Category Archives: SES San Jose 2008

Search Engine Strategies San Jose 2008 Sessions

Google engineers talking openly about the latest challenges in indexing web content. Search marketers getting their heads around building promotions on Twitter.  Lunch networking sessions exploring obscure tips and tricks. This year’s San Jose SES had it all, with a glow-in-the-dark Google Dance to boot.

Although SES hosts events around the globe, the San Jose event has traditionally attracted considerable attention due to its proximity to the campuses of the major search engines. This year was no exception, with a notable presence from Google, Yahoo and to a lesser extent, Microsoft.

Certain trends jumped out at this year’s event, permeating many of the panel presentations.

Universal (blended) search

Over the last year, all the major engines have rolled out different variations of universal search: mixing up the search result pages (SERPs) with video, news, blogs and other content. While each engine has a slightly different approach, the overall affect on search engine optimization (SEO) strategies is the same: you need to concentrate on optimizing more than just web pages. You need to think about creating and optimizing multimedia content, news and other forms of web content.
Relevant sessions:
Universal Search: representatives from each of the engines talk their developments in this space
Semantic search: a distant cousin of universal search, semantic search has similar implications for SEO practitioners

News optimization

The distinction between PR professionals and search engine marketing (SEM) experts is forever blurring. More and more journalists are using news search engines to source and build stories. Companies can take steps to ensure they have maximum visibility in this space. On your own site, there is work you can do to ensure your PR content (often a good source of fresh content) is as optimized for search as possible.
Relevant sessions:
Optimizing for news search: PR professionals and providers of online news wires discuss making the most of your releases

Conversion optimization

In the paid search space, average pay-per-click (PPC) is increasing as more marketers take to this medium. Therefore it’s increasingly necessary to increase efficiency of campaigns, drive up ROI and outperform the competition. Focussing on the traffic delivered by search can really help in this respect. For instance, making your landing pages more attractive to your target audience and improving a registration form can really make a significant difference to campaign performance.
Relevant sessions:
Pay per conversation: creating real engagement with your audience
Storyteller marketing: weaving a story around your information
Post-click marketing: tips for landing page optimization, including segmentation

Social media optimization

Social media is becoming an integral part of our online culture. SEM professionals should be aware of what this means for the way we find information online. Whereas the traditional search engines still remain important, sites like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter have become credible sources of information. In addition, more and more companies are incorporating social media networks into their own sites, which presents its own unique challenges for search.
Relevant sessions:
Facebook, feeds and micro-blogging: the impact of new online technologies on search

I haven’t included mobile search in this list of trends, although there were numerous sessions on this topic. To me this seems less of a trend – more of an entrenched part of the search landscape.

View all sessions from SES San Jose 2008

Post-Click Marketing: Converting Search Engine Traffic

There were many sessions at SES San Jose 2008 on getting more value from SEM traffic and improving the usability of SEM landing pages. Although not so well attended (being the last day of the conference), this session did contain many useful tips and tricks for landing page optimization.

Moderator:
Anna Maria Virzi, Executive Editor, ClickZ

Speakers:
Carrie Hill, Search Engine Watch Expert & Certified Search Engine Marketing & Promotion Account Manager, Blizzard Internet Marketing
Laura Wilson, Senior Manager of Audience Development, New England Journal of Medicine
Scott Brinker, President & Chief Technology Officer, ion interactive
Tom Leung, Senior Business Product Manager, Google

Carrie:

In the eCommerce space, buyers will place emphasis on words that relate to their query. These should be considered trigger words throughout the landing page experience.

Beyond the keyword, make sure the Ad Text is backed up in the copy eg. if you mention ‘free shipping’ in the ad, this should definitely be highlighted on the first page the visitor sees. The ultimate goal is to let the user design their own experience (could we call this Landing Page 2.0 development?)

Laura:

You can often use the landing page as a medium to upsell. You can offer something free upfront, but on the landing page provide an additional link to premium resources.

Make sure you test everything, including any registration process. What you consider intuitive often doesn’t work out, or may not be the ideal path.

Scott:

A key to getting better conversions is creating more landing pages. The more focussed these become, the better will be the results.

