www.RMIUG.org
January 11, 2011
Minutes of the 11 January 2011 meeting, “State of SEO”
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.

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MEETING SPONSORS
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.

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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?

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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.

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LINKS

www.booyahadvertising.com

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TROY LERNER and CHUCK AIKENS

Chuck:
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.

Troy:
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.

Chuck:
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, voice, etc.

Troy:
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 out.

Chuck:
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.

Troy:
They have tons of information. It got them in trouble in China, some dissidents were sold out.

Chuck:
5 to 6 percent of the market for aggregate data is coming from ISPs.

Audience question:
So my ISP is sniffing my activity, but Google also owns the data?

Troy:
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.

Audience question:
How does Google make the long tail more important?

Chuck:
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.

Troy:
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.

Audience question:
How are the suggestions generated?

Chuck:
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.

Audience question:
Does Instant account for your personal search history?

Troy:
We don’t know, but that would make sense, and it would be helpful.

Audience question:
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?

Chuck:
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 out.

Audience question:
I type in movies, and now I get the Google’s own movie listings.

Troy:
Yes, Google is trying to make it better for visitors.

Chuck:
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.

Troy:
Remember that Google has to do everything programmatically, and that’s where the gaming comes in.

Audience question:
What about all blogs and reposting of blogs, duplicate content, and syndication?

Chuck:
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 piece content.

Troy:
Google doesn’t want a list of duplicate stories in its results because that’s not good for their business model.

Audience question:
Where should I put a blog?

Chuck:
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.

Troy:
Google Places: It changes all the time; it’s a highly evolving thing. They kept changing the presentation, which really goofed us up.

Chuck:
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.

Audience question:
Web designers got removed from Google Places.

Chuck:
Yes, they did that. To Google’s credit, more people were clicking through the merged listing, and your traffic went up.

Audience question:
When you upload a video to YouTube and tag the filming location, does that affect search results?

Troy:
Well that’s too easy to fake, so Google probably doesn’t use it in search algorithms.

Audience question:
How is the site description changing? That seems to be getting better, so I’m less interested the paid stuff.

Troy:
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.

Chuck:
Facebook places vs. Google Places. There is a war going on here.

Troy:
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.

Chuck:
I think mobile is supplementing more than replacing desktop searches.

Audience question:
Well I’m seeing younger people doing phone searches even when a desktop is in reach.

Chuck:
Yes, certain age groups are behaving differently.

Audience question:
Is mobile important for business-to-business?

Audience question:
Oh yes, it’s important to us. We are business-to-business and rely on mobile.

Chuck:
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.

Troy:
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.

Chuck:
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.

Audience question:
How do get to be a trusted web site?

Chuck:
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.

Chuck:
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.

Audience question:
What about Wikipedia links?

Chuck:
We do not help companies get on Wikipedia for the purposes of SEO. The Wikipedia community keeps an eye on that.

Troy:
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.

Chuck:
All we know is that Google took action on thin affiliate sites that just served up ad sense without any valuable content.

Chuck:
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.

Chuck:
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 organic rankings.

Troy:
Google even assigns authority to specific tweeters. Who is retweeting you?

Chuck:
So Google is starting to introduce algorithms that are designed around users, not just sites.

Audience question:
What kind of Facebook activity makes a difference?

Troy:
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?

Chuck:
Remember your ranking depends on you being more relevant than your competitors, just enough to distinguish yourself from the competition.

Audience question:
Is search shifting to Facebook?

Troy:
No, Google continues to grow, and Facebook has nothing on it yet.

 


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