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Is SEO Dead? Keeping SEO Alive Across All Marketing Channels

Presented on December 12, 2013

With each new algorithm update comes the inevitable cry from the mountaintops “SEO is Dead!” But is SEO really dead, or just a greater part of everything marketers do? During this webinar, Janet Driscoll Miller will give you a glimpse into the real future of SEO and answer the question “Is SEO Dead?” once and for all.

Marketing Mojo offers Search Engine Optimization Services to ensure your website is being found in search engines.

Transcript

Kari:

Great. I think we’re ready to begin now. Welcome to today’s webinar. Is SEO dead, keeping SEO alive across all marketing channels? I’m Kari Rippetoe, Content Marketing Manager at Search Mojo and I’ll be serving as your moderator for today’s webinar. Before we get started, I just have a few reminders. Firstly, a recording of this webinar will be made available to everyone who registered and will be sent via email by Monday at the latest. Secondly, there will be Q&A at the end of today’s webinar. So, if you have any questions at all for our presenter please feel free to enter those in the go to webinar questions box that you see at the right of your screen. And finally, we encourage you to tweet about today’s presentation using the hashtag #mojowebinar. Plus, you can also follow us on Twitter @searchmojo. Janet has nearly 20 years of marketing experience. And in addition to her work in search engine marketing, Janet has a background in Marketing Communications.

She holds a degree in Public Relations and Communications from James Madison University. And she is a frequent speaker at marketing conferences and writes for several blogs and print publications. Searchmojo was founded in 2005 and specializes in all things search marketing, including SEO, pay per click, social media advertising, online reputation management, and content marketing. Searchmojo is headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia and we also have an office in Charleston, South Carolina. We’ve been featured in several marketing publications and blogs and we also speak at several conferences including SMX, MarketingProfs, B2B Form and PubCon. Our clients include a variety of B2B and consumer brands, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions. And with that I’m going to turn it over to Janet.

Janet:

Thanks, Kari. So, let’s start off by talking about the age-old question, “Is SEO really dead?” Well, in my opinion SEO isn’t really dead. It’s just different. There’s been a lot of changes going on in SEO, especially this past year. And one of the first ones is inbound links. As you may know about Penguin and the Penguin updates as well as other types of updates that have been made this year, Google specifically, but also other search engines, have said things like links and press releases are considered paid links. And then spammy sites are something they’re also trying to cut down on with having lots of inbound links from spammy sites that might not be as valuable. Another area we’ve seen a lot of change in this year has been a greater emphasis on content, with like Authorship Markup and so forth which we’ll talk a little bit more about later in this presentation. And a greater emphasis on social, like Google+ as an example. And we’ll start to see more of that I think in the future as well. And then finally SEO really just truly has become more holistic.

There’s more barriers to success today, but there’s also a lot more opportunity that we’ll talk about today. So, what are those big changes in SEO? Well, I like to say there are four main facets of SEO, the first one being keywords, the second being content, the third being inbound linking, and the fourth being social media. We’ll address each one of these and how they’ve seen changes. The first one is how have the keywords changed? Well, you still at some level focus on keywords, right? Because that’s what SEO is all about: People search for keywords. That’s what they are. But at the same time the tools aren’t there, aren’t as good for research because, for instance, the free Google keyword tool that a lot of people in SEO used to use was retired and the new Google Keyword Planner, which you can get access to through AdWords, if you’re an AdWords advertiser, doesn’t have really completely accurate data. So, you can take a look at this study done by Conductor showing pre and post-keyword tool where in some cases the search volume went up, in some cases it went down, in some cases it stayed the same, but it really is not the same data you were looking at before.

The other problem is that Google Web Master Tools query data isn’t really accurate either. This is a chart showing the percentage of errors on just one domain from looking at those keyword queries that were really not correct. As you look at this data, it’s a real challenge to really know which keywords are right and really how to make the right decisions for SEO. And finally we’re just even measuring keywords as changed. As you may or may not be aware, in Google Analytics in all analytics packages this is true but Google encrypts now all organic searches and so this is a chart showing what we call the not-provided level, meaning that when you go to look for keywords tools like for instance Google Analytics you’re going to get not provided as the keyword. And so now we’re going to be at 100% not provided. In other words, you won’t be able to see any of the keywords specifically from Google. You’ll see them from being in other search engines but not from Google because they’re completely encrypted at this point. And so, that’s going to really leave you at a disadvantage again as SEO because how do you know which keywords are working, what is driving traffic to your site?

