January 26, 2014 - 7:30am: I am at the registration desk of SMX Israel - the largest search marketing event in the country - and the first conference of the SMX series this year. How excited can one be? 40+ speakers, around 500 attendees, an agenda packed with 20 sessions and even more promising insights all taking place at the beautiful location of Inbal Hotel. No more waiting, let’s get started:
Keynote by Barry Schwartz: Most Significant Changes In Search Marketing & Where We Are Headed
After a quick overview of the event and all the sessions to be heard, Barry Schwartz starts out with a quite detailed summary of all important happenings regarding organic as well as paid search in 2013 including our old friends Panda, Penguin and the latest one Hummingbird. He talks about how Google is thriving for a better quality web through constant algorithmic changes, by introducing penalties for “payday loan spammers” and also on the other hand promoting online shops with great user experience by making the Google Trusted Stores Certification available.
Next are some thoughts on the rise of mobile search, mobile ranking factors as well as the broader occurance of the Google Knowledge Graph and the future of predictive and social search. While social search is still in its infancy predictive search is on the rise and as Barry Schwartz quotes Marissa Meyer “the future of search”.
The latest events in organic search are followed by the changes in paid search that occured throughout the year. These include more visible ads through yellow labels, bigger ads at the top of search engine results, Google PLAs, Enhanced Campaigns, Remarketing and Social Ads, Ad Extensions and changes in AdSense such as ads for responsive design.
Further topics are ‘not provided’, Universal Analytics and the retirement of Jill Whalen, long-time voice in the SEO industry and co-founder of Search Engine Marketing New England, who stated “my work here is done” after Google released Panda and Penguin implying the fact that “Google works now” and she no longer has to be an ambassador for white-hat techniques.
As another interesting fact, Barry Schwartz mentions Google’s accquisition of Waze, a social mobile traffic app where users help each other find the best route for their commute or journey. (Even though I have never used it, it actually looks quite fun.)
But long story short, what’s really new? What should we look out for in 2014?
- Definitely the rise of mobile search including wearables such as Smartwatches, Google Glass and similar products and even smart contact lenses which will all see a huge boost this year.
- Even though officially not a ranking factor social signals will be becoming more and more important for search. Not only organic but for paid search as well.
- We are still at the beginning but the future lies in predictive search and all the major search engines will get better at this.
- And if you still don’t know it yet: Quality and Authority! Two huge factors that will be taken into account when deciding wether your content is “rank-worthy” or not.
Next Session: Universal Analytics by Daniel Waisberg of Google, Yehoshua Coren of Analytics Ninja, Adir Regev of GO Internet Marketing and Eli Feldblum of RankAbove as moderator
After the oustanding keynote the session on Universal Analytics is next.
In conclusion of a quick poll, not many of the attendees are using Universal Analytics, yet.
The speakers start out by explaining what Google Analytics actually is and what would be the benefits of implementing it. Furthermore they go into detail about Universal Analytics, Tag Management Systems such as Google Tag Manager, the pros and cons and why they should be used or not.
Universal Analytics provides great advantages to further track where a conversion actually happens by tracking users across devices and combining online with offline actions. It is also more accessible accross organizations and less likely to cause problems due to coding fails.
For companies thinking about switching to Universal Analytics it is critical to determine what data will be needed and to plan for segmentation.
Talking about the advantages of using Universal Analytics, the speakers also agree that it might not be suitable or necessary for all webmasters to switch right now since it is a huge process that needs to be planned for and might take well up to two years to accomplish.
My third attended session for the day is: Big Content Strategies by Merry Morud of aimClear and Aaron Friedman of Kahena Digital Marketing
In summary both speakers agree on the fact that there has to be a change from automated spreading of content and simply trying to get links to REAL quality content that users like to share, talk about and engage with.
Trying to keep it short, here are his most helpful tips for creating a great content marketing strategy:
- Try to find what people are really looking for. Look at recent questions people post on quora.com or similar plattforms (Helpful tools can be found in the session slides).
- Share your content with important/relevant people.
- Add value to the community - Create useful content.
- Tell great stories. Use images. Literally.
- Take requests.
- Be creative.
- Make boring topics great and consolidate sources into something better/more attractive.
- When out of ideas: Brainstorm! - “Beer helps!” :)
Merry Morud follows by emphasizing the importance of social media for content distribution and a long term strategy.
