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What’s Working for SEO in 2011: A Review from London SMX


Gareth Davies of GSINC Ltd covered SMX London last week and filed this report.

With the latest Google Panda update, and the issues some webmasters have faced as a result of the update, attendees at this year’s SMX LONDON were looking for answers to what’s working for SEO in 2011.

The panel consisted of Mikkel deMib Svendsen, Christine Churchill and Max Thomas.

SMX London panel

SEO Has Evolved:

First up was Mikkel deMib Svendsen. Mikkel began by reminding attendees that when it comes to SEO, things are very different in 2011 to what has gone before.

In the 1990’s SEO was relatively easy…simple algorithms meant that SEO was mainly about on-page factors and search engines had very few (if any) people dedicated to fighting Spam. Today the search engine algorithms are very complex, and there are huge teams dedicated to fighting Spam.

What this means is that any reverse engineering approach tends to have a much shorter life cycle these days, so much so that it’s not worth the effort in some industries.

Mikkel claimed that a number of people are still using an out of date approach to SEO. It’s a completely different game in 2011, the algorithms are now extremely complex. Onsite, offsite and social factors need to be taken into account.

Around 10 years ago Mikkel published an idea that he still feels is both very simple and the most effective approach anyone can have to SEO. The idea was and is:

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Do Not Optimize for Search Engines…Optimize for Users!

As far as we’re aware Mikkel hasn’t been hired as a Danish Google evangelist, but its clear that he believes that optimising for users is what the search engines will always want to do in the future. As a result this makes it the best long-term strategy and what SEOs should be doing.

“If they want to optimise for users then so should you!” Mikkel deMib Svendsen – deMib

He added, if what SEOs are doing is not what users want – then it’s a short-term strategy as search engines are always seeking to understand what users want.

If you are trying to reverse engineer for search engines, then you are really optimizing for yesterday’s algorithm. Mikkel repeated that Spammy tricks have shorter life cycles – so much so that this approach is really probably not worth the effort in some industries. For most industries you simply do not need to reverse engineer.

However Mikkel did suggest that there were some exceptions to the rule and that for some industries such as the PPC sector (Pills, Porn, Poker sector) the value of getting rankings right away, even for a limited time, can sometimes still be worthwhile.

Use Your Common Sense:

A high level of social engagement is now an important indicator of a higher quality page and the Google Panda update has started looking at other factors as indicators of page quality – but its nothing new in the sense that we have always known that a high bounce rate is a signal for low quality content.

Next to speak at the ‘What’s working in 2011’ session was Max Thomas from Thunder SEO.

Max cited something that Matt Cutts of Google recently mentioned, and this was the notion that if you have a lot of URLs that people are not engaging with, then you might want to remove them from your website or no-index them.

As the Panda update moves the emphasis of quality more towards active pages, is this the end of traffic for article pages that people may only visit occasionally? Well, it certainly sounds like it.

Create Active URLs:

The new label for the type of page likely to do well in Google is being referred to as an active URL. An active URL is a page that plenty of people visit, link to and share.

“We now need people to ‘engage’ with our pages”
Max Thomas – Thunder SEO

By creating pages lots of people want to visit and return to its possible to scale up and improve a sites links.

If your website content is something that people want to share, they will tend to link to it, revisit it, share it and so on. To an extent it is bringing the aspect of community firmly into the link building space.

Have Multiple Marketing Channels:

Max advised that it’s important not to put all your eggs in the Google basket. Having lots of paid channels along side organic traffic can mean your online marketing strategy is much less risky.

Alongside this diversity is key for each aspect of marketing and perhaps none more so than with link building. The larger and more diverse your inbound link profile, the less risky your link building is too. Max was not convinced the occasional risky link-building tactic would get your site burned if it was low-key, and added:

“Chances are a risky links scheme will not crash your site…unless the New York Times gets involved with Google” Max Thomas – Thunder SEO

The last person to speak on the panel was Christine Churchill from Key Relevance. Her first piece of advice was not to ignore social media and if you don’t have a pre-established, strong social network then its time to get to work on those now.

Clean Up Ads:

Post Panda, its important for webmasters to pay attention to their page layouts and quality. It may be necessary for some websites to reduce the number of ads appearing on a page. Christine suggested that webmasters aim for deep, original content and if possible have authoritative authors and to build trust with content.

The Basics Are Still Important:

Best practices are still sound and its wise to think about things from a user’s perspective.

“Good page title tags are still your best on-page tool”
Christine Churchill – KeyRelevance

Google Instant is Changing Things:

Christine added, that search using Google instant is changing searchers behaviour. The dynamic suggestions feature that activates when people type queries into the search box means people are having to type a bit slower with Google instant. Users are now looking at the suggestions and the results, so site owners need to be paying attention to Google’s suggestions.

Measuring the ‘Long Click’ – Keep It Sticky:

Click through rate (CTR), bounce rate and time on site have all become potential measurements of page quality. This means that everything from a good page title to increase your click-through rate, to producing engaging, quality content so that users stay on the site longer, can all help.

Time on site factor, or the ‘long click’ is what is seen as a satisfactory search outcome for Google. If the user immediately goes back and in effect ‘bounces – then this is deemed a ‘short click’, and the page is seen as less valuable. So consider producing content that will help keep a user on your website

Summary:

In time when the Google algorithm has become much more complex and dynamic (Google updates its algorithm around 300-500 times a year), webmasters need to think more and more about creating sticky content that is both active and something people will want to share, revisit and link to.

At the same time, it’s important to look at multiple marketing channels and consider other search engines and social media channels to reduce reliance on Google traffic.

Webmasters should look to leverage websites like YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Blogs, PR, local listings and social bookmarking websites as part of an overall SEO strategy.

Gareth Davies has worked in SEO since 2002 and is director of the SEO agency GSINC Ltd. As well as client work he also consults for the web retailer group SafeBuy and is editor of Ecommerce Monthly newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @GarethGSINC

  • http://www.genuineinternetmarketing.com Shane Eubanks

    I’d say that’s some pretty solid, “high-level” advice. What I wonder about, though, are those domains and pages that are truly useful to people, but people don’t share, like, recommend, tweet, stumble, etc. Let’s say for example some page has a miracle cure for hemorrhoids…sure, people will find it useful, but I can’t imagine they would want to share it with their friends, colleagues, etc! haha

    Here’s the thing…search marketing is somewhat headed in the direction of high school with popularity and “bad crowds”. There are some great, interesting, people…I mean pages & domains…that aren’t necessarily “popular” and end up getting buried.

    Here’s the issue with that, and Gary Vaynerchuk said it well at a recent keynote at Digital Summit in Atlanta…marketers ruin everything. Who looks at billboards, watches commercials, etc anymore? Marketers are already exploiting social sharing and gaming the system…it’s just a matter of time before social sharing gets used & abused.

    With that said, though, I tweeted and liked this article. ;)

    • http://www.getfoundfirst.com/blog.php Stu Draper

      Shane brings up a great point about the fact that for some sites it would seem their only solution is to game the system. The search engines, in their effort to improve user experience, and determine what should or should not rank, will always unintentionally hurt the rankings of some very informative sites.

      Whether it be a site that offers the 10 minute cure to your hemmorhoids, or something else that is noteworthy.

  • http://www.orbitalalliance.com Simon Yohe

    Couldn’t agree more… its all about increasing your user’s experience on your site. The difficulty of course is building and developing that initial customer flow to your site so they can experience.

  • michael bian

    Great article..thank you for sharing…