I’ve just returned from PubCon Las Vegas 2011 where I spoke on Hosting Issues and SEO, and Ways to Monetize a Blog. Bruce Clay’s staff did a great job of summarizing the Monetizing Your Blog segment, complete with some screenshots. It was a great conference with lots of national leaders in the disciplines of SEO, social media, and internet marketing.
Leo Laporte’s Keynote Address:
Marketing in the Social Era and the Future of Search
Leo Laporte is an Emmy Award winning veteran of technology broadcasting, and a great thinker with respect to internet and marketing. He had some noteworthy messages.
Leo offered some insights into where advertising and marketing has evolved to the present day. If we look back to say, 1890, and examine a Sears catalog, we’ll see basic descriptions of “features and benefits”–no marketing fluff there. But as the 20th Century progressed, marketers injected skill and technique to bend a product’s message to appeal to buyers on an emotional level, or to force brand identities upon consumers. An effective technique to be sure, but not necessarily in the interests of consumers. A related idea: “brands are the refuge of the ignorant.” In other words, a brand is what a consumer refers to when they have no true benchmark for the underlying quality or suitability of a product or service. More recently though, in the very recent few years, consumers have come to depend on online reviews, ratings and recommendations from their social circles to make buying decisions. This is a fundamental shift in purchasing motivation. As Leo notes, it’s as if the circle has closed and “features and benefits” now become the linchpin of purchasing decisions. He sees social media and websites with engaged users as the great drivers of purchasing decisions in the present and near future.
Leo also offered some predictions about the future of search engines and Google specifically. He does not feel that Google will be as relevant in the future and went as far to say that Google will have some serious challenges in the future. The example he gave was Apple’s new Siri app. Siri lets users speak a command like “find me a dentist near 78704”. Siri then completes the search and offers the user an answer to that query. Note that something very fundamental just changed: the interface (Siri) now controls how the query is executed, rather than the user (as is the case with a simple search at Google.com). So, if Apple chooses to direct Siri queries to Google, then Google controls the query. Leo noted that the internet was a “disintermediary”–it killed travel agents because users could simply make their reservations at the airline directly. Services like Siri are “re-intermediaries”– they insert themselves between the user and the search engine. So, theoretically, if a manufacturer like Apple can control the user interface (as is the case with Siri), Apple can control the search, thereby threatening Google.
Google’s Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal Talk About Upcoming Initiatives at Google
Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s spam team (he also authors and appears in Google’s Webmaster Central Channel Videos on YouTube), and Google’s Amit Singhal spoke at the commencement of the 2nd day of the session. Conferences like this are a great way to learn what Google thinks is important and how they value sites and decide rankings.
Beside some expected disagreement with Leo Laporte’s earlier warning that Google was in big trouble, one particular highlight caught my attention:
Google Testing an “Above the Fold” Algorithm
Matt Cutts stated that Google was testing an “above the fold” algorithm change that “so far…looks pretty good.” The term “above the fold” refers, simply, to the top of a webpage. The term is inherited from the newspaper industry, the fold being the upward-facing part of the newspaper as it lays flat. This algorithm change would look for quality content at the top of a webpage. So, if a particular website were stuffed with ads, that website might not perform as well in search following the change. No word on if or when this will be implemented.
Some additional insights into search headed forward: Mobile search will continue to grow in importance, and Google will be working to continue to build quality in that area. Social sharing and activity will continue to be more important headed forward. Matt Cutts also proposed a way to protect the original creators of content from having that content stolen by scraper sites. He said that Google may soon begin allowing a notification system that works as follows: when new content is created by a website owner, the creator can ping Google with an alert that confirms that “I am the creator of this content and all other copies are not to be indexed and appear in search.” If implemented, this improvement will be a valuable tool for website owners. Matt also spoke about author reputation in search, noting that author reputation and authority can serve as a great measure of the value of content created by those authors.
General Ideas Presented at PubCon
From the broad pool of speakers, some general ideas emerged that present great opportunities for ranking, placement, and visibility headed forward.
Author Profiles in Search Results
This idea echos what Matt Cutts said about author reputation. In the screenshot below, you’ll note a screenshot image of some search results with a thumbnail photo of Matt Cutts and the text “by Matt Cutts – In 135,595 Google+ circles”. This is a recent search feature that links an author’s content to his or her Google+ profile.
This feature is easy to implement by tagging content with a link to each author’s Google+ profile. We’ll be rolling this out for our clients in upcoming weeks, and of course, we’ll be working with clients to help build out properly optimized Google+ profiles. It is also important to note that this connection between author profiles will add authority to the content and potentially can increase the ranking positions of such content. In a WordPress environment, this feature will apply to posts, but not to your commercial pages, and contact pages, etc.
The Power of Social Sharing
Another prominent theme at PubCon (the second PubCon in a row, actually) is the power of social sharing to increase ranking and visibility. Besides the obvious effect of gaining additional placement through the sharing of content (after all, if content is shared, that means other people will see it), sharing of content can serve as a signal to search engines that “this content is valuable” and “this site is a legitimate source of content.” Remember, Google’s mission is to filter out thin content and deliver valuable content in response to search queries. Social sharing continues to rise in importance as a ranking factor within Google and other search engines.
Site Value Over Page Value
Another topic discussed at PubCon was the continued shift in how Google values individual pages of content. Typically, in the page, Google would tend to rank an individual page based on the merits of that page: the page elements, keywords used, load speed, inbound links. More recently, Google is shifting its focus to the value of the site as a whole. And so, a loose collection of well-optimized pages will not perform as well as a website that has developed overall authority. Ways to achieve this? Start by removing weak content from your site–weak content can actually harm your valuable content by lowering the authority of the site as a whole. Also, social sharing, discussed above, can increase the authority and power of a site.