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Our last SEJ Summit conference took place November 2, 2016 in New York City at the beautiful TimesCenter. Moderated by SEJ founder Loren Baker, Maile Ohye of Google kicked off the day, discussing mobile search and AMP. She announced that Google is requiring publishers and websites to have HTTPS in order to use most AMP functionality and PWAs.
After Maile, Bill Hunt joined the state to discuss Making SEO Lemonade: Moving the Needle on Missed Opportunities. He tackled indexability, clickability, and other methods to find all those tiny errors that together cause big issues. Bill shared real examples of clients that saw amazing results once basic SEO errors were fixed.
Bill first discussed the importance of confirming index rates. Make it easy for Google to crawl your site.
“If Google knocks on 3 “doors” [links], and they all don’t open, why would they knock on a 4th door?”
Bill recommends maximizing XML site maps to offer a clear list of what you want Google to index.
HREFLANG is Crucial For International Sites
Bill gave a few examples of sites that didn’t have HREFLANG in place and faced deindexation and a huge loss in profiles. It’s important to align to the correct country using HREFLANG, which Bill spoke with us about in more detail at Pubcon [Watch the interview].
Don’t forget to map your HREFLANG tags. In many cases, the canonical tags are wrong, but these can be easily checked using a free tool like Bill’s HREFLANG validation checker.
Don’t Forget to Check Your Snippets
Optimize your snippets to get featured more in search and use the snippet optimization tool from Google.
Bill encouraged us to ask, Does snippet match user intent? Is the ranking page the PLP?
To bring it all together, Bill’s 3 takeaways were:
- Understand the importance of indexibility
- Don’t forget about global opportunity
- Accept that searcher intent is critical to success
You can view Bill’s slide on Slideshare as well:
John Shehata, VP of SEO at Condé Nast, spoke on AMP Tactics from the Condé Nast SEO Team. John shares insights, advanced technical tips, and editorial tactics his team learned while implementing AMP for their major sites.
The majority of mobile traffic is still coming from search, but John’s team has found that AMP accounts for 2x as much traffic to newly published pages.
They also found that AMP queries get 15x visits, 7x impressions, 2x higher average rankings than sites that didn’t have AMP implemented.
One of John’s specific examples was Wired, which translated its 20+ year history of articles from its website and magazine into AMP pages. Once found, they saw a 25% in CTR in search results, 63% increase in CTR on ads in AMP stories.
Recommended AMP Tools
John recommends the following websites to educate yourself on AMP:
The best content types suited for AMP include:
- Product listings
- Travel guides.
He also suggested that eventually, homepage, category pages, tags, and landing hubs could be good to pass as AMP pages down the road.
One of John’s most important points of the presentation was that if your pages don’t validate for AMP, they will not pass, period.
Some of the validation tools you can use include: Google AMP CDN, [AMP-URL]#development=1, and Chrome devtools console, and more.
John’s team also uses a Slack bot to relay messages from CMS to engineering team when newly-published page doesn’t validate, in order to fix it as quickly as possible.
Learn more by viewing John’s slides on Slideshare:
Our second Googler of the day spoke on Best Practices to Protect Ad Spend. John walked us through best practices for human traffic protect to ad spend and provide accurate traffic stats.
John stated that he liked the mission of Google Trust and Safety Team as a mission for all of us as publishers that have ads:
We keep Google’s ad network safe for advertisers, publishers, and users.
John stated that, “we are fighting a war against false traffic. You must work with ad partners that respect users.”
Strong Practices Build Trust
John used the example of toothbrushing.net to show a “scary site” — buying traffic with bots and not really providing value to the user. He stressed that common language is essential. Use search to see what the results look like and what people are searching for.
Finally, practice on safe ad sourcing for ad partners. If they don’t provide real answers, dump them. It’s not worth the risk.
When it comes down to it, identify real visitors.
Glenn’s presentation after lunch was What the Doctor Ordered: Your Yearly Google Algorithm Update Checkup (2016 Edition). Glenn gave us an overview on what is going on with Penguin, Panda, and Google’s Quality Updates (aka Phantom), as well as how they are impacting your SEO efforts now. Glenn showed us what each algorithm update is targeting, so you can avoid negative impact and increase rankings and traffic.
According to Glenn, Google pushes between 500-1000 changes every year. They first had an object oriented approach: craft algos and rolled them out separately. However, this caused significant movement all on one day.
Glenn stated that in the first Panda update, sites would lose 60-70% of organic search traffic overnight.
