Mega Session: SEO Vets Take All Comers

June 3, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

[big exhale]

Are you ready for this? It’s the very last session of SMX Advanced and it features nearly every one you came here to see.  We have Danny Sullivan moderating industry veterans and heavyweights Greg Boser, Bruce Clay, Vanessa Fox, Todd Friesen, Rae Hoffman, Stephan Spencer and Brett Tabke.

My wrists are cracked, so let’s wrap this thing up.

seo vets

Thoughts on .edu links?  Are they still rocking?

Greg: They’re good links.  He “jokes” that he can’t wait until his daughter goes to college so he can get some links. He casually mentions that some edus publish alumni newsletters on the Web that allow advertising. You know, just in case you were interested.

Vanessa:  For the people in the audience who aren’t spammers, keep in mind that the search engines have smart people working there.

How can I optimize Silverlight for SEO?

Vanessa: Use HTML.  She knows Microsoft is working to make it more searchable. It has some of the same problems that Flash has, especially if you don’t have unique URLs for each interaction. If you can make that happen, that will help you.  There’s a white paper on MSDN on how to make Silverlight searchable.

Todd: Take that HTML and redirect conditionally. Google gets the HTML. Users get the good information.

Would love to get more clarity on the nofollow change. What should sites do?

[everyone, panel AND audience, groans]

Todd: Nothing. Don’t overreact. Wait and see if something actually happens.

Rae: You’re not going to get penalized for it, it just may not work as well. You don’t have to tear your Meta tags down just because they’re not as effective as they used to be.

Vanessa: If you used nofollow before it was because those pages weren’t that important to you. If that’s the still the case, then there’s no reason to panic and take it down. She thinks it can still be a good practice to disallow the pages that you don’t care about being indexed. Not for PageRank reasons, but for crawl efficiency reasons.

Bruce: We’ve been teaching siloing for 5 years. [Todd institutes a new game where we get to drink every time Bruce says “siloing”] We’ve never seen an impact with nofollow. We recommend you take big blocks of links and put them in an iframe. According to the way Matt said it, if you take the source of the iframe you’ve effectively removed all the links from the page anyway.

Stephan: Speaking of iframes, if you have a blog you can iframe out all the comments so you don’t have to worry about the spam. Nofollow is an advanced tactic. It’s like performing brain surgery on your site.

Vanessa: You don’t need to do nofollow. Most of the Web doesn’t. If you don’t want the hassle, you’re fine not using nofollow at all.

Greg: I’m a big sculpter. [He means PageRank sculpter. Not art. I think.] Even if the change they say is happening happens, he’ll still do it. It’s about controlling the overall quality of his indexed content. He sculpts to make sure that what gets crawled in the index is a quality page.

Rae: She only wants to look at the pages that matter so she nofollows AND disallows/noindexes unimportant pages to prevent them from showing up.  She only wants to index the pages that will do her good.

We had the Vince update where brands were appearing more in the search results. Thoughts?

Greg: Brands do better. I wouldn’t say Google intentionally did it.  Sites with a strong brand have a stronger on-page factor thing going for them.

Rae: We saw sites drop from 1 to 4 and be replaced by large brands.  But they dropped to 4 and not page three. If you have good SEO, you’ll be able to compete against the big brands.

Stephan: It was really nice for some of our large brand clients. [giggles]

Do you have to be a brand to rank?

Greg: It’s definitely harder when you’re small.  Brands have a lot of other things going for them that they don’t realize or take advantage of — age, authority, etc.

Vanessa:  Google is looking to provide the most relevant results. No matter how much you optimize your site, they’re going to make sure they’re picking the brand when the brand is more relevant. There are opportunities to beat the big brands who aren’t taking proper care of their site. It comes down to individual rankings in terms of what’s going on with the query itself.

Stephan: Big brands are bad about the long tail. If you go after a big head term, you’re going to see the brands showing up really well. If you do two or three word phrases you’ll see the brands drop away and the affiliates occupying all the slots. Your opportunity  is in the long tail. Don’t underestimate the power of anchor text.

Bruce: A lot of brands think because they’re a brand they don’t need to do SEO. They’re buying ads on TV and radio and that gives plenty of opportunity for the little guy to come and eat their market share.    The big brands have an opportunity to be beaten quite easily by the little guys. It depends on the market segment and what you’re after.

What metrics should I look for when evaluating long tail SEO on my site?

Vanessa: When people buy things. That’s her metric. /sarcasm

Bruce: Repeat visitors.

Todd: Bounce rate. What terms are they using to get to your site? Where are they landing on your site? You should be doing better in the lont tail because that’s what people want.

Vanessa: It depends on what they’re looking for. If they’re not looking for a commercial term, they’ll never buy anything.

Rae: There may be too much on the page. If someone lands on a category page and there’s too much there…they’ll bounce to a different page.  You can also use Crazy Egg to find out what people are clicking on on the page. Run that on the higher traffic pages and see if they’re doing something or clicking on something that’s confusing them and causing them to leave.

Brett: Categorize your referral strings based on the intent of the searcher. If you can come up with different buckets as to where people are you, you can break down your testing based on that.

We’ve had conflicting recommendations about XML Sitemaps. Are they good or bad?

