Top Takeaways from #StateOfSearch 2017
Three members of our marketing team, Emilia, Shah, and Kayla, attended the State of Search conference in Dallas on October 9th and 10th. This was our second year in attendance and boy, were we glad to be back.
The conference focuses mostly on the latest and greatest in SEO, paid search, and overall digital marketing trends. We heard from Dr. Pete Meyers, a Marketing Scientist at Moz, Purna Virji at Microsoft, and Jason Dailey at Facebook, among others. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a shoutout to the awesome conference venue – Gilley’s in Dallas, best known for its country music concerts, memorabilia, and true Texan food. Check out our top takeaways from the conference in a few focus areas below!
My biggest overall takeaway is that as much as we may not want to, we marketers kind of have to play Google’s game. Google is constantly making changes to its UI that is beneficial for users, but is hurting businesses. For example, Google’s implementation of the Knowledge Graph is great as a user because you don’t have to click into a website to get the information you need. You can get the weather, sports scores, and job listings all within the Google interface without having to click into any of the search results. But as a business, that’s tough because you’re losing out on all of that website traffic. Businesses need to find ways to work with Google and adapt to their changing UI in order to have a shot at being competitive in the search rankings (great talk by Dr. Pete Meyers!)
There are a lot of conflicting opinions on what marketing “best practices” are. Sure, there are plenty of agreed upon tactics to streamline your clients’ SEO, or to organize your marketing strategy, but then the name “Google” pops up in the conversation. As Emilia referenced, Dr. Pete presented a great keynote on using Google’s changes to your advantage. Then I sat in on a session about making websites faster run by TapClicks’ Jon Henshaw. His more “rebellious” approach seemed to go against what I heard in the morning as he spoke about not feeding into what Google is trying to do and to just keep working towards providing the best UX on desktop and mobile to your users.
In this technical industry, there is a growing anxiety around AI eventually replacing humans in our industry. There were quite a few talks about it at the conference. One of my takeaways was that humans will always be needed. No machine can replace the human ability for strategy, or the necessity of emotional intelligence in business. Automation should not be scary – it should be seen as an enabler for humans to do our jobs better and more efficiently.
When you have two businesses that are in the same industry in close proximity to each other, Google might actually choose to show just one of the two listings in search results. So even if a user might be searching for “barbershops in Alexandria,” if there’s a barbershop down the road from you and their Google listing is better optimized than yours, your listing might not show up in search results at all. In general, there are three ways that Google evaluates which listing is stronger:
- Your rankings in organic search results
- Which business category you have listed on your Google My Business listing
- Your reviews
Make sure your Google My Business listing is well optimized and that you’re paying attention to what your competitors are doing in order to avoid your listing not showing up (thanks, Joy Hawkins!). P.S. check out one of our upcoming workshops to learn more about local business SEO.
Stay relevant and stay updated! There are many tools like Moz Local to keep an eye on your local listings and to make sure they are accurate and consistent across all platforms. Listings are living things that need to be updated and nurtured to show the correct information that gives you an advantage over larger companies that might be outranking you locally.
As Emilia said earlier, we have to play Google’s game. The same goes for local search. The way that places appear on Google makes it easier for people to find information, but removes business websites from that process. I learned that we need to be careful about monitoring how websites appear on Google, as well as make sure that business are optimized for voice search. Local searches tend to be done on mobile and that trend continues to grow, so we need to make sure we are optimizing for those users.
Use paid ads to close the gap between organic and paid. If there’s a keyword you really want to rank for, instead of spending your time (money) on trying to rank for that keyword, you may actually better off financially just running paid ads to show up for that keyword (via Bill Hunt).
Take the time to keep your paid ads relevant. Sean Dolan from PushFire told us a story about how he spent months posting and answering questions on a real estate blog before his ads showed up on the site. Since he became so familiar with the website and the audience, the ads and the landing page for the ads were tailored specifically towards those users.
One of the biggest themes throughout the conference was: “If you’re not in the paid-game, you should be.” Organic rankings just aren’t cutting it anymore. Paid ads give you the visibility that you need – especially on mobile. Marketers need to become smarter about the resources at our disposal, and paid ads need to be on that list.
Use the content that’s already working for you to maintain your rankings and outrank your competitors. If there’s a blog post that’s ranking well, consider adding a video to it or turning it into a whitepaper to boost your rankings.
Be transparent and clear in your messaging. Your content is a reflection of your brand and your product, so make sure you represent that in the best way.
We’ve heard it all before, but good content should fill these three buckets:
- Useful – usefulness serves as a catalyst for the other two buckets. People should seek your content because it is helpful to them in some way. Useful content is what gives you the right to market.
- Aligned – your content should be aligned with your brand goals and audience needs. Don’t just churn out content for content’s sake. Never lose sight of your business goals.
- Unique – in order to break through the marketing barrier, content has to be unique. Even if you are just presenting old information in a new and exciting way, make sure that your content stands out.
It’s harder and harder to rank on the first page of Google with the implementation of the Knowledge Graph. If you know you’re not going to rank for a specific keyword in the search results, try to see what kinds of sites are ranking on the first page and see if there’s an opportunity for you to get a link on those sites. For example, it’s going to be hard for a local hotel to rank for the keyword “best hotels in Alexandria;” the sites ranking for that keyword are TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, and Visit Alexandria. Try to get your hotel listed on those three sites and get links from those three sites rather than spending your time trying to rank for that ultra competitive keyword.
Use personas to your advantage when thinking about keywords. Do the research and learn about who you’re targeting exactly and what they would be searching for to shape your keyword use. You’ll find that this persona can even expand beyond keywords and help you craft ads and messaging that are relevant to your audience.
In one of the talks I went to, the speaker argued against keyword vocabulary because that’s not the system in place for ranking. Instead of keywords, we should think in terms of topics, concepts, and relationships. She argued that we should be thinking in terms of semantics science, because that is the way Google understands intent. So while keywords are an important part of SEO, we should keep in mind what intention they are serving.