Distilled Pro SEO Seminar: Day One Recap

Pro SEO Seminar Boston Logo

Pro SEO Seminar Boston

Today I took a break from working on my newly launched Django website TruthTruthlie.me to attend the first day of the Distilled Pro SEO Seminar in Boston.

After reading all the great feedback and presentations from Distilled’s Link Love conferences in London and New Orleans, I was thrilled when they announced that the traveling SEO circus would be rolling through Boston.

Day one didn’t disappoint, with great presentations from Rand Fishkin, Justin Briggs and half a dozen other excellent presenters. Since I am a primarily a web developer who happens to love SEO, I particularly enjoyed Will Critchlow’s presentation describing the tools, sites and APIs that he leverages to get the data he needs to excel at SEO. Very geeky and very powerful. Loved it.

@rebeccaslosberg's SEOmoz bot tattoo

SEOmoz bot tattoo

Apparently I wasn’t the most excited person to be there, however, as seminar attendee @RebeccaSlosberg expressed her undying love for Rand and SEOmoz by getting the SEOmoz bot tattooed on her shoulder. Yes, it is indeed a permanent outpouring of love for Roger.

Unfortunately, the merciless Boston traffic, exacerbated by a light rain and neverending construction, caused me to miss the first 20 minutes of the seminar. I did catch everything after that, however, and my notes are below.

When I track down the online presentations, I’ll link them from this page. If you attended, please feel free to leave updates in the comments and I will elevate them to the post if appropriate. Each presenter’s Twitter account is linked below. Do yourself a favor and follow them all.

UPDATE: See also the Day Two Pro SEO Recap

Day One Summary:

Introduction: Duncan Morris

Unfortunately, I missed this 10 minute intro. I’m sure it described what a great lineup we had in store and a slightly shuffled schedule, with Duncan filling in for the injured Laura Lippay on the “Taming the Panda” presentation.

Live Site Review: Tom Critchlow, Rand Fishkin & Mat Clayton

Not only did I miss the first 10 minutes of this presentation, I was also late getting into the parking garage. I arrived at 9:01 AM, missing the early bird special by ONE MINUTE! $22 vs. $11, blah.

The live site reviews I saw were for followerwonk.com, sunglasswarehouse.com, costumesupercenter.com and one other soccer ticketing site that I forgot to write down.

A few of the top takeaways:

  • Great write up from Jenni Chasteen on the Live Site Review.
  • Use about.me as an example of great profile design (bonus: followed links!)
  • If you have video on your site, you must, must, must use video xml sitemaps. I fear that Rand Fishkin will hunt you down and make  you pay if you don’t. Rand noted that search results with video thumbnails in the 4th through 6th position can get more clicks than results without video thumbnails in positions 2 or 3.
  • Rand loves Facebook comments (and so do I). Apparently, in addition to the standard one line javascript method, there is a way to pull comments from Facebook and show them directly on your site where they will be indexable content. A nice feature of Facebook comments is that both replies on your site and on Facebook will appear on your site. Also, Rand claims that the source website gets credit for the content, not Facebook.
  • Tom loves Facebook facepile, and claims it dramatically increases conversion rates. I use it on both TruthTruthLie.me and Wantbox.com and found it very easy to add.
  • Rand quote: “modern SEO has to disguise that it is SEO”.
  • Re: Panda – Panda hit the long tail, compare the number of your pages getting at least one search visitor before and after Panda.
  • Rand observation: asking what someone wants to link to and then building it creates a powerful psychological bond and increases your chance of getting the link.

Blended and Verticals: Rand Fishkin

For this presentation, the yellow-sneakered Rand Fishkin showed how much the Google search results pages have changed in the past few years. Where Google used to only show website results, they now stuff in news, video, local, shopping, social and many other types of content.

Rand covered all the different verticals and went deep on a few best practices for local, news, image, related, social and Google suggest/instant search.

A few of my top takeaways:

