The last day of Pubcon Vegas started off with a keynote from Topher Kohan of CNN, Jeff Preston of Disney and Alex Bennert of the Wall Street Journal. Joe Laratro moderated the panel.
What was a change that showed the real result of your work?
Alex said it’s tough to nail down one, but moving to FirstClickThree helped. It allows publishers with a paywall to partner with Google so that users can bypass the paywall if the user comes from a Google query. She also cited the canonical tag as huge help in buying time to figure out how to deal with redirects. Finally, as a news publisher, figuring out how to do a newsfeed Sitemap on demand was key so that news articles could be published immediately and get better ranked in Google News.
For Jeff, the site has to be engaging and fun because it’s for kids. He had to optimize a dynamic Flash site fed by a CMS. That made Disney.com much more SEO friendly. To manage the optimization of Flash on an enterprise level, Jeff had producers put the content in HTML and the Flash pulls from the HTML to populate content into the Flash. Jeff said that he’s seen a couple hundred percent lift at Disney.com since making the changes.
Topher was the first search person at CNN. He started there in 2008, so there was a lot of great election data that they wanted to use in cool ways on the site. The problem was that it was all in AJAX and Flash, so he utilized the noscript tag all over the site to get around it then. The canonical tag, moving away from Flash and
changing CMS also were changes that led to big search wins over time. Topher added that there’s more effort today to be consistent across the entire brand about how certain phrases and words are used to describe things.
What was your number 1 “oops” moment, and how did you correct it?
Topher said that while the 2008 Presidential election was very successful, the 2010 midterm elections were not. They weren’t ranking for simple election terms for the 2010 pages, but the 2008 pages were ranking. That taught him that no matter how small the effort or change might be, you have to put your full effort behind it.
Jeff said that a challenge for him is titles of movies, etc. For instance, they might want to name a movie “Cars” or “Ant Farm”. The keywords can be very generic. Even though he has months to prepare, it can definitely be tough to rank well for a generic term that is a movie/show title. Jeff also added that there are about 500 people are working on the Disney.com website. There were a couple of times where a site wasn’t built to SEO specifications. He’s had to learn to give the web developer the benefit of the doubt — it’s often someone higher up who makes the decision to avoid SEO before launch.
Alex said her biggest “oops” moment was when she started at WSJ. It was her first job in an enterprise-level SEO position. The mistake she made was having the same level of dialogue about SEO with different people. The message to IT vs. editorial vs. executives is different. She needed to just customize the message about SEO to the group. For instance, editorial should focus on keywords and writing titles vs. IT might be about the canonical tags.
What is one tip you can give to in-house SEOs?
Jeff said if you have a team and the team grows, makes sure as the SEO person you’re involved with each team. If there’s a PR meeting, be there. If there’s a tech meeting, be there. You need that visibility.