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Top 5 Takeaways from SMX Advanced

June 8, 2015

SMX Advanced Seattle 2015

It’s been a crazy four years since I attended my first SMX Advanced, in Seattle. While some things remain constant, so much has evolved in the land of SEO, SEM, social media, attribution, and mobile.

With so much rich, jam-packed information that you would come to expect from an event like this, drilling down to just five key takeaways was a toughie but necessary in order to reflect on learnings and most importantly apply them. So without further ado, here are my top highlights from SMX Advanced 2015:

1. Top the SERP with Rich Answers

Rich Answers

Eric Enge’s Example of a Rich Answer

For a long time, video has been one of my favorite ways to easily break into Page 1 in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Now, Rich Answers provide another great option to help dominate those first page results.

Eric Enge conducted a study of almost 900,000 different queries and found that around 20% of the time, Google served up a Rich Answer. Rich Answers are the answer boxes that appear at the very top of the page (yes, even above sites like Wikipedia) when a commonly asked question is searched on. It can display in a variety of ways, including tables, tabs, lists, charts, even drop down menus. Having a rich answer result allows your site to leap over all other results and significantly increase traffic to your page, even if you have a domain with lower authority.

So how do you get a Rich Answer? Rich Answers require you having a dedicated page on your website that provides a simple, clear answer to a question. Your content should not just focus on a keyword or phrase, but the context of it.

For a strong chance of generating a Rich Answer in Google, Eric recommends:

  1. Identifying a simple question that people are commonly searching for
  2. Providing a direct answer on a dedicated page on your website
  3. Offering value added information to accompany your answer

Eric managed to get a Rich Answer result in the SERP within 3 days of publishing it. As part of the content, he shared the page on Google+ and submitted the URL through Google Search Console (aka Webmaster Tools).

2. Test the Things that Matter

Testing Methodology Framework

Ryan Hutching’s Framework for Testing

Testing is such a broad topic that sometimes it can be difficult to know where to focus. With many years of experience under his belt, Ryan Hutchings shared an extremely practical framework when it comes to testing the things that are going to make a difference. When you are looking to make improvements, you test things that fit within the equation (see above).

Since you will rarely be able to influence a person’s motivation (4m), Ryan recommends that you focus your tests around the following, in priority order:

  • Reducing Friction (f) – e.g. reducing options
  • Improving clarity of your Value Proposition (3v)
  • Reducing anxiety (2a) – e.g. badges, certifications, customer testimonials
  • Increasing incentive (i) – e.g. discount, gift, prize

3. Use Gap Analysis to Manage SEO Expectations

SEO Gap Analysis Scorecard

Jessica Bowman’s SEO Scorecard

I’ve used gap analysis for a lot of things, but for some reason SEO has rarely been one of them. Jessica Bowman shared a wonderful way to use gap analysis that can be used to simply communicate SEO objectives, priorities and progress to management. It is particularly useful if management feels that SEO progress is taking longer than expected and are asking, “What happened?”.

The key areas of assessment should cover:

  1. SEO Tactics and Strategies: Where the key pillars are Crawling and Indexing, Content, Internal Links, External Links and Mentions, User Experience
  2. SEO Operations: Where the key pillars are SEO Team, Non-SEO Teams, Processes, Metrics

Pillar by pillar, you list out your SEO initiatives and tactics (a spreadsheet often works best for this) and apply a score between 1-10 for each pillar, focusing on:

  • SEO need (the level of importance a change is for SEO success)
  • Whether this need is on the company’s roadmap, or not
  • What the actual situation is

You then roll up these tactical scores and apply to the framework in order to illustrate the gaps at a higher level.

4. Remember that SEO is About Context, Not just Keywords

SEO Utopia

Rand Fishkin’s Predictions for Ranking Signals of the Future

In today’s ever-evolving SEO landscape, focusing just on traditional ranking factors will only get you so far. Throughout the conference many presenters reminded us that ranking today is not just about keywords but about consumer intent, and in order to get pages to rank at the top of the results pages and stay there, you have to provide helpful, human answers to queries being made.

Marcus Tober emphasized the importance of connected topics that make users happy. In order to win in SEO you have to become an authority on a topic and get the UX right first, before even thinking about link building.

The ultimate SEO utopia is having your brand becoming synonymous with a search topic. Rand Fishkin shared an example of Zillow showing up as a suggestion for real-estate searches because as a brand, it has become so tightly connected to this industry.

5. Marketers Continue to Struggle with Attribution

Attribution Myths

Rob Cooley’s Top Attribution Myths

Four years ago, no-one had an easy answer for attribution; not even close. In 2015, the attribution question continues to be a painful one. Although 88% of marketers believe that attribution is important, 66% of us still use a single touch (first or last touch) attribution model – Jeremy Hull. What makes it hard is that tracking cookies break when measuring cross-device – not so good when users own an average of 2-3 devices, and climbing with wearable technology.

Google’s big focus of late has been around satisfying micro-moments of truth. Micro-moments are fragmented events that happen throughout the day that all contribute towards a person making a purchase decision. Google wants to build a great platform for every moment of commercial intent across the web, mobile and apps. If this is the case, then accurate attribution tracking has to be a big priority for Google.

Google Estimated Total Conversions is a column feature in AdWords that is intended to provide insights into how ads influence conversions cross-device online, in-store or over the phone. However, it does require use of the AdWords conversion tracking tool and enough conversion volume in order to generate an “estimate” – a word that many search marketers have taken issue with. We are told that Estimated Conversions are based on very conservative estimates with a 95% confidence level. Jerry Dischler (VP Product Management, at Google) went so far to say that he trusted it 100%.

Jerry confirmed that Google are focusing more on solving the attribution question – looking at both offline conversions (in particular, store visits and store transactions) and cross-device conversions. Offline visibility will be particularly important in the consumer space since recent research findings show that search is driving more conversions in-store than online.

SMX Advanced 2015

For more SMX insights, be sure to check out my Twitter feed, as well as hashtag #smx.

From → Search Marketing

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