(I'm here liveblogging day two of the Distilled SearchLove SEO conference in New York. Read on if you couldn't make it to today's events.)
SearchLove's Day 2 started with a bang with Publicis Modem's Mike King dressed as M.C. Hammer. After busting a quick move, Mike started off by saying that we're approaching search and social wrong. Search is more about "who" and "why" than it is about "what." And social media is a great way to find out the "who" and "why."
Learning about people means collecting data from social listening tools (e.g., Social Mention) and quantitative traffic tools (e.g., Compete) and then building personas as a cornerstone of your approach to search and social.
King says building personas is a process of guess and check. Using social listening tools and educated guesses help to really hone in on your target audience and influencers.
Mike is now talking about using the FB:Admin in conjunction with your Google Analytics account to show keyword-level demographics. And once you have all this data in realtime, you can perform dynamic targeting on your site based on the user personas you've created.
Content has to be compelling to your audience. The best SEOs don't deserve to rank unless the user loves what they find. If you take your keywords and filter them through social listening tools, you'll get a much better feel for the types of content people want to see relative to your keywords.
Compelling content requires employing smart tactics. King is now rapping about co-relevance, which happens when you mash up two different things (e.g., A Candy Land infographic about Oprah) that aren't quite related. If you have a good feel for your personas, creating co-relevance opportunities should be plentiful. He's showing GoFish as a realtime keyword research tool to support these types of efforts.
Now we're moving on to link building. In SEO, content is king, but in link building, context is king. Spam emailing form letters is near-worthless. King is walking through an intricate process of using Twitter, Open Site Explorer and Export.ly to take link building and requests to the next level.
The best outreach efforts are tailored to the target. Usually this requires custom emails written by hand to each prospect. But if you have personas, you can group your prospects into categories and write form email requests to scale link prospecting.
More tools for follower/link prospecting: Followerwonk, Scraper (Chrome Extension), Screaming Frog and King's own KloutScout and SiteSkout.
Link building should be fun if you take this approach. You're building relationships first, and the links will follow. Mike is now moving on to how to approach link prospects. Subject lines with "link request" in them clearly won't perform well. Your first email shouldn't even mention a link. On the Twitter side, begin by @ replies, but quickly escalate to DMs so you can move the conversation to email.
Add value for your prospects by giving them information, entertainment, or more. If you give away prizes, offer them contest-style to maximize participation instead of giving them away to everyone. One-to-many is better than one-to-one.
Mike closed things down with some truly remarkable mash-ups of social and keyword data that allows him much greater levels of sophistication of ROI projections. And finally, Mike revealed that Googlebot is actually... Chrome. My mind is blown. You've delivered, Mike King.
Reputation Management in an Instant World
Now up is Rhea Drysdale from Outspoken Media, and she's ready to talk about reputation management. Rhea has been known by many names (e.g., Shera, Princess of Power), but none are more important to her than her given name. Rhea cares a lot about reputation management, because she's been the target of someone trying to squat on her personal brand.
Our name is all we'll leave to this world when we're gone (minus all the stuff, of course). Our names are our legacies, so why wouldn't we want to protect it? There is so much content out there. Between UGC, reviews, and even Google Suggest, there are a lot of places that require reputation management.
Rhea's first major reputation management case study centered around a client with " scam" showing up in Google Suggest. Rhea discovered that someone was using data hosting services such as Amazon and Rackspace to perform fake queries and get the query in the suggest box. Yikes, this is some tough territory.
Some efforts are just crap. Rhea showed how some reputation management "services" involve spamming UGC sites with relevant terms. This works, but it's crap. Instead, shoot for better destinations such as Linkedin, industry articles and Wikipedia, all the way down to sites such as Businesscard2 and CareerBuilder. Publish relevant content here for reputation management, not on crap sites that serve no value.
Rhea's next case study is looking a client that had some bad press surrounding it. A reactionary company culture combined with a history of smaller, yet numerous bad stories and other factors stacked the deck against the company.
Outspoken Media reacted with a video strategy, pr strategy and an internal communication strategy as a way to change the conversation. These types of snafus can define a company's or CEO's legacy, and so it's important to stay on top if it.
And now for some reputation management tips that will drive SEO benefits. Drysdale is talking about a client who ranked #1 and #2 for a short-tail term, but they wanted all of page one. She formed an inventory of candidates for page one, then Google's sitelinks came out, and many of her prospects now rolled up into the sitelinks interface. Owning all of page one would be difficult because there were now too few pages that could appear on page one.
Rhea turned folders into sub-domains to get around sitelinks, and built out profiles on other sites. Her results speak for themselves. I'll certainly be trying some of these tactics myself.
What Does a CRO Expert Bookmark
After a quick morning coffee, we're watching Stephen Pavlovich of Conversion Factory talk about conversion rate optimization. Stephen asserts that CRO requires an endless supply of new ideas to maximize the potential lift. And Evernote is the perfect tool to create a growing "swipe file."
Evernote allows you to tag emails, photos, web pages, just about anything. The key is to make it a habit. Anything you see that gives you ideas for testing, put it in your swipe file for when you need it later.
