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“We aren’t [as a culture] wired for long-term investment, and SEO is long term. We’d rather take a statin drug than use diet and exercise to stay healthy.” That’s how Search Influence CEO Will Scott described the SEO dilemma. It’s not a quick fix for driving traffic, but long term it is the best way.

This was one of the insightful messages, wrapped in a clever package, emerging from this morning’s pre-conference session on “SEO for CEOs (and Everyone Else)” at ILM East in Boston.

Andrew Shotland, an SEO guru who writes the Local SEO Guide blog, kicked things off with a primer on how website publishers can improve their traffic by doing the things that Google’s algorithms value.

Google has recently implemented some critical algorithm updates (with cloak and dagger code names) that have profound impact on organic search traffic.

According to Shotland, the latest update (code name Panda) is all about weeding out low-quality sites by focusing on site performance and engagement as key metrics, among other things. The change is significant. He cited the example of one site that went from 30 million to 15 million visitors per month immediately after the update.

Engagement is a key driver post Panda. If engagement is low, your company’s site rank is probably low. Relevant, well-linked, sticky content matters.

Site performance is also key. Focusing on improving site performance is an effective way to improve organic results. He cited the example of one client that improved from pages loading in 800 milliseconds to 300 milliseconds per page, and says traffic doubled.

Another algorithm change code-named “Venice” has led to Google pushing more local results into the SERP organic results. Since Venice, being a local business (with a real physical location) and a trusted information source are much more highly valued.

Regarding engagement, Shotland said the rules aren’t entirely clear, but it is fair to say businesses do not focus enough on engagement. Social is one element of engagement, he said, noting that social signals may be part of the Google algorithm.

John Denny, VP of marketing at Advance Digital, followed Shotland and talked about the critical importance of good content to SEO.

“Thought leadership content development is a huge competitive advantage,” he said. The catch is, this is not easy to do. This requires provisioning high-quality content in blogs, newsletters, webinars, Q&A content, and so on.

Denny illustrated the importance of good SEO with some stats.

* 56 percent of Google queries don’t show any paid ads at all.

* Organic results on page 1 are between 2 and 6 times more visible than a paid listing.

* 77 percent of users choose organic results over paid listing.

All this feeds into the bigger trend of the shift from spending on media to spending on services (e.g., SEO, content development), Denny said.

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