  • SERP has changed
  • Local: Local results are not as driven by rank order positioning as web results. Rand’s theory is that the A, B, C, D… markers do help with parity, the closer spacing of it all and that users’ just invest a little more time surveying the results.
  • Local:Possibly, the more “related places” you have to your local result, the higher you will rank.
  • Video: If you can, attach video snippets to your results and reap the higher click-through rate rewards.
  • Video: Whenever possible, use a face for video thumbnails.
  • News: Blogs can get into Google News results, but make sure that your last 5 to 10 posts are current event focused. Submit here.
  • News: Use the rel=”syndication-source“, it’s like rel=”canonical” for news articles.
  • News: It’s hard to get in, but the spikes are huge although short lived
  • Image: For image search, having a keyword-relevant caption directly under the image is important.
  • Image: Embed images directly in your page versus adding them via CSS as a background. Google seems to need the “<img src=’blah’>” cruft to sort things out.
  • Social: Facebook likes don’t appear to be enough to drive social search results, although Google +1′s do. Fancy that.
  • Social: Don’t bother with Yahoo Pulse. Sorry Jerry.
  • Social: Quora tip 1, find Qs with lots of followers but no answers and answer those.
  • Social: Quora tip 2, answers with images get many more upvotes.
  • Google Suggest: if you have the top search position, rather than linking to it from, say, your email campaign, reference it in the email and link to the Google search result instead. When the user clicks on your result you will be gaining good search bias for their following searches.

Taming the Panda: Duncan Morris

Duncan filled in for Laura and talked about how to deal with Google’s latest algocalypse (hard to say, but evocative), Panda. Having had to troubleshoot a site that was most likely hit by the big fat Panda, this was mostly familiar content for me.

A few of my top takeaways:

  • The great gift of Panda was so generously given to us on February 24. Thank you Google, we love you too.
  • Since then, there has been a “Panda 2” and a “Panda 3“, later renamed to “Panda 2.1” since it didn’t do as much collateral damage as they’d hoped (just kidding, still bitter).
  • Question: “Can you recover from Panda?” Answer: “No, there have been no example of sites which have yet”
  • Matt Cutts indicated that Google must “rerun” numbers to see if a site can get out of the Panda Pit and they haven’t appeared to do that since the initial algocalypse.
  • Duncan said Panda wasn’t so much an algorithm change as mindset change.
  • Remove or NOINDEX your low quality content, use Google Analytics to determine which pages have the lowest time on site and the highest bounce rate.
  • Improving your site speed will benefit your users and improve your conversion rate. Duncan claimed that an improvement from a 5 second page load time to a ridiculously optimistic 0.5 second load time will drop your exit rate from 22% to 8%.
  • Really cool Google tool for checking what views above the fold on your site: browsersize.googlelabs.com.
  • To help your users and help your Panda recovery, refresh your design with a service like 99designs.com.
  • Connect all of your social profiles with rel=”me”.
  • Cool site for measuring and showcasing your expertise: connect.postrank.com.
  • Ultimately, you beat Panda with great, useful content.

Effective Link Building: Justin Briggs

Not only did Justin give a great presentation about link building, but from a few rows deep in the audience he’s also a dead ringer for Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. While he dutifully presented about his top link building tips, a background of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” played in my head. It was a great soundtrack to his presentation.

A few of my top takeaways:

  • Find out what your link targets are currently linking to and build comparable pages and ask them to link to them as well.
  • Has had good success with StumbleUpon ads.
  • Infographics are good and can be great link bait.
  • Directory submissions can still be good if you take the time to filter out the stale (check the home page cache) ones.
  • Good Bing tool: linkfromdomain. It returns the pages that are linked-to from a domain.
  • Cool tool for helping with emailing potential link partners: toutapp.com. Tout searches a page for any email address, stores and manages templates for emailing those contacts.
  • A few referenced links from his presentation: bit.ly/amziMz, bit.ly/lVY3q6, bit.ly/iBhMeh

Live Data Analysis: Will Critchlow

Although all the presenters were fabulous, this was definitely my favorite presentation of the first day. Will claims that he is not technically a developer, but he convincingly plays one on TV. When taking lecture notes, I usually go back and star the stuff that I want to look more into when I get home. For my notes on Will’s presentation, 95% of the lines are starred.

A few of my top takeaways:

  • Good data set for doing lots of fun stuff: infochimps.com.
  • Will did a “API and Dataset Cheatsheet” on SEOmoz which is a great resource.
  • He’s currently loving the Hunch API and it’s “taste graph”.
  • Easy website scrape-helper sites: scraperwiki.com and mozenda.com.
  • A great business analytics dashboard: geckoboard.com, Distilled has built in API to some of it’s products just to allow them to work with Geckoboard.
  • Track your Twitter stats with Twittercounter.com.
  • Demoed a cool tool which takes screenshots of your site at regular intervals so you can scroll back in time to check how your site looked as you review historical metrics: timelape.
  • Demoed the “importxml()” function in Google Docs, easy way of scraping content from sites.
  • Plugged my favorite free virtualization software: VirtualBox. An easy way to create a test environment with a full Ubuntu shell. Of course, you don’t need this if you use Mac OS X. Check out my tips on installing virtualenv if you go that route (and you should).
  • Demoed the unix command grep for quickly searching for text, say in an Apache access logs, and sed for quickly replacing text, e.g. using sed with a regular expression for updating your Google Analytics codes.
  • Demoed the Google Analytics API and the wonderfully simple “pip install gdata” command for installing it.
  • Demoed r-project.org for taking a messy graph with seasonal data and breaking into it’s component parts: 1) the seasonal effect, 2) the actual trendline, and 3) the outlying data points.
  • Will’s Google Analytics python script.