Google doesn’t usually say when a new Panda cycle begins, but Glenn mentioned that Gary Illyes doesn’t view Panda as a penalty. Google’s purpose for Panda is to make sure content ranking highly can fulfill user expectations.
If you think you’ve been hit by Panda, Google gave 23 questions to answer questions if you were impacted on their Webmasters blog.
Finally, Glenn recommends performing a crawl analysis and audit. Do a lens through the eyes of Panda looking for low-quality content.
Glenn found and named the Phantom update, but mentioned that Google doesn’t like that name. There were five quality updates in Phantom since first discovered in Spring 2015.
Some of the factors that go into Phantom include:
- Broken UI
- Deceptive ads
- Popups and interstitials
- Render issues
- Low-quality supplementary content
Read Google’s quality rater guidelines to figure out what Google is looking for.
First rolled out in April 2012, the Panda update targeted unnatural links and lead to a site-level demotion. With Penguin 4.0, there was a change from demotion to devaluing sites affected. Whereas Penguin 1.0 left the door open for negative SEO, 4.0 fixed that issue. However, questions still remain about using a disavow file.
Glenn also stated that a high percentage of spammy links with exact brand name anchor text could be affected by Penguin.
Finally, Glenn touched on the Google Mobile “popup algo” which was also mentioned by Maile in the beginning of the day. It is going to be rolled out on January 10, 2017.
Learn more from Glenn’s slides on Slideshare:
Larry’s presentation focused on Hacking Rankbrain. In the future, there is a good chance all of Google’s algorithms will be powered by machine learning. Larry elaborated on what this could mean for SEO and how can brands prepare.
The future has a machine-learning base when it comes to search. Larry stated that Google is checking whether the intent of the user was satisfied or not.
In his research, Larry has found that post titles with longtail search terms have a 3% increase in post engagement & show up higher in SERPs.
Larry’s theory is this:
High CTR listings and long tail keyword ranks get more attention from Rankbrain.
That being said, Larry gave his tips on how SEOs can combat possible machine learning snafus.
Look at Your Organic CTR
Larry asked, What’s your organic CTR? To find it, go into search console, download query data under search analytics, download into excel, and then plot CTR versus average position plot. The middle line is expected CTR. Below the middle line, Larry calls them donkeys, above the middle line are unicorns.
Larry has found that if you can convert donkeys to unicorns, you get 6x more engagement on average.
To do this, you must improve your title tags. Avoid looking boring or spammy by making sure they aren’t basically dynamic keyword insertion for PPC. Larry recommends focusing on the format, content type, emotional hook, and topic to build viral content that gets a higher CTR.
To create a unicorn title, create titles that are different from your content competitors. He recommended looking at broad match data.
Broad match is the distant cousin of RankBrain learning.
When writing titles, remember that same emotions that make people share things are the same things that cause a higher CTR.
To learn more from Larry’s presentation, check out his slides here:
Mark Traphagen is Senior Director of Marketing at Stone Temple Consulting. Mark’s session took a content marketing angle of SEO. He focused on 3 must-dos:
- Create content for listeners, sharers, and linkers
- Create 10x content for a 10x brand
- Create content with strategic links
Most content marketing strategies are sinking and traffic on a decline, but there’s no clear turnaround plan. No one knows what to do. Mark’s talk focused on actionable strategies to avoid this and to create a plan for progress.
The best articles get a high read time and high social activity. However, Mark states that most content gets neither.
One type of content Mark recommended was studies. Data-driven research studies WORK. Try creating studies as a content strategy to get links and exposure. He points out that creating studies that have results that go against expectations. This will generate more buzz, links, traffic.
Create 10x Content
Mark stated that very good content is not good enough anymore. Elite content is where you should focus. You must understand that your audience is likely early adopters and innovators. It’s important to create content for those who will listen, share, and link.
To be succesful, aim to be 10x better at your content than anyone else in your vertical. That being said, you must create content that makes people care about your brand. Know your brand identity and what uniqueness you bring to the content marketplace.
Finally, Mark stresses that all your strategies must work together: SEO, content, and a unified brand message across all channels.
Want to learn more Mark? Check out his slides from Slideshare below:
Keesa, Senior Manager, Marketing at Thomson Reuters, spoke on Inspired Marketing: How to Leverage Emotions in SEO. She provided insight into how brands can leverage knowledge of what drives your market, community and influencer engagement, and the power of momentum to improve your SEO.
Keesa kicked off her presentation by stating,
We desire association. People want to be part of a community.
As people, we desire that others are aware of our needs. People want to know, Do you understand me and my needs today? Can you predict what I’ll need in the future?