Another way content has changed is Authorship. Authorship is showing that there’s an emphasis on author’s authority on a subject. So, much very similar to inbound link building and so forth we expect Authorship will have a much greater role in how sites are ranked in the future. And Google has put a lot of emphasis on this, specifically in Bing is trying to experiment looks like with ways as well to show authorship. But how do you everyone to embrace authorship and write online? This is a big challenge for SEO’s. How do you get everyone in your organization or subject matter experts to embrace this opportunity to write? And it can be a role challenge especially in large organizations or even people who are subject matter experts who just will say, “I don’t have time to do this.” But, it really will have great impact for you in the long run because what we know about things like Authorship is that it can increase click through rate, which we’ll talk about in just a minute as well.

Another way that content has changed is with Schema. It’s very similar to Autorship. We’re always seeing new types of what we call rich snippets like this what you see here with this cherry pie recipe listing in Google. We’re seeing more and more of these shows up. And so the value of structured markup or as people calls Schema dot org which is where Google and Bing and Yahoo came together and decided what the markup should be, to learn about more information about content that’s on these pages. You have more opportunities for these things called rich snippets. Why are they important? Well, the first one here that you see is, the one on the top, from Google and you see it shows things like calories and cook time and so forth recipes and then the one on the bottom is the one from Bing and it shows reviews and so forth as well. So, why would you care if you had this?

Well, clearly, you can see the Google one especially provides a lot greater visibility. But not only that, Mike Blumenthal did a great study on, and this is very hard to really accurately study but I thought this was a really good piece, he puts together on how rich snippets, like Authorship, like the recipe snippet that I showed you, can improve click through rate.

And so this is what we would expect from organic search for click through rate based on your position in the organic search results. So the first thing you see has the lion’s share of the clicks, right? 68.9% in that blue area. And then you have the second result getting the second most; the yellow which is the third getting the third most etc. Totally what you’d expect. As you get on the page you get less clicks. No shocker there. But what happened when a video snippet as an example was added to the third results (third result, not the first or second) is you see that the third result and even the fourth result got more clicks than they normally would have because of the visibility of that video piece there. And this holds true for many different types of rich snippets. So, in other words, what this tells us as a SEO sometimes you can’t always rank number one and that’s okay because if you do use rich snippets you have a really great opportunity to get more clicks from the organic search. But the question is when you add the Schema markup to your site… I used to do a little talking with the gentleman who formerly worked at CNN and his take on it was, “You know, I’ve got a huge site. When am I going to have time to add all of these things to the site? It’s huge undertaking.” So, really what you need to think about, one big consideration factor is, how big is your website? How much is it really going to benefit your site too? Do a cost/benefit analysis. If you have a lot of pages to change and a lot of pages to put a Schema to you have to ask yourself, “Is it worth it in the long run? What am I going to get out of it?” And not all content management systems support Schema innately. You may have to involve developer time. So, you really need to prioritize your efforts in this area and decide what makes the most sense going forward. And it makes us feel when you go redesign you start adding more of the Schema. But it’s definitely something you should be thinking about going forward because really there’s been a lot of change in this area.

So, how have links changed? Linking is a main part of SEO. There are three main changes to links in the past year. I mentioned the Penguin updates. That’s been a regular issue. Google’s position on Press Releases which I also mentioned earlier is Google’s now considering they say they always consider this way but they now are really clearly saying that they consider anchor text links in press releases to be paid links and they’re not going to count them. And that goes to also the value of anchor text in links. So, what is the value of the actual underlined content in the link? Is it valuable? Is it not valuable?

So there’s a lot of questions there. Let’s start talking about Penguin update. Here’s my little angry penguin. And you know Penguin is focused on linkspam. That’s really words main focus is. And what does Google consider linkspam? Google considers any links to manipulate page rank, which is their algorithm, or a site’s ranking in Google search results, may be considered part of a link scheme and in violation of Google Web Master Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site. In essence, any SEO link you create on purpose really could be considered a linking scheme. So, I think they’ve made it pretty broad here for several reasons. But the reality is that you have to be very careful about how you’re linking today because you don’t want to take the chance that Google thinks that you have spammy links and starts to maybe penalize you in some way for that.

