Carolyn Shelby teaching Organic SEO seminar
I recently had the opportunity to take my knowledge of digital marketing to the next level by attending the Introduction to Digital Marketing seminar hosted by 312 Digital on January 22nd. 435 Digital’s SEO Director, Carolyn Shelby, presented the SEO portion of the seminar and passed on some of her expert knowledge to digital marketers and business owners from various industries who attended. Lucky for you, I take a lot of notes and am here today to share some of the big takeaways from Carolyn’s presentation, specifically about SEO theory.

Since this was meant to be an Introduction to Digital Marketing, Carolyn started by explaining what SEO is and what it isn’t. Many people have heard the term SEO, but get confused on what SEO really means.

  • SEO IS – the process of “packaging” your message in a format that the search engines understand best.
  • SEO is NOT – cheating or gaming the system, and it is not paid search (PPC). You can’t buy your way to the top.

To clarify the difference between PPC and SEO, here’s an example of how Google organizes their paid search results (ads) and their organic search results (SEO):

Google Search Results

The red box represents organic search results and the green boxes are where you’ll commonly find ads in search results. The important thing to remember is that Google doesn’t always display ads for every search, so you’ll need to look closely before you assume something is or is not an organic search result.

The Importance of Relevancy

One big takeaway from Carolyn’s presentation is that search engines love relevancy, which can be determined by a number of factors, including:

  • Content on your site – topic of the site, text on the pages, menu items, titles, and descriptions need to be aligned.
  • Performance of your site – Does everything work the way it should? How fast does your site load?
  • Authority of your site – Do people reference your site elsewhere or link to it?
  • User experience – Is the site easy to use and do people like to stay on your site?

If you’re doing all of these things right, your site should be attracting natural inbound links and traffic, and people will spend time interacting and engaging with your website. All of these things will have a positive impact on your SEO efforts.

Personalized Results: What You See May Not Be What I See

When you’re keeping track of how well your website is doing in search, many people focus on the search engine rankings for certain terms. Unfortunately, not everyone knows that the way Google displays search results is not constant — Google personalizes the search results for *you* based on what they think your intent is, where you’re physically located, and what kind of device you’re searching from. So not only might you see something different than what I see, but you could even get different results on your own different devices.

Some of the factors that can impact the results you see are:

  • Geographic location
  • The device you’re using to search (phone, computer, tablet, etc.)
  • Whether or not you are logged into your Google account (Gmail, etc.)

This can sometimes make looking at search results with your SEO Specialist a little confusing, but it’s Google’s way of trying to feed you the most relevant results based on your personal factors.

Why is it important to know about personalized search results?

The reason it’s important to understand how search rankings vary by person and by device is to keep you from getting too stressed out about exact rankings. For many businesses, especially those who only serve one specific geographic region, the average rankings you’ll get from rank monitoring services don’t tell you the whole story. You’ll find that monitoring your analytics to see which keyword phrases are actually driving the most and the best qualified traffic will do more for your optimization campaigns than simply relying on rankings.

Types of Search Results And How to Optimize For Them

The organic search results that we talked about earlier aren’t the only kind of results you can find on search engines. There are also news, local, video, images, and blog search results that could use your attention. One important thing to remember with this is that you can’t always control what types of results will appear, but you can optimize the content that you have for each category to make sure that the the engines understand what content you’re offering, and that you’re making it as attractive as possible to the engines.

Here are Carolyn’s tips for optimizing for these different types of results:

  • Have a mobile version of your site – Mobile-friendly sites are more likely to be served in results for queries made from mobile devices.
  • Optimize your non-text content – Non-text assets are things like images, PDFs, and videos. Add appropriate attributes and surrounding context so they can be properly indexed.
  • Use Rich Snippets and RDFa – especially for ecommerce or data heavy sites.
  • Diversify Your Assets – It’s usually easier to rank a video on the first page of the universal or blended results than create a new, standard web page and have it get to page 1 of the SERPs. If possible, try to offer more than just plain jane HTML pages — videos, images, PDFs, etc. will all help diversify your inventory.

Upcoming SEO Seminars

Keep in mind that I’ve only summarized one section of Carolyn’s presentation. There’s a lot more to learn. If you’re interested in learning more, I have some additional opportunities to hear Carolyn talk SEO that I can share with you. The first being a radio appearance on SEW Weekly on this Thursday, February 7th, at 11am central.

The second chance to learn more from Carolyn is a SEO seminar with 312 Digital entitled “(Not Exactly) Intro to SEO.” This seminar takes place on March 20th, 2013 and registration is already open. Carolyn’s section of the seminar will be covering on-page optimization including:

  • Domains
  • Content types and styles
  • On-page optimization factors
  • Keyword research
  • How to write optimized content

Use the promo code “435Digital” to save $100 off the registration price. Visit 312 Digital’s Eventbrite page to register today.