page thatâ€™s only accessible from the site map or home page]. Quality links can trump thousands of poor links.
Todd: Itâ€™s about fitting into your space. In the early days, I sold a dental plans affiliate manager. I didnâ€™t look at my competition, put up a button and got 65,000 backlinks overnightâ€”the top ranked guy had 3000 backlinks. My site was taken down (from ranking) in a week.
Letâ€™s talk about getting a large company to make the shift and what has to happen under the hood. Our challenges are editorial writing (theyâ€™re locked into AP style) and graphic designers who want to build cool flashy sites that are unfriendly. Can we have any success in getting that ship to turn?
Todd: We deal with that a lot. I had one client site where if you were to take the three sentence product description off the page, you wouldnâ€™t know what the product is. It was a long process of education, but I tried to make the bottom line clear: this is how search engines work, you gotta use keywords, and all of the sudden it clicked and they assigned their copywriters to rewrite things. Make it as simple and low-maintenance as possible What youâ€™re dealing withâ€”theyâ€™re looking at a resource issue of how to get it done. Thatâ€™s the #1 reason why any company doesnâ€™t get good SEO resultsâ€”they donâ€™t have resources to implement our recommendations.
Greg: If they give you grief, Iâ€™d just fire them and go work for the person in the space that gets it. Legal ruins everything. Thatâ€™s why I donâ€™t work with clients unless they can prove to me that theyâ€™ll do what I say
Alex: Any good designer (quoting Danny) makes sure that their design is compatible across browsers.
Christine: Sometimes youâ€™ll have a client who will launch the Flash/splash pageâ€¦ they have to learn by being burned. Hereâ€™s an example of a client. They were very rigid about their styleâ€”but in landing pages, they seem to have a little more flexibility. We showed them with numbers that their landing pages were performing better.
Todd: We have a couple all-Flash sites & theyâ€™ll never change & there are some good things about them. So we stepped in and built out an HTML version of the site. We didnâ€™t over optimize, but used user-agent delivery. It doesnâ€™t look exactly the same, but the user experience is preserved and weâ€™re not being sneaky about it. Thereâ€™s an easy buy-in on that. The client canâ€™t find it.
Greg: We used to use cloaking to prove our case with big companies like that. It doesnâ€™t always fly telling them to toss their $2 million website. I give them my opinion on how the content should be structured, then build a bot version of my site & cloak it and get it indexed & show them (ha!). Itâ€™s so much easier to sell that as initial step. At annual their annual redesign, I got to sit down with them and provide input.
Danny: The New York Times had an article last year called â€œThis Boring Headline Is Written for Google.â€ Theyâ€™re trying to retrain journalists to include keywords in headlines. In Mayâ€”25% of their newspaper site visits were from search engines. I have two things for when dealing with someone who just doesnâ€™t get it. You always design for the top three browsers; you should optimize for top search engines. Search engines see sites in a different manner, and then itâ€™s invisible. Search engines are more popular than IE and Firefox combined. This is part of what I called â€œthe hard 5 percent of SEMâ€ on Search Engine Land. People say, â€œMaybe someday search engines will get Flash.â€ I donâ€™t know about that. Theyâ€™ve both been around a while (7-10 years?), and I donâ€™t think theyâ€™re suddenly gonna get it. Imagine that youâ€™ve created this great television commercial without sound. Imagine all you see is just the car, all these great shots, hugging tight curves, but it doesnâ€™t tell you anything about the car. Then you go to radio. Youâ€™re all excited about the premiere and you gather your whole team together to listenâ€”and itâ€™s thirty seconds of silence. You call up the radio station, hopping mad, and tell them, â€œWe didnâ€™t any of the pictures at all, whatâ€™s the matter?!â€ Duh! Search engines are text-based, Flash isnâ€™t, by and large. Flash people: use it sparingly and come up with backups. Itâ€™s just not gonna happen.
Audience: Never mention SEO. Explain youâ€™re writing for search engine usersâ€”for people. See YOUmoz article. (Sorry, I looked through YOUmoz and Iâ€™m really not sure which article this person was referring to. Anyone able to help here?)
How important is page freshness? Our pages do well for about 6 months, then theyâ€™re displaced by crap content. Do we have to revisit our pages periodically?
Aaron: The new pages probably feature prominently in that siteâ€™s navigation structure. Be sure to grow your internal link equity seasonally. Also see query freshness (QDF)â€”look at how often Google puts news results in the main SERPs.
