SMX Advanced 2011: Mega Session: SEO Vets Take All Comers

Moderator: Danny Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief, Search Engine Land

Q&A Moderator: Michelle Robbins, Director of Technology, Third Door Media, Inc.


  • Alex Bennert, In House SEO, Wall Street Journal
  • Greg Boser, SVP of Search Services, BlueGlass Interactive, Inc.
  • Bruce Clay, President, Bruce Clay, Inc.
  • Vanessa Fox, Contributing Editor, Search Engine Land
  • Todd Friesen, Director of SEO, Performics
  • Stephan Spencer, Founder of Netconcepts, Co-author of The Art of SEO,

This year we have one hundred and eight trillion years of SEO experience. Danny gives nice introductions.

Boser says that he’s not technically an SEO anymore. Yeah, right.

What are the most useful social share buttons?
— Bruce Clay says that the Google +1 button adds about 2 seconds to each page’s load time.
— Boser: There’s nothing worse than a site with social sharing buttons that all say zero.
— Alex says that all her blogs are on WP platform, and they do a lot of testing on which buttons are best for users.
— Vanessa: Be sure to monitor what the buttons add to your page speed. And there are also several things to look for when adding third party widgets. Check out the “perceived load time” for your pages after adding buttons.
—  Stephan recommends “High Performance Websites” and “Even Faster Websites”, by the author of the Y Slow plugin

How’s social sharing affecting traffic or SEO practices?
— Alex: not a ton of impact. Twitter has more impact, especially for breaking news stories (with use of hashtag clusters).

Canonical tag, index/nofollow on pagination? Discuss.
—  Todd: There’s the Google version and the version that works.
—  Vanessa: There’s actually two issues that get combined, and the issue gets clouded. Article pagination is one topic, and SE’s didn’t intend the canonical tag to be used in that case. Pagination in onsite search results is another issue. You could use a noindex on page 2 and 3 if you don’t want users to land on page 2 or 3. But Maile says that unique content on page 2 and page 3 could get you more traffic for keywords on those pages not on page 1. The other type is onsite search result pages. Vanessa says use noindex on these pages.
— Boser: We always use it on WP category pages. The cool thing about the canonical is that it can act like a 301 but Google gets to see the content.
— Bruce: Google may ignore the canonical or they may ignore the page itself. (Vanessa and Stephan dispute this.)
—  Boser proposes canonical tag tag. Brilliant.
— Stephan: noindex implies a follow, and it still passes link authority, which is a good method to keep pages from being indexed while still passing link juice. Also, Google doesn’t like internal search results pages showing up in their search results. Be sure to take your search results pages and make them look more valuable to users (while somewhat disguising them to SEs) stuff. Can we manipulate tags? And how?
—  Boser: SE’s have gone full circle. SEs gave us meta data. Then they took it away. Now they’re asking us for meta data again. Predatory aggregation: these tags makes it so easy for scrape your data and then use it in the search results. There are some negative things about these tags.
—- Alex: We need to see how it really works, test it and come to conclusions about it.
— Bruce: The only reason I see you use it right now is if you are losing rankings on ambiguity search terms. I’m worried about the amount of code bloat from tags. 6 months down the road, I’m sure we’ll be here and no one is even using it yet.
— Stephan: I’ve been a fan of microformats for a while now, especially on real estate sites. It’s good for user experience.
— Todd: I thought Stephan would like microdata because it makes it so much easier to crawl names and phone numbers.

Panda? Help?…
— Boser: If you got hit, c’mon. There’s been a lot less anger about this algo update. If you got caught by Panda, you know why and you just gotta start over from scratch.

Danny gives each panelist a site:
—  Boser: Look at backlinks and see if that content ever developed any backlinks (eHow). Is there stickiness? Does you content generate backlinks? If not, you need to address that.
— Stephan: I would acquire some sites with high link authority, semi-abandoned, not well monetized, etc…
— Alex: Identify pages that have content, are relevant but don’t get clicks. Focus on those pages where there is potential.
— Todd: It’s a cleanup project. You gotta go through your site and clean it up.
— Bruce: Restructuring templates and pruning off weak pages are the best things you can do for the short term.
— Vanessa: You have to re-think your entire site. It’s not going to be just one thing.

What scares you about Google lately? From an SEO perspective? But also, what do you like about them?
—  Boser: Other than the fact that they’ve gone from organizing the world’s information to wanting to own the world’s information… But seriously, he likes how Google tells you when you have been punished.
— Bruce: I have a particularly paranoid vision of Google.  I see Google moving into Local very strong. And then I see Google moving into the news. Like producing the news. Scary.

Links and tweets as ranking factors?
—  Boser: it’s a corroborated signal that goes along with the other signals. If you have a wave of activity from trusted people on twitter, it will spill over to other sites.
— Todd: It goes back to following:follower ratios and identifying the authorities on Twitter. It’s the next thing of getting to the front page of Digg.
— Stephan: Going viral is not in a vacuum. There’s a lot of signals to make things legit.
— Vanessa: None of us actually care about ranking. We just care about getting people to our site.

Do you think social signals will become more important than links?
— Stephan: I don’t think so. We’re going to end up in a world with highly sophisticated AI, and the link graph will be the underlying reason for a page being deemed important.
— Vanessa: Links have been so big because for a long time, they were the only signal. Now there are a lot more signals.
— Boser: Connectivity will never go away. The Web is all about the hyperlink, and that connection gets stronger with social.
—  Bruce: Much like a link graph, a trust graph will become even more important.
— Alex: Social media gives the SE’s a much larger pool to pull from. Links only come from people with websites. Likes and tweets comes from a much larger group of people than just people with websites.
— Todd: I was up for the keynote…only the last 10 minutes of it. Ranking is going to start going away because I see someone’s face in the FB widget on a website. That gives me confidence as a consumer.
— Alex: One thing that I hate about Google is that they consider Wikipedia as a news source.
— Danny:  You know what – I want full link reporting on any site. Blekko has great tools, too, but I want it from Google.
— Stephan: I am not happy with Google playing ‘Hide the Banana’. I think they are going to get more and more into health information. What could be really interesting is the merging of SEO and genetic/health data. Cuz you could send in your DNA to get sequenced and organized. I think they’ve made great improvements in their local algo and Google Places.
— Todd: Something I like about Google —> Google’s given me a hell of a career for the last 10 years.

Lightning round:

  • Anchor text over-optimization? YES! Don’t go crazy with it.
  • Digg, Reddit? Does anyone even care anymore? No.

Final thoughts:

Danny: I want to do a panel where you guys run a search engine. I’m trying to get Matt Cutts moderate a panel of SEOs.