(This week I'm at the Distilled SearchLove SEO conference in New York. It's my first conference dedicated solely to search engine optimization, and to make sure I get as much value out of it as possible, I'll be live blogging what I learn. Ask questions in the comments and I'll see if I can track down the answers.)
Kicking Things Off
Distilled CEO Duncan Morris kicked things off by asking everyone to turn to a stranger, make an introduction, and hopefully get a link out of the newly-built relationships. Not a bad way to start off the day. Morris gave a smart reminder to attendees - it's one thing to learn it here today, but it's not worth a dime unless we bring it home and do something with it. And with that, we're moving on to the speakers for the day.
The Modern SEO's Toolkit
SEO is just marketing, but with computers. That's how Distilled Founder Will Critchlow opened his presentation. To quote Avinash Kaushik, "Our ability to use APIs, scrapers, multiple tools is going to be super critical." Will flashed a screen of Google Analytics, SEOmoz Pro tools, and several others, but said that this presentation is not about them. This session is about the hammers and screwdrivers of SEO, not the power drills, that are needed to hack together data to drive SEO campaigns.
More and more, we're required to use tools not for the output themselves, but to use the tools' output as input for other tools. It's not that we all have to become developers, but it's important to use developer-like skills to hack things together. These tools should be at the fingertips of modern SEOs.
Will is now turning to some practical examples of how to use data to hack things together. We're not even fifteen minutes into Will's session and we all now know how to install an Ubuntu package on a virtual server to perform work with command lines.
Will is now talking about wireframing tools such as Balsamiq, Skitch and others to take screenshots and annotate them with arrows. SEOs are often much better off communicating requests to developers and clients through tools such as this (and video tools such as Screenr and Camtasia). The theme here is to install and become comfortable with these types of tools so you don't need to learn them when you need them.
You have to use the right tool for the job. When Excel is the right tool, use it. When Amazon's Mechanical Turk is the right tool, use it. There are even tools out there that will help you identify when you have old Google Analytics on pages. Sure, some of them may look like duct tape and chewing gum, but that's part of what made MacGyver awesome. Chrome's Inspect Element feature may be your duct tape. The GA error detecting Chrome extension may be your chewing gum.
With all these hacking techniques, new processes are required to keep us on track. Will's "Why (TF) doesn't it work?" checklist consists of:
- Reproduce the issue
- Sleep, Shower
Now we're getting into JSON and the Twitter API (I loved the AppSumo/Google Docs lessons). Using the Why(TF) process, Will noted that it's not as hard as it seems to run Python code to build your own feeds and data streams. We're watching how to get Python and Django set up right now.
It's not that we need to learn these tools to build our own tools. They're there to help us become better at our jobs as SEOs and to fundamentally better understand how the web works.
The Next Level of Social Integration
Mat Clayton of Mixcloud is up next to talk about recent advancements in social integration. Mat opened with the stat, "One of every seven people in the world log into the Facebook ecosystem at least once a month." Social and social apps is like a freight train and can drive more traffic and conversions than Google according to Clayton's experience. Communications, Games and Media are where this action is the hottest. Designing your product around social is more important now more than ever.
Social media success is like a mountain, and those who win get to the highest ground first. Clayton's first tip is to understand how many people on your site are currently logged into Facebook when they visit your site. If this number is high, social is key to your business (nothing crazy there so far).
Clayton's first big tip is to use the Facebook Insights meta tag on your website. Doing so allows you to see demographic data on all website visitors that are logged into Facebook when they visit your site. And that's just the beginning. There are custom ways to tag the way people interact with you through Facebook on the horizon.
People are users. Social actions are verbs (share, like, upload). Objects are nouns (pages, files, images). Facebook's new features (e.g., Timeline and Ticker) are primed to help you measure these things. What does all this mean?
We'll now be able to tell which types of content and conversations people are engaging with, and more thoughtfully optimize the content, where it lives, and how it's promoted on social media. It seems that Facebook Insights is growing up and will soon deliver amazing qualitative and quantitative data.
Excuse me for a minute while I pick up my jaw. Clayton just showed how authentication with Facebook and building that content into your web page can obliterate bounce rates and do amazing things for time on site. Personalization is hard for so many companies because you have to get the data first. Facebook has that data, why not use it as your de facto personalization engine? Just including pictures of people's friends has profound impacts on conversion rates. The implications of this should open up a flood of new options.
Everything's Easier with Fans
SEOmoz CEO and co-founder Rand Fishkin is next up to talk about how community makes SEO easier. Rand is starting off by showing the incredibly high cost of paid media. The basics of branding has gone back to frequency and reach. The more you see a brand in media, the more you'll be able to recall it. You can pay for it (and you'll pay a lot), or you can earn it with inbound marketing and community.
