SEO and the Big Search

Dec 5, 2007 - 5:44 pm 4 by
Filed Under PubCon 2007

SEO and the Big Search

Moderator: Joe Morin Speakers: Melanie Mitchell, AOL Dave Roth, Yahoo Maile Ohye, Google

Melanie Mitchell from AOL is up first. She says that AOL has a search engine but when they look at SEO for the site, it's not about the search engine itself. It's more about how they manage the large scale effort and for the content and product areas. How do you optimize a site for search when the organization and culture does not believe in the power of search? You cannot succeed in SEO without the support of the executives, company, and corporate culture.

How do you align the departments along search and how do you build a consensus among your organization to build a competitive advantage? Hopefully, the answers are valuable to you.

Making a search marketing program work at a company without losing your mind: It's a corporate challenge - change in discipline and change in culture. How you organize, plan and execute determines how to change these key roles.

There is no magic wand to fix it. Why do you have to sometimes be the wicked witch of search marketing?

AOL wasn't designed for searched and it didn't have to be. We weren't set up to be successful in search. You need to change the way to do everything in order to optimize for search. She came on board as an SEO but it was hard to show the executives how it would benefit them.

You had to go from a push company to a pull company. Once we understand the coverage, we need to see the quality of the rates to get people to come to this site to know that 'hey, we're a free site, we have what you're looking for." We needed to gather information and lay it out for the executives to understand. We needed to provide competitive intelligence on competitors and then needed to quantify a gap between AOL and the competition. Our factors were query coverage and query rankings. Then we could lay out the estimated clicks and estimated revenue. What's the current revenue mix between what is search and non search? We know what our organic traffic is but looking at the competition helps us estimate the traffic and then we can tell what our page views are and multiply that out by your competition and say "if we're the leader, here's what we're looking at with our page views." Once you put that together, then everyone can understand it. That's how she sold the executives and told them that she needed their backing: "this is important to our company." That's how you get things out the door quickly. Once it's embedded in the DNA, everyone can play a role and we needed to help everyone understand that role. Is it easy? No.

Put search marketing at a high priority. AOL ended up committing to it in the top 3 of 450 priorities listed. It determines AOL's success. Most people, when they go on the web, search - that's their first stop.

A 6 point plan: 1- Create a core search team. Have subject matter experts and these are folks who eat/breathe/sleep search. They understand the ins and outs of the search industry. Have systems architects who can connect dots between the different platforms of publishing systems. You also want to have a tech lead - take business requirements and translate them to the engineers. Then you need frontliners: SEO leads: programming group, product group, etc. You need program managers and project managers who focus on indexing and ranking - the folks who maintain a roadmap and can worry about delays. 2- Accountability. You need goals, priorities, and incentives. There are hundreds and thousands of folks who have a dramatic effect on how we perform. Search referrals are our major engagement metric. We said "we want to target 30% of our traffic on organic search. Where are we today?" They would get statistical analysis and reward people when they did this well. 3- Training: we had to train people. Test them. If they fail, they need a new job. Otherwise, a failure as a company is worse. 4- Set internal standards. When you first start to learn it, there's a lot of information and it's inundating. Some information can be outdated or can be misinterpreted. Worse, things are plain wrong. So lay it out: here's what we expect from programming to design to technology. 5- Provide tools and training for these tools. There are free tools (keyword analaysis, keyword research, crawling tools, etc.) but we also set up an internal Wiki and a running FAQ. 6- Measure, track, and adjust. If you're going to hold people accountable, you need to know what they're doing. How many page are in the index? What's your search referrals - does it grow or does it stagnate? The market is growing so keep that in mind too. Worry about user behavior: abandonment, return visits, and page consumption.

The last thing you need to do is create a dashboard - a report card of your plan and the results. Show the company the performance.

Final points: You can't ignore search. You need people from the top to support you (they have to listen to you). If there's no accountability, there's no success. Be transparent with the data. You have to be willing to do what it takes. It's tough but it pays off. Those who do so become hereoes and so will you.

Next up is Dave Roth from Yahoo. I met him last night. He's a nice guy. I also see Yahoo folks sitting on the other side of the room. Hi Marc, Kristen, and Ruth!

Dave says that there is a new breed of executives that are taking shape. There didn't use to be VPs of search or directors of SEO or SEM. It's a good sign that search is going mainstream but is also a testament of the progress that we've made since we can sit at the big kids table now. The future is bright.

Let's talk about how to do SEO and SEM at a place like Yahoo. My goal is to empower you with the knowledge that we do basic marketing but at a larger scale. We follow very basic principles even though we're a big firm.

Why search marketing? Why do we do it? It's only recently that we did this but it's pretty much for the same reasons: it's the best way to acquire customers, you can make money doing it, and everybody loves it. We do a lot of search marketing: paid search, SEO, and affiliate programs.

Yahoo is engaged in search marketing for a large number of properties: personals, autos, small business, travel, etc. Within those properties, there are subscription models, conversion models, transactional models, lead generation models, and CPM revenue models.

