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SEMpdx’s Searchfest 2009: The Best of the Bunch

SEO digest

Earlier this week Rand and I spoke at the third annual Searchfest, put on by SEMpdx and a load of lovely sponsors. Loyal readers and R. Kelley fanboys (and girls) will remember that my first ever speaking engagement was at the first Searchfest two years ago. The organizers were gracious enough to overlook my profound suckitude and invited me back to speak about link building last year. This time around, they asked me to participate on the blogging panel with Stoney deGeyter and Heather Lloyd Martin. I wasn't sure what to cover since the panel details simply said "Blogging," so I talked about various blogging myths. It seemed to go over fairly well considering it was 9:00 am--I think my half naked pictures of David Hasselhoff helped.
Below I've summarized some of the panels I sat in on, for those of you who are curious. Each panelist's presentation should be available on SEMpdx's website sometime this week, so I encourage you to check them out if my notes have piqued your interest (I especially recommend checking out presentations from the Wordpress panel).

Reputation Management

Tony Adam, lovable Yahoo! SEO and Twitterphile:

  • RipOffReport has had more than 320k complaints filed on their website, so chances are you or one of your clients will run into a nasty ROR result in the SERPs at some point.
  • Do negative search queries (such as inurl:paypal sucks and intitle:paypal sucks) to see how your site fares with negative mentions
  • Use tools to monitor your reputation (e.g., Tweetbeep, Trackur, Google Alerts)
  • Protect your personal/business brand
    • Use to check various social media sites and register your user name across the board
    • Link to external resources/social media profiles with branded search terms
    • Use subdomains/branded pages to combat flame sites/negative queries
  • Change perceptions by being genuine. Keep negativity/flame wars offline and be transparent and genuine. Try to provide assistance and give customers/users the opportunity to provide you with feedback.

Marty Weintraub, eccentric blogger and SEO:

How to create a reputation monitoring dashboard:

  • Create a Google account
  • Start a big list and segment by brand, product, personnel, competition, industry phrases, and intent words
  • Check for misspellings (use MSN's keyword mutation detection tool or KeywordDiscovery's paid tool; also brainstorm misspellings)
  • Open your iGoogle dashboard and add tabs/create Google alerts
  • Interpretation tips:
    • Don't click on every link; instead,hover over them to get a text abstract and see if it's worth clicking through
    • Ignore spam
    • Set up mission critical email alerts for archiving

Todd Friesen, displaced Canadian and Brendan Fraser body double:

Todd threw some crazy stats at us, which I'll list below:

  • 90% of consumers trust consumer reviews
  • 83% of companies will experience an event that will negatively impact share prices in the next 5 years
  • 58% of searchers will visit a competing website after seeing negative search results
  • 81% of consumers research online before making a purchase
  • 31% of users have left feedback/reviews on websites (this feedback is most likely negative because the users are pissed off)
  • 87% believe a CEO's reputation reflects on a company's reputation
  • 78% of executive recruiters search for your name before they call you for an interview
  • 35% of those recruiters have rejected a candidate based on what was found

Search Engine Marketing & PR

Doug Hay, PR guru:

  • Yahoo! is the biggest news engine, so focus PR efforts there if you can
  • Target not only search engines, but journalists,bloggers, and the public
  • Optimize your press releases (perform keyword research and make sure your title tags are within 65-85 characters; 65 for Google and 85 for Yahoo!)
  • Syndicate your content using RSS

Dustin Woodard, Wetpainter and up and coming filmmaker:

  • Building relationships with the press is easier now than ever before because of better access to them
  • Don't push your message--lead them down a path that points back to you
  • Choose your media targets wisely. There is much cannibalism in the media. Consider exclusives/embargos, and don't overlook bloggers.
  • The benefit of press relationships is that you can get repeat coverage (your relationship exists beyond the current publication)
  • Reach out to folks who have mentioned your URL but haven't linked to you and ask them to use a link
  • Build relationships with the public. According to Nielsen research, social networks have surpassed email in usage, and 2/3 of the Internet population visit social networking sites. Know where your audience hangs out and build a presence there if it's appropriate. Connect with people and respond quickly.

Todd Friesen spoke again but his presentation wasn't on the main laptop and the Internet was being wonktastic so it took him a while to get it loaded. At that point I was growing increasingly distracted by my rumbling stomach and kept eyeballing the sandwiches that were being set up for lunch; hence, no notes from me (check out his presentation on SEMpdx's website).