When you're doing CRO, always find the problem first, then solve it. 99% of CROs don't do it in this order, which means they're doing it wrong.
Pavlovich is now walking through the process. First, put anything that inspires you into Evernote and tag it for later. Online marketing examples are plentiful, but don't forget about offline marketing examples are also key for getting new ideas for testing. And new ideas are like shortcuts in CRO.
CRO isn't always about broad sweeping changes. Many times it's the little things that propel conversion rates. For example, a "damaging admission" is when a company uses a potential objection as a benefit. If you don't have a phone number on your website, put a page up explaining why.
Next up, Stephen is talking about the value of copywriting. Not enough companies truly value copywriting these days. Learn copywriting, hug those that know it, and make sure you're always improving skills in this area.
Look for offline inspiration for online tests. Traditional sales and advertising, psychology and behavioral economics have so many best practices and insights to teach CROs. The age-old concept of "show, don't tell" has been a sales tactic since the 1800s. That said, what's the best way to demonstrate that your product works? Personalized marketing has been around forever as well.
CRO is a great way to test out things online before committing to offline efforts. Esquire emails potential covers to a portion of their subscribers to see which one should hit the news stand. Tim Ferriss almost named 4-Hour Work Week "Millionaire Chameleon." Would that have done as well? Probably not.
Pavlovich is wrapping up by encouraging us all to use Evernote to build a swipe file, capture everything from your industry and others, then run your tests. What a great presentation and thoughtful approach to getting ideas for CRO.
Big Business SEO
And now Distilled's Tom Critchlow is presenting on big business SEO. SEO for large brands and big businesses is a bit different from startups. For starters, SEO for big businesses is tough because big businesses like big changes and big ideas. SEO is often about smaller changes that add up to big results. Small changes and ideas can often get squashed in the prioritization process. That said, Tom encourages us to pitch big projects.
The ideas isn't to constantly be putting your eggs into one basket. Have a long-term vision and gain buy-in for a pilot project that is smaller in scope and scale. When (if) it works, then you can go back and get the funding for the big project. Big business means internal politics and processes. A strategic approach to pitching SEO projects is just as important as implementing the projects themselves.
For example, Zappos has over 50,000 product videos on their website. These are the types of projects SEOs should be pitching within their companies. The videos created a competitive advantage for Zappos that brings lasting value for the company. When you compare projects like this to less exciting projects like "putting page titles on every page" or "adding 200 words of copy to every page," which one seems like the right project to take on?
Investing in improving a page is one thing. But improving page types is the larger, grander project that will bring more longterm results.
Tom's next point is that data is important. Data for the sake of reporting is a bad thing, but data for the sake of insights is critical. Tools such as SEOmoz, MajesticSEO, and others provide amazing insights for a (usually) nominal investment.
The org chart is the most challenging part of any big business SEO campaign. Getting the right people on your project is critical. Knowing who those people are can be a challenge, much less getting their time to contribute to your project. If you don't know your org chart, you're dead in the water.
SEOs also run into org chart difficulties because the standard hierarchies aren't typically content-friendly. SEO requires cooperation of many cross-functional people that usually role up to different departments. Often you have to go all the way to the CEO to resolve SEO and content impasses. And when the CEO needs to step in and defend content, you're probably in trouble. Tom believes that "our generation" of professionals will see a Chief Content Officer role emerge in the industry as a way to address these organizational incongruencies.
In-house SEOs hate the words, "and then you just..." Things that seem trivial to startups or agencies can often be much more difficult in an enterprise setting because there are so many more people involved. The best thing an in-house SEO can do is to educate colleagues in other areas so that the companies core processes have SEO baked in. SEOs can affect this change through processes.
When something isn't working, figure out what the current process is and see what's missing. What steps could you add, remove, or re-order to ensure that SEO is baked right in? This is the way an in-house SEO scales and creates permanent change.
One-off is bad, processes and programs are amazing. And good processes require good project management (I'm always thankful for my experience as a project manager). Project management is not only a process for getting things done, but it's also a common language within enterprises. Use "Gap Analysis" instead of "Competitive Analysis." Use a SWOT Analysis instead of a dozen compelling slides.
For large sites, Tom recommends removing and pruning pages frequently. Especially with Panda changes, it's important to trim pages that are no longer relevant or are of low quality. Trimming the fat helps your entire site rank better, so it's important to be actively removing pages from it.
Tom's wrapping up with a tip on LinkedIn. Sit down with your C-Suite and scan through their industry contacts. Leveraging the authority of your leaders on LinkedIn can be a great way to build links and score new business development.
Why I'm a White Hat Now
Bob Rains hacks things, which is a great skill to have as an SEO. Bob is starting off by talking about how it used to be easy to game the Internet. There wasn't a "main" search engine and there were no best practices. There weren't conferences like SearchLove where speakers are "dropping science." It was a collection of tips and tricks. And the lines between white hat and black hat were less clear than they are today.
Yes, back in the day, the search engines were begging to be spammed. Rains says that it wasn't about black hat/white hat. If you found something that worked in all three search engines, you just did it. This is how link farms, search arbitrage, cookie stuffing, domain hi-jacking and cloaking got started, and eventually they came to be labeled as "black hat." At the time, it was just a way to get things done.
