Warning: This is a long report, but I hope you find the time to read it.
Search Engine Strategies Conference London (2-3 June ’04) Report
by Alan Webb
Being an Englishman living and working in Germany, the search engines strategies conference in London was an excellent excuse for me to get back to my homeland. Of course, the pull of visiting my land of birth was not the only reason I attended. As an experienced SEM I knew there wouldn’t be a great deal I would learn from the conference. Nevertheless, the joy of these conferences is that you get to present questions and get answers from decision makers from the search engines themselves, rather than third hand rumours which tend to propagate on forums. If you can read between the lines you can pick up the direction search engines are going in and the main benefit is you can get confirmed what you have most likely long believed to be fact which makes the registration fee worth paying in itself.
I was very happy to see Matt Cutts from Google and Ron Verheijen from Yahoo!/Overture who both have influence in their respective companies rather than just some high management sales representatives. The quality of guest speakers was also of a very high standard.
This wasn’t my first SES conference as I also attended the Germany SES conference held in Munich, where I had speaking slot on identifying keywords. It is fair to say that the London conference was on a much larger scale than the Munich version and it was clear that many visitors had flown in from throughout Europe with many languages being spoken in the foyer and corridors. The UK and Ireland is a little way behind the US in search engine marketing but in my opinion leads Europe as far as SEM is concerned.
I attended both days of the conference and chose those seminars that for myself would be the most interesting. My focus being on organic search listing and less on pay per click/pay for inclusion. I will be trying to focus in this write up on what was new or confirmation of aspects that are believed to be true but where small doubts occur. The first seminar I attended was the “Domain Name Issues” seminar…
Domain Name Issues
I attended this seminar, moderated by Danny Sullivan (Editor searchenginewatch.com), as I wanted confirmation of my own observations that unlike a couple of years ago, where the general consensus amongst SEOs was to have separate folders for different languages on the same site, that it was now better to have separate domains with the language/country specific top level domains for the different language content. My own site suffers currently from this as I have an /en/ directory which caters for my English pages. Good when I did it, bad now!
It doesn’t however stop at just changing the TLD (top level domain such as in my case .de) There are three other considerations which were pointed out Robin Hislop (Spannerworks) and Ren Warmuz (Trellian) who were the speakers. The language on the page is important. Defined not only by the Character set but the content itself. Other factors for determining regional relevance from the search engines are the IP address. That is of course the IP address of the website. This means you may need to find a webhost in the country you are targeting. Where the links are coming from also logically help to define region/language. So you need links from sites in the language you are targeting.
For my website which is a .de domain with an English language section in a /en/ directory I should theoretically be doing the following…
Find a web host in the US and/or UK to register my .co.uk / .com pages. Making sure there are no trademark violation issues first.
Move the english language content from my German tld /en/ directory to the uk/com domains. Change the .co.uk content to be more in line with the uk market (avoiding duplicate content and helping conversion by specific Geo targeting). If I have a .com then change the content to be more US focused.
Pursuade all those linking to my old /en/ folder to switch to the new .co.uk domains / .com domains.
A lot of work really, but it would certainly help my rankings for the English language keywords I want to target. I do very well indeed for the German terms, it’s the English terms I’m not doing well on and the reasons why were confirmed in the first seminar I went to (not an English language tld, hosted on a german server, more german sites linking in than English language sites).
A good start and thanks to Robin and Ren for the confirmation. I have a lot of work to do!
Search Engine Friendly Design
The next seminar I attended was the “Search Engine Friendly Design” seminar.
As in Munich, the speaker for this seminar was Shari Thurow (Grantastic Designs) and moderated by Julian Smith (Jupiter Research).
Of all the presentations, Shari’s was in my opinion the most professional with plenty of “do’s” and “don’ts”. Not just however the theories in bullet points on the PowerPoint slide but there were also plenty of REAL examples in the form of screenshots of sites which is always a good thing for effective presentations. As a speaker Shari is one of the best as well with and ability to generate enthusiasm which is the mark of a good speaker. I actually found that this presentation was better in content and presentation than the one she made in Munich.
Search engine friendly design is an area where many even large blue chip corporations, as well as far too many smaller companies require serious help. Hopefully, some were attending the conference and took on board what Shari had to say. Unfortunately, many won’t implement changes as it would require “too much time and resources” to re-launch a search engine friendly website. Sad, but in my experience true in many cases.
Tragically, Shari’s computer froze half way through so many examples were unable to be shown and visitors had to resort to their manuals to follow the presentation. I looked around and unfortunately many didn’t open their manuals to the relevant thumbnail slides. They did not do themselves any favours as although a lot of search engine friendly design issues are common sense, Shari has a great presentation talent and if you are not paying full attention to the content of her presentation you would be doing yourself and your company a huge injustice.
I think the slide on the “5 basic rules of Web Design” was the most important slide of her presentation. Everything that followed went into the detail but the content of this slide should be drilled into every web designer before they ever write their first line of HTML. The five rules are…
• Easy to read
• Easy to navigate
• Easy to find
• Consistent in layout and design
• Quick to download
Many of the five compliment each other.
For example, without clear and effective navigation, inner pages may not get found by search engine crawlers. You need readable text in order to rank well and get found. Although Shari’s computer broke down half way through, it was still one of the best presentations I attended throughout the entire conference.
Writing for Search Engines
The next seminar I attended was “Writing for Search Engines”. This was presented by Charon Matthew (MediaCo(UK) and Jill Whalan (HighRankings.com)with Julian Smith (Jupiter Research) moderating.
This presentation is really a must for all web copywriters/marketing managers. Jill Whalen is probably without question one of the leading copywriting specialists out there. I have been an admirer of Jill’s contributions in newsletters and forums on writing for search engines for some time. Her presentation was of the same high quality. I hadn’t heard of Charon before but she definitely knows what she is talking about as well. This presentation would benefit not just a companies search engine traffic but also their sales conversion rates. There is no point having tons of traffic if it isn’t converting into service/product sales. A little SEO knowledge can be a dangerous thing and many webmasters stuff keywords in places they don’t belong, resulting in odd sounding sentences that commonly are grammatically incorrect and make a page look amateurish. This is not going to help conversion (and often ranking either as the keyword phrase densities are way too high).
Charon recommended four keyword phrases (NOT keywords was stressed) in 250-300 words or for longer pages 8-10 times in 500 words. This equates in terms of keyword density on visible text to roughly 1.6%. Although nowadays keyword density is not as important as it used to be with much more weighting placed on off page criteria, you really should be aiming for those criteria, or perhaps a slightly higher rate. My own research has just over 2% keyword density being ideal but that was carried out a few months ago so it may well have decreased to 1.6% since then. Targetting only 2-3 keyword sper page was also recommended and although this has been known for a long time amongst SEOs, how often do you still page titles that 10 words+ and target over 7-8 keyword phrases? Answer, very often.