Social Media Marketing/Link Bait

Dawn Foster, community expert and token GOP (Girl On Panel):

  • Why you should participate in online communities:
    • It gives people a place to engage with your company
    • You get product feedback
    • You can build evangelists and brand loyalists
  • Social media all about the people
    • Focus on individuals (participate as a person, not a corporate entity)
    • Be sincere
    • It's not all about you; encourage two-way communication
    • Be a part of the community; don't try to control the conversation
    • Everyone's a peer (knowledge comes from everywhere)
  • Participation guidelines:
    • Quietly monitor competitors' communities and learn from them, but don't participate on their sites
    • Participate as a person (not solely to pimp your products)
    • Talk about the industry first and your products second (don't mention your stuff in every post/comment)
  • Participate in industry communities, blogs, and social media sites
  • Be a community manager. Monitor what's going on, track conversations, act as a facilitator, and respond to/engage with people.

Neil Patel, skinny manic marketer who clearly forgot to take his anti-swearing Ritalin before his presentation:

  • Offer a “bag of crap”
    • Offer it in limited quantity
    • Cost should be low
    • Make it like a lottery
    • Spread it through the blogosphere
    • Leverage Twitter/FriendFeed
  • Have holiday sales
    • Include selected items for the sale
    • Offer each item in limited quantity
    • Upsell like crazy
    • Promote the sales through social coupon sites like
  • Have exclusive channel offers
    • Unique offers per channel
    • One offer at a time, an spread them out over time
    • Limited quantities
  • Branding gimmicks (e.g., the Office Max dancing elf)
    • Make them fun and entertaining
    • Don't sell to people
    • Have a company logo
    • Offer embed capabilities

At this point Neil went to the dark side and talked about some spammy shit like using email scrapers and affiliate web spamming and buying StumbleUpon traffic. I didn't catch a lot of these tactics because he was talking like the Micro Machine Man, so check out his slide deck if you're curious.

Matt Inman, original SEOmoz CTO gangsta, dating site savant, master linkbaiter and pal of Rebecca (that's me!):

This was Matt's first formal presentation--he had spoken a couple weeks ago for the first time at some mommy bloggers conference in Houston but didn't need to prepare a slide deck. I thought that Matt did really well--he was a bit jittery from nerves, but compared to "Hopped up on pixie sticks" Neil, he looked pretty stable.

Matt talked about his linkbait successes for Mingle2 and provided a crapload of examples:

He cautioned to keep widgetbait relevant and talked about his payday loan penalty.

  • Be careful with what keywords you link back with
  • Don't get in the news
  • Don't get greedy

Some linkbaiting tips from Matt:

  • Take a commercial topic and attach something geeky/fun/weird to it
  • Appeal to people's sense of ability (e.g., create something that incites debate)
  • Stay away from “What [noun] are you?” quizzes (those are stale and are only popular with Livejournal users)
  • Keep it simple. Don't over-engineer it. Don't invest tons of time and energy into it.
  • Nowadays Digg is 60% creativity, 40% promotion. Find a frequent Digg user to help give your content a shove.
  • Don't IM too aggressively for stumbles/diggs/reddit upvotes. Have people go to your submission's category page and then vote.
  • The latest rumor is that IMing for stumbles doesn't work (e.g., linking to a page and having someone stumble it from there). Have people go to your StumbleUpon profile page and find the content to thumb it up.
  • Take some data and present it in an interesting way (like Vince Blackham's diagram of skateboarding injuries)
  • Create a simple game and reward the user (like
  • Don't just write blogbait—have an artist/coder/designer to make your stuff stand out
  • Find a linkbaiter--check Best of Craigslist posts and look for designers who've gotten stuff on Threadless
  • Keep your content benign. Make linkbait appear non-commercial at first to avoid getting buried and encouraged linking. After it goes viral, swap it out for a more commercially oriented version.

As always, the linkbait session was an interesting one. Q&A was even better--some guy went all aggro on Neil Patel and called his presentation useless and immoral, and he said that Dawn's presentation was the only useful one because she's the only person who talked about branding (which isn't true--Matt talked about branding a lot in his presentation). I don't know who this man is, but I can say that he clearly doesn't understand how social media marketing and linkbait work. Also, yeah, some of Neil's presentation was spammy and questionable, but his parts about offering deals and promotions were whitehat and useful. And you know that there were a few folks in the room who were willing to try out the more blackhat tactics (different strokes for different folks), so I don't get why this dude was so hellbent on vilifying Neil and trying to create some huge shame spiral.


