Welcome Back, Summer Of Search

by , Jun 11, 2012, 2:34 PM
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It’s hard for me to believe, but a year has passed since I wrote the column Welcome To The Summer Of Search. That piece was one of my all-time favorites to write. In it I looked forward to another summer spent in the trenches of the search industry, while reflecting on day one of the SMX Advanced conference I was attending. A year later and here I am again, back to the grindstone after a week spent with industry colleagues at SMX in (chilly) Seattle.

Things are changing faster than ever in our space. If you were unable to attend, or keep up with the show on Twitter or through the great blog coverage, here are some of the SEO highlights you missed presented in rapid-fire style as tribute to our fast-moving industry.

Google’s Penguin Algorithm Update

The Penguin algorithm update dominated much of the SEO-focused sessions.  Some discussed methods for Penguin recovery if you suspected your site had been adversely affected. Central to “Penguin recovery” is the removal of questionable inbound hyperlinks, a practice that’s easier said that done. Pruning inbound links means requesting links be removed (sometimes paying webmasters to remove them), deprecating pages that have accrued several suspect links, excluding those pages with a robots.txt exclusion, or shutting down the domain altogether and starting over!

Danny Sullivan went on an epic tirade over confusion about white-hat link-building practices. You can hear the audio transcript on his recap post at Search Engine Land. Essentially, Sullivan’s assertion is that worthwhile links are hard to earn, and that there are no shortcuts. Some SEOs don’t seem to understand that.

An interesting discussion came out of the “You & A with Matt Cutts” keynote Tuesday evening. Cutts acknowledged that Google might be close to introducing a way to “disavow” bad links natively from within Google Webmaster Central. If that ever came to fruition, it would alleviate the challenge of bad link removal.

Bing Revamps Webmaster Tools

At the show, Bing launched a refreshed version of its Webmaster Tools. While this was primarily a UI update with new data visualization effects, the company also introduced a replacement to the old Yahoo Site Explorer. Link Explorer shows inbound links to any page on a given site, whether that link is internal or external to the website in question. There are a lot of exciting applications for this data: link and anchor text discovery are key among them.

There are also new sets of SEO reports now available. The SEO Analyzer allows for any page on a site to be compared against modern-day SEO best practices, highlighting areas of deficiency. I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Bing’s Duane Forrester at lunch about these new tools. He had recently recorded a Whiteboard Friday session with Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz, and confided that the tools even helped SEOmoz.org with a technical SEO issue.

Google guidance on mobile SEO

The mobile web conversation has moved from “Should we build a mobile site?” to “How should we build our mobile site?” To date, Google has only released cryptic (or contradictory) advice about how to properly build and optimize mobile web destinations. However, during one of the SEO sessions, Pierre Far of Google set the record straight.

Google’s preferred format is (now) responsive web design, where the page is rendered using CSS to determine the requesting user’s device specifications (desktop/mobile, OS). Two other methods are viable, including a user agent lookup that determines the device and returns the appropriate HTML and CSS, as well as maintaining distinct mobile and desktop versions of the site across separate URLs (http://m.yoursite.com, for example).

A key consideration for either responsive design or the user agent lookup approaches: inbound link equity is consolidated around a common URL.

Closing thoughts – SEO Analytics vendors

Though not a formal session at the show (there was a “Power Tools” session), I did take a mental note that there were six SEO analytics vendors who either presented or had booths in the exhibit hall. While it’s easy to look to the advancements in web analytics that Google is making (most of which are available in the free version) and assume that it will be difficult for anyone else to compete, it’s great to see other organizations bringing innovative solutions to the market. It’s even better seeing users gravitate towards other tools.

I’ve written fairly extensively on analytics in the past, the need for both multiplicity in analytics data sources and Google Analytics alternatives. It appears there’s hope there after all.

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