Welcome to the Dark Side: SMX Advanced 2008
Don’t let the title scare you (or for those of you who enjoy the “Dark Side”, get excited) no Give It Up! Tips will be talked about here until the full 30 day time period expires. (Sorry. Being ostracized and shunned in a community is something I won’t do just yet.)
This was the first major SEO/SEM conference I’d been to, and it didn’t disappoint. Outside of the awesome information flowing through each session, it was a real pleasure to meet some of the folks I’d been reading and following around the net for the past several years. The networking opportunities were worth it alone. And, now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on it, I know now that there is a real “dark side” out there in the SEO world. Let me explain.
I’d always considered myself ethical and moral (not exactly a “virgin” white hat, but a nice shade of off-white) when it came to my SEO: I’d look to cut some corners, be a smidge sneaky when it came to optimizing, and take advantage of as many search weaknesses as possible, as long as it was in the Google/Search Engine Playbook. But, never in my wildest imagination did I think the Black Hats were as strong as they are, nor as simply creative as they are.
Jay Young, of Link Fish Media, had a quote that I didn’t necessarily think pertained to SEO, but always felt like it should be said, “SEO isn’t about morality, it’s about money.” And, really, in a nutshell, that’s what is all about. Yet, that being said, I can’t justify nor condone the attitude, the behavior, of some of the things I heard at the “Blow Your Mind Link Building” session or the “Give It Up!” session. Some of those techniques were just downright dastardly and could potentially destroy businesses. And, perhaps I have a weak constitution when it comes to being “dark”, but I could never do some of those things, even if I knew it would bring successes to my clients.
I think the Developer Track was excellent, and out of the Organic track, the “Analytics Every SEO Needs To Know” and “International SEO” were tremendous. Tons of incredible information those two sessions that can really help businesses struggling to justify SEO/SEM/SMO to their clients.
I will say this: at least I know they exist and what techniques other might be using against me. I have knowledge of it now, and it makes me wiser to the games others might be playing. Was SMX Advanced advanced? Yes. Was it advanced in a way that would be applicable to “White Hat SEOs”, no. It wasn’t. That’s the sad truth. If you can, check your morality and business ethics at the door, then this conference was a gold mine. If you can’t or won’t, then you’re like me, and found some useful things, but none that you’d be willing to risk a client site over, or your job over.
The best part of working at Aloha Digital Marketing, is that I have a team dedicated to same principles of clean SEO that I subscribe to. Again, I never claimed to pristine and virginal; I want to maximize as many advantages as possible, I want to build my clients’ businesses along with our own, but I want to do it in clean, ethical, and moral manner.
SMX Advanced was quite informative, excellent place to meet and network, but not enough “White Hat” I can really take back and apply to my clients’ sites. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of “burning” a site or two in pursuit of rankings and conversions. And, my guess is, neither do most of you. So, my hope is that next year, there will be ONE Give It Up, not several Give It Ups under the guise of “White Hat” Sessions.
Is This The End of Yahoo! Search Marketing?
Reported today on SEO Roundtable, Yahoo! is no longer accepting applications for the Ambassador program. For those unfamiliar with the program, it is Yahoo!’s version of Google AdWords Professional. Where you take a n online exam, administered by Yahoo!, and upon completion, you receive credentials for a Yahoo! Ambassador badge that can be displayed on your website.
Not only am I out the $50 now, I have to wonder whether this marks the end of the Yahoo! Search Marketing (YSM) altogether in the coming months? Why strip a distinguishing factor among YSM users, to distinguish professionals from non-professionals?
We know that Yahoo has tested Google Ads in the past, and will probably continue to broker deals in the future. As Microsoft said in April:
“Any definitive agreement between Yahoo! and Google would consolidate over 90 percent of the search advertising market in Google’s hands. This would make the ma rket far less competitive…
Goo-Hoo Paid Ads would completely dominate the market; Microsoft would be nothing but a sad memory if Google and Yahoo merged PPC. That being said, I don’t think YSM, as a whole, will completely dissolve. You think you’ve seen anti-trust battles in the past, if this happens, folks, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Yahoo displaying Google ads essentially consents to a monopoly of Paid Search.
As a Paid Search manager, this doesn’t displease me. Far from it. If there was only single location I could manage client’s PPC, it would be a small blessing. On the other hand, it makes me think that rules of the Yahoo! Search Marketing game would change. Would Yahoo! have to adopt the quality score aspect that Google places on it’s ads (not that we know them anyway), or would it continue under Yahoo! quality score guidelines? How much control will Google have over the display of “its” ads?
Only time will tell, but I think I hear a very daunting bell in the distance; it’s their farewell to arms. (everyone got the Hemingway references?)
Google AdSense: Behavioral Targeting?
Barry Schwartz posted an interesting piece on Search Engine Land today about Google submitting a patent application for behaviorally targeting PPC. Besides being intellectually stimulating, instituting behaviorally targeted PPC to users based off Google Tool Bar data and, of course through, as I talked about in Search 4.0, user login (remember, when you sign up for an account, you provide them geographic data) could have some pretty large ramifications in the paid search world.
1) Quality Score Irrelevant?
Quality Score may become irrelevant down the road. If a user continually searches in specific geographic location, then the behavioral algorithm “should” produce only ads in or around that location. Assuming the advertiser is paying the requisite amount to show in a high position, users may be going to garbage sites. Per the new regulations, Google set in motion in April (not allowing the Destination URL differ from the Display URL) it won’t be true SPAM, but for those of us who spend time optimizing landing pages for the keywords we are buying, it seems a bit ludicrous. Moreover, this seems like another way Google will start a bidding war between paid advertisers and generate higher bids (again).
2) Leveling the Playing Field Further
This is, however, better news for smaller companies and organizations struggling to keep up. Paid ads were meant to level the field for websites who were in the process of, or have yet to, SEO their site. Small sites could get the needed exposure necessary to “play ball” with the “big kids”. Grabbing more detailed information on users’ habits, it only stands to reason that smaller companies who have yet to make SEO improvements, it will allow them to be seen for valuable keywords. (Not withstanding these companies have usable and content-developed site to take advantage of this exposure) The little man gets a semi-fair shake from the big guy.
3) Users’ Privacy
It’s gone, and we’re all going to have to be ok with that. It is what is it. Google owns search, and, therefore, gets to dictate how search functions, how search collects data, and how search is displayed to users. The same is true of Search 4.0 (Personalized Search), and I didn’t hear any complaints about that from the crowd. Think of it this way: (which is how I’m pretty sure Google is thinking about it) users are getting the most, nearly in absolute, relevant results possible for that particular user. And, that’s the key phrase “for that particular user”. Google’s entire mission is to provide the most relevant results possible for each query performed by a user (not to mention making money). This fits into that mission. It’s the where the web has been for the last couple of years, and it’s definitely where it’s going: complete transparency. No more secrets (thank you Ben Kingsley). I’m not too worried about my privacy, everything is available out there anyway, if you know the right people and know where to look. The web is evolving once again and, once again, it’s our job as SEOs and Search Marketers to help our clients understand it, compete in it, and win in it.