I spent most of this week in Santa Clara for SMX West. This was my first conference, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect – I’ve heard tales of wild afterparties and lots of networking, but I had no preconceived notions of what the actual presentations would be like.
They actually reminded me a little bit of college courses – I found myself scrambling to write down as much as possible on Topic A, while the speaker was moving on to Topic B.
The presentations varied in “expertise levels”. During some of the panels, I felt like I was sitting through an SEO 101 course. That’s not to say that brushing up isn’t helpful; I think we could all benefit from going back to basics from time to time. Anyway, I made sure to take note of anything that stood out to me as useful, and I’ll be sharing those notes with you here (in a slightly more organized fashion).
Keyword Research & Techniques
The first presentation that I checked out was “Keyword Research and Techniques”. A lot of the things covered in this presentation seemed pretty basic to me, but it was still interesting.
Christine Churchill of KeyRelevance reminded us all of the importance of keyword research – that as long as we have text boxes (search boxes), keyword research is going to be pretty fundamental. Some of the main points that I left this presentation with:
Begin with brainstorming. Before you start using keyword research tools, sit down with a piece of paper and just start writing down whatever comes to mind.
This advice was first given to me by a previous employer (American Muscle), and it definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. He told me to step away from the computer and create a “web chart”. In this particular instance, I started with “mustangs” in the center of the paper, and then branched off to the various subcategories. From each subcategory, branch off again. Before I knew it, I had run out of room on my paper. I don’t have a visual aid for this right now, but if you’ve never tried it before, give it a shot. Even if you don’t need to do keyword research, I’ve found that it can be extremely beneficial for finding niches outside of your own for potential link partners as well. No judging of words needs to take place at this stage; the goal is to create a broad list.
Familiarize yourself with the target audience. You might be optimizing for “duplicate a cd”, where the “slang” (if you want to call it that) commonly used is “burn a cd”. This is a pretty broad example, but when you’re working in a niche that you aren’t familiar with, these sort of things might not come naturally. There is serious potential to increase conversions if you can learn to speak the language of your customers. You can do this by looking at forums where your product/niche is discussed, reading customer reviews, conducting/looking at surveys, even talking to customer support agents that deal directly with customers. That last one can be an absolute goldmine.
Do keyword research for each page. Develop a list of terms to target (in both PPC and SEO) for each page. Each page has (or should have) it’s own unique content/theme, and therefore requires individual keyword research. You can’t just research the niche itself and expect to be done.
“Keyword research is an iterative process”. Language is a living thing; it is constantly growing. As such, keyword research can’t be a “one and done” type deal. It would be in your best interest to reevaluate your keywords from time to time… Frequency may vary based on your niche, but set an Outlook reminder to do this once every 6 months or so.
Look at your site search box. Christina said that the site search box is “a treasure chest of keyword data.” This is where your customers are telling you exactly what they’re looking for. If your site has a search box, be sure that you have analytics configured to capture this data.
Keyword seasonality. The search volume of specific keywords can fluctuate wildly over time. Think “seasonally” – certain keywords will be much more popular during the holidays. As a recent example, think about what types of searches people were doing during the Winter Olympics. If you can plan ahead, you can create content in anticipation of these spikes in search volume. Using something like Google Trends could be incredibly helpful with this.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of what Christine covered, but these were the things that I felt went beyond the very basics of keyword research, and as such should not be overlooked.
Mobile Search Apps & Opportunities
Ever since Wpromote started offering mobile SEO services to clients, I’ve been very interested in the subject. I’ve heard it referred to as the “Wild West of SEO”, and the name is fitting. There really is a limited amount of knowledge available on mobile SEO, as it is still in its infancy. Anyway, I attended this presentation in hopes that they’d touch on the SEO aspect of mobile search.
Bryson Meunier was up first. I’ve checked out his blog in the past when researching mobile SEO, so I was looking forward to hearing what he had to say.
App Stores = Search Engines
Bryson pointed out that app stores are search engines, and should be treated as such.
With mobile search using Google Suggest, users may never actually see a search result. Because of this, he suggested that you optimize for Google Suggest. Having apps available in the app store and doing a bit of local search optimization are 2 good ways to increase your visibility for Google Suggest, though I’m sure there are more.
Want to optimize for Google Goggles? Make sure that your company’s logo is accessible via Google’s Image Search. The preferred filename format would be “[company-name]-logo“.
Bryson closed with the suggestion that you submit your mobile sites to Taptu, a search engine for touch media.
Android Applications & Marketing Opportunities
Michael Martin (Google And Blog) was up next. He spoke about the importance of mobile marketing in 2010. He pointed out that a mobile phone generally has one user, and as such, it is a precisely targeted communication channel. He also mentioned that mobile web is now considered the 7th mass media channel – print, recordings, cinema, radio, TV, & the Internet are the first 6. That really put things in perspective for me… Mobile is only getting bigger and bigger.
He also spoke about Android and it’s availability. Apparently, Android was expected to flop when the HTC Dream (the first phone to run Android) launched. Michael pointed out that the Android’s user demographic is now close to that of the iPhone, and that Android users actually use apps more often than iPhone users do.
I’ve heard many times that finding a good iPhone developer can be difficult. Michael said that Android developers are much more common, and tools like Appcelerator Titanium allow you to build native mobile apps for both iPhone and Android.
On the topic of apps, he also mentioned that moving forward, the real way to monetize apps won’t be to sell the apps themselves, but to sell ads in them – this is referred to as the “freemium” model.
Cindy Krum spoke next. Another speaker who I was already familiar with, her blog (Rank Mobile) is another great resource for mobile marketing info.