Remember that you are attracting lots of different kinds of people. Use meaningful segmentation to find out more about the audience. Scott shows examples where the landing page is purely navigational – with only 2-3 big links that segment the audience towards relevant content. He outlines a number of reasons why 2 clicks are better than 1:

  • Easy engagement – 5 secs on ad and 5 secs on first page
  • Self-identification – easy for people to categorize themselves
  • More focussed content when they drill down (signalling helps create a rich experience)
  • Market research – find out which segments are most popular

Tom:

Following on with the theme of let your users decide what is the optimum content, Tom recommends turning your website into a living lab (what he calls the democratization of web design). He goes so far as to say “the only opinions that matter are the opinions of people who visit your site”.

Another common theme is to concentrate on microconversions – ie. specifying and testing goals at every stage along a process (eg. shopping cart). Whenever you implement a new feature, make sure you don’t hurt your site (eg. the length of a registration form could negatively impact conversion rates).

There are a few basics you should consider upfront. Think whether you are building trust – does the site look legitimate? Also, is it intelligible in a few seconds? Is it simple to go through the conversion process? 

Questions:

Scott: when it comes to implementation, work in a sandbox first – run a small A/B test and then show the reports. Roll out across the organization in this manner.

Tom: don’t run a test shorter than 2 weeks (to eliminate weekly traffic trends) and ideally wait for at least 100 conversions through each channel (if you are segmenting the audience).

Creating a Cohesive Search Strategy Across Multiple Business Units

If you have ever grappled with trying to create SEM strategies for companies with more than one business unit or how to sell in the value of SEM to upper management, then this session was for you!

David Roth did a particularly good job of explaining how he created the current SEM strategy for Yahoo (to be clear, these are campaigns to increase Yahoo’s visibility through search – he is a marketer working for Yahoo, not a representative of the engine technology).

Introduction by:
Amanda Watlington, Owner, Searching for Profit

Speakers:
Eduardo Llach, Chief Marketing Officer & Co-founder, SearchRev
David Roth, Director of Search Marketing, Yahoo!

David:

The challenge is to do a few things well across a large scope. You really have to pick your battles.
Yahoo is a particularly complex case : every form of advertising – CPM Media, transactional, lead generation, B2B campaigns, B2C campaigns.

The only way to compare campaigns is to look at the lifetime value of the customer.

One big takeaway is to work out the money you are not making from doing SEO – the opportunity cost. David shows the spreadsheet he uses to formulate this. He works out what are the rankings they are currently not getting. Using data from paid search and other tools, he works out how much traffic this translates to, and finally using conversion data, works out the lifetime value of these customers. The numbers will not be exact, however you should try and ensure that they are somewhat realistic.

For the SEO stratgy, the message for projects of this size is to not fix what’s out there. David focusses on the new stuff being built. This works well in a world of limited resources, and over time all assets are optimized.

David offers the mantra: “if you can’t quantify it, it doesn’t exist”. With this strong emphasis on metrics, Yahoo reforecast every month to ensure campaigns are on target. This is a considerable task with workflow to manage the process across marketing, sales and finance.

Measuring success
Use a marketing scorecard to compare different campaigns.
Create an SEO dashboard that is available to upper management.
Ensure there is a strong relationship between marketing and finance (in Yahoo’s case, the Markops finance team) to create LTV figures and keep on top of budget management.

Eduardo:

Perform the optimization across the frontend (traffic, or the data you would find in Google Adwords interface) and backend (site, the data you would find in your web analytics).
Successful traffic optimization involves finding the difference between geo (or metro) targetting, network and creative. Eduardo advocates the use of optimization algorithms to figure this out across large data sets.
For site conversions, track microconversion points (ie. look at each click along the path). By optimizing for lifetime value, it has been possible to increase campaign performance by 20% for same traffic level.
For ad creative, don’t just look at CTR, also consider conversion rate. The CTR could be low yet the messaging could still produce quality traffic.

Questions:

David: when considering brand terms think of canabalization and lift (what do you gain by adding these?)
Eduardo: on the thorny question of market attribution (which marketing channel gets the credit for the sale when many channels have been involved?) – Eduardo recommends thinking of search as closing the loop – in particular look for SEO traffic uplift from offline activities to help build a case for this.
David: take people out to lunch, even your competitors
Eduardo: concentrate on the top terms

Semantic Search: How Will It Change Our Lives

I didn’t get to cover this one, but Lisa Barone for Bruce Clay, Inc. did a great job:

http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/archives/2008/08/semantic_search.html

What is semantic search? A way of finding meaning in those 2-3 words you type in the search bar. Search for ‘Definitely, Maybe’, you get music-related results  for Oasis. Search for ‘Marriott San Francisco’ and you get a hotel listing with a map. You’ve probably seen a lot of this in place already. The idea is to move away from ‘blue line’ listings (ie. the standard link and snippet the search engines normally display).