So, what’s Google’s position on press releases? Google’s guidelines regarding linking schemes just like we were talking about with Penguin specifically state that “links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites is a link scheme.” Which I don’t love that language as SEO, but that’s what they say. Now, they say “if you’re publishing a press release on an article on your site to distribute it through a wire that you want to nofollow the links if these links are
‘optimized anchor text.’” In other words, Google’s saying, “Do us a favor. So we won’t have to penalize you just make those links nofollow. And assign no follow to them.” But unfortunately you can’t always do that. In some cases like if you’re using something like PRWeb you don’t have control over how the link is follow or nofollow. That’s controlled by the site itself.

At PubCon in 2013, Matt Cutts said, “Press releases are really just considered paid links and Google doesn’t count them.” So if you put them in there, it’s just a waste of your time. And press release anchor text linking isn’t necessarily helping you already. On the one hand, Google’s saying one thing and then Matt who is a representative of Google is saying something else. So, really it feels like sometimes these messages from Google are kind of cryptic, because on the one hand Google as a whole is saying “make press release links nofollow and avoid anchor text optimization because we do follow these links and we use them and we need you to be forthright about how you’re linking and tell us don’t follow these.” On the other hand, Matt says, “We don’t follow these links anyways because they’re paid links.” So really which one is it? So, it can be very confusing and you don’t always know based on some of the things Google puts out what is really the true case.

On anchor text, though, what we do know is that many SEO’s who contributed to this particular study, when it comes to anchor text, this particular study was done by search engine land and what they did was they asked lots of SEO’s out there what they thought the most important ranking factors are. And if you look here, link text, in other words the anchor text, is high up on the list. It’s in the second highest important thing in SEO. So, SEO’s still consider it very important. I will say that’s dropped from a +3 to a +2 on this list. So, it’s not as important as it used to be to most SEO’s. However, what I will say is that it’s still very, very important on this list. Google can tell you, “Don’t worry about anchor text.” But we really think you probably still should.

Now, let’s talk about how social impacts SEO. This study was done by Searchmetrics and you can see here at the top of the slide Facebook shares and Facebook total comments and likes and Tweets and note and so forth are ranked very high by most SEO’s as a ranking factor for SEO. However, unfortunately it’s not. Just because you have correlation it does not equal causation like in this graphic here. In this image here where we’re talking about “What’s freaking us out here is that we’ve found a correlation between owning cats and being struck by lightning.” Yes, there’s a correlation. People who own cats maybe they get struck by lightning. But is that the cause? No. And so the challenge that you’re always trying to deal with in SEO is try to figure out just because there’s a correlation between Facebook and Google rankings does not mean that’s really causing your Google rankings to go up. However, I will say that specifically Matt Cutts PubCon indicated that they understand the importance of things like Facebook and Twitter and so forth and their relative authority as it comes to sharing information just like links used to be the biggest authority in voting for different types of information.

With that, you can expect them to continue to work on those social interactions to define SEO but in reality there’s not a whole lot from social that may be defining SEO today. And there were a lot of changes. The other thing is Google personals is personalizing more of its results and a lot of it is due to Google+ and so what you’ll see here, this is one of the changes that’s come about the past few years it’s not from just 2013, but the default setting now for Google when you’re signed in under Gmail account or any Google account that you have is Search Plus Your World, which is this little icon you see there that I have highlighted with the red box. That’s the default. It personalizes the results based on your social network that you have with Google+. These results are really heavily personalized on search history, location, connections, content associated with Google+ at plus one votes, Google+ shares, all sorts of things. If you click on the world icon instead you’ll get those wiped out. But by default the Search Plus Your World are the results. And so those are definitely very heavily influenced by social.

So, social has influences and it can make some effect but it’s not necessarily directly a ranking factor at this moment in some cases. Here’s an example what the personalized versus the non-personalized looks like. On the left you see a search for Scott Garrett. He’s one of our account managers. And on the right you see a search for Scott Garrett which does not show our account manager. So what you see on the left here is the personalized results I’m getting when I am on Google Search Plus Your World versus the non-personalized results. And you’ll see here in every one of these red boxes information about Scott both on the right hand side and you see some of his blog posts and so forth. But if you go to the right hand side you see all of these are gone and it’s all focused on just Scott Garrett who I believe is the US representative in the House of Representatives.

