My SMX West Experience and Pitching the Business Value of SEO

I haven’t been blogging as often as usual lately and it’s about time I get back on track. I attended my first search marketing conference last week. I do not consider myself much of a conference-goer and I am not really much of an extrovert. Previously, I’d been to only two conferences—JavaOne in 2003, but that was before I fell in love with Python and had the team port all the server-side code to Python/Django—and LISA ’04 (Large Installation System Administration), a conference for Linux/Unix system administrators. I was tempted to go to one of the webmaster conferences, too, but I never saw much benefit in sharing tips and techniques with potential competitors. That was before I started blogging and began to understand the value of sharing, building authority and trust. Boy, after going to SMX West, I realize I have so much catching up to do in terms of networking!

This conference was particularly important for me because I wanted to use SMX West to help launch our flagship product, RankSense. We have worked on the software for more than three years (including several months of beta testing) and I think SMX was the just the right place for its debut. The first day I had to work with my team in final preparations for the booth, and the other two days I ended up staying on to answer questions and speak with guests, so I was not able to attend all the conference sessions. But I met a lot of wonderful people with whom I have exchanged emails, phone calls or instant messages, or whose quality work I simply enjoy online. Thanks to all of you, the conference was big success.

Although I was not able to attend the sessions, which from what I heard were extremely helpful, I did learn something very important. While I began by explaining the value of RankSense to people visiting the booth, on many occasions I had to back up and explain the value of SEO. Many folks I spoke with were unfamiliar with organic SEO because they primarily did pay-per-click (PPC) or were completely new to search marketing (some were coming from email marketing or other online marketing disciplines). I learned to perfect a pitch that worked very well, and I thought it would be a good idea to share it with you.

Here is how I explained the business value of SEO… Read more

The Unsuspecting Recruit: Why every SEO MUST learn Internet security

Internet security is a big problem, and it isn’t just for the IT staff anymore. It affects us as SEOs. Don’t believe me? Consider the incident reported at the end of last year by security research firm Sunbelt Software.

…criminals are now combining SEO tactics and booby-trapped Web pages, and doing it systematically. By posting tens of thousands of Web sites simultaneously, criminals can take over all the top spots on a search results page, casting a wide net that’s more likely to catch Web users. Eckelberry described these criminals as “SEO Gods,” saying they can “take any site and get it on the first page of Google results.”

Instead of wasting energy defacing sites and showing them off as trophies to their peers on IRC, hackers are now modifying the code of hacked sites to include (invisible) links to their web properties or link farms. The article talks about virus writers creating tens of thousands of websites and cross-linking them using all sorts of queries as anchor text. They then spam blog comments around the Web to improve the overall PageRank of the link farm.

Hackers already know how to break into sites. Now that they see the profit that can be made from top-ten search rankings, they have adapted their techniques to break to take advantage. Currently, search engines’ quality reviewers can detect most sites utilizing these black-hat techniques because they show up pretty obviously as SPAM. However, this is just the beginning, and I’m willing to predict that this is going to scale with cleverer hacks that are harder to detect. Most break-ins will be highly sophisticated and highly automated. They will “recruit” thousands of computers into their link-farm. If your site is one of those “recruited” without your knowledge, your site will most likely be penalized by the search engine along with the whole group.

How can somebody break into my server if they don’t know my password? Read more

Writing for People (and Search Engines): How to improve click-through rates for organic listings

Another new year has come and many of us are still analyzing the balance of successes and failures of the previous one. It is definitely a useful chore. I am happy to count this blog as one of my successes. It was humbling to see it included in SearchEngineLand’s blogroll and nominated for Best SEO Research blog—I voted for Bill’s and I am glad he won the title :-)—among other accomplishments. Thanks to everyone for the recognition!

On the other hand, last year I had more goals that I didn’t quite reach than ones that I did, although I suppose that puts me in the big crowd. 🙂 I like to start each year by revisiting the unachieved goals, the uncompleted projects, the planned-but-not-executed things I call my missed opportunities. One common one (and I am sure many of my peers experienced the same) is maximizing the number of clicks I get from organic listings. The problem, as many might be asking themselves, is how to measure the organic click-through rate in the first place! Read on to learn how…. Read more

Share and Share Alike

Last May I decided to start this blog as the key driver for my personal branding strategy. The idea was that, in order to attract attention, I would share my most valuable ideas and insights. My geeky side loves to teach and share, but my business side tries to prevent me from releasing potentially sensitive information that might give my competitors a leg up and negatively impact my business.

