At SMX West, Google's Matt Cutts and Bing's Duane Forrester shared SEO best practices and insights on search updates to come.

What’s “bogus” in SEO? Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester gave SMX West attendees some insightson real (valuable) search practices in their “Excellent Search Adventure” presentation.

Matt Cutts shared some of the Google webspam team’s most commonly spotted website fails. The first insight he shared was an “Albert-Einstein-level” spam issue. Although attendees have been sworn to secrecy on the details, it involves some major URL schemes … and ultimately, he showed that Google is ready to take on even the “genius” spammers.” The Einstein case is something of an anomaly. “Spammers tend to be lazy,” he said.

Cutts listed some of the lazy, hazardous practices that get websites in trouble:

  1. Excessive doorway pages. This refers to generating many pages to target one unique phrase. It can sometimes lead to basic, cookie-cutter or duplicate content.
  2. Autogenerated content. This practice speaks for itself… and Cutts shared an example of absurd autogenerated content  -a serious question is answered entirely by quoting a Freak Nasty song (which Cutts recited to a gleeful crowd). Autogenerated content is even worse when site owners use pictures of the Google webspam team. (This seems to happen more often than one would expect.)
  3. Keyword stuffing. This is black hat SEO 101, and no website should do it. Cutts pointed to blatant examples by pulling up a Korean page. Without knowing the language at all, viewers can see similarities in the symbols as examples of excessive keyword use.
  4. Gibberish. In some ways, gibberish content may be deemed the “poetic” counterpoint to keyword stuffing, but in reality it makes NO sense. 
  5. Hacking (not exactly a lazy action on a site owner’s part, but an issue that Google often encounters). Cutts says that 90 percent of penalizations are related to black hat practices, but a lot of spam reports are also related to hacking. It happens, and unfortunately, it can happen to any site.  The best thing a marketer can do is remain vigilant, because once hackers get in it’s hard to keep them out. “Keep software up to date,” Cutts suggested. He also said, “Fetch as Googlebot is your friend – it’s an easy way to see if your site got hacked.”

For marketers who want to do SEO the right way, he shared some tools to help develop a successful SEO strategy, including:Matt Cutts SMX West

Ultimately, Cutts says, “Be excellent to each other! Be excellent to users and search engines and give people content they want.”

“Be excellent to each other! Be excellent to users and search engines, and give people content they want.”

– Google Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts

Duane Forrester of Bing had a similar message. He said, “If your content is the best thing since sliced bread, you’re going to rank well. We are focused on what searchers are engaging and how we can deliver them better results.”

Forrester offered tips to fuel a positive search performance.

  1. Move from query measurement to session measurement. This provides marketers with more holisitic insights on the desired user experience, making it easier for brands to publish content that meets user needs.
  2. Avoid shortcuts. In particular, he said don’t believe that syndicated content will help a site rank higher… take the time to create original content.
  3. Pay attention to the details. Forrester flashed a slide with an exhaustive list of things marketers should watch and track. The basics of SEO best practices are now the starting point for success. “SEO is no longer the pinnacle work that happens with a website, it’s the baseline.”
  4. Prepare for mobile. Forrester reminded marketers they have to consider the content people want and how they want to consume it. He and Cutts both suggested there are times when a mobile site is appropriate, and there are other times when responsive design should be used to give people the same great content across devices. In a responsive design with multiple H1s, Bing now applies the first to your SEO, and the others are treated as design elements.
  5. Test for UX. Based on a show of hands, Forrester (and Cutts) were disappointed that not every marketer pays attention to user experience. “If you want to wow the search engines, you have to wow your customers. Build a site that they want and can use,” he said.
  6. Target your optimization. Assign value to every URL. When marketers identify and sort pages that offer the most bottom-line value, it’s easier to invest in creating a better user (and search crawler) experience around these sections of a site.
  7. Encourage more sharing. While Forrester said this is a good practice, he also affirmed that search engines can identify fake Likes. “If you nail your content and usability, you don’t have to do linkbuilding. Let it come naturally because your content is awesome.”
  8. Build efficiency to streamline your time. Forrester advocated identifying using automated data collection to identify patterns or customer needs and fill in the blanks.

 “If you want to wow the search engines, you have to wow your customers. Build a site that they want and can use.” – Bing Senior Product Manager Duane Forrester

Bing’s Senior Product manager also suggested that SEOs invest in new skills to reach the right web audiences, encouraging they consider broader marketing and psychology techniques.

The session also moved into a Q and A, with some added insights on various SEO tools.

What’s the real purpose of the disavow tool?

First, Matt Cutts clarified that the disavow tool is not intended to be a trap to get marketers to report themselves to Google for having spammy links. Instead, it’s a tool that’s supposed to help get links down that a site owner can’t get rid of for whatever reason. Another tip from Cutts? “If it’s clearly a bad domain, just disavow the entire domain.”

Forrester followed up, saying the Bing Disavow tool is meant to aide markters. Bing tries to help businesses who use it, even messaging one marketer who mistakenly disavowed his entire website.

“If you don’t have anything to hide from Google and Bing, you shouldn’t be afraid of the tools,” Cutts said.

What are the most important internet marketing factors for SEO?

Forrester gave marketers a clear internet marketing  to-do list:

  1. Content
  2. Social
  3. UX
  4. Link building
  5. SEO

He was quick to clarify that this is not necessarily the order Bing uses to determine rankings, but he advised marketers to focus on these practices in this order.

Cutts answered the question a little differently, suggesting content and user experience should go hand in hand. SEO and social should follow.

Links or social for SEO?

Both Bing and Google agreed that currently, links are more important than social metrics when it comes to ranking. 

While links reign supreme at the momebt, Cutts suggested that in the long-term, social factors and identity will become more important to a site’s SEO. Over time, the company will increasingly use (author?) trust as a visibility factor. (Is this a sign that AuthorRank is the future?)

When can brands expect the next Panda and Penguin updates?

The next Panda update will roll out this Friday, March 16, or shortly thereafter.

Cutts confirmed at SMX West that the next Panda update will roll out this Friday, March 16, or shortly thereafter. As for Penguin, he hinted that marketers can expect a major update coming in the near future. The Penguin udpate will come later in 2013, and it will be one of the most talked-about algorithms of the year.

Forrester’s response? “We don’t have a barnyard at Bing.” 

Stay tuned for more coverage of SMX West from Brafton.

Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.