And so, my Scott Garrett is gone. This Scott Garrett who is a politician is now completely dominating the results. And so you can see how my personal results were affected by my relationship with Scott through social channels. The other challenges how you can measure success in general and really rankings reports are really inaccurate today. Personalization, Geolocation, Google Search Plus Your World I just showed you are all changing what the individual sees when they go to Google for search results. And so it can be very difficult to really accurately understand what these search results look like. Here’s an example of a search I did for pizza. Right? And right now I was in Charlottesville, Virginia. So, if you look on the left hand side, automatically when I search for pizza, you can see pizza locations that are near me. But if I change my location manually in Google to San Francisco, everything changes. And even though I’m still doing a search for just the word pizza, what I’m getting are search results that are relevant to my location in San Francisco.

So, again, everyone around the country’s going to have different results based on the fact that they have different locations and so forth. There’s a high, high level of personalization. So if you were, let’s say, McDonalds and you want to see how you rank on different keywords. It can be kind of tough because every single location you have a spot ad. Around the country it’s going to be tough to understand what your rankings truly are because you may get some personalized and local results in there. Okay, so there are these changes that happen. Some of them are big challenges. What does that mean for the future of SEO then? Well, one thing that I cannot stress enough about the future SEO is mobile. And if we haven’t got a number with mobile you need to get on board today and start planning for mobile because mobile is the only media that is growing at this point in time.

If you look at all these different other types of media: TV, even online, radio, and so forth, mobile is the only growing channel. That’s huge. But not only that, Matt Cutts said at PubCon, shared this information about YouTube and he mentioned that one of the reasons Google has such an emphasis on mobile now and is really trying to encourage site owners to really get their sites ready for mobile is that in 2011, YouTube’s total percentage of site traffic that was coming from mobile devices was only 6%.

Last year it was 12%. And this year, in 2013 so far, it’s been 40%. 40% of their search traffic to that site is from mobile. Huge. And I can tell you just from our own experiences, we see a lot of that, ourselves and with our clients as well, upwards of 20 to 40% of site traffic depending on the type of site is easily from mobile. And even for B2B. So you have to keep your eye on mobile.

The other big change that just happened a few weeks ago, Google is now actually able to index information inside of mobile apps on the Android devices. Amazing. So, now, what we used to be closed off now can almost be treated like a website. And when someone gets ranked in Google for their particular information you’ll see here in this graphic they can just click on a button and go directly into that app and download it. What a huge benefit that’s going to be. If you’re an app developer you absolutely want to have things listed here because it could help you with the mobile results getting listed, A, but B, once you’re listed getting more downloads of your app. That’s huge; so huge opportunity there. Here, I’m going to go over to a video real quick. [Commercial video]

So, what you see is in that video is a gentleman asking Google questions, very similar to what you might see on Apple device for Siri. And there’s been a big change this year although from a desktop search result you’re probably not seeing much change. And that change is what we call Hummingbird. The Hummingbird algorithm that Google has altered the algorithm to allow more conversational texts; and really what you were seeing in that commercial was not so much really for desktop users and worrying about how desktop users are getting to information, but how mobile users are going to use the information, how they’re going to ask questions into mobile devices just like that video you just saw. That is a big future of SEO right there. And in addition to that, Hummingbird I think also is focused on trying to put information together. And if you’re not familiar with the Knowledge Graph this is a big, big change going on inside of Google specifically right now and where they’re taking information. Instead of you having to click through and actually go to, say, Wikipedia on this particular page to learn all this information about Marie Curie, that information is already present on the Google page, on the results page. And you don’t even need to click through. You can find out when she was born, when she died. You can find out some basic information, who she was married to and other people she was associated with. And it’s amazing. Which is cool, but at the same time that leaves a question for SEO’s.

In fact, just the other day I found out that vehicles are now going to be shown here. Like The Master 3 [Inaudible 00:22:52]. You’re going to see all sorts of data about The Master 3. And that seems great. To some degree it gives you some visibility. But on the other hand isn’t that great from SEO perspective because do people need to even click through and read about your car on your own site anymore. No, they can just look at it in the Knowledge Graph. They never have to leave Google. And so this is going to be a big, big change coming in SEO and it’s going to affect how we strategize as SEO’s what we want to do. The Knowledge Graph relies on sentences. It’s similar to what I was talking about conversational search. And it looks the relationship between various objects, such as, if we look at this sentence like Paris is the capital of France, it relates all of these words together within the sentence. And it creates relationships from what it learns and returns it via the Knowledge Graph. So, it’s expanding every day as I mentioned that just recently we have cars, we have different types of historical information. I’ve seen artwork in there. So, it’s expanding every day.