The hardest part of any SEO campaign is link building, and SEOmoz has a button they push when they want more links. It has a label: publish. When you have a community, publishing content and tweeting it is the best way to build links, as is evidenced by a flurry of SEOmoz-related screenshots from Twitter, Facebook and Google Analytics.
Viral Content = Content^Excellent * Community
As you build your community, your content must be amazing to go viral. Not good, not excellent, but amazing. As you build your network, though, the quality of content isn't only what drives viral sharing - it's the community. And as this community grows, the viral effect gets bigger and bigger.
So how do you build community? Curation hubs, social news site, social sharing sites, social discovery sites, content platforms, blogs, Q&A forums, etc. etc. etc. The answer is a mix of content and destination created for the community, not the brand.
The first step of any successful community destination is finding the intersection of what your customers are interested in, and then comparing it to you what you sell and do. The area of overlap (sometimes big, sometimes small) is the prime area to focus community content.
Now, how to build community. First, give as much as you can. Give content, attention, and recognition to all, and pay special attention to influencers (well-known as well as the "chunky middle" of the influence curve) who have built-in audiences and followers with them.
Next, don't launch a wasteland. You don't want people landing on a page with no tweets, likes or comments. You have to plant the seeds (sometimes internally) to show other potential community members that your site is worth it and a destination they want to be a part of.
The biggest barrier to entry to a great community is persistence. It takes an enormous amount of time to get a community rolling. It's like the flywheel concept in Good to Great. But once it starts taking off, all the time and effort is worth it. Keep that in mind as you're putting in the long hours at the onset of new community-building efforts.
A big part of a community is making sure people feel a part of it. Adding sharing options and features that make sense to the community is important. Profile pages are critical, although often receive little-to-no love from most community sites. Profile pages help people give them a sense of belonging within the community, and can be a great source of inbound links. Why wouldn't profile pages be important to you?
Community members long to be acknowledged, yet so few companies respect or pay attention to the fans they have. Take note of your competitors' communities. Can you poach some of their members by giving them the love and attention that your competitor won't? (Personal note: companies that don't treat their communities with the utmost reverance and respect make me cry and a little sick to my stomach).
Once you have a community, then you have to start thinking about things like Community Guidelines. Brands that don't deal with things in a clearly laid out manner can invite all sorts of negative things to your site. Trolls, feelings of nepotism and other bad community mojo can be the result of decisions made that seem inconsistent or unclear.
Community Building Ninja Lightning Round
- Write About Other Communities
- Name Drop for Google Alert Love
- Get Contributions to Content from Other Major Industry Players
- Use Social Signals as "Points" in Your Gamification
- Create a Common Enemy
- Build Smart Notification Systems
- Invite-Only is a Powerful Motivator
- Help Your Members Become Social Participants
- Publish a Single, Popular Feed of Your Content
- Get Your Community Searching w/Particular Phrasing to Influence Suggest and Influence
- Bolster Thin Content Pages by Pulling External Community Content
- Give Users the Power to Share/Embed/Re-Use Things Back on Their Own Site
The power of community comes from its cyclical nature. Everything becomes connected and begins to build upon itself. And that's how you win the Internet.
Winning Local Search With Data
Local SEO is a whole other beast, and that's what David Minchala is ready to talk about. To demonstrate how different it is, Minchala started by showing lists of ranking factors and tools specific to local SEO and then for regular SEO. No surprise, there was very little overlap. To win at local SEO, it requires a different strategy.
Tracking is one of the first differences. For local SEO, volume of tracking data is much often far less than what it is on the rest of the site. Successful business websites may only get a 100 visits locally where they get 1000's of visits otherwise. Local tracking should include third-party data sources to provide more data points.
Where does local data come from? Google Insights for Search is a good way to start, but it shouldn't end there. Minchala brought up the example of searching for "divorce lawyers." According to GIfS, Minnesota was the #1 area for divorce. Upon further digging into U.S. Census data, David found that Minnesota wasn't even in the top ten. It could be that the amount of search volume from this region is due to another reason than just search user demand. Using multiple data points, especially in areas where there isn't as much of it, is a good way to ensure your campaign isn't being side-tracked by bad advice.
Minchala is now moving on to content. Some pages (e.g., services pages) aren't going to drive engagement/conversions, and some types of media (e.g., video) don't have the impact at the local level that they do at the national level. Even blogging and linkbaiting, sacrosanct to most SEO campaigns, should be thought out and not taken at face value just because it works for regular SEO. (I don't even know if I could have typed that with a straight face had I not seen the data David presented). These things have some impact, but you have to consider your playing field and let that drive your priorities.
85% of local business search real estate happens within the Map Pack or in a blended SERP. If that's the case, should "organic" be the #1 priority (not a rhetorical question)? You have to talk to your client to know. What types of jobs, customers and projects do they prefer the most? Local SEO priorities should start here, and drive the local or traditional tactics you focus on from there.
