BrightonSEO: the importance of crawl space, semantic search and treating your Turkers well.

A few weeks ago I attended BrightonSEO at the Dome. Having attended the event for many years now, I was expecting much of the same – good talks, friendly faces, and discussion about the imminent demise of SEO.

But this year, one thing was different – the ‘SEO is dead’ cliche was absent in the sessions I attended, replaced by discussions around search strategy and SEO’s role in media.

Rather than camping out at the main stage and watching the keynote speakers, I spent the day in the smaller Pavillion Theatre. This turned out to be a great decision, as I got to see a number of notable talks covering a range of topics from the technical aspects of crawling and site speed to strategic models and semantic search.

The first part of the morning was focussed heavily on crawling technology, with Tony King sharing his auditing techniques and an extremely insightful case study of how crawling can go wrong from Dawn Anderson. The overarching message being that crawling & URL structure, often undervalued in search audits and strategies, should be considered key foundations of your search strategy. Having a full understanding of your ‘crawl space’ – all the possible URLs, their visibility, structure and how they relate to each other – is vital to understanding the status of your site. Not only can crawling optimisation improve site visibility, the number of URLs indexed in search engines are a measure of performance, and so can often be the first port of call for spotting opportunities and issues.

Semantic search and SEO “post-Hummingbird” were the focus of the following session. Both Jon Earnshaw and Kunie Campbell provided extremely interesting (and complimentary) talks on modern semantic search and the increasing importance of establishing brands as entities and building relationships. With the rising importance of context and the growing demand for intelligent voice search, the number of ways users can access content is expanding fast. Traditional optimisation needs to be enhanced with strong technology, smart markup and schema, and concerted marketing in order to gain the highest visibility for all possible entrance pathways.

Jon Earnshaw’s example searches around the Eiffel Tower are a simple indication of how voice search is changing the way content is indexed, contexualised and found. (Note the use of the ‘it’ rather than the name of the landmark in this example:)

Kunie Campbell’s talk on “hummingbird proof e-commerce”:

The afternoon featured talks closer to our everyday work at Brilliant Noise, concentrating on search strategy and how it fits into the wider digital ecosystem. Rich Kirk framed search in the familiar paid, owned, earned media model. The talk took a positive stance, stressing that SEOs as owned media specialists are integral to customer experience, responsible for online communications and the first step to building earned media.

Matt Roberts from Linkdex continued on the positive note, stressing the importance of search and what it means to consumers. He explained that historically SEO as an industry has always excelled in the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ things are done. However, due to its origins the purpose of search engine optimisation -the ‘why’ brands need to invest and be visible in search – has been neglected. He suggested the new ‘why’ for SEO should not focus on traffic, but brand awareness, customer experience and individual customer moments:

The final talk of the day, and perhaps the most interesting was from Neha Gupta, ethnographer at Nottingham University, who is studying Amazon Mechanical Turk as part of her PHD. Generally seen as a ‘black box’, it was fascinating to get an inside look on how the workers, or ‘Turkers’, perceive the service. Fascinatingly, and quite disconcertingly, it appears that although Amazon provides job opportunities, the service isn’t entirely transparent to the Turkers making a living from it. With minimal communication between the three parties involved – Turkers, employers (AKA ‘Requesters’) and Amazon. The lack of clarity and communication from Amazon and the uneven distribution of power to Requesters means that job insecurity and rejection can have serious psychological affects on Turkers. The research is revealing an interesting imbalance between how Turkers perceive themselves and the respect they receive from Requesters, and Amazon itself:

I came away from this year’s conference with a lot on my mind, and a strong feeling of reassurance that search as a discipline is now being more widely recognised outside of its digital silo, and as an essential part of media strategy and customer experience.

image credit: BrightonSEO