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Monday, December 4, 2023

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Ask The SEOs At #SMX Advanced


This popular annual panel at SMX Advanced was headed by Greg BoserTodd Friesen, Carolyn Shelby and Cindy Krum, and moderated by Danny Sullivan.

Boser and Friesen are former black-hats turned white, and top SEO consultants with over 30 years combined experience. Friesen now heads the search team at SalesForce and provided a great big-brand perspective. Boser is a professed Google detractor and provides a contrary, if somewhat snarky, perspective. Carolyn represents one of the biggest newspaper publishers in the nation, and Cindy is also a long-time expert with a particular focus in mobile SEO.

The session started off on an amusing note with Danny checking the list of submitted questions and saying, “Oh dear.” The questions ranged from very basic to fairly advanced, and the discourse was entertaining (the panelists agreed that the questions and answers themselves were largely lacking in diversity). Some of the major points made:

  • In response to a question about the length and visibility of keywords, Greg Boser said he thinks SEOs that drone on about the long tail just suck. He says don’t cut off your head (term) — it needs to be part of a long term strategy.
  • When asked about the differences between paid search and SEO, the panelists agreed that paid speaks to a different part of the sales cycle — a more transactional intent — and that SEO is better for providing information. For more on this, check out “The Informational Content Advantage.”
  • The panel was unanimously disgusted with You Tube completely taking over video results, and Cindy pointed out that Google obviously wants to own the streaming media space. She wouldn’t be surprised if Google Play and YouTube merge soon.

SubDomains Vs. SubFolders

Apparently the subdomain vs. subfolder argument continues, but these veteran SEOs were all in agreement that a subfolder seems to perform better for terms that are related to the main domain.

The questioner specifically mentioned that Google stated they treat subdomains and subfolders the same way. Carolyn made the excellent point that you have to listen carefully to what Google says: They do treat them the same way, watching for inbound factors and signals like any page. But she said these signals are typically stronger for subfolders.

Greg added that subdomains are treated more like external links to the main domain. Todd put the conversation to bed by stating that, at SalesForce, they just recently moved their blog from a subdomain to a subfolder — and the organic traffic went way up after the change.

Unusual Redirect Strategies

An interesting statement made by Maile Ohye in the Advanced Technical SEO session earlier that morning was brought up again in this session. The question asked of her was, “Why would a domain that is 301 redirected — with a site move request and everything — still show up on a site: search?” This panel noted that the question had already been asked and answered earlier, so they skipped it.

Since I spoke at the earlier session, I’ll fill you in. Here’s the deal: Maile said that the site:search is only used by webmasters, not by “regular users.” Google knows that the experience there is different from regular search terms, but they have no plans to fix it. She said you might get unusual results with a site:search at any time.

I asked her if she thought they might add the ability to see a list of indexed pages to Google Search Console instead, and she said she would take the feedback to the team in charge.

Another interesting question was recycled from the earlier session. An audience member said they had been recommended to use canonicals to move to https first, and then told to 301 redirect after the canonicals had been indexed. Maile answered this question in the earlier session and said not to do that — to just 301 redirect from the start. The panelists in this session were in agreement: Don’t do it.

Greg: Canonicals suck.

Todd: The migration is so easy to do with 301s. Don’t complicate it.

Carolyn: You could accidentally create a loop.

Danny: That would be a nice feature in Search Console, like the preferred domain.

Cindy: That would simplify things — if it worked.

Google/Twitter Partnership Is Not The Next Big Thing

The next question was about Google’s recent deal with Twitter to show tweets in search results again. The questioner asked how SEOs should optimize for this.

The panelists said they had not seen Twitter results in the wild yet and felt it would be very hard to optimize for something so real-time. Carolyn has heard that there’s a threshold of followers required to appear in search results. Danny says it’s probably more likely to trigger on things that are trending, and it’s chronological. Greg thinks we have better things to worry about.

Best SEO Tips

To wrap up, Danny asked the panelists what they think matters most in SEO.

Greg/Todd recommended that practitioners look to the future and stop focusing on now. In other words, focus on where Google wants to go, and design your site and your experiences to work with that. (They reminded the attendees that Google let us know mobile was going to be a big deal for a long time before it was.) Cindy noted that when you get in early, you get the chance to test, break and fix.

Greg further added that when Google scrapes all of your content and the cyborg is complete, then links will die because they won’t need them anymore. Until then, links matter.

Danny pushes them: What do they think are the most important things for SEO right now?

Todd: I’m really big on speed. Push to render faster and faster to improve experience. It’s easy, you don’t have to write content for it.

Greg: Fix your crawl problems, and stop wasting crawl budget. Your stuff may be canonical-ed, but you’re still wasting time.

Carolyn: Clean your code. It can dilute relevancy and slow things down.

Cindy: On top of clean code, use crawlable code — stop with the infinite scroll and single-page stuff unless you really know how to code it.

Greg: How many of you are using infinite scroll to hide footer links? Come on, you know you’re doing it. Everyone’s doing it.

Todd: STOP using carousels. (That’s not really SEO, it’s just a thing of mine.)

Finally, Danny asked them what their favorite part of SEO was. Carolyn responded, “Job security,” which generated a round of applause from the crowd. The panel also agreed that conferences like SMX were a favorite aspect of SEO.

Advanced? SEO

The panel was very entertaining and an enjoyable way to wrap up the conference. Many people may not notice that at SMX Advanced (unlike all other SMX conferences), there is no “Ask The Search Engines” session. I talked to Duane Forrester of Bing at lunch about this, and he said that this is because “Ask The Search Engines” is not advanced by default — they’re not allowed to share the advanced stuff.

Heading into this session, I questioned its place at an “Advanced” conference as well. I enjoyed the conversation and the jokes, but I didn’t feel like any of the questions or answers were particularly advanced in nature.

However, when I caught up with a fellow attendee afterwards, she said that while the session may not have been especially “advanced,” hearing confirmation of tactics and strategies from veteran SEOs gives her ammunition to go back to her team and validate her recommendations. I guess that’s really what we’re all there for anyway: to confirm, to validate, and to share.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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