Vanessa:   The thing about XML Sitemaps is that they wont help you with ranking but it does help with discovery. If you want to let the search engines know about all the pages on your site, it can be good for discovery. It doesn’t mean they’ll crawl and rank them. But if they don’t have discovery, they can’t ever do the crawl or ranking. She’s heard people say she shouldn’t have to tell them about all the pages on your site. And that’s true. It’s just giving you a bit more control. She’s also heard it’s a crawl efficiency thing.   People want them to crawl the most important pages, not EVERY page. It shouldn’t be that way because you should have more links into your important pages.  She doesn’t think the things people say “hurt” you about XML Sitemaps really  hurt you.

Stephan:  They’re used as as canonicalization signal by Google. They can help you if you have duplicate content issues.

Bruce: There’s more than one type of XML Sitemap.

Todd: If you’re having problems ranking in Yahoo, talk to me about Paid Inclusion. /plug

I’m rebranding and need to change the name of my blog to the company name. What’s the best way to do that? [She’s still on the same platform]

Greg: If its just a domain thing, 301 it. If you get in a situation where you can’t do a bubble one (global redirect), you want to go with your analytics and see which pages are driving traffic. When you move the blog, Google’s going to rediscover them anymore. You don’t need to redirect every page. Just redirect the ones that bring you traffic.  Redirect those and everything else will cleanse itself out.

Vanessa: Just do a global redirect.   Also, see how many queries you receive a month for your old brand. Have some kind of content on the page that has the old brand on it so you don’t lose the traffic from people searching for your old brand.

Bruce: If you have an XML Sitemap, once you move them over to a new name submit the old XML Sitemap to stimulate having the 301 picked up quicker.

Rae:  It would great if Webmastertools would let you submit 301 redirects the same way you can request removal of 404s.

Have there been any updates on the subdomain vs subdirectory debate?

Todd: It depends on your intent. He does subdomains when he’s doing ORM work because you can get multiple subdomains on the same page [case in point, search for “google”.]. If you go nuts with subdomains, Yahoo will slap you stupid.

Greg: For controlling branding, subdomains are incredibly useful.

Rae: If you’re a very small site, use folders. There’s no reason for a small site to have subdomains.

Is content king?

Rae: You need it. If you have great content and no one can find it, though, it’s not going to do you any good.

Vanessa:  If your site isn’t crawlable, then it doesn’t matter if you have good content. That’s what we see with brands. A lot of them have the content, but they can’t crawl them.

Stephan: SEO is three pillars – content, links, architecture. If any of those pillars are weak, your SEO is going to suck. You need all three. You absolutely need quality content but if the other two are off, it’s going to be invisible. If you’re doing linkbaiting and social media pushes from a blog, you need some history there to look legitimate. They don’t need to be stellar, but they need to be good enough to support the gems.

Greg: You have to identify what quality content is. There’s a difference between algorithmic quality content and real quality content. There are a lot of great mashups out there. To him, it’s quality content but it’s not quality algorithmically. A lot of times, when the whole Big Daddy thing rolled out and Google shifted, content-rich pages were ranking for terms and conversions dropped off.  Reviews with “original quality content” were ranking over pages with manufacturer content. However, that wasn’t valuable to users, so they bailed.

Rae: You need the flagship pieces in order to get links and bring people to your site.  Twenty percent of your content has to be stellar. The other 80 percent just has to be good enough.

What’s the most important SEO factor (onpage/offpage)?

Everyone agrees Title tags for on page and links/anchor text for off-page.

What’s a good resource to find good site architecture models for SEO?

Vanessa: Google has an SEO Starter guide that has a lot of the basics on infrastructure.  You can also find resources on Jane and Robot.

Stephan: He has a powerpoint on SEO site architecture. [I’ve read it. It’s excellent. Check it out.]

My competitors are buying links and Google isn’t doing anything about it. How do I compete?

Vanessa: File a paid links report.

Rae: She’s against that and says she won’t narc anyone out. She believes in karma. If she spent her days narcing other companies, that’s all she’d do and her own sites would suck.

Todd: Clients will come to him and point out people buying links and ask why they’re not doing it. Todd won’t report them himself but he’ll point his clients to how they can report them.

Stephan: He’s amazed that Google has us doing their work for them. We have the canonical tag, XML sitempaids, paid link reporting, etc. We’re even self identifying with nofollow.

Danny: You could always write a blog post. [ZING!]

What will be the new big SEO tactic for the year?

Vanessa: She’s excited about looking at data and figuring out who the people are who are searching for your stuff and how you can create a better experience for them.

Todd:  Tactical SEO hasn’t changed. What you do with the visitor, has changed. That stuff is cool.

Greg: He hates local search. He doesn’t like the testing Google is doing with it but the shenanigans you can create with it are fun.

Rae:  She’s happy Google’s making it easier to fix sites and to get crappy URLs out of the index.

Brent: The new search opportunities and outlets.  Real time search. Topsy indexes Twitter URLs.  Bing.

Todd: Instant search is awesome.  It’s so spammable. Microformats. Siloing.

Stephan: Search analytics and being able to connect keyword potential to your conversions. Aw.

Bruce: There are new forms of content that are now being indexed and that should be added to your Web site. We’re also going to have a lot of people panicked about SEO so they may actually implement changes.

Danny: He’s excited about local.

And that’s it from SMX Advanced! I hope you guys enjoyed the coverage. Lisa out.

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