Best of SMX West 2011

Wow, what a conference. Great sessions, great smackdowns, and Matt Cutts is not the most mentioned person (this time that honor goes to Charlie Sheen).

Here’s the Best of the Best.

Best of SMX West

Best Lines:

  • Todd Nemet
    • [Showing log files] Look at this, Google makes their crawlers work on Christmas. So much for Don’t be evil.
    • Oh, don’t take notes. Everything is up on line, with speaker notes, more examples. In fact you don’t need to be here, you can go now, I don’t mind.
  • Vanessa Fox: It’s hard to re-read a book that you wrote. You never want to see it again. But I hope you don’t feel that way about it.
  • Maile Ohye:  [sitting on the table to take questions] Sometimes I think that if I weren’t an engineer I’d love to sit on a piano and sing. So this is like a dream come true.
  • Greg Boser:
    • AJAX is good for cleaning your toilets, it’s not good for SEO.
    • First Google didn’t like scraper sites and said we want you to write a lot of good content. Then some sites figured out how to do that on a massive scale and suddenly they were told no, that’s evil
  • Steven Levy: Google’s competitors have done a great job spreading the search neutrality meme. You’d have thought that after what Microsoft went through they wouldn’t wish this kind of anti-trust scrutiny on their worst enemy. But it turns out this is exactly what they wished on their worst enemy.
  • Stephan Spencer: Toolbar PR is mythology. It’s a random number generator. The true PR we don’t have access to.
  • Byrne Hobart:
    • Congratulations fellow SEOs. We’re now Old Media! [According to many SEOs response to rise of large-scale content sites]
    • We’re not typical users. The fact that we know the difference between Google, the internet, and IE probably puts us in the top 10% of Google users.
  • Danny Sullivan:
    • Perception can beat reality. Nofollow solved comment spam! At least Google’s PR issue with it. Problem didn’t go away. Anybody have a blog? Anybody still have comment spam? Who’s spamming a blog right now?
    • JC Penney will hire a new SEO so they have somebody to throw out the window when people find out what they’re doing again.
    • If we don’t rank first when you Google “Search 4.0” write to the NYT and tell them Google sucks. I can give you a whole list of pages that we should rank #1 for that we don’t if you want to report to the NYT.
    • If there’s a link from Charlie Sheen do you rank those higher? Lower? Depends on the time of day?
    • Anybody see Watson on Jeopardy? It was pretty awesome. They had this computer come in. “I will take that question for $1,000.” And beating the humans. But I couldn’t enjoy it because I knew this (Google) was possible. Watson is a joke compared to Google. And BTW it doesn’t crash all the time and have the crashes edited out. The search engines are just incredible creatures.
    • People don’t give links any more. Or it’s like, yeah, but I’ll NoFollow you. Or I’ll do it on the word “the.”
    • People come up to me and say “I used the same word twice on my page. Is that spam?” You perhaps don’t understand the true meaning of spam. In fact, if you’re asking if you are spamming, there’s an excellent chance that you are not.
    • [Asking the search engine reps] Do you recommend that sites hire SEOs so they can throw them to the wind when something bad happens?
  • Kevin Lee: Figure out how creepy you want to be in extreme targeting. [Gave example of “still looking for that divorce lawyer?”]
  • Conrad Avvo: [Runs a site (Avvo) that lists & ranks lawyers] Incidentally, Google personalization thinks that I’m a drunk driver whose getting a divorce and about to go to jail.

Best Lessons:

  • Greg Boser: Google is no longer page focused. The days of Google determining what will or won’t rank based primarily on page-level analysis are gone. Overall content performance is the key.
  • Conrad Avvo: Don’t pay agencies based on ranking reports. Incentivizes them to optimize for specific terms and to buy links to them.
  • Jim Yu: Separate brand from non-brand performance. Reporting on them separately is critical for identifying issues.
  • Steven Levy: A judge once ruled, and this is the reigning precedent, search results are an opinion and are protected as free space. Philosophically and morally Google is out to serve their users. And if publishers fall & rise that’s a byproduct.
  • Todd Friessen: Make sure you’re talking to your PPC guys. They can tell you that certain terms are high ROI. You can tell them that you’re #1 for these terms and if they buy ads there most of the increased clicks will be on the free links. Make sure you’re learning from each other.
  • Overall key takeaway: Panda (the latest Google update, formerly known as Farmer) is heralding a sea change, a new era where Google pays:
    • much more attention to signals about
      • User experience
      • Social factors
      • Overall quality of the sub-domain
    • and less attention to:
      • Links
      • Quality of individual page

Best Exchanges:

  • Danny Sullivan: How do you recover if you were hit by Panda
  • Vanessa Fox: I spent 25 hours writing an article about this ..
  • Danny: Can you give it to us in a Tweet?


  • Matt Cutts: What my colleague from Bing said
  • Danny: Are you copying Bing? Just to be clear, if anybody duplicates what their colleague said, it’s not that they’re copying, it’s that they’re getting the feedback from the audience and picking up on the user signals. [A reference to the Bing / Gooogle copying smackdown in January]


  • Danny: Now that Bing has 30% of the market, do you do things specifically to rank well in Bing?
  • Vanessa: They mostly work the same
  • Danny: Well, there’s a 2 week delay before Bing copies Google


  • Matt McGee: Myth or Fact: Competitors can’t hurt you
  • Stephan Spencer: They can torch you
  • Greg Boser: No comment
  • Stephan: He [Greg] can torch you
  • Greg: The idea that it can’t harm you is a myth. I’ll leave it at that. … [Clarifies that he doesn’t do this] … The upside is that it’s more expensive. … The cost involved in meaningfully impacting a competitor may be prohibitive now. Because it’s more on a page basis now, not a site basis
  • Jill Whalen: Don’t your run the risk of actually helping them?
  • Greg: In Bing [laughter]. Sometimes when you try to do these things you help your competitors because it helps them in Bing. Be nice to people.

Best Stats:

  • Thanx to Greg Sterling who either said these or  Tweeted them while moderating:
    • Google’s Ken Norton:
    • 1 in 3 mobile searches have local intention
    • 80% of fortune 500 have not adjusted to mobile
  • Gregg Stewart: 64% of local business searchers expect the business results to be within 15 minutes of their location (hat tip: Lisa Barone)
  • Seeing 1 ad on YouTube increases tendency to buy a product by 40% (hat tip: Pamela Lund)
  • Ty Downing(Facebook):
    • Biggest Facebook usage spikes tend to occur on weekdays at 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET (out of 1500 random streams) (hat tip: Brian Harnish)
    • 65% of Facebook users only access the site when they are not at work or school – typically early morning or evening (hat tip: Molly Ryan)
    • Reveal tabs (aka Like Gate) increase “Like”ing 50 – 90 % from
  • Baris Gultekin:
    • 64% of Google searches have pages without exact matches to all query terms (hat tip: Danny Sullivan)
    • 44% searches on google have more than 3 words (hat tip: Danny Sullivan)
    • 20% of Google queries not seen before in past 3 months (hat tip: Danny Sullivan)
  • Shari Thurow: 72% of mobile information needs are triggered by context.
  • Manny Rivas: 84% of the share of universal video search results are YouTube videos, no suprise. In Bing, YouTube is only 38% (hat tip: ReelSEO)
  • Angie Schottmuller:
    • 22% of Fortune 50 are using mobile barcodes.
    • Mobile barcode scanning was up 1600% in 2010.

Best Smackdowns:

  • Will Scott takes on Yelp’s Dylan Swift. Dylan suggest people solicit reviews (though this is against Yelp’s official policy). Will’s angry reaction includes tips on how to spam Yelp. See Lisa Barone’s Up Close with Yelp.
  • Meanwhile in the adjacent room Avi Wilenski gave an example of crowdsource-spamming the Google Instant results to restore the good name of a client tarnished by Google Instant results like “Bob’s Carpets scam.” Google Product Manager Othan Hannson made clear that Google viewed this kind of thing as an abuse to which they might take action. Avi said “give us somebody to talk to at Google and I won’t have to spam.” Got a big applause. [Google is the (mostly) benevolent (in my view) dictator of much of the Web. The strong applause helped indicate how much anger there is. And if you’re asking, I think any attempt to change this situation will only make things worse.]
  • Marshall Simmonds (with since 1999 and then NYT) and Maile Ohye (Google) gave conflicting answers regarding using Canonical URLs for sending a paginated article back to the first page. Marshall said it was fine. Maile said no. “Believe me, if the page isn’t a subset of the other, it’s a signal. You can believe him or you can believe me, who was talking to our indexing people the other day.” She later Tweeted “Let’s be clear: it’s called rel=”canonical” not rel=”theme.” It’s for dups, very similar, or in rare cases a subset.”

Best Conference Tweets:

  • @ShaneEubanks: Had a bit of a Freudian slip today in the expo hall at #smx when I asked the bing rep “what are you doing here?” oops…
  • @toddmintz: The session speakers who follow @aimclear tend to display that “I just got hit by a truck look”
    • @SusanEsperanza: So do the livebloggers
  • @oilman: good way to not be #1 for something anymore is to tell a room full of SEOs that you’re #1 for something

Best Serendipitous Tweets:

  • When Google and Bing were discussing the potential that using Social Signals for search would lead to paid Tweets spamming the system, a sponsored Tweet from @problogger promoting eHow scrolled by.
  • During the Do Not Track panel Tweeted their just published article on the issue Just How Many Opt-Ins Will European Web Surfers Have To Wade Through?

Best Intros:

All from Danny:

  • Next up we have Vanessa Fox who may sound eerily like Google, but she’s not of Google
  • And Jill Whalen, owner of Trademarks on “I told you this in 1996” and “If you’d only listened to me in 1997”
  • Rich Skrenta founded the Opening Directory. Now he bans the Open Directory.

Best Mistakes:

  • Maile Ohye: People put a rel canonical and the URL it points to is disallowed in robots.txt. Oops.
  • The imcharity site used for SMX charity events is ignored between events. It got hacked. People searching for it got cialis ads. Nobody noticed till right before the conference when it was pretty much too late. Result: online registrations way down from last year. Lesson: pay attention to your site even at off-times and keep it safe.
  • Steven Levy: Throughout Google’s history there’s been panic that they’re getting big and have to change. In 2001 Larry & Sergey feared that they had too many middle managers and they were going to fire all of them. HR said NO. They did it anyway. And it was terrible. People wanted to be managed. They had to roll it back [Probably a more difficult rollback than a a failed site feature]

Best New Terms:

(New to me, anyway)

  • Like-gating: encouraging a FB visitor to like you before they can see content on your FB page. (from Facebook’s Ty Downing)
  • Like farms: Spammy groups on a social network that just like each other’s stuff (from Bing’s Paul Yiu)

Best Analogies:

  • Steven Levy: I wrote a story about the Educational Testing System. They insisted that their tests couldn’t be gamed, coaching wouldn’t help. I did a story showing that their social scientists did studies proving the opposite, and they suppressed those. Ultimately the admitted it. When Google talks to you it reminds me of what the ETS says now. It’s not coaching. It’s teaching. You’re teaching how to expand your vocabulary and improve your math skills. Google says don’t design for us, just make your web site better.
  • Danny Sullivan: People talk about this ideal world where the search engine just knows what’s good and you don’t have to do anything. That’s never happening. We’re never going to get that happy-go-lucky world. It’s like saying I want the WSJ to cover me and not researching that sites that WSJ does cover have PR firms that know how to pitch a story. And you sit back and say “No, the WSJ should find me.”

Best Stories:

  • Steven Levy: Google people are suckers for metrics. I remember somebody was arguing something to the board. They asked him “how sure are you that this will work.” He said 87%. They went with it. I asked him where the number came from. He said he just made it up.
  • Bruce Clay: I had 2 Fortune 500 companies come to me after losing their traffic on major keywords: 200K visits / day. Lost them. Big companies. In a little corner division of the company some guy got paid for ranking and traffic. So he bought links. It was all under the main domain. That little guy knocked out the main domain. Took forever to find it.

Other Favorite Moments:

  • Maybe this is a standard euphemism but I loved how Justin Briggs referred to Targeted Links, including discussing how you want to run a content initiative at the same time that you acquire Targeted Links so that there can be a reason associated with the gain of links. It’s a fascinating charade. Sort of a conspiracy of silence, games, and euphemisms so we can play make believe that buying links isn’t a key part of SEO.
  • The Ask the SEOs sessions used to be battles between Black and White. Now, with the same participants, it’s between “focus on users” and “focus on creating the footprint that sites that focus on users have.” It seemed that Vanessa found this debate far more frustrating than when her fellow panelists were simply black hats.

Best Coverage:

Got more? Help me out by Tweeting me at @GilR with more nominations (and corrections). Thanx!