How will it work?
Well, publishers have to do some work to tag and categorize content. Microformats and Yahoo’s SearchMonkey are evolving tools in this space. Check out Hakia and Powerset for examples of other players.

Effective Contextual Search Marketing

This session looked primarily at how paid search marketers can get the most out of contextual search (what Google calls the Content Network). There was also some information for publishers delivering ads and those who manage contextual campaigns.

Moderator:
Gregg Stewart, SVP, Interactive, TMP Directional Marketing

Speakers:
David Szetela, CEO, Clix Marketing
Cynthia Tillo, Senior Product Manager of Advertising Services, Adobe Systems
Jennifer Slegg, Owner, JenSense.com

David:

Recommends using a scraping tool to find keyword density of pages where you want to be found and use this to build the keyword list.

The text ads used in contextual advertising need to be more competitive, given that unlike the search network, visitors are not necessarily looking for destinations to visit, but are there for the content on the page. You nee to make a special effort to lure them away, eg. with offers like free shipping.

The content rankings are slightly different for contextual search. To obtain a page one ranking, you need:

  • Positions 1-3 for search network
  • Positions 1-4 for contextual network

The clickthrough rate (CTR) is particularly important – buy at a high price first to secure the high CTR and then lower the price down to what is manageable for you.

Google tools
The Google placement performance report is particularly useful to see where ads are appearing. Use the site exclusion tool to remove the sites that are not working for you.

For its content network, Google offers both keyword targetting and placement targetting (you specify the sites where you want to appear). Keyword targetting works particularly well as a test bed (to find sites you might not otherwise know about), whereas placement targetting can offer better quality traffic.

Cynthia:

Adobe now offers ads in pdf documents. (My thoughts: does this mean a whole new area of content creation to make money from pdf ads?)

The ads can either be displayed in a separate panel next to the main doc, or positioned in the main doc itself (example shows three ads running horizontally across the header).

Adobe is using Yahoo’s contextual ad platform. Cynthia gave a number of types of pdfs that may want to display these ads, including ebooks and digital versions of magazines and newspapers.

Jen:

Jen talked about contextual search from the other perspective: that of the publisher looking to make money from the program.

She explained that for publishers there is a trade-off between wanting to maximise short term profits (taking the quick-in, quick-out approach that doesn’t build loyalty but does maximise ad clickthroughs) and usability (creating a site and content that makes visitors want to come back, ie. isn’t plastered with ads).

Keynote: ‘Made to Stick’

Keynote: Dan Heath, author of ‘Made to Stick

Dan Heath stood in for his brother Chip to make this keynote on why some ideas prevail through time and how marketers can capitalize on these. Some of the most pervasive ideas are those transmitted by urban legends. Dan kicks off with a few examples: that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space (not true as the salient feature of the wall is its length rather than its width) and that Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC on the basis that it no longer puts chickens in its buckets, but rather some hybrid genetically modified beakless techno-chickens (personally, I could believe this one).

It’s not just urban legends. Aesop’s fables have existed for over 2,500 years and still enjoy tremendous popularity.

So, what are the traits present in all sticky ideas? The Heath brothers have whittled it down to these six factors:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

You don’t need all of these in order for your idea to stick – but you do need at least some of these. Also, this doesn’t apply to all ideas – only those you want to persevere, eg. messages you pass down to your kids.
For the rest of the presentation, Dan concentrated on a few of these points.

Simple ideas
There is the concept of decision paralysis: (the more decisions you have, the more likely you are to freeze up and go to the path of least resistance). A good example is speed dating – you are more likely to choose a prospective partner if you see 6 dates in a session rather than 12.

From a marketing standpoint, this can be tested in the creation of landing pages.

A good example is the Pandora music player. It deals with enormous complexity – but only ask you for one choice up front: what artist you like.

Within a large organization, a simple idea can aid coordination:

eg. for fast followers in the marketplace: ‘we don’t want to be first but we sure as hell don’t want to be third’.
eg. creating a movie: most people guessed a movie described as ‘Jaws for space’ could be Aliens.

