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Findings from ION Search 2013 – Part 1.

The author

Epiphany Search

A few weeks ago I managed to attend the first day of this year’s ION Search conference in Leeds. This was the first event of its kind I have been able to visit and it was a great learning experience.

I managed to visit many different panels, talks and presentations from some industry experts, and this post will cover who talked about what and the major takeaways from the conference.

The first talk was from Andrew Dumont from SEOmoz, who discussed how marketing KPI’s and SEO KPI’s should be integrated more so that we can hit the “Marketing Sweetspot”, the middle ground between the traditional SEO KPI’s (traffic, page views, visiors, links etc) and integrate more traditional marketing KPI’s such as enquiries and leads. This makes sense, as search marketing takes on more weight, SEO’s will have to look further away from just focussing on SEO metrics.

The next talk was a panel on link removals and Google penalties, conducted by Cristoph Cemper (founder and CEO of Link Research Tools), Martin Woods, Sha Menz (founder of Rmoov) and Tim Grice. There was an interesting discussion about how a site can incur a manual penalty and how a site can suffer the negative effects of an algorithm update or change. There were also some very good insights on how to recover and get your site showing in search results again.

Some useful titbits included how to disavow on a domain level when using Google’s Disavow Links tool and to use multiple sources, such as Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools and others, to attain all the backlinks pointing at a site, as using just one may well miss a large number of these links. Then you should amalgamate the lists and de-duping it in order to have the most accurate and complete list possible.

Interestingly, a few of the panel revealed that Google’s Webmaster Tools isn’t exactly as transparent as Matt Cutts and Google would have you believe - it only give you a sample of the links pointing at your site. The following presentation was from Marcus Tandler, who presented at a blistering pace - going through an 277 slides in 45 minutes!

His presentation “What’s Next In Search?” was probably my highlight of the conference, as the charismatic German discussed his background in search and SEO, useful bits of knowledge on how search engines currently work and how to optimise your site for them. As well as (as the presentation suggests) where search engines are going and what will be big in the world of search in the future, he explained how he first came across SEO in the late 90’s, when he developed and built a website for a friend, before he was asked to make that site appear near the top of search results in Altavista (which apparently was a very easy task…).

Whilst whizzing through some very interesting slides and some very humorous images, he commented on how Google is intending to use authorship and author rank as an indicator, and use Google+ as the way to measure each individual authors weight and knowledge on particular subjects. However, this won’t be rolled out anytime soon, because at the moment it would be too easy to be spammed. Despite this, in the meantime, it would be prudent to use the “rel=author” tag on articles, and link this through to your Google+ page, in order to build up authorship in a particular field.

His major prediction was that the biggest change in what Google decides ranks highest for keyword searches will be traffic and the pages that satisfy users searches. Traffic through sites and pages have been ignored in the past when link building, with other SEO measurements such as Page Rank, Domain Authority and Trust Flow (amongst others) being used mostly. When things like Alexa Rank or site visitors is mentioned, not as many people seem to care, as traffic doesn’t pass SEO power. However, Tandler believes that sites and pages that get a larger amount of traffic are obviously helping users in their searches, and therefore should rank higher.

This seems logical, and because Google is constantly trying to be the search engine that provides users with answers, and if a large number of people are accessing a page and visiting it and it is solving their queries, then it should be more easily accessible from a SERP.

Following Tandler’s presentation in the main auditorium was a talk by Nichola Stott. Stott spent seven years as a PR and then five years at Yahoo’s search team, giving her a great understanding of SEO and online and traditional PR. Her talk was about “earning links” and opened with a quote from Matt Cutts – “the best links are not paid, or exchanged after out-of-the-blue emails – the best links are earned and given by choice”.

She gave some helpful tips about what makes stories newsworthy, such as “first to…”, “last to…”, “largest/smallest” etc as well as the “cult of celebrity”. She also advocated thinking abstractly when working with clients. Using their USP cleverly, as well as thinking outside the box when dealing with a client in a perceived boring industry or selling uninteresting products. Her whole talk mainly was aimed at changing the mind-set of traditional SEO agencies who can’t see that the future of search marketing is PR and traditional marketing.

There was also a mini debate after her talk finished between Stott and those who still believe traditional SEO analytics and link building is how SEO agencies should work.   Read on to part two to hear about further findings from my time at IonSearch 2013, including the “What Makes A Great Link” panel, a further workshop on link removals and a highly anticipated talk from Martin MacDonald.