This session was broadly around SEO for affiliates, the convergence of social media with SEO and Google’s ‘organic takeover’ (favouring their own products in the SERPs. It was paneled by Neil Walker and Will Critchlow of Distilled. It was chaired by James Ray of Forward 3D.
Social Media and Search Convergence
The conversation kicked off on the topic of social media’s marriage with search – with three key discussion points.
Do Social Signals Really Drive Rankings?
Both panelists were keen to point out that correlation does not equal causation – while pages with higher social shares may rank higher on search engines, this is not necessarily because of the social shares themselves. Social shares help to get content in front of more people, and thus might consequently gain links. Will pointed out that to think of social shares in the context of ranking was slightly missing the point: you should think of social shares in the context of the social networks themselves.
Where Should I Focus my Social Networking Efforts?
If you were only concerned about rankings (which the above point says you really shouldn’t!) then Google+ would be the soundest investment. However, Facebook can generally drive the most traffic, but often times this doesn’t convert as well as Twitter. People are using Facebook outside of work, normally to view photos or interact with friends and so have a low propensity to convert. For Distilled at least, with a fairly tech savvy following on Twitter, most of their conversions from social come via Twitter. The ultimate point here is that you should focus your efforts where you most valuable potential audiences are. Pinterest, for the UK market, has some difficulty due to the small size of its total reach.
What are the Key Developments in Social Media and Search Convergence?
During September, Mark Zuckerberg mentioned that he wanted to build a search engine and Will pointed out that this could be a big opportunity for nimble affiliates. Potentially big changes in the landscape often go unnoticed by big companies until they become huge, so this allows affiliates to get in there first.
Google and the Organic Takeover
The second half of the session focused on Google’s position of dominance. Google is facing serious action from the EU around favouring its products within search results, while the knowledge graph is dampening the consumer need of visiting destination websites. From here, the emphasis on branding became apparent – that SEO was not solely about rankings anymore, and that making yourself a needed brand had become critical. It sounds counter intuitive against SEO, but branded search is never personalised and it has the highest conversion rates.
Google Updates and Reconsideration
Of course, the last 18 months have seen significant changes in SEO, particularly due to Google updates. With the Google Webmaster Tools link warnings, it was suggested that Google instilled fear into the community so that people would manually remove bad links – effectively doing the hard work for Google. Regarding reinclusion requests, its particularly important to be transparent about what work you have done and show evidence of the process that you went through. A handy tip was to send the Webspam team a link to a shared Google spreadsheet monitoring progress of cleanup – then they can see that something serious is being done about it. A recent shift has been in the ‘downgrading’ of exact match domains in SERPs – an important area for affiliates. The key takeaway here is that Google aren’t necessarily penalising exact match domains, as much as removing low quality.
Black Hat or White Hat?
Both panellists were in agreement that if you’re building a brand, then you shouldn’t also be dabbling in underhand tactics. It’s now become clear that Google will come after you, and this will often undo the hardwork of building a brand. So you should either be completely white, or (if you think you can outdo Google at its own game) then stay black hat – there is no grey anymore. Overall, you shouldn’t be relying on one source of traffic for your business, and it’s important to diversify your risks through varying your marketing efforts. Additionally, the way to escape algorithm dependency is to make consumers need you.