The Wordpress session was my favorite. Jordan Kasteler, David Wallace, and Rick Turoczy all talked about various SEO-friendly plugins and Wordpress tips that were very useful. Unfortunately, their presentations consisted of a crapload of plugin links that I couldn't jot down in time, so definitely check out their slide decks over at SEMpdx's website to find great resources like:

  • the meta robots code
  • the Slug Trimmer plugin
  • Link Attribute plugin
  • pagination and breadcrumbs plugins
  • creating a custom 404 page
  • dofollow plugins
  • top commentator widgets
  • how to protect your wp-config.php file and your admin section
  • login lockdown and firewall plugins
  • the All in One SEO pack
  • Twitter plugins
  • Wordpress mobile edition
  • social bookmarking plugins
  • spam protection plugins
  • sitemaps generator
  • comment subscription

SEO Tips for Survival

Derrick Wheeler, Microsoftie:

Derrick talked about a pyramid that has authority at top, then content, then structure. He talked about how is "the Beast" because it's a collection of hundreds of “separate websites” that share one domain name, and each site impacts all of the other sites' success but are managed individually and published using various CMS. Derrick recommended that if you budget for SEO, set aside some budget for implementation, especially in a big business.

Marshall Simmonds, NYTimes SEO:

The SEO strategy employed by the NYTimes is long-term. They're looking to lessen PPC costs over time and strengthen/improve organic campaigns. His SEO team is in its own department, and he talked about the need to balance the editorial voice of the writers with readability and usability. He cautioned against using the word "change" with the writing staff; instead, say "enhancing" or "making additions." The key is to marry maximum SEO value with literal, descriptive language. An example he cited was a NYTimes article about the Treo that was titled "A Marriage Not Made in Heaven." The title obviously didn't target the keyword "Treo," so the article was having difficulty ranking for the phone.

Marshall also recommended offering basic training to staff on stuff like keyword research, basic on-page SEO (meta tags, links alt text, etc), and title tags/page headers.

Jeff Quipp, Search Engine Person:

Jeff's definition of SEO:
"Getting the desired results from organic search using whatever tactics you feel comfortable using."
5 main levers affect 'desired results':

  • Defined objective
  • Site structure (on-page SEO)
  • Amount/quality of content
  • Power of site (authority)
  • Anchor text utilized

Implications of interest:

  • Site structure can be an impediment
  • Link power potential is infinite
  • Quality content builds links but takes time/resources
  • The less competitive the industry, the less the need for content, and vice versa

To improve overall site ranking/performance, Jeff recommends the following:

  • Build quality content routinely
  • Build a reward system for “quality content” ideas and production
  • Promote your content via many means (social media, PR, etc)

To rank for specific uncompetitive terms (those that have less than 10k search results), Jeff suggests:

  • Submit to quality directories
  • Syndicate articles
  • Get links from suppliers/clients
  • Ensure “targeted terms” are in anchor text

To get business from more competitive keywords:

  • Guest blog on other sites and link back to your content
  • Hold a topic-specific contest
  • Build content to answer questions about a topic
  • Use PR/social media to announce new quality content
  • Ensure proper anchor text is inĀ  your links
  • Use widgets/badges
  • Perform unique research and publish

Laura Lippay, little miss Yahoo!:

What does Yahoo!'s in-house SEO organization look like? It first started out with SEO reporting to business intelligence and paid search reporting to marketing. They then moved the SEO team under marketing and grew from there. Now "search traffic acquisition" and paid search sit underneath the marketing department.

Some in-house SEO risks:

  • Retaining talent
    • In-house operates at a slower pace and can be tough to influence
    • Play to their strengths and develop strong relationships
    • Have fun and communicate with your team
    • Shape team roles/functions around people's talents
  • No accountability
    • There are many teams responsible, and a lot of folks don't understand SEO
    • You should always educate and train
    • Prove what SEO is worth to top players
    • Provide reporting/results to teams
  • Not producing results
    • Set expectations based on the project
  • Not broadcasting results
    • Show results in meetings, give “SEO Hotness awards” to deserving staff

Overall, I gotta give major props to the Searchfest organizers. This year's seminar was the best yet--they pulled in some big names and speakers who actually flew in to attend/present. The godfather of search himself, Danny Sullivan, even flew in to give the morning keynote. He was his usual engaging, "Listen to me because I know my shit" self. I really hope that he had a chance to visit Voodoo Doughnut while he was in Portland. I went there and had a bacon maple bar that was ridiculously awesome.

Hell. Yes.
Where was I? Oh yes. *wipes drool from face* Like I said, the event was well organized and the list of speakers continues to get more impressive each year. I also had a chance to hang out with two of my favorite Portland people, David Mihm and Josh Patrice, both of whom took me and Manstery Guest to some of their favorite Portland bars and restaurants.

Thanks again to the SEMpdx crew for inviting me back to speak. I urge you all to consider attending next year's events--it gets better and more popular every year, and it's a great value conference that's a perfect length (those 4-5 day events can get pretty tiring).

published @ March 13, 2009

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