The point here is to come up with a simple idea and use this to shape the project.

Emotional ideas
Dan showed some terms from the search industry: link analysis, contextual search. These terms are devoid of emotion which isn’t great for recall.

James March, an expert in decision-making theory, argued that we make decisions based on either consequence (cost-benefit) or identity (who am I, what kind of situation is this, what do people like me do in this situation). The latter case hinging more directly on emotional ideas.

A problem that dogs us is the curse of knowledge. It is almost impossible for us to understand what it’s like to not have the knowledge we have. Experts that give us advice often fall foul of this problem. This is a particular issue for communication.

Concrete ideas
it’s much easier to remember things that have a strong sensory component. Concreteness is the turf of differentiation ie. the escape from abstractions. This is particularly useful when it comes to illustrating what differentiates you from your competitors. Use concreteness to show what keeps you apart.

Facebook, Feeds and Micro-Blogging

It seems like no online marketing seminar is complete nowadays without at least one session on social media. SES San Jose was no exception – social media optimization is definitely creating a buzz in the industry (as it has been for at least the last year).

Moderator:
Kevin Ryan, VP, Global Content Director, Search Engine Strategies & Search Engine Watch

Speakers:
Andy Beal, Consultant, Blogger & Author, Marketing Pilgrim LLC
David Snyder, Search Specialist, JRDunn.com
Neil Patel, Co-founder, ACS
Brian Morrissey, Digital Editor, AdWeek

Andy:

Twitter
Make sure you secure your company name – even if you aren’t going to use it.

Basic symbols:

  • @andybeal directs a message to that user (public)
  • d andybeal sends a direct message that is
  • #olympics are used for tagging tweets
  • favorites are used to bookmark tweets you want to revisit
  • delete: this is possible but beware, Tweets can get syndicated in different places so even though you may delete a Tweet, it isn’t necessarily gone

Be selective with who you follow. You’ll realize why after a while. With Twitter it is easy to receive a lot of noise from people or subjects you don’t care about. Some people you might want to follow:

  • Peers
  • Press
  • Influencers
  • Customers

Look out for interesting conversations. The medium really supports these when they happen. Don’t send Twitter spam – this is such a conversational medium, any attempts to use it solely for commercial gains looks transparently salesy and just doesn’t go down well.

If you want to get into someone else’s network, think to copy your message into their thread using @[username] at the beginning of the post.  Their network of followers will see you message.

Use services like Twitterfeed to cross-promote blog content on Twitter (everytime you blog, all those following you on Twitter are automatically notified).

Your Twitter reputation IS your reputation so don’t get pulled into negative conversations – in most cases you can just let them play themselves out.

Use search to find those with similar interests (who you can choose to follow).

Brian:

As a journalist, I use Twitter to develop sources and find out who is writing on certain issues. Comcast and Zappos are good examples of companies using Twitter to manage their reputation online.

Neil:

Facebook
Some Facebook stats:

  • 73% of people are white
  • 30% make over 100k
  • 43% didn’t go to college

David:

Friendfeed
The best way to describe this service is as RSS on steroids – brings all social network data to one place and allow you to interact with that data. The big problem with social media is that it is so diverse. If you post images on Flickr, post on Blogger or leave content in any of a number of places across the web, then bring all your activity into one place with Friendfeed.

Duplicate Content & Multiple Site Issues

So, it appears that I’m not the only one grappling with how to cope with duplicate content issues and content replicated in different places.

The session on this issue at SES attracted a sizeable crowd and a whole clutch of questions at the end.

Mark Jackson (of Vizion Interactive) gave a lively presentation with useful tips. If you are worried about duplicate content, check how many pages you have listed in Google and compare this with Yahoo. Normally there will be some discrepancy, but if the variance is large, you may well have a problem. Copyscape offers a great service to try on a page-by-page basis.

For your own site, you should where possible use unique titles and meta-descriptions. Google Webmaster Tools can help you see where you have the same meta-descriptions.

If you do notice a problem, the best course of action is to approach the site owner directly. If you have no joy here, you can file a DMCA with the host of the offending site, or with the search engines directly.

Benu Aggarwal (Milestone Internet Marketing) made the point that these days you can’t necessarily trust copywriters to write unique copy. She points to the iThenticate service as a good way to establish the similarity between your copy and what has been indexed.