Today I’m at the Search Engine Marketing Advanced workshop at Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) in San Diego. This session is “Finding PageRank and Relevancy on Google’s Moving Target”, and the speakers in this session are Kevin Lee of DidIt (a search engine marketing agency) and Blake Brossman of PetCareRX.com (an online retailer).
Kevin Lee of DidIt started off by discussing the recent Panda update and how Google regularly will test updates to see what works best for users. About twice a year, though, they make large updates, and Panda was one of those very dramatic updates. He stressed that it’s important to keep abreast of updates so that you’re not caught off guard and lose a lot of traffic. Kevin feels that, in the end, Panda was a zero-sum game.
Kevin shared that Google doesn’t like to make manual penalties, so they try to keep those at a minimum. They’re mission is to catalog all the information they can to help the searcher. However, always remember: Your goals to rank well are not aligned per se with Google’s goals. This is the essential SEO quandry!
He confirmed that PageRank, an inbound linking value system, still lies at the heart of Google’s organic algorithm. He felt some signals might be:
Kevin quoted Rand Fishkin’s research at SEOmoz and the Covario study which contradicted each other on the correlation of ranking signals. But one thing that did come out in the studies was the idea of social signals. The hypothesis behind watching social signals are:
Kevin didn’t feel that gmail is a factor now, but consider it as a possibility in the future.
Chrome Site Blocking
Probably not a ranking factor now, but Kevin said it could be a good indicator for Google — if people block you, does it mean you have a bad site?
Time on Site, etc.
The Google Toolbar collects data about engagement now, but are they using it? Google won’t say.
Page Load Time
Some have correlated fast load time to higher rankings, however, is it other factors at play? There does seem to be a strong correlation between page load time and rankings, so pay attention to it.
We have no idea right now how many will adopt the new Google +1 to pages or use the +1 button. Google doesn’t have Facebook’s like button data, so they’re likely going to use this as a social signal to identify hot content.
How heavily is Google weighing shallow content? Kevin doesn’t think very heavily right now, but perhaps shallow content in combination with low user engagement such as short times on site or high bounce rate.
A huge problem for online retailers, non-unique content can lead to lower rankings. How can you add diversity into content? It depends on your business and how well you rank now. Kevin suggested that you should ask yourself how you can make the content for a product more valuable for a user. [Editor note: I also recommend reading information from Rob Snell on this topic. He's got fantastic tips for online retailers regarding non-unique content.]
How much time/money should I spend against SEO?
That’s difficult to know, because it’s not as easy to budget without the media budget and direct ROI you might see in PPC. The anchor text in your inbound links is still most important, and quality of inbound links is still much more important than quantity.
Kevin made a very good point in saying that you can get to the same destination the right way or the wrong way. You can drive 90 mph down the highway and likely get to your destination faster. But if you get caught, that’s a problem. Same is true with SEO. If you try to get rankings faster through bad technique, you could be severely punished, like JCPenney. Kevin also encouraged everyone to use Google Webmaster Central to help SEO efforts. Overall, Kevin
Next up was Blake of PetCareRx.com. He said the first thing they do is identify the personas of their site users. Who are they?
They use Test and Target and other tools to figure out how to give the right answer to the right person. For instance, if someone searches for “flea and tick”, they go through all of their data on the backend to identify registered users, products they search for after flea and tick products, do they have a prescription, and so forth to build actionable data for each visitor. Using this data, they customize the data for you based on your profile and the data they’ve gathered.
They then also look at what folks put in their cart. They experiment with cart messaging to try to increase conversion. Ironically, in one test, all of the versions got no lift! But the great thing about the Internet is that you can do real time testing, and while nothing was gained, nothing was lost either. So they tried a different layout for the messaging instead.
Once you get listed in Google, what are you going to do with it? Listen to your customers and learn who they are and what they want so that you can serve up information and offers pertinent to them.