Hummingbird, again, is about sentence-related queries, contextual search, so it’s a way that they I think get closer to providing more knowledge to Knowledge Graph. And Schema also helps this search engine to understand the relationships. We were talking about those rich snippets before, Authorship, etc. And how does the search engine understand this piece of artwork is artwork or this is for a car? Or what has to understand all that information in one way it can do that is through Schema or structured data as well. Another area we talked briefly about before was this big change with Authorship. We do believe that AuthorRank is coming. And AuthorRank is in our estimation a type of algorithm adjustment that takes into account the authority that an author has on a particular subject.

So, on the left hand side you see the way Google currently ranks sites with their PageRank algorithm based on inbound links. But on the right hand side what if they’re going to also say, well, Janet knows a lot about SEO, so anytime Janet writes an article about SEO it has a lot of authority. But if Janet writes about rain barrels, she doesn’t know a whole about that. She’s terrible putting them together, if you read her articles. But if she doesn’t write about that a lot then she’s not an authority on that subject. So, don’t rank her article high on rain barrels.

So, this is the type of information we see coming to Google to help Google identify what sites are more authoritative and what pages are more authoritative on certain subjects. And even Eric Schmidt who’s the former of Google said this: “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results of people that they feel are authoritative. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.” In other words, you don’t get that authorship stuff going, you could be left behind. It’s got to be a really big priority for you going forward because it very well likely may be a very important ranking factor in the future for Google. Let’s talk a little bit about the focus on social. I mentioned that Facebook today, well Google clearly recognizes that it’s important in understanding authority on topics and sharing and the importance. There is really very limited engagement with that today because there are limitations with Facebook and other types of platforms as well. But, Google will continue to try to read social signals moving forward, says Matt Cutts. So even if some social engagement doesn’t have direct ranking impact today, it might in the future. Just do what you can to be authority in your space across the social networks.

And then finally, measurement; every time we talk about any of these things we kind of talk about how do we measure SEO, right? How do we measure the fact, especially given the not provided? Well, if you look here on this particular chart, you’ll see that marketers are really concerned, digital marketers especially, about ROI. And that’s really what we need to start thinking about more from an SEO perspective. It’s not just rankings, because they’re really hard to really accurately measure. We need to start thinking more about what is the real impact that we’re making. So, keys to effectively measuring SEO as I see them going forward is a shift away from rankings because it they really don’t tell you the whole story about how you’re contributing to your company’s bottom line. You need to have a whole listing attribution view.

So, if you’re not familiar with attribution modeling, which I’m going to show you on the next slide, definitely check this out on Google Analytics. It’s pretty cool. And you need to focus on your SEO too on not just getting people to decide. It’s great that they get there, but did they do anything once they get there? Do they engage? Do they convert? What’s going on with that traffic that comes through your site? You need to make more of it. As I mentioned, one way you can look at that information and measure that is through Attribution Modeling where Google Analytics is a fantastic tool for you to look at. Depending on how I want to attribute value to different channels, I can see which channels have the most value to me. I can look at things like this one’s last interaction. It’s the first column.

So, the last thing they did was most people came from organic search versus time decay, which is where the first thing they did has the least value but has some value and then the most value is at the last one but it doesn’t have all the value. So, it’s time decay. Over time, the longer it’s been since you’ve done these actions or these channels, they’re not as valuable. And then position based is where the first and the last are the most important. And then things in between have some level of value but maybe not as high as the first and the last. So these are just a couple of different ways that you can take a look at how you can progress with your measurement and try to understand not just organic search, really all the channels and how they work together.

So, who’s responsible for SEO? Really, is it your marketer who tries to target different people? Is it your social media team? Is it your developers? And web designers? Is it your PR team? Or is it your subject matter experts? Who’s really responsible for SEO going forward? You used to see just one of these people maybe. But now it’s really all of them. It’s becoming much, much more holistic. And you’re going to need to, again, be working across lots of teams, looking at all the different opportunities to make sure that you’re taking advantage of all of the SEO capabilities that are out there and the ways to become more visible in many different platforms but also on many different devices going forward. So, with that, I’ll hand it back to Kari, who will help us finish up today.

Kari

Great. Thank you, Janet. And, if you’d like to get in touch with us about your SEO strategy for 2014, we’re happy to help you with that and you can get in contact with Sean McCusty and here is his contact information here. And if you would like to reach out to Janet Driscoll Miller, today’s presenter, you can through social media and also with @searchmojo as well. And now, we will take a few questions.