Takeaways from SES Chicago 2012 – Part 2
I’m back from SES Chicago 2012. Some of you missed me (come on, admit it), a handful of you never knew I was gone, but by reading this blog post, all of you will benefit from my time away! For those of you that didn’t catch my first SES Chicago 2012 post, you can check it out here.
As the president of a young and fast-growing company, I don’t make it to many conferences. I’m busy running the day-to-day operations of Blue Corona, managing a few accounts, and overseeing our sales and marketing efforts. Like many of you, I wear a lot of hats. Until this year, I’d never attended a single conference. This year, I’ve been to three – Inbound in Boston, Inc. in Phoenix, and SES in Chicago.
For those of you that don’t know, SES is one of the leading conferences for search and social marketing. In an industry growing and evolving as rapidly as online marketing, I think it’s important to get as much information as you can directly from other industry authorities. You can read all the Internet marketing blogs you want, but where do you think most of that information comes from? The people attending and speaking at conferences like SES, that’s where!
So, what did I learn, and more importantly, what can YOU learn from my trip?
The Gap: SEO Strategy & Business Objectives
I heard a lot of great tactical insights from SES – the latest content marketing techniques, how to hyper-optimize your PPC campaigns, and tools to track your rankings from a wide variety of geo-locations, etc. What was missing from the conference – and what is missing from the industry as a whole – is leadership on the strategy side of things and connecting online marketing and SEO back to business objectives.
As you might expect, the SEO and online marketing industry is a amalgam of very young professionals (read: kids), traditional advertising and marketing types, and hyper-technical, computer-genius types. Frequently, in the side-chatter before and after the various seminars, I’d hear fellow attendees complaining about their clients – how nit-picky they can be, how they don’t understand the challenge SEOs face, how they don’t understand the value.
To me, these types of conversations are signs that the SEO company / consultant has not:
- A) Clearly communicated an online marketing / SEO strategy and plan to the client
- B) Connected online marketing / SEO to the client’s business objectives
You can learn all the specialized SEO tactics in the world, but it’s all worthless if you get the two items above wrong.
When you’re interviewing an SEO company or consultant, before you get into the tactical gobbly-gook like how many blog posts you’ll get per week and how many links will be built on your behalf, be sure to have a meaningful discussion about your business goals and your prospective SEO company’s strategy and methods for connecting their work to your bottom line. Recognize that these are areas of deficit within most SEO companies. All the technical expertise in the world is going to leave you frustrated if there isn’t a business mind available to outline the strategy to you and connect the work back to metrics you know and understand.
Content Marketing VS. “Old School SEO”
When I started Blue Corona, our focus was on marketing analytics – accurately tracking a company’s advertising and marketing (including their websites) and translating the data into improved ROI – not SEO. The biggest benefit of our company’s evolution is that we never got into what I call, “old school SEO.” Very early on, using our analytics tools, recognized that search engines like Google really don’t rank websites, they rank web PAGES. We also noticed that, on the web, the most specific things tend to win – both in terms of high organic rankings and conversion rates.
When we started offering SEO, our strategy simply became:
- Track everything and make data-driven decisions
- Maximize your online real estate starting with your main website and search engines.
- Establish and promote your company as THE authority for the products/services you sell in the markets you sell them
This data-driven, content-centric approach to SEO has served us and our clients very well. At SES Chicago, Evan Bailyn from FirstPageSage gave a great presentation that mirrors our thoughts on SEO exactly. During Bailyn’s presentation, he essentially said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Look, I hear SEO companies talking about Google penalties like Panda and Penguin and how they’ve had to adjust their strategy. Throughout all of Google’s changes, I haven’t changed my SEO once and it continues to work brilliantly.” Bailyn’s strategy appears to be similar to what we preach and practice at Blue Corona.
Today, people (fashionably) call this form of SEO “content marketing“. To us, no matter what you call it, it is the only viable long-term SEO strategy for any business that plans to be around for a while. The common denominator for every person I met at SES suffering from Panda and Penguin penalties? Aggressive link-building and low-quality content. Apparently, these techniques continue to work, but to play them is to engage in an intense, and high-cost game of whacka-mole. To me, it’s not worth it… especially with all the added benefit associated with doing things “the right way.”
How Social Media Fits into the Mix
Although the title of the conference is Search Engine Strategies, it’s amazing how much talk there was about social. Half the industry talks about social as if it is the new, cool kid that just moved to town, while the other half talks about social as if it is an over-hyped poser. I think the reality is, social media is somewhere between these two extreme positions.
People like Chuck Price from Measurable SEO, believe that social media is a waste of time for SEO. He cites Matt Cutts telling an audience that, “maybe in 10 years, we’ll use social media signals to help determine site rankings.” To Price, 10 years is the equivalent of 100 years in the digital marketing arena. Price also offers what is perhaps the biggest reason Google can’t integrate social media signals into their algorithm… they don’t control the data and information from sites like Facebook and Twitter. Imagine they take into account information from these sites and FB and/or Twitter decide to raise the cost of the data feed or terminate access to it (one of these has already happened when Twitter cut Google off). Google would be screwed.
In social media’s favor, a large socially-engaged online community is a very powerful signal of authority to search engines and (more importantly) people. Now, whether the search engines are currently able to “detect” this signal or not and how heavily they are weighting it in their algorithms is subject to much debate. Nevertheless, the signal IS there and we think it is worth investing in it because we do believe the search engines will make it an important part of their algorithms in the future.
Think about it…
Right now, when you need something, you go to Google. But, why do you go to Google? I think it is because, until social media, there really wasn’t an easy way to quickly poll your friends and family. Assuming you have a large social network filled with people in your geographic area that you trust, why would you go to Google before asking your friends for a recommendation? Answer, most people wouldn’t. The only reason they continue to ask Google over their network is out of habit. Social media sites are going to change this.
At Blue Corona, one of tenets of our online marketing strategy is to establish and promote your business as THE authority. Let’s say there are two plumbing companies in Denver. One has 3,000 Facebook friends – many that are in your network of friends (people you know and trust), while the other has 10 friends, none of whom you recognize. Which one would you view as THE authority?
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
I hope this blog post (and my previous post from SES) have given you some good insights and things to think about. It would be impossible to disseminate all my thoughts from SES in a couple of blog posts. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d encourage you to contact me directly (simply call or use one of the contact forms on our website).
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
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