Holy moly, there’s been a lot of running around like a crazy person today. Well, at least for me. You’ve been getting all your coverage hand delivered to you. No, I’m not at all bitter about that, why do you ask. OH! There’s a session starting!
Up to talk about whether SEO is dead, alive or somewhere in between we have Fionn Downhill, Todd Friesen and Marcus Tandler. Frank Watson is manning the moderation duties. My wrists are burning so let’s just go.
Frank starts off saying he understands why people are saying SEO is dead. It’s because its changing. Frank asks how many people are using HotPot and no one raises their hand. Frank says if you have any kind of reviewable product you’ve GOT to be using HotPot and be aware of the impact of those things. He starts us off with the first question:
What have been the major impacts that you’ve seen in the search results?
Marcus: It’s just evolved a lot. Coming back from the days where you just had ten normal results, now you have the onebox. It’s not about SEO being dead it’s about your traditional approach being dead and now having the most real estate you can possibly have on the front page. If you have the Google Images popping up, you want your images in there. If you have Google Video popping up, you want your videos in there.
Todd: At Performics, it’s exactly that. It’s about search domination. RAWR! They have a pyramid structure where it’s paid, earned and owned media. There are all these other places where you need to be now. The more real estate you own, the better the chance you’re going to get the click. SEO has moved beyond leading a horse to water.
Fionn: She agrees with everything the boys have said. Don’t participate, dominate. It’s about digital assets now. SEO still applies. Its a dream come true. There was a time when you’d type a brand into Google and you’d be lucky if you owned the number one spot. Now, with domain stacking, you can own the top five spots, you can have Twitter, YouTube, etc. You can literally dominate the top 10. The good news for SEO is the opportunity has really expanded beyond the borders of the Web site. When is the last time you saw a result with just ten blue links? It’s completely different. SEO is more interesting than it used to be.
Todd: Go search for Charlie Sheen – there’s video, images, twitter, etc. It’s all loaded in there.
Frank: If you type in [The Beatles], they’re not even showing ten links anymore. In some cases it’s 8. Everyone needs to spend a certain amount of time each week reading about what is happening to see what’s going to come around the corner. It just happens. The Panda update – that didn’t roll out one day, it was started late last year. They’ve been slowly bringing it in but people weren’t reading. He recommends reading the WebmasterWorld Forums to help yourself keep up on it. You want to develop networking at the conference.
Marcus: You don’t always want to look at what people are doing right now, especially if it’s a grayish tactic. People will see something up on top and think they have to go do that, too. But Google is probably already working up on something to tackle it algorithmically. It’s about sustainability, not getting to number one as fast as you can. Don’t just apply what works now, apply what makes sense.
Fionn: There’s too much analysis paralysis of what the other guy is doing. Instead of looking at all the great opportunities, you waste time looking at your competitors who are getting links you won’t be able to get. You want to focus on getting lasting results.
How much control do we have in optimizing Facebook & Twitter for search?
Todd: Links are links. Your Facebook pages, your LinkedIn profiles – you have to link to them to get them in the SERPs. Twitter is different. If you have Twitter results being pulled into a results page you’re chasing, you need to be constantly tweeting.
Fionn: Anything you want to show up in search results, treat it like a Web page. Use keywords, descriptive titles. An asset is an asset. Apply SEO principles to everything.
Frank: As far as Twitter goes, you want to build up your profile because that will influence how your tweets rank. You want to be aware of all the other properties outside of search and how they’re coming in to be manipulated.
Dani from Daniweb is in the audience and launches into a little rant:
Google has been saying if you want to increase your rankings, write for the end users, not the engines. Everything should be designed with the end user in mind. Is SEO dead because we’re not writing for the engines anymore, we’re writing for the end user? She has a tag cloud on her site. It’s there because the end users love it and it helps the site categorize their content. But Google hates it because it’s keyword stuffing. She had to use JS to inject the tag cloud into every single page so that Google can’t see it. SEO can never be dead. She’s doing something for the end user – who is Google to say they don’t like it?
Marcus: Google says don’t buy links, don’t do this, they can’t crawl your site if you do that – it’s horrible. Google has all these rules. They can’t rank your site, so you have to play by certain rules.
