Mark Rushworth & Dominic Hodgson: SEO Clinic at BarCamp Leeds 2007

Around the campfires late at night, old Leeds GeekUppers tell tales of the legendary SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) clash of Hodgson and Rushworth at a Leeds GeekUp many moons ago. Apparently Hodgson is (I’m hoping someone can fill me in). Apparently Rushworth is (not sure, I wasn’t there). Anyway, it was heated, let’s just leave it there. At BarCamp Leeds 2007 a gauntlet slapped down on the York stone steps and was accepted, scores were to be settled, the stage was set.

The session with Mark and Dom was going to be interesting, two SEO experts giving advice from different perspectives and experiences. It was an informative and entertaining session, and one I’m glad I attended. The central lessons I took were that SEO is not a precise art, that black hat just isn’t worth it anymore, that being clever just doesn’t work when you’re up against PhDs on the Search Engine (SE) side, and that, broadly speaking, common sense and grafting (along with some professional advice) can carry you a fair way.

Dom and Mark wanted sites to critique on the fancy SmartBoard the room was kitted out with, and I was happy to place Startershop under the spotlight. After some clicking board banging, and when the on-screen keyboard had been located, Mark and Dom had some suggestions. (Forgive me if my attribution is a little inaccurate here, my notes on this fast moving session are a little sketchy.)

We were advised to lose additional JavaScript in the Head element (“put it in separate script tags” (Mark), “but don’t go overboard, we’ve seen clients with 15 CSS files linked into an ecommerce site, only include what you need” (Dom)). “Also move the HTML for the header animation down the page and position it with CSS”. All this HTML trimming and shifting was aimed at moving the content further up within the body of the page. Apparently SE crawlers will only crawl the very top portion of the page, then more when they come back, then more again, so having your content as soon as possible in the source code is the aim.

“Good that you’ve got semantic HTML” (Dom), “but it won’t make any difference” (Mark), “it doesn’t hurt though” (Dom), and Mark conceded there was no harm. Looking at the content, Mark was keen to see greater keyword density in the content. Dom wondered whether we had a news area and was pleased to see we did, in his view frequent updates is a positive sign for the search engines… Mark disagreed, pointing out that he had several pages which hadn’t changed in years and which still ranked very highly (I wonder if this is domain age weighing in here?)… both agreed though, that incoming links were vital, and I’d guess that a side effect of updated news posting is the increased likelihood of incoming links?

Both Mark and Dom agreed that banning a websites Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy and other “non-search-priority” content, using either robots.txt or rel nofollow attributes was sensible, to prevent people accidentally entering our site in the middle of a dull legal tract. I sensed some mild concern from both sides over our choice of a .com web address, given that we’re after a UK market; although they were relieved that we had a canonical domain enforced through 301 Moved Permanently redirects.

Both Dom & Mark felt that we weren’t getting the full advantage of the incoming “this is a Startershop” links at the base of our customer sites as they were all on the same IP address as our main website. In order to gain full link juice force, we’d need to have them on separate IP addresses.

Some other quick tips from throughout the session: It’s worth setting the region for your website through Google Webmaster Tools, particularly where you’re using a non-UK domain. Visitors from MSN Search, have a higher conversion rate. Yahoo visitors are typically skewed more toward females (or as Mark put it, “chicks dig Yahoo!”). The effect of an inbound link fades over time. Use Feedburner both to track feed consumers and for the additional inbound link (did I note this right?). Don’t duplicate content on listing pages (e.g. the front page, category archive, month/yearly archives and so on should all show excerpts of the content, not the full content), slightly embarassing this one, as I was debating earlier in the day that this didn’t make much difference… oops!

All in all, a whirlwind of advice from two passionate professionals and interesting to hear two points of view on some SEO specifics. I came away feeling not that there wasn’t clear way forward, but that there was a lot to do. Mark & Dom don’t agree on everything which made for a more interesting session, and one which accurately reflects the SEO profession. Thanks both, and let me know when you’re next on together – I’ll book a ringside seat!

10 thoughts on “Mark Rushworth & Dominic Hodgson: SEO Clinic at BarCamp Leeds 2007”

  1. “Chicks dig Yahoo!” indeed… not this chick! It was lovely to meet you on Saturday Simon, your own talk was good and this is a good writeup of the SEO session I also attended. Since I dont have business cards this is my equivalent of making contact – stay in touch :)

  2. lol… good to know that someone was listening. The invite from Dom was something of a gantlet throw down as ive previously slated his techniques as being from the book as opposed to tried n tested as my method is… as i pointed out ive tried everything, black hat or not just to see if it worked and have been banned many times which is all part of a learning curve. with 8 years of SEOing under my belt im not one for believing the popular myths without first hand validation.

  3. What a shame I missed this session it sounds good. Here’s another ‘chick’ you can’t doesn’t get Yahoo

    Trying to get a handle on the semantic html part – when you discussed it and the gurus disagreed what was it that they referred to as being semantic html on your website?

  4. Hi Lucy, I think they were referring to the HTML using meaningful elements, e.g. STRONG rather than B (or SPAN with a style=”font-weight: bold”), and with a basic heading structure, e.g. H1, H2, etc. We’re not as good as we could be, but there’s a definite good start. You can see the source code here: Startershop.

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  6. Think of PageRank as being something that “flows”. By linking to lots of other websites you’re letting your PageRank flow out of your page, rather than allowing it to pool. Try to have reciprocal links wherever possible, so that the PageRank flows back to you.

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