Not only does this type of mindset drive content and link building approaches, but it can do wonders for keyword research as well. Think of the value you can drive by knowing your business or client's best and worst customers and which keywords they use and how this type of data can inform and drive your customer personas.
Minchala is now moving on to tools. A big part of local SEO is local citations. Factual.com allows users to look at how much variation there is in citations. Variations in citations can be scrubbed out. Finding the variations and making them consistent will strengthen your Google Places page and bolster your local SEO efforts.
Local Search Toolkit is another great tool. This tool allows you to find local competitors by keywords, which categories they're using, and other valuable espionage-type data.
Other tools David recommends are American Fact Finder, Whitespark and the SEO Tools Plugin. Ultimately, David's session was about using local SEO tools to gather multiple data points and then using that data to create a strategy around your business or client's specific goals and customers. And now for lunch...
Mining Social Data for SEO and Profit
The first post-lunch session is being presented by Laura Lippay from How's Your Pony? She's here to talk about using social data to incorporate into your SEO campaign. Lippay's first main point is that many people focus on SEO tactics that don't require them to leave their site. Laura says that great SEO requires competitive analysis and intelligence, and she's got some tools that will help us out.
Social monitoring tools help us find people and conversations as well as which users have "social mojo" and why you should care. And this is all in the name of increasing the quality of your site and the experience of your community. Much like Will's session was about hacking data together to form insights on the SEO side, Laura provided a few examples of how performing some simple research tasks in social tools can better inform search and social campaigns.
The first part of social competitive analysis is to determine share of voice (Laura has a great template for all of what's to come, available on http://ow.ly/7d3m8) for her client and her clients' competitors.
Then, dig in to social activity on all relevant social networks and record what you find there as well. This step will require going to competitors' sites and social outposts and should lend some amazing insights. Take note of what's working and what isn't and bring this back to the client.
Next, grab all the public traffic data (e.g., through Compete) and link data (e.g., SEOmoz Pro Tools) and record that as well. You're building a complete picture of the industry, the players in it, and what people think of the players. I like where this is going.
Finally, it's time to grab positive and negative sentiment for each player in the space. While sentiment isn't always reliable on an individual mention basis (read: you still have to do the manual work to inspect for validity), aggregate sentiment date through tools such as NetBase can help demonstrate what people like the most and hate the worst about companies in a particular space.
Lippay is now going into the amazing insights provided by this type of sentiment data. She rolls sentiment up into themes and there are insights galore. She's using auto dealers as her example, but just think of all the things you could do if you knew why your customers liked or didn't like your competitors. I'm guessing this is where and how Laura finds a lot of ponies.
It doesn't stop at sentiment. Laura's now suggesting tools such as Get Satisfaction for finding out what your competitors' customers are asking them to do. You'll be a hero if you can release features or address issues sooner than your competitors, and social media data can help you figure out what these things are.
Finally, some of these tools are great to determine demographics about your users. Understand which content does better with men vs. women or old vs. young. You get the idea.
Complete Laura's worksheet and you'll be well on your way to dominating your competitors with the help of all the awesome competitive social media data.
The Past, Present and Future of Link Bait
Now up is Distilled's Rob Millard to talk about the next best thing in link bait. For starters, Rob points out how formerly great tactics, such as infographics, are now not as great as they once were because so many of them are done poorly and without thought. Two years ago, infographics barely showed up on Google Insights for Search. Now they're everywhere. Rob's request to us: Let's stop!
Link bait is a game of just right. Too little creativity or effort can be just as detrimental as too much.
You also have to have the right hook (check out Distilled's link bait guide for ideas in this area.). Getting people interested and then motivating them to include a link is not an easy game. People are motivated by looking good, feeling good, saving time, etc. If you want your link bait to work, infographic or any other tactic, you have to have a good hook.
Millard next talked about the production. Link bait can be the idea of one or two people, but often you'll be only one person in a multi-step approval process. Getting sign-off and buy-in is critical or your link bait may end up being chum instead.
To truly understand why link bait such as infographics work, it's important to check out works by the likes of Tufte, McCandless and the Heath brothers. If SEO is part art, part science, you'll find a bit of both in visualization resources.
What does it take to create a great infographic? For starters, you need great data. In this area, you can use your own or fetch it through APIs, open data sources (e.g., BLS.gov) or surveys. If you don't have access to the data, go out and get your own dataset.
Once you have the data, then you should be asking questions: Is this worth visualization? Does it make complex data easier to understand? Does it make something boring exciting? Could it just be a blog post?
Once you have the data and you think you want to make the infographic, take ten minutes to brainstorm ten link prospects for your infographic. If you can't think of outreach prospects, you probably don't have a hit infographic on your hands.
