|Minutes of the 11 January 2011 meeting,
“The State of SEO”
About 40 people attended
tonight’s meeting. Josh Zapin facilitated and Jeremy Kohler recorded
the minutes. The podcast can be heard on our blog or downloaded
from itunes. You can also download the presentation.
Applied Trust (www.appliedtrust.com) provides refreshments, Copy Diva
(www.copydiva.com) provides the audio-visual equipment, NCAR
(www.ncar.ucar.edu) provides the facility, and ONEWARE
(www.oneware.com) sponsors these minutes.
Thanks also to Brian at covervillemedia.com for creating the podcast.
INTRODUCTION (JOSH ZAPIN)
Social networking sites have been dominating the discussion lately, but
remember that we still search a lot. We perform 16 billion searches per
month, up 15 percent from last year. Ninety percent of Internet traffic
originates from search results. From the first search engine, Archie in
1990, the landscape has changed a lot. Search has become very powerful
and sophisticated. Even Bing can tell you now the future cost of
airline flights. So have search habits changed? And what is the effect
of mobile devices?
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Troy Lerner and Chuck Aikens of Booyah! Online Advertising have been
involved in the search industry since 1999. They bring a long list of
successes (and failures!) to share. Booyah! is a full-service online
agency managing about $70 million annually in advertising. Clients
include Dish Network, Vail, Gap, Teleflora, and CP+B.
TROY LERNER and CHUCK AIKENS
Is Google still king? What is Google’s market share? They continue to
gain market share and customers come back even as Google goes through
monetization changes. Google is still #1 at providing search results
and #1 at making money.
Let’s look at organic (nonpaid) search results by engine. There’s
Google and then there’s everyone else stuck in the “Who cares?” zone.
How do I optimize for ask.com? Who cares? It’s totally Google. To get
into Google, you can buy an ad or let Google choose to include you. How
they choose is a secret, and that’s an organic decision to include you
and rank you.
There’s a dip in Google clicks in August. That’s when they released
this instant-search product. Google says that was expected to produce
fewer clicks because we are getting people to their answers faster,
with few clicks. They also took a big dip in paid clicks, but now the
ads are worth more so they will make more with fewer clicks. Think
about this: Google is good about the long view of their business.
Nearly all clicks are on nonpaid business. That’s expensive to
maintain. So if they provide really good paid stuff, you’ll sometimes
click on a money-making ad. So they want to make a really good nonpaid
section, without junk, to keep people there and occasionally clicking
the ads. They are charging more money for clicks now.
This logic can get you into trouble. You need to understand how Google
thinks if you’re paying for ads. They go first for the user, and second
for the monetization. That doesn’t seem to make business sense, but
Google is trusted now and the business model works. There’s a lot of
free stuff, and Google is trying to provide everything: email, youtube,
It’s sort of like like selling heroin: The first hit is free. Google
analytics is very widely used and it’s free. We trust it more than
Omniture, which costs $50,000 a month. I was looking at my own Google
search history. It went back to 2005. Every keyword. That freaked me
This may sound like a pro Google comment (I’m actually middle of the
road), but even though Google made your searches public, your ISP is
selling that information around, and that’s a lot worse.
They have tons of information. It got them in trouble in China, some
dissidents were sold out.
5 to 6 percent of the market for aggregate data is coming from ISPs.
So my ISP is sniffing my activity, but Google also owns the data?
Yes, they both have it. Google releases what it feels like.
So Google Instant was about Google trying to predict what you were
going to search for and giving you a shortcut to it to speed up the
interaction and increase the number of clicks on ads. But does this
kill search engine optimization? The answer is it didn’t really change
anything. It hasn’t really changed the way people are searching, and a
lot of people are even turning Instant off.
How does Google make the long tail more important?
Well, now you need to jump into the long tail that Google is
recommending, the third and fourth keywords in a search phrase. We look
at how many keywords people type to find a site. Nonpaid traffic to a
site comes from many, many keyword variations. We found that people
continued to put in their own variations, and Google failed to lead
people into their long tails. That wasn’t expected.
The concept is that there are, say, 10 keywords that drive high search
volume. These are short-tail. Long tail is phrases (even short ones)
that have little search volume. Between the two are common keyword
combinations. At the long tail, these are typically longer and modified
search terms. Short tail keywords, like “tennis shoes,” is valuable.
Long tail phrases, like “reebok zig zag black and gold shoes,” are less
valuable. Obviously we would strive to rank reebok.com high for “tennis
shoes.” But it’s also important to optimize specific product pages for
many long-tail variations.
The keywords don’t live by themselves. I used to run search for
Gateway. So we bought “laptop” for them. Didn’t work. So we turned off
“laptop” but then we lost the long tails on laptop. So we have to
consider the ecosystem in which keywords live.
Google sells sponsored instant search separately. I can buy a branded
instant search. That program actually isn’t going too well.
How are the suggestions generated?
Google is using a different algorithm to suggest the keywords than the
other algorithms that they use. You can’t run queries to influence what
keywords show up. No one has been able to game the system. For example,
Google might throw in “...scams” just to make the options interesting
to users. So these aren’t the terms as ranked by popularity. In short,
we don’t know.
Does Instant account for your personal search history?
We don’t know, but that would make sense, and it would be helpful.
Why is it when I search for something like “rocket dog model z shoe”
and I get all these random pages like nextag that don’t necessarily
take you to the thing?
You get irrelevant results now. Many people are finding Google less
useful than it used to be. These sites come up, like nextag, and
there’s no value to you. Google’s spam team is there to get rid of spam
from results. There is Google vs. spam in everything that they do. Each
year, Google updates their anti-spam algorithm. Google is now dealing
with all the middle men who are putting out content that only mimics
good content. For example, for mortgage searches, Google gives you
rates directly rather than send you to a lender. They are cutting them
I type in movies, and now I get the Google’s own movie listings.
