SEO Learnings from SMX Advanced

I returned last night from the 2-day SMX Advanced search marketing conference in Seattle, and came away with a number of ideas for Visual Itineraries, as well as things to share with our partners to help them drive traffic to their travel websites via search. But before I get into those, a quick excerpt from a conversation at lunch on day 2 of the conference:

  • Me (talking to the guy on my right): “So, because of how I’ve done [deleted...I'm not making this info public], Visual Itineraries is ranking #1 in Google for queries like “Bora Bora helicopter Tours”, ahead of industry giants like Fodors and TripAdvisor.”
  • Guy sitting to my left at the table: “Hi, I’m Mike, I’m an SEO engineer from TripAdvisor.”

#AWKWARD

Moving right along…

Penguin

Easily 1/4 of the conversations at the conference were related to Penguin, which is one of Google’s latest algorithm changes. Penguin essentially looks for websites that have unnatural, non-editorial inbound links, and punishes those websites by causing them to rank lower than they otherwise would rank for any given search query. Specifically, Penguin appears to target sites that have a large percentage of links where the anchor text is their target search keywords, instead of their brand name or their URL. As well, Penguin is clearly targeting sites where many links come from very weak, spammy websites–sites that are built purely to be sources of links, and aren’t likely to every be seen or used by actual human users.

The impact of Penguin can be huge; in my SEO consulting business, I have a large e-commerce client whose traffic has dropped roughly 80% due to Penguin, which rolled out April 24th.

It’s important to recognize that Penguin is an algorithmic penalty, not a penalty manually assigned by a Google spam engineer. As such, reinclusion requests have no effect–to remove the penalty, the only solution really is to remove the unnatural links.

If your traffic dropped substantially starting April 24th 2012, you might be a Penguin victim.

All of this means that if you’re thinking of hiring an outside company to go and blindly build you a pile of links, you need to smack yourself over the head with a stick till those thoughts go away. The kinds of links you can get this way are 99% weak, and will make you rank worse, not better.

Hardcore Social Media Tactics

Local Search Tactics

Mike Blumenthal had these tips

  • If you’ve linked to your Google Places page, check those links, as a recent update changed the URLs of all Places pages.
  • Google Places pages are going to become part of Google+; your existing pages will be migrated. Recommends not messing with either Places or Google+ until the migration is completed. Tons of interesting details in Mike’s blog here.
  • Google MapMaker continues to be influential in Google local search, as David Mihm has also noted previously in his superb summary of sites that influence Google local search.
  • Mike notes that Map Maker is very vulnerable to hijacking by an unethical competitor, and recommends logging into Map Maker on a regular basis and just clicking the Submit button on your profile–even if you have nothing to update–as it timestamps YOUR update as the latest & greatest that way.

Schema.org

Schema.org is a standard that was announced by Google, Bing and Yahoo roughly a year ago, and it’s all about tagging the content on your website so that the search engines have some semantic knowledge of what’s on the page–and they can use this to show better search results, and format those results better. For instance, let’s say a search engine sees the text “Storm Large” on a web page. Without tagging it, this content might be Storm Large the singer, or perhaps “Storm” is the model name of a windbreaker, and “Large” is the size. Schema.org defines a set of tags that you can put around the content on your page (invisible to the user visiting your website) that says this block of text is all about a piece of clothing, it’s product name is “Storm”, and the size is “Large”, price is….etc.

We’ve already been seeing schema.org tagging affect some Google search results, namely reviews (yes, you can tag testimonials on your website as reviews, along with ratings, etc.) and document authorship (see my example here).

At the conference, we heard that creating a calendar of events and marking each event up with the appropriate schema.org tags can cause your page about the event to rank very well for searches for the event name–in one example quoted the site with the tags outranked the official website for the event itself.

The takeaway from this? Certainly it’s worthwhile to take testimonials on your site and mark them up with reviews tags. And if you’re a travel site listing various hotels, it’s probably worthwhile tagging each hotel details page with the appropriate markup as well. And, if you’re blogging in the travel space, it may be time for you to create a Google+ profile page, and go through the (admittedly convoluted) steps needed to tie your blog posts back to your profile, which will get your photo showing up next to the article in the search results. If you’re using WordPress, Joost de Valk has this well-written set of instructions.

If you think you’ve done your markup correctly, check it out with Bing’s markup validator.

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