Her advice is to especially focus on Google+ since it sends the most visible social signals and content stays around longer compared to “fast” social networks like Facebook or Twitter where content disappears shortly if not almost instantly after posting. Also given the fact that Google+ posts as part of the Google Display Network can be distributed not only within the social network itself but also across the web which is currently slowly rolling out and in testing this focus might be incredibly helpful in the near future.
Further points are:
- To not simply share your content from a website but to post to Facebook manually since the display will be a lot nicer and bigger.
- To create outstanding headlines and use images for your posts.
- “Paid organic social is a must!” Take advantage of a wider social spread by using promoted posts/tweets etc. Tip: Even if you use promoted tweets just once you get twitter analytics for all your posts.
Fourth session: Mobile SEO Techniques by John Mueller of Google, Miriam Schwab of illuminea and moderated by Barry Schwartz of RustyBrick
In this session John Mueller talks about the technical aspects of providing a mobile solution for your users. As most of you probably already know, he states the fact that Google promotes responsive webdesign. Not because it will boost your rankings but because it is less likely to produce errors as for example a false redirect setup would.
Also make sure crawling is possible. Therefore you should avoid pop-ups or unnecessary interstitials that will interfere with Googlebot or - even worse - annoy your visitors. “Don’t be frustrating!”
In addition, use Google Webmaster Tools to be informed when crawling errors occur and always use different devices to thouroughly test your site.
Miriam Schwab’s prediction of future mobile websites is slightly different. In her opinion the emphasis should be on what is really necessary for the user. A trend might be to adapt the look and feel of smartphone apps on mobile websites.
Other tips are to have a mobile specific call to action and to make sure CTA buttons are large enough so zooming in is not neccessary. You should use less text and instead more pictures and also track your site with an eye on mobile analytics.
Four panels down, four more to go. But first: Let’s have lunch in the beautiful courtyard of Inbal Hotel.
One hour later after enjoying great food and excellent service, the conference continues with its schedule.
Very excited about the next session: Predictive Search: Google Glass, Google Now and Apple Siri by Gil Reich of Managing Greatness, Barry Schwartz of RustyBrick and Ari Nahmani of Kahena Digital Marketing
Wow! What a great session. The topic seems to be fascinating enough to fill all the seats, even the floors and have attendees leaning against the wall and peeking through the open doors to catch a glimpse of what’s happening inside.
The speakers talk about how Google transformed from a search engine to being a massive intelligence with a search interface, how it can predict what will be important to you and also when and where.
So by implication as a company you have to start now to be present, you have to be valuable for people searching for services or things you offer, you have to engage and build (local) authority so you will come up in these searches. Use structured data and get Google to know about you so people will find you.
The speakers also give great insides on how Google Now works, on what is possible so far with Google Glass and how it can be helpful and what you should consider when optimizing for iPhone users and therefore Siri such as focusing on Yelp for local listings or Bing as a search engine in general since these are the sources Siri uses.
Session #6: Entity Search: Knowledge Graph by Eli Feldblum of RankAbove, Uri Breitman of TBWA DIGITAL and moderated by Chris Sherman of Search Engine Land
Eli Feldblum starts out by explaining what the knowlegde graph actually is, when it shows up, how it affects search and what you can do to get your traffic back. For the most part the Knowlegde Graph shows up for informational queries and is hurting Publishers, Wikis, Q&A Sites and Single-Purpose Data Stites. As a way to fight back, you should make use of Wikipedia, Freebase and organizing your own information. And last but not least: make use of Google+ to get featured in the knowledge graph.
Next Uri Breitman gives some great insights on entity search, on how Google is finally getting a real brain and how you can join the “fun”. Two things that play a big role in this are structured data using schema.org and Google+. While the author markup is the easiest to implement, structured data for articles is essential and for products a must. If you have a huge site you should tag everything you can, big sites should at least make use of some of the properties and medium sites should try to implement as many as they can if ressources are available.
And I believe it was Uri Breitman that day who said ”When you are using rel=author you are being transformed from a human being to an entity - which is pretty cool!” Which I thought was pretty cool and my favorite quote of the day.
Last session before the closing Keynote: How Marketers Can Deal With [NOT PROVIDED] by Eitan Helman of Wix, Alan K’necht of Digital Always Media, Mark Ginsberg of DriveHill Media, Kalman Labovitz of RankAbove and as moderator Mayer Reich of RankAbove
On this panel all speakers agree that marketers “shouldn’t take it so hard” and that [not provided] might actually turn out to be quite helpful by forcing SEOs to move away from using keywords as the ultimate data and to instead start focusing on a more people-oriented approach. So rather than keyword research we should do market research in order to find our main target group, their potential and what they are really looking for. We then should refine our content, add value and therefore improve our reach. In conclusion we can expect more natural links, drive traffic and at the same time build authority and work on our branding. Social Media can be very helpful in this.
