Week 3 Guest Speaker Roundup – by Tim Blair

A Conversation with Tony Adam, Director of Online Marketing, MySpace.com and Richard Knafelc, VP of Client Solutions, Synaptic Digital

By UCLA X425 Student Tim Blair


Enlightening? Confounding?  Maddeningly confusing?

So maybe understanding “search engine optimization” is like learning how the internal combustion engine works.

Could it be an “ah-hah moment” for the left-brained – a revelation on the path of enlightenment?  Is it all about knowing the details and how the inner workings work? (Recall reading Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance?)

Or for the right brained, impatient with the arcane mechanics, maybe there’s nothing profound. Is the question, simply, “Does the key (word) work?”

Tony Adam describes himself as “just a SEO,” a modest introduction that belies his web page profile as “Director of Online Marketing at Myspace, where he is the Audience Marketing lead heading up SEO, Social Media, Paid Traffic and Viral Content.”  He has been in SEO for eight years or so, with stints at PayPal and Halo, prior to joining MySpace.

Richard Knafelc’s career began in advertising, before he fell “accidentally” into public relations 12 years ago.  He worked for a dot-com that revolutionized news delivery before joining PRNewswire.  Today, he works for Synaptic Digital, a company that “delivers a diverse range of digital media solutions for corporations, organizations and agencies globally, which help overcome challenges, build brands, and boost business development.”

No doubt he’s a rare commodity when it comes to being an expert in social media news distribution.

Adam and Knafelc took great pains to show that getting one’s head around SEO isn’t rocket science.  A mechanic’s mindset might be useful but isn’t really critical – just a dose of rational analysis should do it.  It’s also important to know that Moore’s Law applies to SEO, and like technology, SEO gets reinvented every 18 months or so.

Far from being a “black science” that yields the secrets of how to flood search engines with pages jammed with hidden keywords or torrents of doorway pages, understanding SEO methodology can help deliver relevant, meaningful content that users find engaging, valuable, informative and moves them to action.

Gone are the days when SEO served as a tool of stealth, subterfuge and manipulation.  It just doesn’t work that way anymore – or, at least it doesn’t most of the time.  Search engine algorithms can sniff out even the most sophisticated efforts to game them. And when such techniques are discovered, search engines exact crippling punishments – like the dreaded “no follow” – on the perpetrator.

Adam describes SEO as a process – “a very big holistic process that involves using data driven methodology” for guiding business, content, architecture and web design decisions.  It’s based in semantics, query frequency, keyword usage and statistical analysis.

Practically speaking, he says “opportunity analysis” lies in keyword research.  He showed how Google’s KeywordTool works, and discussed how consistency should drive keyword usage within one’s website, blogs and, ultimately, all social media communications.

In terms of competitive analysis, things get more complicated.  That’s when a toolbar, specifically, tools.seobook.com/SEO-toolbar/, can prove useful.  He recommended reviewing the site and downloading the toolbar, especially since it’s free.  (Caution to Mac users – it works only on Macs with Pentium processors.)

So this discussion led to the question of what, really, is a social media release?  What makes a social media release different from a press release?

A social media release and a conventional news release answer the same important questions – Who? What? When? Where? Why? And how (much)? Good journalism doesn’t change.

What does change is embedding keywords – key phrases, really – into the social media release. Hyper linking is critical, especially to authoritative sites, i.e. imbd.com or Wikipedia. User generated content is key, i.e., Old Spice, and infographics can prove especially valuable. BusinessWire, PRNewswire and MarketWire have their own versions of an enhanced social media release.

But the gold standard that doesn’t change involves the fact that a release must have news value to work.  It has to be relevant. Bottom line, SEO can’t help a release that has no news value.

Knaflec said gaming search engines was a sport from the very beginning.

It began with “Tickerspam,” when stockbrokers would reference a newsworthy ticker in a release and the release would appear on YahooBusiness.

He described “blackhat,” and how a Ford dealer used repetitive white type garner a top Google ranking. And then there’s “content farming” -

adding too many keywords to a page.

Each offered their own “top tips.”

Knaflec says, “What makes clients happy is good content, good content, good content. Crap in crap out. Ultimately, it is all about who gives a shit about your release.”

“Any easy way is tie a celebrity to it, but value content is golden,” he concluded.

Adam says focusing on traffic is his thing.

But, he agrees with his colleague.

“It all comes down to ‘pants crappingly awesome content’!,” he says. “Kill you or fuck you! If no one wants to do that, then you are doing something wrong!

In conclusion, he counsels that “those who retain just 5% of tonight’s content will have more SEO knowledge than just about anyone, including those who claim to be SEO experts!”




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