Keesa also stated that as people, we desire authenticity. In order to identify whether or not you are actually being authentic with your customer, ask the following questions from their point of view:
- Do you want a relationship with me or just a sale?
- Do you spend time with me?
- Do you appreciate me?
- Are you ready to serve me?
As marketers, we must go beyond the sale and understand who your customers are. By demonstrating your awareness of customers’ environment, future challenges, and victories, they will begin to feel connected to your brand. By authentically appreciating customers and your relationships with them, you can build loyalty and engagement.
To close it out, Keesa called us all to think how can we serve, not how can we sell.
Learn more from Keesa here on Slideshare:
Kristan Bauer is the Director of SEO for Zillow. She covered Grasping the “Why” Behind Local Search Search. Intent is elemental to local success. It’s important to understand how local communities search for your products can help sharpen your content creation and as a result drive your business forward.
Kristan’s presentation focused on understanding your audience and to create meaningful content to enhance the search experience.
She outlined the difference between local SEO and local search intent:
- Local SEO relies on local pack geo-location
- Local searcher intent is understanding how users search and means providing meaningful content about location-based search queries.
Leverage user-generated content to best describe local products/businesses.
Start With User Research
Kristan urged us to develop a user-first approach. Consider your target audience and ask,
- What do people care about?
- Where are they present?
- What are their search patterns?
Kristan stated that google found that consumers conduct 88% of local searches on smartphone and 84% on a computer/tablet.
When it comes to UGC, take topics and narrow them down to understand the search opportunities available. For instance, with Zillow, people are searching for schools in the areas they are considering buying a home in. Cash in on these opportunities by creating content that people are about, even though it’s not directly related to what you offer. (E.g. Zillow doesn’t show schools for sale or enrollment, but it knows that users are considering school districts when buying a home.)
Local Content is so Much More than SEO
Is your content scaleable? Kristan told us there’s a difference between content that should be scaled and content that shouldn’t. Different content formats can complete different goals (conversion, education, etc). Take a look at the above examples in the tweet to see what kind of content can be local content.
Ensure That Your Content is Discoverable
Consider the following to make sure your local content is as visible as possible:
- Internal linking
- XML sitemaps
- Optimized SERP presence
- Performance and page speed
- Schema markup
- Consider mobile first
Common mistakes in SEO when optimizing for local content:
- Slow content
- Not linked to
- Isn’t relevant
- Poor UX
- Not mobile friendly
- Content or links are loaded with client-side only
- No coordination with other marketing channels
Once you have a strategy in place and launched, follow these steps to see if it made a difference:
- Monitor For Impact
- Benchmark pre-launch metrics
- Monitor User engagement
- Monitor traffic
- Understand search terms
If we can provide users the best information along their search journey, this will lead to more brand engagement and traffic.
To learn more from Kristan’s slides, check out Slideshare:
Patrick is the SEO Manager at ESPN. His session covered How ESPN Handled Their Big Site Migration. Patrick will walked us through how ESPN planned and executed the domain migration from an SEO perspective, sharing key lessons and fundamentals that SEOs need to avoid common pitfalls and ensure minimum traffic loss.
Patrick kicked off his presentation by listing out the site migration benefits:
- SEO Benefits clean slate: revitalized domain authority, fresh index, etc
- Technical benefits: relief from tech debt, cost savings
- Marketing benefits: branding
Migration Planning and Project Management
Patrick strongly stresses to meet with SEO and PM and engineering leads in early planning stages and regularly thereafter. He gave us a site migration to-do list to consider when working with these teams:
- Create SEO migration plan
- Create SEO migration business case
- Benefits and risks
- Impact assessment
- SEO Launch checklist
- Bug tracking
- Pre-Launch Check List
- SEO criteria
- Clean up legacy redirects
- Redirects testing (build a crawl list)
- Site updates
- Structured data
- GSC verification
- Re-verify with Google News/Publisher program if you’re a publisher
Use this opportunity of a clean slate to enact SEO best practices up-front. Do best practices going forward to set your site up for success.
Ask Me Anything Panel
We live streamed the AMA panel at the end of the day. Panelists included: Purna Virji, Senior Bing Ads PPC Training Manager at Microsoft; Amy Vernon, Director of Audience Engagement at The Daily Dot; Mike Grehan, CMO & Managing Director at Acronym; and Michael King, Digital Marketing Consultant at iPullRank.
Livestream coming soon!
Watch more of our SEJ Facebook Live sessions on our Facebook channel.
Want to join us at the next SEJ Summit in 2017? Sign up for updates.
Featured image created by Paulo Bobita