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Are IYPs and online publishers doing as much as they can to promote SEO on behalf of their SMB customers? This and related issues were discussed in the “SEO Success Strategies for IYPs” panel at DMS ’09 this afternoon.

Led by Mike Boland, the panel consisted of four SEO leaders:

  • Steve Espinosa, VP of Innovation, eLocal Listings. (Steve was the only person attending the conference sporting a tattoo reading “We don’t do keyword arbitrage.”)
  • Andrew Shotland, Local SEO Expert, Local SEO Guide, man of many lives, and self-described industry gadfly.
  • Todd Renard, Senior Director Product Development, WebVisible, which has been in the SEO business for eight years.
  • Sean Morrow, VP Product and Business Development, MyVirtualPaper, which puts a variety of content online in an SEO-friendly format.

The panel started by tackling the gnarly subject of taxonomy. Specifically, how the hierarchy of categories (carried over from print Yellow Pages) has fettered the usage of SEO. However, there was general agreement within the panel that these issues are getting resolved at the bigger local search sites.

The panelists identified players that are handling categories/SEO well. Some of the players mentioned:

  • MerchantCircle does a “phenomenal” job of obtaining content from the SMBs it lists in its directory, and positioning this content for SEO purposes.
  • YellowBot, which uses tags instead of categories (i.e., not hierarchical).
  • Yahoo Local — “They keep the crawlers coming back for fresh content. They know where to put fresh content so that it will be discovered.”

The next gnarly topic tacked by this fearless panel was churn rates.

  • Espinosa pointed out that a lot of SMBs that quit an ad campaign with a given publisher don’t stop advertising — they just move to another publisher.
  • Renard talked about how overselling SEM has contributed to high churn rates. SMB purchasers of SEM campaigns didn’t fully understand what they were purchasing, and realistic expectations weren’t set. He pointed out that it’s difficult to prove value in two to three months; a longer timeframe is needed, but many SMBs don’t have the needed patience.

Finally, this energetic panel addressed video, and the role it plays in SEO. As Shotland pointed out, SMB video is an easy way to get ranked on page 1 of Google search results. Renard said WebVisible just launched video on its direct channel. Espinosa said he’s seen video on a site’s first page lift conversion 300 percent.

Unfortunately, video often doesn’t get published in a way that is discoverable (e.g., ambiguous file format; not linked to anything). Also, Shotland shot one across the bow of the industry by stating that “The problem is that much of [SMB video] just isn’t very good.”

A few tips were also given to SMB video advertisers, such as: By commenting on other videos on YouTube, you automatically create a link back to your own YouTube page. Also, the need for unique content was emphasized. Duplicate content (across pages within your own site) doesn’t help, since it is just “duped out” by search engines.

The session was capped off with an impromptu real-time “site clinic” on SEO, in which the panelists critiqued a Web site from an SEO standpoint. The lucky patient was the Web site of a local floral shop, ‘” The good news is that this site was in pretty good shape, from an SEO standpoint. The bad news is that you aren’t getting a bouquet of fresh flowers from a secret admirer.

Some of the closing comments included:

Morrow: Content is key. Expanded content improves chances of discovery in a long-tail search.

Renard: The freshness of the content is crucial — it needs to be updated frequently. It is NOT “sot set it and forget it.”

Shotland: Put your content on other Web sites. One of the best ways to get high ranking by SEs. Don’t be so proprietary about your data (and videos). Also, the organization (advertiser) has to be committed to SEO. It isn’t black magic, and it may well require changes to the site.

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