We need to have one method to combine all these models: LTV (lifetime value) optimization. What's the value of that customer? Do I want to break even, profit, or take a loss? That guides your efforts. What's the lifetime value of subscriptions, referrals, and CPM/CPC revenue? What's the net present value (NPV) of that lifetime value revenue stream? What's the acceptable profit margin on NPV? It works for SEO, too! As many people say, if you can't attach value to it, it doesn't exist. We therefore have strict metrics.

We have central groups for training, standards, best practices, reporting etc. But we also have properties and business units who hire SEOs and execute the plan and are accountable for the results.

[He shows a cute picture of his kids. They really are cute.]

Leveraging internal resources: - What we don't get: speical treatment, algorithm insights, sensitive data - What we do get: limited data, Yahoo! Buzz, working with search for internal tools.

[He shows another picture of his son wearing his daughter's bunny hat. Awww!]

Opportunity reports: the goal is to quanitify the opportunity to get it in front of the execs so that they can say yes. Run opportunity reports on some properties. We built a predictive model for SEO traffic (keywords - estimate traffic). When you do that, you can compare your virtual performance with your competitors and you can identify gaps. Then you can attach value to it with tools like LTV. Show them the money!

Make SEO a part of the process: SEO is a part of each stage of the product development cycle. Yahoo cranks out products at an alarming rate. Phase 1: Concept: competitive research, strategies for attracting traffic and links, partner and affiliate SEO possibilities. Phase 2: Wireframes: site architecture considerations, URL structure planning, internal linking structure planning, SEMantic setup and benchmarking Phase 3: Desig: Use of keywords, AJAX/Flash/CSS/iFrame considerations, content distributions and layout Phase 4: Development: clean URL implementation, on page SEO, robots.txt, indexing and feed creation Phase 5: Launch: datamart report setup, feed and URL submission, press release optimization Phase 6: Post launch: reporting and analytics, optimization testing and tweaks

Organizational recommendation: Get the SEO program manager who leads the SEO product development manager. That SEO product develpment manager (a team of people prioritizing each property) who manages SEO property managers (wireframe, design folks who are tied to properties and are related to engineers) and the SEO producer and SEO analysts (measures data).

Be careful for what you ask for or it gets way complicated!

How do you measure success of SEO? There's an SEO scorecard that shows the property, total SEO traffic, change, trending data, value assessments, and SEO health (color indicators). How do you know if you're doing well vs. not well? We built an index and it works on a "clickspace model" (Competitive Visibility Index). Some of our key competitors are identified and we compare our traffic against the competitors traffic. We then compute a relative score that's tracked over time. The key to do this is packaging this up in a way that people can consume.

Final points: We're not trying to be the most efficient SEOs - we have to do SEO across a huge spectrum (scale and complexity). Make sure you quantify it and value it. Train everyone. Hold people accountable (tie it to their pay or salary). Infuse SEO into the development process.

Last up is Maile from Google. I saw her before. She was with Vanessa Fox. She's cool but Vanessa didn't introduce me to her.

Maile works at Google Webmaster Central. She is going to go into three topics: SEO how not tos - common mistakes of optimized sites Opportunities in video/book/local search Fundamental and SEO truths.

What happens if you are serving content from the US but then to the rest of the world? A common technique is IP delivery. Broaden your marketplace.

How Not To: Often undesirable IP delivery - same URL but serve different content. If GOoglebot comes from another IP and sees that, it would be providing the wrong information.

How do you go about IP delivery? Keep in mind: Googlebot IPs can be global, Google often transfers information from source to target if 301'd. Search rankings can be influenced by information relating to URL's language and location. Users/browsers have language preferences to respect.

When you design for IP delivery, serve largely the same content on each URL. Create separate URLs for more varied content (like for German content or for the domain). Use Webmaster Tools for geolocation.

What about bells and whistles like Web 2.0 technology - Flash, AJAX, and Videos: - Don't have a blank cache. Don't go all out and make your site in Flash that is not easily crawled by search engines. She shows an example of

Instead, design with progressive enhancement. Get HTML for content and navigation. Then think about videos and flash. We have official statements about using SiFR, Hijax, etc. for Flash.

Now that you have these SEO how-tos, there's a lot of opportunity at Google. We have Video, Local Businesses, and Book Search. You can submit this through webmaster central.

How does Google leverage this opportunities? Webmaster Central with more videos (e.g. Matt Cutts talks about snippets). It has over 29,000 views (and it's relatively recent). We're adding snippets to complement the user experience.

SEO truths: We have design principles: we design for accessibility, speed, and easy navigation. Webmaster Tools helps you verify if Google crawls your site and indexes as expected. You should also get techniques and ideas from the Webmaster Central Blog.

Create unique, compelling content, or a service. An example is Kango's viral piece - what if Google created its own site? (Google for it - I didn't get the whole URL.)

That's all folks!


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