Thursday, May 19, 2011

Takeaways from Distilled's ProSEO Conference

It's sort of serendipity that I wound up at this conference. I happened to start reading SEOMoz at the start of the year and liked it. Then suddenly, about a month ago, they announced they were going to start doing this conference with Distilled, a UK consultancy I had never heard of. Given the content of SEOMoz, it seemed like the conference would be meaty and a good place to get a nuts and bolts perspective on SEO.

The conference did not disappoint, and I came away with a fantastic appreciation for Distilled and SEOMoz as well as the other contributors they brought together. You can find a summary of the conference proceedings with links to resources here.

Rather than attempt to give a detailed blow-by-blow of the sessions, it seems more worthwhile to list some major takeaways now that the conference has been done for two days:

  • SEO (search engine optimization) can be thought of as high tech PR (public relations). Basically, you're trying to find highly influential people and convince them to mention (link to) you on their website. All of the standard PR skills apply here. It's just that the context is highly technical.
  • The end result of SEO is better placement on search engines for search queries that are relevant to your website. Essentially, search engines rank websites based on how much influence people attribute to the sites. A big part of this calculation is mentions (links) from other influential sites (see first bullet), but there are a host of other factors which change constantly as the web evolves. This is what keeps SEOs in business.
  • The economic driver for all of this is the explosive growth of the web as a marketing and distribution channel. All considered purchases involve online research using search engines, and search engine queries provide strong indicators of consumer intent. Net net, good placement on search engines may result in a strong flow of well-qualified leads.
  • In the past decade, social media have come to play an increasingly important role in driving commerce. Social media are a source of information and recommendations. However, and perhaps most importantly, social media sites are increasingly a source of recreation and thus a way for businesses to drive engagement with their customers.
  • Since major brands have a lot of money to spend on social media, a lot of thought has been put into how people interact with brands as though they were social objects. The level of abstraction in this last sentence should be an indicator that these ideas are still very much in an incubation stage. What does seem to clearly work is social media as a personal marketing effort. For instance: local bands marketing to their fan base, or club style businesses engaging with their membership.
  • So where does pay per click advertising (paying for placement in the paid area on search engine results pages) come into play in all of this? There are two answers:
    • It's a shortcut when you don't have time to go through the long link building process required to achieve relevancy using SEO.
    • It's an unmatched source of market research data regarding keywords and the appeals that work for attracting people who use those keywords.

Another discovery I made at this conference is that there a number of university courses, frequently offered under the heading of continuing education, on SEO or search engine marketing. I'll have more to say on those in next week's post.

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