-A Kent web designers review by Nigel Stevenson, MD www.oasthousemedia.co.uk website designers in Kent
BrightonSEO Conference 12th April 2013: The Brighton Dome www.brightonseo.com
Brighton is a lovely place and The Dome a great venue. The SEO conference didn’t disappoint either with a full day of lectures in 3 separate theatres within the complex. The event was well organised, easy to navigate and very informative.
I was the guest of a well known SEO (search engine optimisation) provider and my host was an SEO planner with many high street ‘names’ under her belt.
As a web designer with a basic knowledge of off page SEO a translator was very handy! Most web designers understand on-page SEO and have bragging rights for many successful websites. But off-page SEO is a fast moving, highly skilled, money motivated trade with high rewards but tragic penalties….
…Let me tell you what I thought of the day and where SEO is going.
Firstly none of the 9 lectures I attended mention any other search engine other than google. In fact some lecturers didn’t even mention google assuming we all knew who they were talking about. Apart from the 2 ladies all the lecturers openly blasphemed which at first was a bit of a shock but my chaperone explained ‘all SEOer swear’. I should have realised when I read the lecture list – ‘WTF is SEO’ and ‘Shitty Links’!
Predominately an under 30s trade SEOers are a laid back and friendly semi geeky lot but focus any dialogue on the business and an intensity enters the discussion. SEOers are also paranoid about their identity with talk after talk challenging their place in the food chain. It reminded me of the mass outdoor union meetings in the 70’s where a well versed union leader would question his ‘brothers and sisters’ place in society. It’s true, SEOers are very much out of the equation when it comes to web design, I do not know of any web design companies that invite an SEO 3rd party to the concept meeting.
So SEOers are changing their colours and now promoting themselves as ‘Content Strategists’! Oh yes, that went down very well but why the shift up the PR (public relations) ladder?
According to Matt Walker, Quarero Media, SEO was originally evolved by web developers finding loop holes in search engine algorithms enabling ‘tricks’ to get their clients top of searches. Search engines fought back with their filters and algorithm updates which in googles case are well know and well defined named processes – ‘Panda’ and ‘Penguin’ being the most recent.
Danielle Fudge, Forward3D described SEO as the loaded gun. If you go white hat (approved SEO) and play the game you will stay in googles good books, go black hat (naughty SEO) you could be kicked off but as Danielle explained there is no defining line between white and black hat SEO practice.
The black hat Interflora campaign was cited in several lectures. A bench mark case in SEO circles – a large UK company using massive back link (links from other websites to your website) activity to go top of google. The campaign was completed with micro sites, referring sites and thousands of individual back links created in a very short period of time. Google spotted the ‘foot print’ (evidence of activity) and kicked them off (removed the website from their database).
Successful black hat campaigns are well known is SEO world and appear to be held in high esteem by SEOers in the same way as Robin Hood. Several payday loan websites have gone top of google in less than 4 days after web name purchase. Same trick as Interflora but no action from google!
Several lectures referred to the human elements at googles police HQ headed by Matt Cutts (Google’s Webspam team). It would appear that websites that peak on SERPs (search engine results pages) quickly get the once over by a review team, any anomalies are passed up the analysts then ultimately to Mr Cutts himself.
This is a human process therefore human error can happen. Several SEOers in the audience gave evidence of websites that just would not profile even removing all back links via the google ‘disavow’ webmaster tool. Human error.
Google is bringing to bear a search engine algorithm that is human in thinking according to Ade Lewis, that’s to say if all request were process by a human in a fraction of a second google would deliver the purest of SERPs. It’s mentor is a guy called Ray Kurzweil who apparently is a genius. This guy will no doubt evolve a search engine that will filter the ‘shitty links’ whatever and wherever they are.
So what is a ‘shitty link’? – basically any link that’s gaining leverage by using methods to trick googles search algorithms (hence the shift away from the title SEOer to ‘Content Strategist’).
Cold commercial back links are dead? It would appear – yes, but reading between the lines a gradual build up of links as a website develops that get under the google radar are OK.
Blogging is dead? Again, yes. That was a big surprise for me as well but there’s blogging as in a critique of an event/product/service like this report, and there’s blogging as in an article about food with a link at the bottom to a cheap air flight company. Therefore a ‘Content Strategist’ would invite bloggers to discuss and critique rather than plaster the internet with irrelevant copy.
The reason for this change in SEO philosophy is that the SEO gurus are expecting the arrival of a new google filter that can decipher the good and the bad blog/back link. Repeated blog copy can already be found so SEOers are worried that Ray Kurweil will come up with a detection process that will find out the SEO behind the blog.
This also explains why SEOers don’t like their old handle and now call themselves ‘Content Strategist’. But there’s another issue I wasn’t unaware of until I listened to these guys. They’re not getting a good slice of the marketing budget so they’re rebranding themselves and I think it’s going to work.
Most large companies like the one I worked for many years ago (GEC) pigeon hole their marking budget, ie: corporate branding, advertising, exhibitions, PR etc. The SEOer sits several clicks down under one of those titles. They also don’t get to meet the other budget spenders as their pecking order is suppressed, ie: the SEOers may come up with a brilliant on-line strategy but other departments (not even in the same building) will take issue.
So re-invent yourselves, create a new name and sell yourself as a commodity the marketing Director must have – a ‘Content Strategist’ is born.
The future for SEO or Content Strategy is unclear in that it doesn’t define its own destiny. That message was painfully clear when Lauren Pope of Brilliant Noise stood up and told everyone she wasn’t an SEOer but had come to BrightonSEO to tell us as a ‘Strategist’ the way forward was not being top of google but to engage the customer through ‘sustained interest’, ‘revenue focused information’ and the advocacy of ‘deep content’. Now this lady wasn’t joking and proved that sustained interest in your business is not about being top of google, it’s about a relationship with the client, good value and reputation. That’s OK if you’re a well known company I thought to myself, no good if you’re just starting or re-branding you company.
Ralf Schwoebel, Tadebit.com enhanced this when he put a big focus on branding and brand attachment, something I’ve been banging on about for years. Reputation management was a new buzz for me but it made sense. If you think about it we all work hard to maintain a corporate look and feel but do we manage the areas out of our control? Do we look at those directory listing and make sure they are relevant, up to date, corporate?
Mark Henshall and Stefan Hull of Propllernet spent a lot of time not talking about SEO but about content and client engagement as the way forward for businesses. This was music to my ears because it took me back to my pre-web design days when we called the client sir! Are we going back it time because google doesn’t want us to be evil? Mark stood in front of 200 SEOers and told them a back links campaign was, “a bit like the French student staying with you over the school holidays – steals your girlfriend, gets on well with your mates then goes back home”
There’s a big message coming out of this day – off page SEO could be a thing of the past?
No. I wasn’t on board, I’m old school web design – top is good, top is better than page 5 with a good PR dept. Sorry chaps I’m not for pulling down the silos and strategising with the marketing director.
But what I do think is – google is fighting back, it will never win just like the spammers will always get their email though, why? Because the bad guy can’t be caught. The SEO bad boys will continue to push the boundaries and google will slap some wrists. Strategist will groom their content and their budgets but at the end of the day the client is always right and the clients want to be top.