While there are plenty of panels at least broadly related to the world of SEM and Social Media at the Interactive portion of the 2012 SXSW Festival, there is only one panel that I marked as a ‘must see’ related to the SEO space. That panel was Saturday’s “Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better!” with Danny Sullivan – editor of Search Engine Land, Matt Cutts – head of Google’s Webspam team, and Duane Forrester – Sr. Project Marketing Manager at Bing. If you weren’t able to be a part of this panel, below is a quick recap of the bits that I found to be especially interesting/useful.
How do small businesses compete in the search results with large competitors spending thousands of dollars and spending huge numbers of man-hours on SEO?
Cutts pointed to the fact that Google wants to even the playing field somewhat and either has and will continue to address this topic or that they will be addressing this topic with upcoming updates to their algorithms. Duane responded by saying that social indications were quite useful and important indicators of a site’s value. And that it’s hard to argue with a site’s/company’s value if other people are indicating the site’s value. My take: In addition to agreeing that social cues are very important, I would add that user experience on the pages of the site plays an important role as well. Especially when working with new clients that are not yet well established in the search engines, we often see that after our initial optimizations, our client’s rankings jump from nowhere-to-be-found to the first or second page of results rather quickly – even for highly competitive terms. The staying power of the rankings, however, appears tied to how well searchers interact with the newly ranking site. When the page new to ranking is highly relevant and user friendly, it tends to remain ranked well but if the page is not user friendly or is not providing something that other ranking sites offer, the page’s ranking falls significantly. The search engines appear to test a site’s validity for ranking well before committing any sort of long-term high rankings.
Can buying links really help a site get ahead in the search results?
All three panelists agreed that buying links is a huge no-no that could have drastic consequences. My take: This, of course isn’t news. This has been the ‘word on the street’ for years and has caused some SEOs to change their tactics to be in compliance. Not so long ago, the SEO company hired by JC Penney was very publicly outed as having bought links on a large scale and there were consequences for JCP. However, I can personally attest to the fact that paid links have worked in the past and that the sites that benefitted from them then are still benefitting from them now. And we see that many of the top ranking sites for terms that our clients are seeking top rankings for are acquiring paid links on a continual basis. They keep purchasing links and they continue to rank very well. While we can compete without buying links, the sites that purchase links benefit more than Google and Bing like to admit. Sure, in the long run, it’s probably not a good idea to throw money at links (which is a big part of why we avoid this practice) but it’s hard to prove that buying links isn’t at least somewhat beneficial in the short-term.
Follow your SEO’s advice and redirect error pages to valid pages of your site
All three panelists again agreed and were emphatic about recommending that error pages not be left untended to and that 301 redirects should be put in place. My take: I couldn’t agree more and I’d love to have the responses to this topic from all three panelists in a video that I could send to all of our clients who aren’t willing to push (generally) simple redirects through. I think we on the SEO team at LMA are great about pushing for permanent redirects when necessary but if a client isn’t willing or able to implement redirects on their own, we need to push more for the second best solution which was pointed out by Matt Cutts: using the canonical tag in a page’s meta data. Placing a tag indicating which version of a page the search engines should pay attention to is a recommended practice especially for sites that do not have the ability, for whatever reason, to implement 301 redirects on their site.
This was a great panel with three well humored panelists that provided practical advice for common questions in the SEO space. While there wasn’t anything particularly novel about the content covered, there were some great takeaways. We’d love to hear from you if you attended or if you have any particular questions about SEO!