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Meet The SEOs: Up Close @SMX West 2015

Meet The SEOs: Up Close @SMX West 2015

The “Meet the SEOs” panel, a regular feature at recent SMX conferences, brings together top SEO experts to answer questions from the audience and provide sometimes different takes on approaches and tactics. The panel for SMX West 2015 included:

  • Rae HoffmanCEO of PushFire
  • Wil ReynoldsFounder of Seer Interactive
  • Marshall Simmonds, Founder and CEO of Define Media Group, Inc.
  • Ellen White, Director of Organic Search (SEO) at Team Detroit/Ford Motor Company


The panelists answered a variety of questions during this session, but following are a few that stuck out to me. (Note that none of these are direct quotes — the names in bold are just to denote which speaker I am summarizing.)

If My Site Has Canonical And Hreflang Tags, How Should They Interact?

Ellen: Ellen felt that there are many complexities to this, and the answer depends on the situation. She suggested to make sure your hreflang tags are properly formatted.

Marshall: Marshall shared that his company uses the canonical that is self-referencing and the hreflang tag.  He also shared that one of the best pieces of advice he heard during this year’s conference was in reference to redirecting content. First put the rel=canonical on the current page and point it at the new destination. Let that sit for a few days or weeks, and then use the 301 redirect.

How Do You Justify SEO After The Initial Setup Phase?

Rae: Rae said that many companies (especially small businesses) find it difficult to justify a long-term technical SEO contract, and an alternative is to have someone come in and do an audit every so often. But other aspects of SEO — such as links, branding, and content marketing — are more of an ongoing effort. These are the wind in your sails to keep you going.

What Are The Best Content Marketing Tactics From The Last Year?

Rae: Solve problems. Give data. Show how your product solves their problem — but don’t just show your tool solving the problem.

Ellen: Look for content gaps in certain topic areas that people are talking about. Fill them.

Wil: Look at what’s already performed for the client. What’s gotten a lot of links or social shares without a lot of promotional effort? Wil tested content distribution networks to expose good content to others and get links. As a result, it helped people and they linked to it.

I Want Users To Know My Site Is The Official Site, But I Don’t Want To Put “Official Site” In Every Title Tag On Every Page. What Should I Do?

Marshall: I would just put it on the homepage title tag.

Rae: Try the meta description tag instead. But test it and see whether it increases organic CTR.

What Is The Future Of Google+ For SEO?

Marshall: It still helps with speed of indexing.

Wil: Wil likes to look at communities on Google+ to see who is there. How active are different groups on Google+? Is that where your audience hangs out?

Marshall: Authorship is not dead per se. It’s evolving, perhaps with the reactivation of the Twitter firehose.

Rae: Rae agreed that authorship is likely not dead. Even if you remove the authorship tag, she thinks Google has ways of knowing who the content was authored by and the level of authority that person has on a subject.

Danny: Authorship is definitely not dead. Google is likely going to go into a period of time when social signals will come into play, but the search team will decide that. Maybe they will put new sharing buttons in the search results.

Wil: As SEOs, we started off as tinkerers. We have to be careful because we only have 24 hours in the day. Are you going to spend your time trying to figure out authorship, or are you going to be an author? Wil advised to watch how you balance your time.

What Do You Suggest For A Franchise With Local Stores? Should Each Store Have Its Own Site, Even If That Could Lead To Duplicate Content Across Sites?

Ellen: In a perfect world, each Ford dealer would be subfolder on the website. In one dealer’s situation, the dealer had 17 locations and the web designer wanted to have 17 domains. By spreading out across multiple domains, you’re missing out on getting the authority of combining under one domain.

Marshall: How do you get authority under one roof? Stay on the same domain.

Rae: Rae made an excellent counterpoint to the idea of all franchisees under subfolders on the main brand site. What if one of the franchises goes off and starts building links to its pages on that site and they’re spammy links?

Wil: Wil agreed that there can be a downside to the subfolder approach, too. One client had a division go rogue. They “juiced” the SEO, which could affect others on the same domain.

Better To Use Top-Level Domains (TLDs) Or Subfolders For International Sites?

Marshall: Top-level domains.

Ellen: Top-level domains are a stronger signal to search engines but also to users. For example, Germans may be more trusting of a .de domain than a .com.

Any Takes On The New TLDs?

Marshall: Marshall says .com is a brand, and it’s going to evolve. There’s likely no favoritism based on the TLD.

Rae: We’re much more knowledgeable about the new domains than the average person. Everyday folks mentally think “.com” automatically.

Is There A CMS You Like Or Dislike For SEO?

Wil: Sometimes people have a CMS and it’s pointed to as the root problem, but that’s not always the case. It can just be that someone is told the wrong thing or someone doesn’t know how to address the issues with that particular CMS.

Our Site Is Well Ranked On Search Engines. How Should We Approach Testing Going Forward?

Wil: Pinterest just shared its testing methodology.

What’s The Most Dynamic Change In Link Building This Year?

Rae: Changes this year will be similar to what she changed in 2013. Focus on abolishing the mindset that causes someone to want just “link building” for a particular keyword. Build a business to get ranked in search engines, not the other way around. Quality links are much more powerful — you don’t necessarily need a huge amount.

Wil: The profile of the person he’s hiring now is different. It’s about tenacity. The tactics from 15 years ago are no longer any good. He wants more people who know how to make a successful pitch.

Advice On Getting The Design Department To Work With SEOs?

Marshall: Show the design department where we’re getting beat.

Ellen: Is there an expectation that this content will show up in search results? If so, she might suggest that they need to go a different route. She developed a checklist for the design team — things to consider. It really comes down to getting to know your design team. Many have negative view of SEOs.

Wil: If you think the other person isn’t nice, you can still change how you work with them. You can work on yourself, but you can’t work on others. Designers often talk about what they love. You’ve put all this time into it, wouldn’t you hate that others won’t see it? I want more people to see your work. Help me to help you.

Rae: Sometimes it comes down to fear, too. Be very upfront — I don’t want your job. I want to make us both look good. And sometimes their bosses are making them do it. You can help them A/B test to win their arguments.

What Kind Of A/B Testing Do You Do To Tinker With The Algorithm?

Rae: Rae suggested that it is best to test with outside sites and not your own company site.

Wil: Wil says he has given up on testing.  He stopped trying to figure out the little nooks. He may share one thing, like content networks, and he can learn from others in other ways/factors.

Marshall: You can’t chase the algorithm. Focus your time on creating new content.

Rae: Create a mastermind group. Talk about tools and approaches. SEO is like furniture polish: test in a small, inconspicuous area.

Danny: Consistently, what is rewarded in search engines is good content. Put the emphasis on the signals that identify quality content.