We decided to invite a few of our staff over to attend this year’s training since they were having it in our back yard at the Imagination Gallery this year. @BrettPringle and @SandyCosser came through to share some time in the office and meet some of the speakers.
There was a lot of information presented, which is detailed in the individual presentations. The seminar started promptly and Will Critchlow from Distilled led the way. Below are some key aspects that I took away from the seminar:
“Advanced analytics” –Will Critchlow
Will’s presentation was fairly technical and I was pleased to find another avid user of MS Excel – probably somewhat more fanatical than I – so I certainly appreciated seeing first hand some of the more advanced formulas that he was employing. Next time I am faced with a tedious excel task I will draw inspiration from this and work out the formulas rather than just moving things around by hand! Will mentioned a cool tool from Excellent analytics that allows you to use pivot tables to graph the analytics data which can often reveal something new (like duplicate content).
One of the things I took away from Will’s talk was that you can better analyse Google keyword tool data in Excel when you dump up to 50,000 rows into excel by adding a parameter into the URL!
Another important discovery for me was that if you see referrals to your own site in the analytics data, then the chances are that the Google tracking script is not installed properly or is not firing off.
“Getting SEO done against the organisational odds” – Richard Baxter
Richard is a great speaker, and he spoke about how to put together and manage an SEO team. Interestingly enough, Richards suggested team splits, placing team members into different disciplines such as linkbuilders and content writers, which differs from our model where we believe all team members should primarily be good SEOs with skills in all disciplines.
“ROI from social media” – Lucy Langdon
Lucy was a bit nervous but still delivered a fine presentation. She pointed out that Social media does need to be thought about and is definitely not applicable in all circumstances. Having a Facebook page for the sake of it is fairly pointless. Another recurring point common with other presentations was to plan and do, with the emphasis on actually doing!
“Diagnosing and fixing penalties, understanding guidelines” – Jane Copland
It was good to see Jane speaking. The main theme of Jane’s talk was that more often than not, a site is not actually banned in Google, but rather it is simply not ranking! A couple of simple tests can confirm this such as: a search for a unique exact text string from the website should rank in Google (or, otherwise, my favourite is simply to do a Google site query.)
Jane mentioned that there are numerous filters in play, and the site will have tripped up on any number these. Go back to basics, have a good look at the site, do some competitive analysis and work out factors that could be affecting the rankings.
“Scalable site architecture” – Duncan Morris
I really enjoyed Duncan’s presentation, both because he is an entertaining speaker and also because his content was pertinent to me and he pitched his presentation at a just the right level.
Duncan discussed organising content and planning navigation so that all content is accessible but avoiding duplicate content. He discussed weighing up various keyword phrases and how to best categorise them within site architecture.
“Ranking Models” – Ben Hendrickson
Watching Ben must have been one of the highlights of the day. He set the audience off laughing several times with his antics and mannerisms. I can’t say that I took a whole lot away from the presentation other than him solidly pointing out that using keywords in H1,H2,H3 & H4 tags will not make a difference in site rankings. Ben’s presentation was about statistical analysis of masses of data to essentially determine key ranking factors. In my opinion, the variance in 90% of the factors was minimal, but the overwhelming contributing factor still remains: External followed Links. The art here will be to determine the right mix of these links with regards to domain trust, diversity and anchor text, etc.
“Live linkbuilding” – Tom Critchlow & Rand Fishkin
Rand and Tom worked very well together in this exercise. It was interactive with the audience to some degree as they asked for sites that belonged to audience members and analysed them for potential backlinks. All the techniques they employed have been blogged about numerous times before, however, it was the interpretation and planning of the work that makes the difference. In other words, don’t forget the fact that you are seeking quality links, and don’t wast time simply chasing after all your competitors links. Be creative with the analysis and go after the links that count.
“Conversion rate optimisation” – Ben Jesson
This presentation was also very good to see. It was an actual case study on SEOmoz and the changes that were made to effect a 52% increase in conversion rate on a particular page on the SEOmoz.org website. Once again, a key element that came through was the planning and execution of the message. Ben left us with links to a couple of really useful guides on their site: www.conversion-rate-experts.com/articles
“Head to head presentation-off [on the subject of Keywords] – Will Critchlow & Rand Fishkin
These were individual presentations and Will kicked off. Once again Excel and pivot tables made all the difference in identifying the trends and best keywords to optimise for. Rand unfortunately went off topic a bit, offering us useful things to take away immediately in the form of pretty charts and graphs available here http://www.seomoz.org/dp/free-charts.
Rand pulled the presentation back onto the subject of keywords but in a very generic way, where Will was a lot more analytical. In as much as Rand’s charts prove to be great linkbait for SEOmoz, I had to vote for Will to win the competition!
“News site SEO” – Rob Ousbey
Rob pointed out a useful trick with regard to using old URL’s to get a story live on a URL that has existing inbound links. He suggested that you change an old URL page title and description, link the page from the home page to get it re-crawled, and then let it lie until you need it. When you need to get a story live quickly, you can change the page content (leaving the title, description and H1 tags as is) and you will instantly have the story live with PR on the URL.
“The Pacman Chunk of the Piechart: Getting Links” – Tom Critchlow
A good presentation on linkbuilding using techniques which are often blogged about. The really important aspect that was highlighted was to spend time thinking about the client’s USP and to really leverage this. Once again, planning the work smartly makes execution a lot simpler and has better results.
“SEO is Nothing Without Content” – Rand Fishkin
Rand delivered another fine presentation with the emphasis on User Generated Content. He was quick to point out that it’s not as simple as “write content and visitors will come”. The content has to be great and you need to get the user base involved. Rand’s presentation covered various aspects on how to involve users and reward them for content, and also how to make sure your content is easily shared.
“Vertical and universal search” – Patrick Altoft & Tom Critchlow
Patric Altroft, from Branded 3, showed some interesting test results on image and video search. The message was that Google is really keen to index videos and that simply submitting a video sitemap can result in being included in the index, even if the video does not even exist. Another apparent flaw in the current indexing is that Google will index Flash adverts that it finds on pages presuming them to be valid relevant content.
Tom presented his findings from research he has done on Google local listings, and pointed out that it is important to have reviews of your listing. Achieving a local listing requires you to firstly claim your listing, assign relevant categories, get some reviews and if possible leave information for Google to find as a citation of your details – this confirms the details are “valid” without actually linking back to your website. Tom also discussed various issues with verifying and bulk submitting your listings.
“The limits of automation” – Dave Naylor
Dave left us with several tools to try out (If you not already using them):
Dave also had a few words to say on the personal aspects of SEO, and how important it is to communicate openly the people (clients) on the other end. He pointed out that his link building methods most often involve personal contact.
“The right strategy for your organisation” – Will Critchlow & Duncan Morris
Will and Duncan delivered some quality information in the last presentation. Will again mentioned the importance of leveraging your USP to get great links. He plotted USP’s attributes on a scale of uniqueness and desirability showing that the best value can be obtained by really differentiating your site from all the others.
Duncan once again gave a great talk about TLDs and international rankings. One of the key factors he identified was the use of different languages on different domains as being key in achieving successful international rankings. He cited BMW getting things right and HSBC, with multiple languages on a single domain, getting it wrong.
On both days the event was nicely finished off by a few rounds of drinks at the local kindly sponsored by the organisers!A chance to chat to the individual presenters and generally talk shop! Once again, many thanks to Distilled and SEOMoz for hosting a great event!