And so when search engines started presenting new guidelines, it almost seemed like a joke. SEOs that wanted to push the envelope looked for ways around these guidelines, and boom, black hat was born.
Today, black hat SEO is a much riskier proposition. There are so many more "oh f***" moments than "f*** yeah" moments because of the web spam team at Google headed by Matt Cutts. Bob is showing a menacing picture of Cutts on the screen now and talking about the woe and fear experienced by black hats as web spam became a focus for Google.
It's tempting to go black hat because the prospective payout can be much larger. White hats can have a slow and uphill battle, which adds to the allure of black hat. But it's tougher now because you're much more likely to get caught by Cutts. As tactics become known, you have to do more to cover your tracks on the black hat side. It's now requiring a lot more work to go black hat.
On the other hand, white hats build equity that sticks. You get to serve users, know the product, and do the right thing, and be rewarded indefinitely. With black hat, it's like living a lie that you constantly have to uphold. The long-term value of white hat SEO is something to aspire to.
Ultimately it's about choice and how you want to live your life. Rains joked that he never wants to bounce a kid on his lap and tell him/her that he used to plug holes in the Chinese firewall. That's a not a "My dad's a fireman" type of story.
Bob says black hat still works, but is it worth it? He's asking that question not only on behalf of your client and your domain, but also on a more philosophical level. Do you want to be tirelessly looking for ways to create spammy search engine workarounds, or do you want to be tirelessly looking for that next great piece of content that will make people say wow?
Outreach: Is it All About Hustle
Distilled's Rob Ousbey is up next to talk about outreach. When you think about outreach, you usually think of link building. But Rob's first point is that outreach is about more than just link building. Thinking about it as a higher-level business function, the value of outreach becomes clear.
Outreach is about building relationships, getting coverage and then getting links as a result. Relationships come first and the links will follow. And to do outreach well, you need the right people, as well as a fair amount of hustle.
What makes a great outreach specialist? Smart people who can get things done. People that are just smart are academically interesting, but things don't get done. People that get things done but aren't that smart end up doing a lot of things that aren't particularly useful. Smart people that get things done... seems pretty intuitive.
Other assets of a outreach professional include creativity, ingenuity, Internet savvy, curiosity and passion. Rob's sharing some of Distilled's favorite interviewing questions to tease out whether candidates have these traits. For example, asking people what they've learned recently will help tell you if they're curious enough for outreach.
The best interview technique Distilled employs is the "Internet test." Basically, you give a candidate a computer screen and ask them to do some of the things they say they can. Watching how they surf the web is a good way to determine if they're as Internet savvy as they say they are.
After you have the right people, then you can start your outreach. First, Rob suggests finding your outreach targets. Don't just search for "plumbers." Start with "lists of plumbers" and you'll find a lot more people. Followerwonk is a great tool to find targets, as well as niche directories such as dir.blogflux.com. Alltop.com is another great place to find bloggers.
Once you find them, making contact is the next step. If you're only link building, emailing form letters might be the only thing on your mind. But Ousbey stresses the relationship building aspect of outreach. Send short emails to break the ice, then follow up with a more detailed request. You should also be pairing this with other tactics such as following them on Twitter, commenting on their blog, tweeting at them, etc. This isn't begging for links. It's thoughtful and purposeful relationship building.
Sales professionals know that it's critical to overcome objections if you're going to make the sale. Make sure you have ways to overcome webmasters' objections. If someone doesn't have time to build you a link, ask them for a tweet. If someone doesn't like your target page, suggest another one. Figure out the biggest reasons people have to deny you a link and have tactics planned to overcome them.
Different types of people require different treatment. Journalists rarely write a story the first time they get the suggestion. But if you stay on their radar and make sure you have something to offer them, there's a good chance that the relationship will lead to publication and links.
Knowing your VIPs is also an important aspect of outreach. Cultivate brand evangelists and keep them happy. The important thing here is not to forget about people once they've linked to you. Continue cultivating the relationship and watch it grow (along with your link profile).
Rob is now shifting on to metrics. Unique linked domains/hour is a good way to measure outreach efforts. This way you can break down work by tactics, and ultimately help better quantify ROI. Keep a matrix with quality of links and anchor text vs. no anchor text for each outreach effort to see clusters of links and their quality and how they relate to other tactics.
Finally, Ousbey has a few tools to suggest: Buzzstream, ToutApp, Followerwonk and Linkstant.
And the Rest
I didn't cover Michael Gray's session on Wordpress SEO because I'm a Squarespace user. It was a great presentation and Michael really knows his SEO.
Lastly, Rand Fishkin and Will Critchlow are doing head-to-head reviews on websites given to them at noon. Four hours later, they're on stage giving their best advice on what two lucky SEOs can do to take their site to the next level. This is the type of session where you really have to be here to understand how awesome SearchLove is.
I've really enjoyed this conference and thank the nice folks at Distilled, the fantastic speakers and many talented colleagues in the SEO industry for making my first bonafide SEO conference something to remember.