SEO Smackdown Panel – March Luncheon Recap

March 19th, 2015

by Marjorie Steele

During last week’s monthly luncheon, we were joined by four experts in the SEO community for our SEO Smackdown Panel Discussion. Mike Wolf (The Stow Company), Sarah Mackenzie (FINE Design), Mike Buczek (Summit Sports) and the AMA’s own Jason Dodge (Black Truck Media) took the stage to field questions about the marketing industry’s great unknown: search engine optimization.

Industry Basics

On managing SEO for a local business with multiple locations:

Make sure all your local listings and citations are consistent. Really leverage Google+ by using custom images, making sure all fields are completed and get as many reviews as possible. It’s also important to make sure all your location details are included on-page as well, in page titles, etc. – Sarah

On how social media influences SEO:

It’s never been verified or publicly proven that social impacts SEO, but it’s absolutely relevant. When you’re trying to influence SEO, you need to be creating signals indicating your company’s authority. Google’s index certainly looks at social context; there’s a correlation between good social content and rankings, but not yet causation. – Mike W

On foundational on-page SEO elements:

Page titles, first and foremost. Most people write them too long and try to jam in all their keywords. But as a user, would you click on a search engine result that was nothing but keywords? So write for your users. URLs are another big one. Same with meta descriptions; they need to be a certain length, written for users, making sure you’re including your key product and service terms. – Mike W

I get asked every day about keyword density (i.e. how many times one word shows up in relation to the other ones). Please don’t use this metric. Just use your terms organically; write the content authentically and accurately and allow keywords to fall into the copy naturally. – Mike B

Understand your audience and your industry. Are you creating content to create content? Or, are you talking about something that your readers will value? The majority of people just miss the boat when it comes to on-page SEO. Meta descriptions, for example, are a great opportunity to improve clickthrough rate. – Jason

On what “good content” means:

You need to really take the SEO out of it and write content for your customers. Find out what they are searching, what info they want to know and what questions they have. Answer the topics that people are coming in the door asking about. – Mike B

It’s about understanding search intent. Bucket inquiries. If there’s new industry info to talk about, that’s one bucket. If it’s a question that can be filled in an FAQ guide, put it in that bucket. – Jason

Trends & What to Watch For

On the impact of Google’s announcement that they’re shifting from using volume of links as authority indicators to the authority of links:

One of Google’s top webmasters recently was caught telling his audience not to build links. In the modern environment, it’s about link attraction, not pounding the pavement to sell them. Your content should be excellent enough to get the links. Obviously there are good places to get links from, but ultimately it’s about quality, unique content. – Sarah

Create truly remarkable content. – Jason

On how to allocate time between content creation and syndication/social:

I think a lot of people get that ratio wrong – 90%/10%. But really, that ratio you want to be about 50/50. We spend about half the time creating content, and the other half pushing it out and driving traffic through emails, social media etc. – Mike W

Don’t forget that you can repurpose and resyndicate content from your library. – Jason

Also don’t forget that “content” includes all your assets, not just blogs and articles. I’m a big advocate for nurturing your product pages, making them unique and making them tools to close the sale. This is really important in terms of differentiation and SEO. – Sarah

On the impact of design on SEO and one-page scrolling site design:

Google has gotten a lot smarter about reading content. I’ve seen one page scrolling sites rank really well. You have to take the SEO lenses off and ask yourself if that’s a good way to communicate your message. If it is, then do it. The landscape has changed a lot; I’d say design certainly has an impact on SEO, from a usability point of view. – Mike W

It’s not about should it be long or short, it’s about solving the problem. Think about converting that user when they come to that page. Don’t write for search engines, write for your users. – Sarah

On purchasing social media audiences:

If someone’s trying to sell you followers, don’t do it. Owning your voice is important. Search engines are getting smart enough to know whether that communication is automated or genuine. It’s also key that automated communication is going to turn off your audience, which is automatically going to diminish value for SEO. – Mike B

On how quickly to expect rankings after relaunching a site:

I’ve seen some sites rank that week and some sites not rank for four months. It really depends on the competitive landscape. In niche industries, you can more often get rankings quickly, but for more competitive industries, it’s going to take longer. In those cases, you want to take a look at your long tails and leverage those in a strategy. – Mike W

The question isn’t “how soon will I rank,” but “how soon will I start getting fabulous traffic?” You want to make sure you’re focusing on quality traffic that’s going to convert. Also, every site is different. It’s like asking how long it’s going to take to build a house. But there are all kinds of houses. – Sarah

You also have to focus on the cyclical nature of your business. If your business’ commerce is cyclical, or seasonal, you need to factor that in. Apply a little human logic to the competitive landscape and that will give you a good indicator. If you’re launching a new site, it’s also important to take care of basic items in house – remove your robots.txt, to make sure Google can actually spider your site. – Jason

What is microdata?

This is important for certain things. If you have recipes, or events or news – there are certain items you can mark up with microdata. If you’re a local business, you want to mark up your address and contact info with microdata. Recently, Google’s been looking at microdata for social profiles as well. There’s also open graph markup. This controls how your content shows up on Facebook, Twitter and other profiles. SEO Yoast plugin can help you with this. – Sarah

Tools & Tips

The panel’s favorite free tools:

Google Analytics – one of Google’s suite of tools, used for free website analytic tracking which includes robust, customizable reporting, including e-commerce conversions, social and referral traffic, on-page engagement and much more.

Google Webmaster Tools – one of Google’s suite of tools, used for free search engine rank position (SERP) tracking, SERP click and impression tracking, URL and robots.txt management and more.

Google AdWords Keyword Planner – a free tool within Google’s AdWords platform (to access the tool you have to have an AdWords account, but do not have to have any paid ads) used to research keyword search volume, competition and other factors.

The panel’s favorite paid tools:

Moz – formerly “SEO Moz”, provides robust, single-dashboard SEO tracking and reporting, including SERP tracking, social referrals, page crawls and much more. Moz begins at $99/month. Imporantly, Moz offers a suite of free tools, such as, which analyzes backlinks.

Raven Tools – very similar and comparable to Moz. White label account reports. Also begins at $99/mo.

Screaming Frog – SEO crawling and analysis tool, to ID page errors, redirects, SEO elements etc. ~$150/year for unlimited subscription (removes 500 page crawl limit).

MeetEdgar – a social media publication tool which uniquely allows businesses and agencies to build “libraries” of content, organized by category, which can be re-published at different days and times, to maximize the impact of existing content. This tool is ideal for recycling content, and making sure existing content has maximum exposure. Begins at $49/month. – everything you never wanted to know about microdata, and recipes for creating microdata for your own site.