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Actionable insights from SES Toronto 2010

Search Engine Strategies Toronto never disappoints local marketers because unlike other shows across North America that speak to attendees from an American or Global perspective, many speakers at SES Toronto are either Canadian themselves or extremely tuned into online marketing in Canada. Looking back, you can’t help but recognize the strong attendance and star power in comparison to other shows. 

The opening keynote was by Peter Morville, the President of Semantic Studios and author of Search Patterns.  Peter can be considered a foremost expert in information architecture and user behavior, which is an extremely advanced topic for most to digest.  In his keynote, he discussed many strategies search engines are using to make user experiences better, connecting visitors with more relevant results for their individual needs.  Some of these tactics include: predictive search query suggestion, filtering by medium such as blogs/news/video, blended search results, real-time search, etc.  Greg Jarboe interviewed Peter after his address:

Next up I sat in a session on video optimization by none other than Greg Jarboe, or Mr. Video as I often call him.  With the recent YouTube redesign, it’s helpful to keep up to date on how to optimize videos and make the full use of “the #2 search engine” in the world, if you can call it that.  The key to ranking well on YouTube (and therefore Google universal search results) are the following:

  • Text matching through descriptive titles, which are longer due to HD video, and description fields that allow up to 5000 characters.  Scope out your competition and their keywords, sometimes #2 is a good place to be to grab the attention of snacking viewers through “similar video” links.
  • Number of views.  Video views longer than around 8 seconds, recency of those views are both signals for the algorithm. Need more views? Embed and encourage embedding in your video, simple enough, right?
  • Ratings.  Higher user-rated videos rank better and can be the deciding factor for two similarly consumed videos.  Again, ask for viewers to rank your video!

A panelist and audience favorite viral video from OraBrush:

Jonathan Allen shared the stage with Greg Jarboe and a representative from Google and Bing.  Surprising video optimization tips from the panel included:

  • Jonathan Allen: snackable content is preferred, chunk up your video and create playlists and share those playlists on other websites.
  • Jonathan Allen: Related videos with similar popular tags can boost your video by proxy.
  • Google: YouTube isn’t the only way to get your video indexed on Google, include video in your sitemaps. (Although, YouTube is probably the best way…)
  • Bing: driving engagement comes down to structure and meta data.

In a session entitled, “Successfully Integrating Search & Social” there were two shining stars, Krista Neher of BootCampDigital and Guillaume Bouchard of NVI.  Krista Neher rocked the house with a solid presentation with several interesting tidbits including:

  • If you reserve usernames on social media platforms, make sure you post your intentions if you’re inactive.
  • Embed your brand in any creative that may be embedded elsewhere, like photos, videos, presentations, audio, etc.
  • Make friends, advocates will follow.  Advocates can be crazy, setting Google alerts for your brand to protect it.
  • You need a good product, lipstick on a pig won’t cut it anymore.

Guillaume Bouchard was equally compelling, and characteristically vocal (as usual).  Most of his insights pertained to sharing sites such as Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Mix, and others:

  • There are really four unique ways to do social media, each with variable impact on SEO:
    • Online PR (minimal SEO impact)
    • Community Management (often walled gardens, minimal SEO link juice)
    • Social News Optimization (good SEO potential)
    • Widgets (good SEO potential)
  • SEO = Social News Optimization + Widgets
  • Social moves 10x faster than the internet, so optimize content, platform, submitter, categorization, solicitation.
  • Focus on SEO-specific metrics, the new social news optimization KPI is average inbound links per article (smart stuff).

Maile Ohye SES Toronto 2010Many more hot topics throughout day 1, but I want to focus on another up and coming SEO All-star, day 2 keynote speaker Maile Ohye from Google Webmaster Tools.

Now, before anyone goes dissing Google for not sending Matt Cutts, I just want to go on record saying: Maile is probably right up their with Matt in terms of what they’re allowed to say anyways, but somewhat more approachable, with a bit more energy, and cuter (sorry Matt, you’re not my “match type,” get it?).  Sigh…

Maile Ohye was a refreshing start to day 2, talking first about major changes to the Google Search algorithm affectionately known as “Mayday” and Google’s infrastructure improvements codenamed “Caffeine”.  Without further ado, news directly from Google:

  • Mayday is just another algorithm change, Google makes hundreds of these every year and usually no one notices.
  • Mayday will improve the relevance of long-tail queries, and as a result, pages that used to rank for long tail queries with minimal relevance may stop ranking.
  • What was formerly considered relevant to long-tail search results will now be held in the same esteem as popular trended keywords (perhaps leveraging visitor usage patterns also).
  • Caffeine is an infrastructure improvement allowing quicker changes to metadata for individual documents at a time that used to be done in batch.
  • Caffeine will allow Google to push changes to individual documents to the index quicker than ever before.

With the worrisome Mayday and Caffeine changes out of the way, Maile was able to focus on Webmaster Tools and SEO best practices, perhaps dispelling a few myths along the way:

  • Snippets in the SERP come from meta description or your content, meta keywords aren’t used.
  • Titles are important, semantic markup is important, content is still king.
  • Search is changing: there are different types of media, different modes, languages and personalization (the last being the scariest for discovery).
  • Google is emphasizing user experience, going so far as to say that they’re looking at “conversion” as a signal for SEO (kinda scary, what’s Google’s definition of conversion?)
  • Links are valued differently depending on context and patterns:
    • Location on a page is important: in context or in template (i.e. footer links give minimal juice)
    • Pagerank of the site is a signal, obviously
    • Link juice passed depends on number of links, 5 links on a page all get 20% link juice, however 4 do-follow links get 20% each and 1 no-follow gets 0% (i.e. don’t try to sculpt pagerank)
  • Improvements being made to Webmaster Tools:
    • Google uses a Webmaster Tools “Happiness” metric.
    • Speed is a factor, but remember, even Google properties like the store rank “Slow” on their own graph, speed is relative.
    • Put videos and images in your sitemaps.
    • Citation rank assists Google News in scraper and syndication issues.
    • Message center will most certainly be expanded.

All things considered session SES Toronto 2010A great keynote panel from Maile Ohye of Google.  Special thanks to Maile for sticking around for the “All Things Considered” session immediately following, it was a great free-for-all that I will most certainly write about in an upcoming post.

Although some attendees complained that the show’s presentations were too basic, but a show like SES is what you make it.  With many speakers on hand sticking around after their sessions or for networking receptions, it’s extremely easy to pick their brains for free advice, which is exactly what I did.  More to follow in coming weeks!

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