10 Key Takeaways From Meet The Search Engines @ SMX West

Up Close SMX West 2014

Another SMX is in the books! This show definitely had one of the most engaged attendee groups I have ever seen at any conference in recent memory. The polite, attentive search engine marketers weren’t there to just network and enjoy the San Jose sun. They were interested and looking for answers. And on day three of SMX West 2014, the Meet The Search Engines session delivered a lot of those answers.

smx-softer-panda-cuttsThis panel is generally one of the crown jewel sessions at SMX and drew yet another big crowd. Bing’s Duane Forrester (@duaneforrester) and Google’s Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) were jovial, informative, and often directly engaged with the SEM pros in attendance. The moderator, Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan), used his trademark, genuine friendliness to keep the panelists at ease, while asking the best crowd-sourced questions streaming live from the attendees.

Although there was a ton of great information covered in the session, here are the ten top takeaways that search marketers should consider in 2014:

#1 – Mobile Will Soon Dominate. Cutts opened with a quick laundry list of updates which included the fact that the mobile “switchover” may happen this year. This means that the majority of organic search traffic to websites will be mobile, not desktop originated.

#2 – Disavow Domains, Not Just URLs. Cutts said that many SEOs disavow specific URLs coming from links they want Google to ignore. He urged marketers to disavow entire domains that look sketchy as a way to better manage your incoming links instead of doing them one by one.

#3 – gTLDs Have No Impact… Or Do They? On the topic of generic top level domains (gTLDs), both engine reps clearly stated that they do not impact rankings. But Forrester made a very good point that if your gTLD helps you market your business more—that more consumers engage with your website now because they can remember you better—then that increase in prominence could be better for your business in the long run and that should be the focus of every marketer in the room.

So, for SEO, is there an impact? No. For your business? Maybe, maybe not. Of course, if your business grows, then that could impact your SEO. Something to think about and maybe test, folks?

#4 – Preventative Medicine Is The Best Cure. On a variety of topics such as bloated URLs, poor navigational structure, penalties, hacked sites, etc. both Forrester and Cutts often explained that the best way to fix something is to not let it happen in the first place. That’s just solid, mature advice for all marketers.

SEOs, more than any other specialists in marketing, have to be very cautious with their approach. In other channels, negative results mean fewer conversions. In SEO, negative results could mean fewer conversions plus a damaging impact on future conversion performance too.

#5 – Not Everything That Builds Links Is A Link-Building Scheme. An attendee asked if Getty Images, which now allows sites to use their pictures as long as they embed them using Getty’s proprietary embed feature, was a link scheme. Cutts and Forrester explained that if it’s an honest use of citations and authorship and the “widget” is not trying to be anything more than that, then it should be fine. They look at these things as they come in to determine if they are white or black hat.

#6 – Bing Has Email Support. This is a little thing, but Forrester was so adamant about getting the word out that I wanted to share it. “Someone will get back to you!” he exclaimed and was shocked when only a few hands were raised when he asked the attendees if they were aware of this support feature.

Go to Bing Bing Webmaster Tools and look down at the bottom of the right-hand navigation for Email Support.

#7 – The Google Carousel Is Still A Bit Mysterious. When directly asked about how a site can get into the Google carousel, Cutts was pleasant but stayed a bit tight lipped. He explained that there’s always a thin line between what the engines can and cannot reveal. “If we tell people how it works, then we get spammed.”

That’s probably always going to be the case in search engine optimization, and SEOs have learned to place a high prize on any direction released by the engines because of it. Cutts did say that the carousel has become an oft-used tool by consumers and there will be more innovation there over time.

#8 – Hummingbird And Natural Language. Of course, Cutts was asked about Hummingbird, one of the hottest topics right now in SEO. He clearly stated that Google’s focus was to better understand the weighting of the words for long queries based on natural language processing. For example (making one up here as I can’t remember Cutts example verbatim), if someone searches for “the governor of Florida”, “the” might not mean anything here, but “of” is a very important connector between “governor” and “Florida”.

#9 – How Long Do Penalties Last? The engine reps spoke at length about this but my takeaway here is that you’re certainly not going to get back in the good graces of the engines until you’ve actually fixed the problem. Cutts did say that the severity of the infraction dictates the penalty. Sullivan chimed in that if you see your site take a ranking hit, it might be tough to know the difference between if you’ve been penalized verses a natural, organic shift that was already going to happen.

As stated in #4 above, the best defense for penalties is a good offense and a commitment to doing things right the first time.

#10 – My favorite moment. Cutts explained that the next update to Panda will be a “kinder, gentler Panda” in which Danny Sullivan jokingly commented, “It will be so soft that even Charmin will feel hard.”

Nice event, SMX. See you at the next one!