This week we hosted our first WHITE. Exchange, a new event in Oxford focussed on digital marketing.
We held three talks:
- The Evolution of Search – Daniel Bianchini.
- What Content Does Your Site Need? – Bobby McGill.
- The Fundamentals of a Healthy Website – Sam Gooch.
Whenever you start something new, it’s always a bit nerve-wracking. Will people turn up? Are the topics we picked suitable? Will people get value out of it? These are just a small selection of the thoughts that were running through our heads at the time.
But we were really pleased with the turn out. To quote a film I’m a big fan of, it turns out that “if you build it, he will come”. Or rather “they will come”.
As it was the first one, we thought it wise to set the topics of the presentations at a level that everyone would find some value in. Considering that the members of the audience were all from very different businesses, with varying levels of experience in different fields, this proved the biggest challenge.
This post summarises the three presentations, with key takeaways.
First up, Daniel Bianchini:
The Evolution of Search
- Dan introduces us with two key time periods. 1993-1997 (BG (Before Google)). 1998-present (AG (After Google)).
- Archie Query Form was perhaps the first search engine, allowing users to search for a specific file.
- Sir Tim Berners-Lee – the inventor of the World Wide Web.
- During the BG time period, only a few hundred websites existed, and only a few search engines. Altavista, Lycos, and Webcrawler all showed their faces during this period.
- The earlier search engines were not very complex, which meant you could rank by stuffing keywords here, there, and everywhere.
- 1998 was the birth of Christ… according to Dan. To the rest of the world, this was when Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google. They wanted to deliver web users the best results possible, so they developed a “vote-based system” to encourage this.
- Through a combination of on-site content (keywords) and links (votes), they were able to better define what users wanted to see.
- Dan showed us a series of slides that demonstrate Google’s many faces through the years that followed.
- Over the years, Google developed a series of different results, such as Vertical search, Local search, Flight Search, and Sports Scores, until they decided to bring it all together. Dan called this “Universal Search”, and then showed us a slide of the Google that we are all now very familiar with.
- Whilst Google encouraged this change, they always faced stiff competition. There were direct competitors such as Bing and, more tenuously, Facebook, but also marketers who were trying to manipulate the algorithm.
- This brought us to the most recent 2 years. In 2011-2013 there were more major algorithm changes than in the previous 12 years combined.
- The Venice, Panda, and Penguin algorithm updates featured as some of the more prominent changes. Panda affected a massive 12% of search results. Penguin impacted about 3.1% of search results.
- Then Hummingbird came. However, because this is such a recent update, there isn’t much data available on its impact yet.
- Google also introduced ways to personalise results for each user, as well as integrating social media signals to the algorithm.
- Dan then gave us some predictions on what search will look like over the next 2-3 years. It will become quicker, more semantic, more social, and more mobile.
Next, we had Bobby Mcgill.
What Content Does Your Site Need?
- Every search query is a question. Your content should provide the answer. Your content can answer these questions by sharing YOUR expert knowledge.
- Picture your website as a shop, and your content as your sales team. Does your content present you in the best light, as your staff would? And, like a good salesman, does your content persuade your customer to purchase your product?
- Bobby introduced us to the content matrix by Smart Insights. It gives examples of different types of content, and which demographics particular pieces of content would appeal to. It is also something you should make sure your content fits into before creating it.
- Your product pages (or your equivalent), should be the hardest working pages on your site.
- Pillar Content is content that usually comes in the form of a tutorial style and has a long-term appeal. It is useful to your customers and has the intention of supporting your website and driving traffic.
- Evergreen content is timeless content that can be re-promoted because the topics it covers are always relevant to your industry. . It can help to position you as leaders in your field.
- Content Marketing means developing content that appeals to readers and compels them to share, spreading your brand’s message. It can be short, viral content that may only be current for a day but it needs to grab your readers’ attention, if only for a minute.
- You need to get a balance between quality and quantity with your content creation. Don’t compromise on the quality just to get more content out there.
- Don’t rely on users to generate your content for you. If you go down this route, have a solid plan and make sure you interact and incentivise your users.
- Don’t make it all about you. Think about what your users and readers would like to see and read.
- With every piece of content, always ask yourself “why am I creating this? How does it fit in the content matrix?”
Finally, we had Sam Gooch.
The Fundamentals of a Healthy Website
- There are three main elements of a healthy website:
- Technical SEO – Making the search engines’ lives easier when crawling and indexing.
- On-Site SEO – This is everything that can be done on your site.
- Off-Site SEO – This is the activity that happens outside of your website.
- There are three main pillars of SEO. Technical – Making your website ‘search engine friendly’. Content – Gives the search engines something to feed on. Links – Act like votes – the more reputable sites that link to you, the more authority you will gain.
- When you search on Google, it is not the internet you are searching, it is Google’s representation of the Internet – its Index. Google gathers its index by ‘crawling’ the internet.
- Google is good at finding your pages, but XML sitemaps make it easier to find and index the pages of your site, while providing extra data, such as how important the page is and how often it is updated.
- Robots.txt provides instructions to web robots. You can use them to stop certain pages being indexed, and also to reference the location of your sitemap.
- With most websites, all pages should be accessible within three clicks of the homepage. But you always need to consider your user’s experience when doing this.
- If you’re updating or removing a page URL, then Google won’t know. 301 redirects are the answer.
- Try to avoid duplicate content issues, as search engines try to ignore copies of original content.
- Use Google and Bing Webmaster Tools to help you monitor the health of your website.
- Search Engines treat subdomains as entirely separate domains, so it would be more beneficial to have your entire site on the same main domain.
- There are lots of things you can do to optimise your pages to make them more relevant to your keywords.
- URLs should be easy to read, contain keywords, and reflect the user’s journey. This helps the search engines understand the topic of a page.
- Title tags should be under 70 characters, include one or two keywords, and also the brand name. Meta descriptions should be under 156 characters, and be able to attract attention – it appears below the title in the search results, so the more attractive your message, the better the click-through rate.
- Use keywords in the body of your page content, but don’t overdo it!
- Use keywords in your Header Tags and breadcrumbs.
- Use keywords in your Product Titles and Alt Tags.
- Links leave a trail across the World Wide Web, which the search engines follow to build their indexes.
- Forum Comments were spammed as a link building method. Google spotted this and it’s not a viable tactic any more.
- Article distribution was spammed as a link building method. Make sure you’re only linking from relevant sites.
- Low quality directories were also spammed.
- The best ways to build links now are to create the best content on your site, and other relevant sites. This will attract attention naturally. Use competitor research to identify opportunities. Who is linking to them and why. Consider high quality, relevant directories that your audience will actually use. Find broken links that point to your site, and get them fixed or use a 301 redirect. This is link reclamation.
So, that rounds up everything that happened. We’ll be doing this again in a few months’ time, with a different set of topics, and maybe even a special guest or two.
We will announce the next event on our twitter stream once the line-up has been announced. Hope to see you there!