Rob talked a bit about Distilled's production process and then changed gears to talk about outreach. Rob's slide on outreach templates showed different approaches for different outreach prospects based on their ability to multiply the outreach and the quality of links they'll lead to. This was especially helpful information to get the most out of your outreach efforts.
What's next for the world of infographics and link bait? HTML5 and CSS3 are changing the nature of infographics and taking them to the next level by adding in personalization, real-time elements and interactivity. These change will also lend to new ways to ask your users to share them.
The data and formats may change in the future, but you'll be more likely to see success if you come up with a great answer to: What's your hook?
Surprising Lessons from Growing Facebook, Mint.com and AppSumo
Noah Kagan is now up and he's going to share a lot of what he learned in with his marketing efforts. Out of respect for his wishes to keep some of this available only to conference attendees (paired with my novice ability as a liveblogger), I'm not going to be liveblogging this session. But I promise you, it's amazing already.
Your Content Strategy is Part of Your Link Building Strategy
I've heard many good things about Wil Reynolds (of Seer Interactive) and now he's presenting on the overlap between content strategy and link building. Wil started out with the the sad reality that, despite many of the great social signals sent by the best blogs out there, the sites with the perfect-anchor-text-crap-on-the-page are still winning in a lot of cases.
As if to prove this point, Wil points to Google's lackluster advancements to Feedburner and Google Reader and how the company has done nothing to use the data within to improve the search algorithms. They've had Feedburner for five years, and they've done nothing. It's a sobering reminder that social isn't the only answer to search. That said, Wil has amped the room up and is ready to get cooking on some of his favorite tactics.
Reynolds's first example comes from broken link reports. When you find out that links are no longer where they once were, it spells opportunity. You can swoop in and ask sites to link to your site if you have a better resource. If you like the people whose links are broken, you can inform them. They make the change, and in doing so you can build relationships, which of course lead to new links.
Reynolds is now talking about the mistakes big brands make because they're big. They have big budgets and slow internal processes. As a result, micro-sites are common on the Internet. Smart SEOs swoop in when these micro-sites expire with tools such as You Get Signal (http://bit.ly/ip-lookup) and buy them. These can be amazing sources of links that can carry great authority or, even better, links that come directly from your competitor.
Next up, Google Suggest vs. Google Product Suggest. One screenshot was all it took to illustrate the point that the results aren't always the same and can yield great new keywords as a result. For example, adding the year after products in an e-commerce title tag is a good way to leverage new query data on current pages (e.g., running shoes 2012).
Wil loved PostRank when it used to be as simple as dropping in a URL. This trick let Reynolds find popular content on other blogs rather easily to better inform his content strategy efforts. He showed a work-around that allows folks to still use PostRank, but now he recommends Topsy for this same purpose. Finding the best content on blogs helps you find the best guest authors and ideas for your own blog.
Reynolds's is focusing next on inforgraphics with an awesome fail-proof tactic. Find long blog posts out there with comments and turn them into infographics. The folks who stick around and comment on these long posts are the same folks that will link to you.
Another infographic tactic is to pay to have it placed. "But isn't that black hat?" Wil asked. If that's black hat, then Forbes, Bloomberg, and all the others are black hatters because they take on paid editorials all the time. How is a paid infographic anything other than paid placement.
Yet another infographic involves taking other companies/organizations' data and turning them into infographics. Many government and non-profit companies will commission or report on data, but they leave out the sizzle. Repackage this data for amazing infographic opportunities.
Moving on from infographics, Wil is talking about how to use Export.ly to leverage your follower data for SEO. You can download all of your followers and their bio data in an Excel spreadsheet. Drop that in a tag cloud tool like TagCrowd or Wordle and now you've done hours of qualitative research on your followers in a matter of a few minutes.
A really smart, yet easy influencer outreach tip is to go to Quora and export the feeds of your target influencer. You now have an ongoing feed that will tell you exactly what interests these people and what they'll answer on Quora. If you're stuck on ideas for your own content, this approach will surely give you some new ideas that are perfect for your target guest bloggers and link prospects.
(Note: <4% of iPad battery left, so this post may cut out as I'm typing. I'll bring my cord for day two of SearchLove New York. If my worst mistake liveblogging today was running out of power, I'm probably doing OK.)
Give It Up
This session is strictly "no tweeting or liveblogging." Everyone is getting up to the stage to share their super secret sauce with conference attendees. And that's one of the many reasons a liveblog is cool, but not nearly as cool as being here in person.
An Amazing First Day
For my first bonafide SEO conference, Distilled's SearchLove New York is about as awesome as I could have expected. Awesome people, information, venue and extras have on SEO geek cloud nine. More to come tomorrow during day two of SearchLove!