Jim: Google tries to feed a fresh page that may not last over time. Lots of people have heard content must be fresh. Search engines may see it differently. Say you created a good page in 1997 and have seen lots of good natural link growth. And then you change the page. Google has to wonder if those old links are still relevant.
Christine: Have you looked at backlinks?
Yeah, they have no backlinks.
Todd: Have you been using Googleâ€™s link: command to check?
Todd, Christine: Theyâ€™re lying to you.
Todd: Keep in mind, SEOâ€™s not a one time deal. The page might be ranking because of freshness, but the algorithm is constantly being refinedâ€”maybe the algorithm changed.
Greg: Check header responses to see if you last mod date is there. Weâ€™ve created scripts to change the last mod date to like 17 minutes before the bot gets there. It probably wonâ€™t help you to have the last mod date in there, either way.
Christine: I have articles ranking on competitive keywords that I optimized 8 years ago and are still doing well.
Danny: Look at this weekendâ€™s New York Times article: QDF, â€œquery deserves freshness.â€ Theyâ€™re calculating if the query deserves fresh pages. Also, try looking up backlinks with Google Blog Search instead.
Do you have tips for Google Base optimization?
Todd: Create a feed and give it to them.
Audience member: Some real estate sites are using RSS feeds of the MLS.
Danny: In general, Base is taking database data, as an outreach. If you have a database, plug it in base. Theyâ€™re not substituting Base for organic listings, but theyâ€™re crawling base itself. Base still ought to be experimented with, especially where theyâ€™re partnering with other people. Itâ€™s gonna be Google Real Estate or Classifieds.
My company uses the MLS to update our feed & we have competitors scraping the whole MLS. I just want a level playing field.
Greg: The playing fieldâ€™s never been even. Googleâ€™s getting a lot of duplication in MLS. Iâ€™ve heard theyâ€™re only taking MLS from brokerages.
Should we just wait, then and hope they address it themselves?
Greg: In a perfect world, people follow and enforce the guidelines. I canâ€™t tell you what to do. Real estate is a pretty spammy industry.
Todd: Iâ€™ve heard Tim Mayer of Yahoo on say about spam, â€œDonâ€™t take a sword to a gunfight.â€ You gotta compete.
Danny: Poll: How many of you work for agencies? How many are in house? How many are affiliates/on your own? [Sorry, I didnâ€™t look up. By this time my computer had died because there were no available plugs in the entire room within view of the screensâ€”and then there were no presentations anyway. A girl canâ€™t win.]
Danny: Base results used to be in just a one box at the top of Google. Googleâ€™s universal search changes all that. Madonnaâ€™s one box has music at the top. Then thereâ€™s a news â€œone boxâ€ at #5, #7 is a local result with a map plus box. â€œNY dental schoolsâ€–the first 3 results are all in a local one box. â€œI have a dreamâ€–3 organic results, #4 is from Google videoâ€”and thereâ€™s a plus box to watch the video in the results. These are from Google video, YouTube, Metacafe, etc. Theyâ€™re big on video. They want to put video ads in SERPs. Google now has graphics and videos. Ask is better or at least more dramatic, but Universal Search is still dramatic for Google. Google News, local (itâ€™s so easy to get in there!), Google video, books, other ones will start coming up. Watch their verticals. Google product search. Get into video optimizationâ€”itâ€™s like SEO circa 1997â€”itâ€™s all about meta data. â€œI expect to see buy viagra videos soon . . . actually, that would probably work!â€
Whatâ€™s your favorite tool of any type (external)?
Greg: Mine used to be Project Mayhem, now we use internal tools
Todd: Some Firefox extensions: Search Status, and the Web developer toolbar which lets you see all your header tags, alt text & CSS through overlays.
Cameron: Serph (their tool)–itâ€™s like social media meta search, getting results from Google Blog search, Technorati, etc.
Jim: Our Top 10 Analysis Tool on We Build Pagesâ€”you can compare your site to the top 10 sites ranking for your keyword.
Todd: Also, Aaronâ€™s SEO for Firefox. And Xenu Link Sleuth gives you a list of URLS that are broken, shows redirect issues.
Alex: Xenu can produce a reportâ€”go back to the interface to export the crawl.
Todd: You can also do a multithreaded crawlâ€”you can crawl your competitors.
Christine: Excel for keywords (a variety of tools), Rex Swainâ€™s tool
Todd: Sam Spade has a desktop version of Rex Swainâ€™s.