Monday, March 14, 2011

SMX West 2011: Takeaways for the SEO Industry

It was the search marketing event of the year. For two full days, people from the search engine marketing community gathered for SMX West in San Jose, CA to attend sixty sessions that featured more than one hundred speakers who discussed the latest trends in SEO. It was also an opportunity for many to try and come away with as much information as possible regarding the future landscape of the industry. As expected, Google's Matt Cutts was in attendance and was under siege with a multitude of questions surrounding the recently implemented farmer's algorithm change.

For the sake of brevity, I will not attempt to relive every detail from SMX West, rather, shed light on a few of the primary topics covered and some of the reactions from the SEO community. Regarding the recent algorithm change, Cutts defended Google in stating it was purely algorithmic in nature, and no manual changes to the search results were made. While it is refreshing to hear that Google is not catering to any specific sites, this does not provide much reassurance to webmasters who suffered as a result of the update. High quality sites have continued to see their traffic decrease over the past several weeks.

Cutts suggested that we can expect more algorithm updates to come in 2011. Primarily, Google will continue their attack on content farms and other sites that produce low quality content yet continue to rank high in the SERPs. This wasn't necessarily shocking news, however, Cutts did make one suggestion for sites who relied on a user interactive question/answer format to produce content. Specifically, that these sites should implement the <meta name=robots content=noindex> on the pages until they have generated a significant amount of high quality content.

Another topic of debate has been the issue of on-site advertising and whether or not that can devalue the quality of a particular site. Cutts specifically stated that advertising on your website does not inherently have a negative effect on its rankings. However, he was clear in suggesting that if your content to advertising ratio wasn't strong, that may have an impact. As an example, consider a site that has content that is difficult to locate due to excessive advertising. In this instance, advertising that is seen as getting in the way of the user experience is something that Google sees as a problem.

On the link building side of the equation, there was much to discuss at the expo. Cutts squashed the notion that white-hat cloaking was "acceptable" from an SEO standpoint. As a reminder, white-hat cloaking consists of any site that is designed to show search engines different content than what is displayed to an online user. There has been some SEOs around the community that have suggested these particular tactics were safe to use, but the reaction of Cutts when queried on such matters suggests otherwise. Other examples of whit-hat cloaking would be hiding text or showing returning visitors to a site different content than what would be displayed to a new user.

Additionally, it was made evident that article marketing in general was not an extremely valuable method of building links. Over the years, many webmasters have submitted articles in bulk to directories around the web that allowed backlinks in the body of the article or even in the signature at the footer of the article. While most in the world of SEO have understood that these links haven't carried much value (outside of the fact that it is fairly easy to get a large quantity of them in a short period of time), the underlying message throughout the expo was that it wasn't worth it at all; rather, webmasters are better off trying to contact authority sites in their own niche to see if writing a high quality article, containing a link, for that person's site would be a possibility instead.

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