SEO and the C-Suite with SES Chicago Speaker Ryan Jones

SES Chicago

The SES Conference will make its way through the Windy City this November. The three-day conference is designed for experienced marketing and advertising professionals, offering over 50 sessions to provide insight, tips and case studies on digital strategy.

Ryan Jones SES Chicago

lonelybrand had the chance to ask speaker Ryan Jones (@RyanJones) a few questions prior to the big event. Ryan works at SapientNitro where he manages a team doing SEO for fortune 500 clients.

lonelybrand: Social and big data seem to be popular session topics at SES Chicago this year. Why the focus on these topics this time around?

Ryan Jones: I think marketing analytics is evolving. We’re moving beyond simply reporting on what’s happening and attempting to understand not only why it’s happening but also what we can do to influence it. The web paradigm is shifting. It used to be about web pages and it’s quickly becoming more about conversations. Now, we’re even starting to pay attention to more than just what’s being talked about. We’re also looking at who’s saying it, what their reputation and history are, etc.

Big data is another really fun area. Speaking of big data, I want to clear up a common misconception. Big data isn’t about number of rows or number or keywords or anything like that. It’s about number of data sources too. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re using Excel it’s not big data.

I sometimes feel spoiled working with large clients because I have access to great statisticians and tons of data. I love being able to tie website actions back into actual sales and put values on KPIs. That data is invaluable.

lb: You regularly bring up “sustainable SEO” on your blog. Can you talk about this concept and what it means as far as strategy goes?

RJ: Great question! I actually just did an entire session on this at Pubcon. Back when I got started in SEO the focus was all about trying to reverse-engineer the algoirthm and try to rank better. I actually remember reading forum posts discussing whether <b> or <strong> tags provided more of a ranking bonus. Nowadays Google makes over 500 algorithm changes per year. It’s simply not possible to reverse engineer that type of algorithm. In other words, chasing the algorithm isn’t sustainable.

SEOs today try to optimize for Google without realizing that Google is trying to optimize for the web searcher. Here’s a good example: Asking “how can I rank for term ___” is the wrong approach. Instead, ask “What does somebody searching for term ___ want?” Then, go build that site. That’s a sustainable approach that will continue to reward you regardless of what algorithm tweaks Google makes. That’s what our focus should be on. Concentrate on the user and try to get your goals to align with Google’s goals. Pay attention to the reasons behind what Google is doing and chase that. In other words, be proactive not reactive.

lb: How is the rise of the mobile web changing SEO?

RJ: Believe it or not, I don’t think mobile is changing SEO all that much. I know there’s a ton of “mobile SEO specialists” out there who will disagree with me, but think about it. Mobile devices and tablets are quickly approaching the technical abilities of desktops and laptops. In a few years, the only difference will be screen size.

What I’m seeing is that mobile is presenting more of a design challenge than an SEO challenge. I’m a huge proponent of responsive design. With more and more searches happening on mobile devices we need to ensure that our sites actually work on them. If we can do that with one responsive site, then it greatly simplifies SEO. Having one site to optimize is way better than having several. It’s way more sustainable and actually allows you to leverage all of your main site’s authority for mobile. I’d recommend everybody get familiar with responsive techniques.

lb: In one of your posts you quote Bill Gates, saying “the future of search is verbs.” Has this proven true in modern SEO? If so, how is it affecting the work of SEOs?

RJ: I think it’s becoming true, but we’re not quite there yet. Technologies like SIRI are a huge step in that direction. SIRI is mostly powered by search but we ask it task-based questions.  That’s how people search now. They have a task at hand and are looking for the simplest way to accomplish that task. If your site is positioned to quickly and efficiently help users accomplish their goals you’ll more than likely be rewarded by the search engines.

lb: Your Nov. 13 SES session is called “Meaningful SEO Analytics.” Can you give us a quick preview of how and why C-level demands are changing when it comes to SEO?

RJ: The C-Suite typically has one question on their mind: “What’s happening and what should I do about it?” They don’t care about impressions and click through rates, and they’re not interested in keywords that grew from 21,000 to 28,000 visits this month. They want to know if they’re hitting their goals, and what they should do going forward. Marketers love to go above and beyond with data but all too often it’s just that – data. My SES talk will focus on moving away from reporting and toward actionable insights. I’ll talk about measuring what makes sense, not just what’s measurable, the difference between reporting and analytics, and how to tie your work to your client’s goals.

lb: What are your recommendations for staying up to date (or ahead of) SEO trends? Do you have any go-to blogs, websites or authors?

RJ: There’s so many people out there writing about SEO that it can be hard to separate the signal from the noise. I’ve pretty much replaced RSS with Twitter lately but if I were to have an RSS feed you’d find sites like SearchEngineLand, SearchEngineJournal, SearchEngineWatch, the official Google blog and Webmaster Central YouTube channel, and a few more shady sites like BlackHatWorld, Hacker News, Traffic Planet, etc.


Hear more from Ryan Jones on his blog, dotCULT, or check out his session at SES Chicago: Meaningful SEO Analytics.