Don’t Panic! A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Surviving SEO Changes

February 28, 2012
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

STILL WITH US?! I hope so. Because I’M still here and trying to trick my body that I don’t need coffee! We’re going to talk about how to survive SEO changes.  Or how not to get hit by a car. It’s really the same thing when you think about it. Up on stage we have Kerry Dean, Michael Martinez, Mark Munroe, and Marshall Simmonds all ready to enlighten us.

Up first is Mark Munroe. You may remember him from the last panel.

Sometimes its not easy to survive in this industry. He shows the traffic for a site that was hit by Panda.  Oh boy. It’s essentially an up and down rollercoaster. Just looking a that makes my stomach hurt.  It can be tough. It’s a very stressful job.

How to protect yourself from algo changes:

We’re told just write great content! If you write great content you’ll be okay. [The woman next to me literally laughs out loud] That’s not enough. There’s a difference between doing things that will protect you and just writing great content.

Google’s Goals For Panda

  • Gives people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible
  • Reduce rankings for low-quality sites
  • Provide better ranking for high-quality sites

The same statements can apply to most Google updates

  • Panda
  • May Day
  • Above the Fold


Google is always moving toward the same thing. They want a good search experience. To Google the best result to show up is one that terminates the search and one that a user trusts.

Do not chase the algorithm.  Google has been closing doors and loopholes quickly on things like link farms, link begging, and low quality content spewing. But Google is not done, and the above the fold algo was a clear indication that Panda only partially succeeded. Don’t chase the algo, but do make your goals align with Google’s goals. That’s how you chase the right algo. So, I guess, DO chase the algo, but make sure you’re chasing the right one.

To Survive and Thrive – Think Like Google

Think like a Google Product Manager. If your site appearing in the search results makes a better SERP, you’re moving in the right direction.  Every search is a question and every result is a promise to answer that question.

Good Search Experience

User searches on Google –> User clicks through to site –> They shut down their computer and go.

Poor Search Experience

User searches on Google –> User clicks through to site –> They bounce off the site because that didn’t work for them and look for another answer.

You have to focus on the experience because good content is not enough. You need to control the experience that starts off on the SERP.

Optimizing the SERP Experience

Understand the users that dominate your SEO Traffic. Creating search visitor personas is a good idea, but it needs to be based on your actual visitors, not the visitors you’d like to have. Survey people who come from search – what was their question, did your site deliver?

User Testing: Starting from the SERP. Make sure use a representative sample from your site.

Google’s updates are always looking at improving SERP quality.

  • Above the fold/layout algo – push down results that obscure content
  • Freshness – give users trending content they are looking for
  • Panda – push down low quality content
  • Site Performance – slow load is a poor results
  • May Day – quality assessment on long tail sites
  • Blended Search – integrated relevant content from additional sources

White Panda shook up the industry, Google still could not judge an individual page – only worked at a site level. He expects Google to move forward and come up with quality assessments as a page level.  He would not be surprised to see Google segment their Panda data to make it function at a more discreet level.

The Above The Fold algo which is looking at visibility ads may be just the first step in analyzing content and visibility of content to most users.


  1. Concentrate on improving the SERP experience for users coming to your site
  2. Invest heavily in marketing, branding, social, widgets, linking.
  3. Pay attention to loopholes in Google’s algorithm. Any technique used excessively for SEO is going to be a risk in the future.
  4. Listen to what Matt Cutts/Google says. They’re often strong hints for what’s coming.

Next up is Kerry Dean. He’s a Texas guy. He’s also a huge SEO nerd. He bought his daughter’s .com as soon as he knew what her name was going to be. He can’t figure out how to work the PowerPoint so I’m not sure he’s THAT nerdy. ;)

Kerry says he’s also a big movie buff, so all of his slides will have movie references on them. Which means me, having seen NOTHING, EVER, I won’t understand any of the references. Maybe Michelle should have liveblogged this…

Tip 1: Get your SEO Ducks In A Row! Already Event

Don’t forget the basics. Social media and personalized SERPs are overwhelming, especially when you don’t have the basic SEO methods in place.

  • Title tags, Meta tags, H tags, Alt tags
  • Navigation: Top Nav, breadcrumbs, footer, sidebar, contextual
  • IA: Make your products easy to find
  • Crawling: Make your site easy to crawl
  • Sitemaps: Keep them accurate and updated

Tip 2: Double Up On Analytics

Why have one data set when you have could two?

Pay for Omniture? Add Google Analytics for free!

Only use Google Analytics? Add Statcounter for free!

  • Create and monitor events
  • Set up filters in GA to track rankings
  • Set up filters in GA to track short tail and longtail keyword exposure
  • Track everything that matters to you – and then track even more
  • TRACK ALL THE THINGS [See, THAT reference I get!]

Tip 3: Hire a Copywriter For Crying Out Loud

Fresh content is the future of search, er…the Internet. Don’t get scared by Panda. Get on board.

