SMX East 2011 LogoOne of the great perks of working here in the Hudson Valley is the relative ease of getting to New York City.  Not only do I get to enjoy the benefits of fresh air and scenic beauty of this rural Williamsburg, but when I do get that itch for the excitement and bustle of the city, the greatest metropolis on the planet is only ninety minutes away.  So while other Search Marketing pros gathered for SMX East 2011 from remote climes and far off lands, enduring the rigors of transcontinental travel and airport security, I simply took Metro-North to Grand Central, hopped the 7 train, and arrived fresh and ready for some serious SEO knowledge sharing.

SMX Boot Camp: Keyword Research

First up for the day was a keyword research seminar presented by Christine Churchill, President of KeyRelevance.  She gave a great presentation that really drove home the importance of good keyword research as the underpinning of an effective SEO campaign.  In particular, she stressed that keyword research is more than finding phrases with high search traffic, it is also about identifying the terminology and colloquialisms that your customers are seeking and will connect with.

Where the talk really got interesting was her discussion of how internal resources can be repurposed to dig up new keyword ideas.  For example, scouring your site’s internal searches can yield some great insights into what your core traffic segment—the people who visit your site—are searching for.   Talking with your sales team or anybody in a customer facing role can also help identify what terms are in currency.

Next up was a discussion of tools and how to use them effectively for keyword research.  Christine really had some great insights into how the Google suite of tools—especially insights and trends—can be used to identify phrases that are gaining traction amongst searchers.

Copywriting for Search Success

The next session I attended was a link building presentation given by Debra  Mastaler, President of Alliance-Link.  She took the link building bull by the horns and really demystified a subject that baffles many in SEO.

She started her talk by laying out link building strategies that won’t work:

In general, both Google and ordinary internet users of an acute sense of quality agree—if it smells spammy, avoid it!

After clearing the air, she dove into what really works.  She explained that, when link building, it is critical to seek link quality, quantity, relevancy, and anchor text, and proceeded to divide link building strategies into three main groups: foundation link building, authoritative link building, and content generated link building.

In the foundation category she included such tasks as relevant and well-regarded directory submissions, profile building, and video sharing.

When discussing authoritative links, she discussed tactics for gaining links from .gov and .edu sites, industry associations and resources, and broad informational sites such as Wikipedia.

Finally, she shared some ways of content writing for links.  Offering reviews, guest blog posts, article submissions, press releases, and a host of other techniques were explained in great detail.

All told, she offered a dizzying array of link building tips and tactics, which could easily take a whole series of blog posts on its own.  That she was able to fit all this information in the span of an hour was impressive—even if it did leave my head spinning afterwards!

SMX East 2011 Attendees

SMX East 2011 Attendees

Panda-Proofing Your Content

After an energizing lunch break, I was ready for a panel session on Google’s now-infamous Panda Update.  What the Panda Update means for SEO is a topic of ongoing controversy, and Justin Briggs , SEO Consultant for Distilled, Horst Joepen, CEO of Searchmetrics, Heather Lloyd-Martin, President and CEO of SuccessWorks, and Chris Silver Smith, Director of Optimization Straetegies for KeyRelevance helped to clarify the debate.

The “winners” of the Panda Update so far have been site’s featuring original content, large brands, and (suspiciously) Google products—youtube has been one of the greatest benefactors of the update.

Given Google’s secrecy, much about the Panda Update remains a mystery, and it can only be speculated exactly why it penalized some sites and not others, and why some to a greater extent than others.  Given the enigmatic nature of Google’s Panda, perhaps the best advice came from Horst Joepen: Monitor your competitors, and if they suffer from a Panda “correction” you will know what to avoid.

Search Engine Friendly Web Design

The final talk of the day was given by Shari Thurow, Founder and SEO Director of Omni Marketing Interactive on Search Engine Friendly Web Design.  Shari has written the book (literally!) on this topic, and it was great to hear her thoughts on how user friendly and search engine optimized design often overlap.

In an often humorous talk she asked the audience to “A/B” test varying iterations of several different websites.  Through this dynamic approach the main point of her presentation became clear—if a user can’t figure out how to navigate your site, there is a good chance Google can’t either.

Evening Forum with Danny Sullivan

Danny Sullivan at SMX East 2011

Danny Sullivan at SMX East 2011

Day 1 of SMX East ended with an evening forum with Danny Sullivan, the editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land.  Having never seen Danny in person before, this was a real treat, and his sense of humor and knowledge shone through as he guided the audience through an evening discussion of the latest in all things search marketing.

By the end of the day, I certainly had more than enough to digest for the train ride home.  It had been a fun and enlightening experience at SMX East, and it had only been day 1.