Yes, Google is trying to make it better for visitors.
Google loves local businesses now. They are trying to get the
intermediaries that aren’t providing value out. There are so many
things to analyze regarding Google when you are pursuing a strategy.
Remember that Google has to do everything programmatically, and that’s
where the gaming comes in.
What about all blogs and reposting of blogs, duplicate content, and
Google pays attention to the timestamp and to the attributions and
social mentions to try to find the original source of the information.
That’s how they figure out who’s posting is number one for a particular
Google doesn’t want a list of duplicate stories in its results because
that’s not good for their business model.
Where should I put a blog?
We think the blog should start on your branded web site. That’s usually
the best strategy. But sometimes a specific message or campaign
requires a separate blog that links back to your brand. But usually,
start on your site. But there’s no one rule.
Google Places: It changes all the time; it’s a highly evolving thing.
They kept changing the presentation, which really goofed us up.
We used to get a pack of places separate from the organic listing. Then
Google merged it by combining your place with your web site. So now you
have to have organic web site plus a place.
Web designers got removed from Google Places.
Yes, they did that. To Google’s credit, more people were clicking
through the merged listing, and your traffic went up.
When you upload a video to YouTube and tag the filming location, does
that affect search results?
Well that’s too easy to fake, so Google probably doesn’t use it in
How is the site description changing? That seems to be getting better,
so I’m less interested the paid stuff.
Well, they are hoping you’ll keep coming back and eventually click the
ads. And keep using Google to ask questions. They want to keep
answering your questions. Google wants to solve your problems.
Google pulls in reviews from outside, like even Yahoo. They are
stopping pulling in reviews from people they don’t like, like Yelp.
Yelp wouldn’t sell to Google, and now Yelp is suffering as a result.
Yelp is local review, and Google wants local.
So the SEO trick is this: Google cares a lot about accuracy. It
confirms that the business is real, is on the correct address, has a
working phone number. Make your place listing accurate.
Facebook places vs. Google Places. There is a war going on here.
Facebook is getting more page views than Google now.
The mobile phone: Everyone has one, some people have two. It’s going
berserk. Mobile search has jumped like crazy. We are spending a lot now
on mobile search through smart phones, and a lot of that is local. By
2013, 50% of web traffic will be mobile.
I think mobile is supplementing more than replacing desktop searches.
Well I’m seeing younger people doing phone searches even when a desktop
is in reach.
Yes, certain age groups are behaving differently.
Is mobile important for business-to-business?
Oh yes, it’s important to us. We are business-to-business and rely on
It depends on the situation. On most devices, you’re just getting the
web rendered, so you don’t always need a separate mobile application.
To optimize mobile SEO, often there isn’t much extra to do. Few invest
a lot of money in mobile-specific SEO. Just not a lot of difference in
search results between mobile and nonmobile.
Google knows when you’re on a mobile device, and it will try to make
the results as good as possible for your mobile device.
So what can you do make yourself rank higher? What works currently? You
have to have content that is keyword-focused, it has to be a trusted
web site, and the page you’re ranking has to have direct links across
the Internet. What is surprising is the most important qualities have
nothing to do with content: 60 percent of the algorithm is trusted
site, link popularity, and the anchor text of external links. The
assumption is people are going to link to you if you have good content.
If you produce good content, that will generate links coming back.
There are lots of ways to signal interest in your content. If people
are clicking on you even if you are low on the results list, that will
move you up. If you are high and no one is clicking, Google moves you
down. Google is monitoring traffic and adjusting as a result.
How do get to be a trusted web site?
This is number one. A while back Yahoo put top 100 trusted sites at the
center, and looked at who they linked to and how many links it took you
to get from a top 100 to your site. Then there’s page rank, where
everybody gets a log-based rating. Google tries to determine how
authoritative your domain is. Are people looking through all the pages
on your site? Has your domain been around for a long time? It’s hard to
explain. Google doesn’t really tell how they figure out authority, but
page rank is not it.
White Hat vs Black Hat SEO: Google provides guidelines. Follow the
guidelines, that’s White Hat.
With Black Hat techniques, you risk the wrath of Google by not
following its guidelines. So should we try to get away with some Black
Hat? What tactics give you the highest value for the least risk? A lot
of people want to game the system and get away with it.
What about Wikipedia links?
We do not help companies get on Wikipedia for the purposes of SEO. The
Wikipedia community keeps an eye on that.
I suspect Google keeps an eye on that as well. Don’t try to displace
Wikipedia--it won’t happen.
Does Adsense on your website help? Actually I’ve seen it kill rankings.
You want the property to be strong before you introduce Adsense.
All we know is that Google took action on thin affiliate sites that
just served up ad sense without any valuable content.
The process is first make quality content, do keyword search and
targeting, do link building, then go social. Start with a strong base
and work your way up. If you want to go from zero to 50,000 links, do
it slowly and naturally. If you go and hire someone to do one thing all
of a sudden, Google will see it and ignore you. Google rewards slow,
plodding, natural growth.
In 2011: Compete in vertical results, diversity sources, keyword
targeting, social signals, traffic metrics, etc. A lot of stuff to
consider. Google even says they monitor twitter references to affect
Google even assigns authority to specific tweeters. Who is retweeting
So Google is starting to introduce algorithms that are designed around
users, not just sites.
What kind of Facebook activity makes a difference?
Google looks at a Facebook link’s anchor text and keywords in Facebook
updates. What is being shared, fanned, and followed, and who is sharing?
Remember your ranking depends on you being more relevant than your
competitors, just enough to distinguish yourself from the competition.
Is search shifting to Facebook?
No, Google continues to grow, and Facebook has nothing on it yet.