SMX Advanced is my favorite conference of the year. Hands down. The sessions are always memorable, and I get to see a lot of the SEO “old timers” – you know…the SEOs who have been in the game for at least 10 years, which is like 70 years in Internet time.
In conclusion, SMX Advanced is awesome, and this year’s conference was everything I thought it would be.
By now, I’m sure you have probably read all the SMX Advanced recaps, so I’m not going to bore you with another recap. However, I am going to let you know about a few of my favorite moments and anecdotes from SMX Advanced 2012.
Ranking Reports In 2012
During the ‘Surviving Personalization with Google & Bing’ panel, Rhea Drysdale scared the hell out of me by reminding me how Google uses everything in their arsenal to determine who we are.
Who are our Gmail contacts? Who are we connecting with on various Google properties? Which of our accounts are linked? Oh sure, it’s all so Google can personalize my search experience, but sheesh! I’m starting to wonder if Google knows me better than my own family does.
During the Q&A part of this session, someone from the audience asked something along the lines of “With personalization heavily impacting today’s Google rankings, do you still use ranking reports (as a primary metric of success)?”
At this point, the entire room laughed out loud. Because, seriously! Ranking reports are not what they used to be, but it’s not like we can stop providing them to our clients.
In fact, in terms of reliable, consistent data, ranking reports are pretty much worthless. And it’s all because of personalized search.
Two people sitting in the same office on the same IP in the same town can search for the same keyword and get remarkably different SERPs. And on Google, it’s been like this since late-2009.
However, most of us SEOs still deliver ranking reports on a weekly and/or monthly basis because rankings are still seen by many as a metric to be used when judging the success of an SEO campaign. And honestly, how would it sound for an SEO to say “I don’t pay much attention to rankings any more.” Oh, the irony!
Obviously, the next question was, “Well, if you don’t look at rankings as a metric of success, what metrics do you look at?” Each panelist offered their opinion, but I think Marty summed it up best when he said: “I look at traffic and conversion.” Boom. That is some solid advice right there, so let it sink in.
To be clear, I just paraphrased that entire conversation, so don’t quote me directly on any of this. Furthermore, please don’t run off and tell your friends that the Rhea, Marty, and Aaron don’t monitor rankings for their clients and/or find value in ranking reports. That is clearly not the case.
The point was that, in a world of personalized search results, keyword reports are becoming less and less of a reliable metric to focus on when judging your SEO campaign.
Google Plus, +1′s And AuthorRank
During the ‘Ask the SEOs’ panel, every one of the panelists was dropping knowledge. I know it’s summertime, but make no mistake – school was in session!
At one point, the panelists got to talking about Google+, +1′s as a ranking factor, and AuthorRank. Bruce Clay reminded everyone that that +1′s are a ranking factor if the person who +1′d a site is in your circle. I’ve heard Bruce mention that at other conferences. I think he was the first one to state the fact so concisely. But it’s certainly true.
Vanessa Fox chimed in and remind us that, according to Google’s official blog post, the +1 will be looked at as a ranking signal. And then Danny Sullivan said,” I don’t care what Matt says – I see the evidence with my eyes.”
That’s funny. And so true. If you’re not trying to build an audience on Google+, you need to start because it clearly has the potential to impact your organic rankings.
An interesting nugget in this conversation came from Greg Boser, and, surprisingly, no one really expanded on it. Danny asked the panel if AuthorRank could reflect positively on the authority of a site as a whole. Of course it can. A few panelists mentioned the higher clickthrough rate of search results with a thumbnail.
Greg mentioned that he doesn’t even notice the domain if there is a picture next to the result. And then he said that if you wanted to, you could potentially hire a lot of authoritative bloggers and use their trust and authority to drive traffic to your site. It’s a really great point.
In a time when visual content is king, Google has opened the door to using highly authoritative and trusted bloggers to drive more trust, authority, and ultimately, organic search traffic to your website.
Hiring well-known bloggers based on their authority and audience is not a new strategy. A lot of sites have done that for a long time. But now that we have Google+ and a +1 button, there is more incentive to use this strategy, as now it can have a much bigger influence on organic rankings and traffic.
You & Bad Links
The You & A hour with Danny Sullivan and Matt Cutts is awesome. Those two dudes have such a great on-stage chemistry, and they both get it. They understand the SEM/SEO game, and over the years they have really turned this session into something special. Honestly, it’s probably the main reason that I go to SMX Advanced each year.
Early on in the discussion, Danny asked Matt about the Penguin updates. There has been some confusion in the industry about the nature of emails from Google to webmasters. Matt said that if you get an email, you’ll know the penalty was due to a manual review rather than an algorithmic penalty. Matt said that less than 10% of the 700,000 emails that went out in Webmaster Tools were related to unnatural links.
In fact, when they polled the audience about Penguin, the majority of the audience had actually seen an increase in traffic from the Penguin update. But Google had to turn up the heat on people who were violating Google’s policies.
The part that I remember most was when Matt said that if you receive an email from Google and you do nothing about the bad links, you will eventually be penalized. Then Matt got to the topic of link removal. He said that they want to see an “earnest, good faith effort” to remove those bad links.
Matt described a situation where a webmaster, who had very little control over the bad links to his site, was actually sending Google the screenshots of his link removal requests to sites with bad links pointed at his site. Now that’s how you show Google some honest effort, right?!
During the Q&A part of the session, I sent in a question that Danny actually read. I basically asked: “Be honest with us…if we get hit by Panda and Penguin, should we just get a new domain and start over?”
After a big laugh from the crowd, Matt surprisingly said, “Yes. In some cases.” Wow. I never want to be in that boat, and I’m really glad I never have been. I’ll stay on the white hat path, thank you very much.
One Last Note About Penguin
In the ‘Ask the SEOs’ session, the panelists all agreed that everyone needs to do an audit of their inbound link graph and clean up any and all bad links. Even if you survived the first two Penguin releases, you are not immune to future updates. In the words of Greg Boser: “Take it as a warning to dig through your closet and get rid of your bad links.”
Well, that’s all I got. I’m already looking forward to SMX Advanced 2013. I hope to see you there!
Editors postscript: updated story to address confusion in Cutts’ statement about link warnings in WMT.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.