Todd: Google told people to write content. So they did! It was crappy, but it was content. But it wasn’t good enough so Google did something that changed 12 percent of all searches. It’s a balance, really. Google doesn’t want to see your seearch results in their search results so you have to block that. That’s GOOGLE’S problem, not my problem. If they’re not smart enough to crawl a site and not include my search results, why is on me to conform to what you think the Internet should look like? [Because you're relying on Google for traffic?]
Dani: You need a college degree in SEO to build a Web site.
Frank: Google’s really good at getting us to do the work.
[Everyone is now bitching about what they don't like about Google. Speakers, attendees, everyone's hopping in. It's a free for all.]
Fionn: They can tell us to do whatever they want because we need their traffic [AMEN!]. We do what it takes to get into Google and we do their work for them and then they change the rules. She doesn’t do SEO, she does marketing for clients. We need to change the name of what we do. We’ve played the Google game for too long. She’s never optimized a search engine, but she’s optimized a lot of Web sites. We’re stuck with this label that has this bad connotation.
[Look, you can bitch about what Google is doing and how Google changes the rules all the time - OR you can build a site that is defensible and start varying your traffic sources. Stop being lazy and expecting Google to deliver you customers. Go market your site. Be creative. ]
Would you invest in buying a domain network?
Marcus: If you want to own a lot of domains, you should invest in a domain network. It depends on the niche. If you’re really fighting the game, then you might need to get more creative. If you’re selling party supplies, there’s a good chunk of links you can get organically.
Todd: Seek professional assistance if you’re going to do that. You can get yourself into a whole lot of trouble. That’s very advanced, potentially bad result-kind of stuff. JC Penney did it the wrong way. So did Overstock.
Rankings question – how would you go about clearing up the varying approaches to rankings now that they’re different everywhere?
Todd: He hates tracking rankings, he doesn’t think its useful. You don’t need to look at rankings to see if its working. Go into your analytics and see if it’s converting.
Frank: It’s all about converting. What we do is sell stuff.
Fionn: There is no top ten. So by telling someone they’re number 5 in the organic listing when there are 8 things above them, you’ve lost the eyeballs. Ranking reports are useful to inform your SEO efforts but if you’re giving out ranking reports in 2011, you need to come to a lot more conferences and learn how to do this properly.
How can you better rank locally?
Todd: Be everywhere. Be in Merchant Circle. Be in Yelp. Find a company that has tons of reviews in Google Places and see where those reviews are coming from. Have your contact page on your Web site and list all of your locations and make sure they all have their own pages that are crawlable.
Fionn: The main Web site needs to be well optimized for the local search terms. You need to have a local strategy and the main Web strategy and they need to blend together. Google Places isn’t going away. Google is cold calling SMBs trying to get them to opt into the $25 Tags advertising.
Frank: That’s why they were looking at Groupon because they have that sales force to do that.
Todd: SEO now isn’t just if you’re number one in Google and Bing, but are you doing everything to rank in Facebok or Flickr. Anywhere that has a search box can be optimized in one way or another.
Marcus: YouTube is the second largest B2B search engine. You can do so much stuff there.
Fionn: If you want to do do well on YouTube, rent a baby and make it do something. Heh!
How do you build high-quality backlinks?
Fionn: They write high quality How To articles, include video. People link to the blog all the time. Within that post they’ll link to the section on their site that links to what they’re talking about. It’s good in terms of links and traffic. There’s a limit to how much content you can put on an ecommerce page without diluting the message of “buy the tire”
Frank: You have to think outside the box. We’ve gotten really lazy relying on Google. It’s time now that we have to go out and do a little work. Hire an intern. They come up with the wackiest ideas in the world.
Todd: You can outsource that stuff for a lot cheaper than you’d expect.
Marcus: Do good research. If you want to push something on Digg, research Digg to see what worked before.
Todd: Go in the Digg archives and see what went hot a year ago. Digg users have new users and old users forget they saw that a year ago. The same stuff goes hot all the time. Whether Digg is useful or not, it’s useful for ideas for sure.
Is there any damage to providing external links? What if she linked to JC Penney, would she get penalized?
If you don’t want to be an SEO, what do you want to be called?
Todd: Search marketer.
Fionn: Organic Search Marketing
Conclusion: SEO is dead as a term, as opposed to something you actually have to do.