For years I had been part of that big group of SEOs and Internet marketers that enjoy great success, but don’t necessarily see the need to risk reducing their share of the pie. So in the spirit of the holidays I want to share what I’ve learned about sharing so far. If you are part of that tight-lipped group that think in the same way I did before, I want to tell you why you need to change and what is in it for you if you do. Read more

Google: The New Market Gorilla

Every company, big or small, faces unfavorable market conditions at some point in its trajectory. The common sense thing to do is to try to adapt—modify the business strategy to survive and continue thriving. Unfortunately some companies, especially big and successful ones like Google or Microsoft, are stubborn and prefer that the market adapt to them. It really is difficult to hit the ‘Back’ button, throw away what you’ve built, and try something completely new. It is far easier—at least it seems so at first—to create publicity designed to adapt the market to your own needs.

The problem, for both Microsoft and Google, is that it rarely works. Let me show you why. Read more

Pay to Play: Common sense tips to help you improve your Google Adwords Quality Score

One of the most frustrating aspects for novice pay-per-click (PPC) marketers is the so-called ad quality score—a method search engines use to measure the relevancy of an ad for a particular keyword. The ad quality score affects the minimum bid price, position and display eligibility. Poor ads cost a lot more and are less likely to be displayed than highly relevant ones, giving advertisers a strong incentive to manage their ads responsibly.

Unfortunately, the exact way search engines measure this score has remained a secret. But a few months ago, Bill identified a set of patents that give us a detailed look under the hood at how these numbers might be computed. Read more

A Little Personality Goes a Long Way

If you read my last post on advanced keyword research, you probably thought that there was no way you could look deeper into your search visitors’ desires. Well, think again. I want to share a clever technique I’ve been using for several months now to drastically improve the conversion rates of some of my projects.

The technique I am going to present is useful for Pay-Per-Click (PPC) marketing like Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing. As you will see, you can later leverage the results for your SEO efforts. Read more

An Active Mindset: 100 new RSS subscribers and the power of endorsements

Everybody in the search marketing industry has fallen head over heels for social media. Certainly it’s nice to see those traffic spikes in your website stats. Personally, I see social media as excellent for viral marketing, branding and long-term relationship building. But I don’t see that new visitors coming to a site from social media sites are particularity interested in taking action on content. Why? Most of them are not in that particular mindset. For first time visits, search engine and affiliate traffic simply convert better.

Unless your monetization strategy is to sell page views you need to keep hitting the home page of the social media sites on a consistent basis in order to take advantage of them. What works best I find is a balanced approach to building traffic. Let me illustrate this by sharing two recent events that sent notable traffic spikes to this blog, as well as the resulting fallout from that traffic. Read more

A World of Bugs and Logs: Advanced Web Analytics

As search marketers we need to know if our efforts are paying off. How many visitors are we getting? What channels are they coming from? And more importantly, how many of those visitors are taking the action (conversions) that we want them to take?

For all this information, we rely on Web Analytics. There are two basic breeds of web analytics packages: web bugs that use page tagging through JavaScript, and web logs that analyze server data. Each type of package has its pros and cons, so search marketers need to utilize both to get the complete picture. Let me tell you how you can best combine the disparate world of bugs and logs. Read more

Game Plan: What marketers can learn from strategy games

I was recently interviewed by the nice guys at Distilled— if you are a regular reader of this blog and you haven’t read it yet, Tom asked some really interesting questions — and one of the things I briefly mentioned was that one of my hobbies is playing chess. I’ve been playing the game for about 2 years, and what I enjoy most about it is that it teaches me a lot about competition and strategy.


One of the reasons why I recommend doing competitive intelligence for SEO is that when you truly understand what makes others successful, you can find a shorter path to your own success. I only make great progress, both in SEO and in chess, when I am able to beat stronger players consistently.

Most intermediate chess books suggest that for every move you make, you develop a list in your head of candidate moves. Those are moves that you should explore by playing as many moves ahead in your mind as you can and evaluating the potential outcomes. Unfortunately, when you are starting out this is very difficult and time consuming. Chess experts do this instinctively and do it very fast, so it is usually easier and more interesting to study professional games and try to understand the reasoning behind each move. The idea is not to memorize the tactics, like many do, but to appreciate the strategies and the logical reasoning that led to them.

Again, there are far more ways to failure than there are to success. It is far more efficient to learn from the moves of proven winners than to try to experiment every possible move for yourself. Read more