  • Editorial Calendars
  • Be as unique as you possibly can
  • Rewrite your product descriptions
  • Add descriptions to your categories
  • Dust off the old blog. Post every day.

Tip 4: Landing Page/Conversion Optimization

Everything is a test.  Every visitor tells you something – even if they don’t appear to do anything.

Not getting enough traffic? Take full advantage of the traffic that you do get.

What are your visitors telling you about

  • Site Design
  • Page Layout
  • Lots of other things I didn’t have time to write down

Tip 5: Embrace the Age of Personal Branding

Building your team’s authority will increase your Web site authority. Use AuthorRank/AgentRank to your advantage.

  • Google has always been about authority and relevancy
  • Personalized SERPs give you additional opportunites to rank
  • People who have added your team members to circles will see their articles/posts/images in the SERPs
  • If you have a blog, set up Rel-author

Tip 6: Be Relentless About Making It Easy to Share/Check In

Give prominent placement to social sharing buttons

Every share and check in will eventually become an indicator for organic ranking and algos.

  • Even if they aren’t ranking factors, they have massive potential to drive traffic.
  • If your content is being shared, it must be authoritative
  • The must haves: G+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest
  • Test placements! Find out what converts best

Tip 7: Be even MORE Relentless about Mobile eCommerce

Purchase via a Mobile Device Should Be Simple

HTML5 and Responsive Web Design are making sites even more friendly to mobile browsers

  • Responsive Web sites mean you don’t necessarily to build a separate mobile site.
  • HTML5 is like Flash, but readable on all browsers/devices
  • All the SEO work you’ve done for the main site will help mobile search rankings

What Is Going On Out There?

Last year… Google launched Panda

  • Algorithmically penalizes a lot of big name sites and most of it is about a lack of fresh and/or unique content. But clearly it’s about a lack of value to a user.
  • NYTimes exposes JCPenney paid links.
  • Google penalizes Forbes for selling links

What we learned:

  • Great content is like a Panda forcefield
  • Don’t be stupid about paid links

Google is telling us:

  • Don’t buy links
  • Produce quality content
  • Get involved in Google+

We know 2 things

  • Fundamentally, SEO is still SEO
  • Now, we have to get social

Next up is Marshall Simmonds.

More has happened in the last two years than he’s ever seen happen. That said, the things that happen and how we address these changes could be boiled down to two things:

  1. Opportunity: What was the opportunity and what was the new opportunity?
  2. Agenda: What’s your agenda and how can you push it?

Panda was a fantastic opportunity to push our digital assets.  Video and images lead the charge in what people are clicking on in the SERPs. They were able to back into that. What are the users looking for and what are we targeting?

Freshness came out in 2011 which said if you have timely content it’s going to get in quicker. You started to see some things happens. Content said when it was updated. It’s showing timeliness. When they first rolled this out, they saw that 25 percent of the keywords trending matched this. Now it’s up to 45 percent.

What to do

  • Pay attention to the lastmod in your XML sitemap
  • Blog about a topic
  • RSS feed
  • Time Stamp
  • +1 probably a strong signal
  • Watch timely queries – things people ARE searching for not necessarily historic data

He talks about the Google recommendations put out after Panda that were really, really vague and not helpful. There was too much room for interpretation. With Panda, they were able to push the SEO agenda and audit sites that had been fairly complacent. They could reduce and remove ad blocks that were getting very pronounced. They could noindex content that wasn’t performing well.  They looked at their syndication content strategy. Page speed.

Search engines are distracted and even confused. It’s not easy to crawl a site like the New York Times. It’s not as intuitive as it could be. Thee bottom line is site maps. You need to do them.

  • XML
  • HTML
  • Image
  • Video
  • News
  • Blog
  • Product

That is your only way to communicate with Google and you get that feedback. It’s something takes a little bit of technical expertise. If you’re not leveraging your sitemap, you’re missing out.

If you have video as an asset, not only should you be doing a video sitemap, but you should be looking at YouTube optimization. YouTube rankings lead over to Universal rankings. That is the way in.

He mentions the Google Standout Tag. The tag should be placed in the head section of the source code of the page. The syntax is [link rel=”standout” href=”URL”]  It’s something to consider.

Rel=Author: puts a nice little figure in the search results. It’s confusing to implement. Reports on all different topics. A good way to earn buy-in throughout your company.

What Can I Do Today:

  • Google moving the goalpost is job security. It’s an opportunity to push your agenda.
  • Panda isn’t bad conceptually, it’s progression and requires adaption = opportunity
  • Sitemaps
  • Don’t forget video
  • Internal linking: What are your top pages? Are they healthy?

Michael Martinez doesn’t have a presentation but he’s here to hop into the Q&A.

Read the rest of our SMX West 2012 liveblogging coverage for more insight.

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