As far as data
- Google Analytics can still be helpful when looking at landing pages of organic search to find out what your visitors are looking for.
- you can get useful insights from Google AdWords campaigns.
- Google Webmaster Tools can assist you in finding out which Keywords brought traffic to your website.
- Google Trends and Google Keyword Planer can help you determine which keywords would be right for your audience.
- you should also give Bing Webmaster Tools a try. It might work for you.
Last but not least John Mueller's closing keynote: Search Quality in 2014
As expected the final session is packed with everybody waiting for the final big news for the day from Google. John Mueller starts the session by talking about how Google and webmasters can work together more efficiently to make the web a better place and to get rid of spammers. He also states that besides automated updates Google does still look at websites manually.
In addition to many other things like great content for example he says, we still have to watch the technical aspects of our online presence and monitor at least our most important pages for 4xx, 5xx, noindex, rel-canonical and robots.txt and that SEO is not about technical tricks.
One common problem he encountered is that Google often tries to tell webmasters about problems like crawling issues but the webmasters cannot be reached. So when signing up for Google Webmaster Tools make sure you will get the notifications and you or your webmaster can be contacted.
So what will Google be focusing on in the near future. John Mueller gives a few ideas:
- Social Searching
- Structured data and rich snippets
- Better web security
- Growth in mobile
- Machine learning
Also he recommends when starting a new project to always use HTTPS which is not a ranking factor yet but “users want a secure web”.
And again: If you don’t have a mobile strategy yet you might already be too late.
Finally some of the Q & As:
Q: When Google shows instant data (e.g. local weather) in search results by scraping other websites’ content, do you ask for permission first?
JM: Some sort of partnership does exist, we do ask, but not sure how you could get involved (as content provider).
Q: EMD (Exact Match Domain) Update - Is there going to be another one?
JM: Currently not aware of details but Google engineers are working on it.
JM: Getting better but make sure .js files are crawlable. Make sure your main content is crawlable. No details yet on how it will be processed in the future.
Q: Should I switch to HTTPS?
JM: Good strategy!
Q: How would I know about a manual action when I am not using Google Webmaster Tools.
JM: You can still sign up for GWT. If there is a manual action you will still get informed about the current state.
Q: Schema.org - Is it an investment worth while?
JM: Evaluate ROI and don’t expect a giant ranking booth. Also there is no guaranty for rich snippets to show up in search results but when they do they usually have a positive impact on CTR. If you have little time/ressources at least implement structured data for rich snippets.
Q: (Being a little less than serious) Barry Schwartz asks: If we all switched to HTTPS would we get GA keyword data back?
JM: Don’t see that happening. Even if we encourage HTTPS keyword data will not come back anytime soon. Instead you should use GWT to find out where people are not clicking.
Q: Guest blogging - Exchange of relevant articles. What do you think?
JM: Content is not the problem. Links are. Make them nofollow and don’t blog just to get the link.
Q: Switched to HTTPS - Now there is no data in GWT.
JM: For HTTP data should still show up in GWT but you will not see anything on HTTPS. Make sure both versions are verified in GWT.
Q: Disavow - Do you use the data for other sites or algorithmic changes or do you just look at my site. Will the links be ignored or penalized?
JM: When we crawl the links we will drop them automatically. We do not have the ressources to do this manually.
If you disavow all links from someone you cannot hurt them by doing so. If you want them counted don’t put them in the file. If you don’t want them counted put them in. We have no time to try to interpret your intent.
Q: Can we get notified by GWT for update penalties and not just manual actions to know which update I got hit by?
JM: No, can’t do that.
Q: The links I disavowed still show up in GWT. Are they being treated like nofollow links and does the disavow tool affect my backlinks immediately?
JM: The file you upload will be processed within a day but there has to be another crawl for the disavowed links to be affected and the algorithm has to be updated again. This might take quite a while. Maybe a few months or if you have a lot of bad links even up to a year.In those cases don’t iterate but clean up things completely.
Q: How can a company establish authority?
JM: Use rel=publisher and provide great content on your website. Over time it will happen naturally.
Alright, so much for my conference notes. If you are still reading: Congrats! You made it all the way through a whole day packed with knowledge and great insights on organic and paid search. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
If you are interested in the speakers slides visit SMX Israel on Slideshare.