Cindy talked about Augmented Reality. Augmented Reality, in a nutshell, is when elements of a physical real-world environment are merged with virtual computer-generated imagery. The combination of these two elements results in a sort of “mixed reality”.
Layar seems to be the main AR app. It pulls data from Wikipedia, Twitter, Brightkite, and more, and merges it with real-world imagery/data to produce an augmented reality experience.
Another interesting AR app is Wikitude, which allows you to point your phone’s camera at different things (buildings, landmarks, etc) and learn about them. I was pretty blown away by this – The concept of just pointing your camera at a building and learning what the building was is pretty cool to me.
So where do SEO and Augmented Reality intersect?
First, determine which apps actually reach your audience. Then determine how they get their data. AR data is typically based on some sort of tagging/meta data – location tagging, keyword tagging, information/search tagging, etc. If you want your content to appear in AR apps, the elements need to be tagged appropriately. Optimize your feeds and make them as easily parsable as you can. You can use sitemaps to make the data even more accessible (video sitemaps, news sitemaps, etc).
I didn’t walk away from this presentation with much in the way of mobile SEO knowledge, but I did learn that mobile search is only getting bigger, and that those that don’t embrace it will eventually be left in the dust.
Keyword Research – Beyond the Ordinary
Next on the agenda was another keyword research presentation. Based on the name, I was hoping that it would be a bit more advanced than the first keyword presentation. However, a lot of what was covered still seemed pretty basic to me. Regardless, some good suggestions were definitely made.
Using A Calendar For Keywords
Christine Churchill spoke again on this panel. She mentioned that some blogs and newsletters have an editorial calendar, scheduling when posts will go up or newsletters will be sent out. I’m familiar with this practice, as I’ve done my share of work on newsletters, and know the importance of scheduling them to go out at an optimal time.
Christine suggested that you apply this practice to your keyword research. Create a seasonal “keyword calendar”. This will allow you to proactively plan for content distribution. You could pre-publish content ahead of time, since it takes time for it to be indexed.
So where do you start? The best research tools are probably Google Trends, Google Insights, and Google Hot Trends. With Hot Trends, you can look at a specific day in history and see what the top search queries were for that day.
No fancy tools are needed for the creation of the calendar – You can simply use Excel.
Keyword Tips & Tricks
It’s easy to get fixated on a specific keyword(s), especially if it’s the biggest one in your niche. Maybe your boss is fixated on some specific keywords, but they’re a bit unrealistic. In these situations, it can be beneficial to eliminate your keyword bias and concentrate solely on metrics.
Taylor Pratt (of Raven Tools) has an easy solution for this. Export all of your data, and then black out the keywords. Sort by metrics. Which terms are bringing in the most traffic, or converting the best? I could see this being extremely useful in a variety of situations.
He also had a cool trick for keyword research. I’ve spent countless hours using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, but I’m always on the “Descriptive words or phrases” tab. Try selecting the “Website content” radio button. Here, you can enter a page URL and find keywords related to that page’s content. Taylor suggested putting the URL from a search query here. Do a search for a broad term in your niche, then copy the resulting search URL and paste it in here. Who knows what kind of keywords you’ll find?
Get creative with the URLs you use with this tool. Try putting in things like Wikipedia entries and eBay/Amazon product pages. The possibilities are endless.
Supercharging Your Descriptions With Sitelinks
The last presentation that I checked out was about sitelinks.
This was something that I had never read much about, though I knew going into it that pretty much anything that you can do to bulk up your listings in the SERPs will lead to more clickthroughs, be it an indented result, a business address, or what have you.
How Do You Get Sitelinks In The SERPs?
Jerry Dischler, group product manager at Google, was the first one to speak. He explained that there were 2 different kinds of sitelinks: 2 column sitelinks (like the ones in the Wpromote example above) and 1 line sitelinks, which, as the name would imply, appear in a single line below your site’s description.
If your site is seen as the most authoritative result for a particular query, you may get 2 column sitelinks. If your site is highly relevant (but not necessarily authoritative), you could get 1 column sitelinks. So only one site will have 2 column sitelinks for any given query.
So, besides gaining Google’s respect as an absolute authority for terms in your niche, what else can you do to get sitelinks?
Jerry said that your site needs a “sane” structure, with consistent, easy navigation. Especially important is consistency in anchor text – Don’t link to pages on your site using a variety of different anchor texts. Use meaningful page titles, and have the anchor text match the page titles when possible. Avoid boilerplate/repeated text in page titles.
He also mentioned that you can block specific sitelinks in Google Webmaster Tools, in case Google is displaying sitelinks that you don’t feel would be useful to your users.
Sitelinks can be up to 35 characters long, though apparently briefer is better – sitelinks with 15 characters or less tend to perform best.
Jerry also touched on the replacement of site URLs with breadcrumbs in the SERPs. Each level of the breadcrumbs is a clickable link. If you’d like this to happen to your site, you’ll need to have a clear site hierarchy and visible, linked breadcrumbs.
Benefits Of Sitelinks
Ariel Sumeruk of Clicks2Customers spoke next. He said that sitelinks have been shown to increase click-through rate. The reason for this is increased visibility due to the presence of the sitelinks (your listing takes up more screen real estate when sitelinks are added) and is not just from clicks on the sitelinks themselves. In his experience, clicks on sitelinks have made up for only a small part of the total clicks on a search engine (from 2-10%).
You can add sitelinks to your PPC campaigns via AdWords (Ad Sitelinks). Ariel said that sitelinks can be used in PPC ads to push your competitors down the page, possibly even below the fold (depending on where you are listing).
That pretty much covers it for my notes from day one of SMX West. Stay tuned for more!
Update: If you found this post useful, be sure to check out My Notes From SMX West 2010 (Part Two)!