Amazing, eye-opening presentation from a technical SEO.

Information Architecture 2.0: Marshall Simmonds

Marshall went through his experience working with the New York Times trying to leverage their millions of pages of unique content, stretching back to before the Civil War! This was one of the presentations that didn’t resonate as completely with me, so my notes are thin. I’ll post a link to the presentation when I dig it up, though.

A few of my top takeaways:

  • Don’t use witty or non-standard language when writing title tags. Gave the example of the Hudson plane crash where the LA Times outranked the NY Times because of a better title choice.
  • Generally, don’t use dates in titles.
  • Mentioned in passing the Bing.com is driving 10-20% of the New York Times traffic.
  • Claimed that 301 redirects are more effective than “rel=canonical” tags. Said that Google can process them faster and that Bing doesn’t currently handle canonical tags.
  • In the end, Marshall’s work with the NYT to try to group the thousands of pages of related content into Topic Pages didn’t pan out. Although they were able to get the links, they were not able to get the traffic and the revenue that they needed to justify the project. It seems to me that with that domain and that content, however, there should be a path to monetization.

Forecasting, Presenting and Explaining SEO to management: Seth Besmertnik


Pro SEO Boston 2011 Intro from Conductor on Vimeo.

As a soloprenuer, this was the least relevant presentation for me. The only person I need to convince to do SEO is me, and I’m sold. Although my notes here are thin as well, I do have the link to the presentation, so you can go through it yourself if explaining yourself to management is a problem you face.

A few of my top takeaways:

  • 92% of traffic comes from page 1. Find your keywords that are ranking 11, 12, 13 and try to get them on the first page.
  • Specifically, look for second page keywords pulling some traffic and conversions and try to get them onto the first page. If they are showing signs of performing on the second page, they should do gangbusters on the first page.
  • Cool Excel spreadsheet: Conductor Keyword Sorter.
  • Cool Excel spreadsheet: Executive Summary Report.
  • Conductor has a lab where they test for key SEO signals. Currently, they see no consistent impact from Facebook and social signals, which echoed what Rand said earlier in the day.

Give It Up: Tom Critchlow with all the speakers

The full team took the stage at this point to give their favorite SEO tips and tools. Like Will’s presentation, 95% of my notes from this section are starred!

A few of my top takeaways:

  • If you have luck with a good infographic link bait, do a “making of” post to maximize the benefit. The talked about the designer who did the Hipmunk logo and how he did a “making of” video of his process.
  • Behind the scene looks at your site or processes can be good, compelling content.
  • Cool service: PayWithATweet.com. A social payment service.
  • Cool service: iDoneThis.com. The fun, easy way to get stuff done.
  • Nice Hacker News tip: can get better upvotes and conversion by doing an “Ask HN” post and creating a conversation, then putting the link in the comments if the community wants to see your site.
  • Use widgets for sharing your content, can net your thousands (or more) links.
  • Use your main support email in sites like Twitter. If a lots of people are emailing you at support, then that address could be in their address book and when they go to sign up for a site like Twitter you will be suggested to add as a friend. Clever.
  • Cool viral site: man-cans.com. Candles for men.
  • Cool tool: flowtown.com. Check which social sites your email contact are on.
  • Cool video series: RSA Animate. Watch.
  • Cool web site: rapportive.com. Get rich contact profiles right inside Gmail.
  • Simple web payments service: braintreepayments.com. Great for any company looking to get away from their PCI compliance burden. Storing credit cards is a risk and a pain. It has a simple python API, handles recurring payments and installs with “pip install braintree”. Sounds promising.
  • Good and simple real-time analytics service: chartbeat.com.
  • Rand must see site #1: summify.com. Summarizes all the links in your social stream that you may not have seen.
  • Rand must see site #2: trunk.ly. Shows everything I’ve shared on my social sites.

I have a ton more notes, and will continue to add them if this post gets any visitors. Let me know if you want more and I’ll type it up when I’m not so tired 🙂

You can consider this post a work-in-progress. I will continue to update it as I find the online presentations and recall notes from the individual speakers.

For anyone interested in learning more about SEO, I highly recommend a Distilled/SEOmoz conference. Those gents are doing it right.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow!