By Allan Maurer
While Google’s Panda algorithm changes caused some panic when it launched last February, it proved actually good for most AOL sites, says Simon Heseltine, director of SEO for company.
The Panda algorithm – named for a Google engineer – was aimed at hitting content farm sites, and indeed, if our own search results are any guide, it did that well. We never see those highly search-optimized but poor quality results showing up any more.
Most AOL sites, says Heseltine, “Saw a bump up. We had good quality compared to the competition, which didn’t. That’s not to say we didn’t have any sites affected negatively, particularly some from a then recent acquisition. But in two or three weeks, they were back up.”
Heseltine and his team are responsible for organic search and training across all AOL and Huffington Post Media Group properties. He also writes a regular column for SearchEngineWatch.com on a variety of topics within the marketing industry, and has previously written for other industry sites, such as SearchEngineLand.com.
Appearing at Digital East and the Dallas Digital Summit
Heseltine will be talking about how the Bing and Google search engines are tying social media into results and what that means to SEO at two upcoming TechMedia conferences, Digital East, in Herndon, VA, Oct. 2-3 and at the Dallas Digital Summit, Dec. 4-5 at Union Station, Dallas, TX.
“I’ll be discussing the intersection of social and SEO,” says Heseltine, “and how that changed the experience and how you can take advantage of it in your online marketing.”
AOL plans to do a lot more in that area with its hyper-local Patch.com sites. “We have a redesign coming out at the end of September to make it much more of a social experience and I’ll use that as a case study,” he says. “At the Virginia event I’ll talk more about the thought behind it. By Dallas, I hope to have more data after it the changes have been live for a couple of months.”
You trust your friends
The search engines are integrating social with their results “Because it gives you that community aspect,” says Heseltine. “If you have a Google plus account, you’ll see different results depending upon what you and your friends post about. On Bing, you’ll see what your friends liked on Facebook.”
Why? “You trust your friends,” he notes. “Their opinion really does matter. A recent marketing study showed that friends are still the number one resource for trusted recommendations.”
Lots of other personalization factors are now included in search results as well, he points out. Location, for instance. “Now a person sitting in Dallas will see a different set of search results than someone sitting in Virginia.”
While all the changes in SEO have some people wondering if it still works, Heseltine says there are still important, purely legitimate tricks of the trade.
Optimizing images, for instance. “If you’re not optimizing them, there’s no way for them to be found,” he says.
What’s in a name? SEO
Heseltine taught a class in SEO at Georgetown University and showed the students an example of how you can go wrong with getting content found.
“A sports site had a story headlined, “Lin destroys the Timberwolf.” It didn’t even show up in a search. Everything that came up had Jeremy Lin in the title.” So, as simple a thing as the once journalistically common practice of using just a last name in a headline can doom your SEO.
Heseltine says that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong recently said in a meeting, “SEO is table stakes. If you’re not at the table you’re playing a card short and putting yourself at a disadvantage.”
Importance of video content
Slews of recent studies have suggested that online video is of increasing importance and Heseltine concurs.
“I was moderating a session at a conference in San Francisco and one of the panelists presented a slide showing searches for news, searches for weather information, and searches for How-to videos – which was humongous. There were way more searches for those than for news or weather.”
People want to know how to do things and want that visualization, he adds. “At AOL, we have our own video production teams and we put them in as many posts as we can, recognizing that consumer desire.”
We asked Heseltine for a few SEO tips. He suggests:
Do the basics. Get your title tags and description tags right. Do your keyword research up front and target terms people are looking for. If you’re talking about a person, use their full name.
One huge tip: Use Google and Bing webmaster tools. They’re a free, primary way the search engines communicate with you. “If you’re not using them, you’re working blindfolded,” Heseltine says.
If you are a content producer, use Google’s author tag, which is a way of linking bylines to your Google Plus account. “It’s a way of drawing eyeballs to your content so people can see other articles you’ve written.”
He cautions that “What works today may be different from what works tomorrow. Search engines are constantly modifying their algorithms. Sometimes it’s just a little tweak; sometimes it’s huge, like Panda.”
Even when something huge comes along, he says, “Don’t panic. Step back. Think about what actually happened. Is it a ton of bad links? Get rid of them. Crappy content? Focus on strong content. Something you aren’t sure about? Run a crawl of your site architecture.”
Finally, he says, “Ask for help. The SEO community is generally very helpful and they’ll point you in the right direction.”
- Four tips on Search engine optimization from AOL’s SEO director
- Google leads search, but Bing, Ask Network make small gains
- Google still way out in front in the search market
- Google still dominates with nearly two-thirds of search market
- Bing is ok with being second best search engine for now (video)
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