After taking break from MozCon last year, I returned for the sixth time to the Seattle-based digital marketing conference. This year’s pilgrimage was also a great chance to catch up with the friends I’ve made over the five years I’ve been going to the event and visit their cities (Santa Cruz, Kansas City and Nashville).
It is a real testament to the strong community that Moz has built through Mozcon – and one of the reasons why I keep going back. Thanks to my friends for making me feel a part of it last year anyway with the #wishwojwashere hashtag – see below!
— Heather Physioc (@HeatherPhysioc) 11 July 2018
Another reason why I keep going back though is that Moz continues to do a great job of creating a three-day program that teaches us so much about the trends and discoveries in search engine optimisation. As usual, the line up was filled with some of the brightest minds in our industry, each bringing their unique takes and actionable advice. I’ve distilled pages and pages of notes down to this MozCon roundup. It’s been structured as 15 important questions about SEO, answered by these exceptional speakers who also offer advice and tactics to help you navigate this next year of digital marketing.
In this post, I’m going to channel Mozcon 2019 in order to answer the following 15 SEO questions:
- Future of SEO
- Link Building
- Local SEO
- SEO Mindset
- General SEO
- Extras – Tools, Tips & Tricks
Future of SEO
It was Malcolm X who said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Businesses that can look to the future of SEO and prepare themselves for what’s to come will be giving themselves a head start.
So, what does the future of SEO look like? It looks like zero clicks.
What do zero-clicks mean?
Day 1 of Mozcon 2019 started with Moz’s founder, now of Sparktoro, Rand Fishkin who talked about the state of affairs of web search in 2019. The presence of Google properties in the SERPs has grown massively, as well as Google’s ability to provide an answer to the searcher’s query immediately. This has resulted in more zero clicks than ever(fewer people are clicking on your website – great, thanks big G – more on this later).
What this means is that you could be seeing your impressions go up but clicks going down, in Search Console. Consider voice search as part of your future strategy because a lot of these aforementioned query types work well when you talk to your Google Home, Alexa, etc. It also means you need to prioritise the keywords that actually send traffic to your site and stop investing in those that yield zero clicks!
“Mobile didn’t kill desktop, it just killed our free time”
He also mentioned that, “Mobile didn’t kill desktop, it just killed our free time” – meaning desktop is still highly relevant. It shouldn’t be excluded in conversations. We are tending nowadays to speak about Mobile-First, but we need to be careful to distinguish that with Mobile-Only. As the chart below shows, we are still spending about the same amount of time on desktop as we did 10 years ago, however, our time on mobile is 12 times as much (and almost the same as desktop).
Source: Internet Trends 2019 – BOND
Google manipulates search results for highly sensitive queries around mass shootings, vaccines, flat earth, fake news etc, by excluding domains that are not authoritative. What this means for us is that we need to make sure our sites are seen as authoritative as Google is looking for authoritative consensure – and it’s up to us to build these signals.
There is a high correlation between social shares and rankings so continue to utilise social as a channel to connect with your customers. The effect is not direct but often tertiary. For example, something shared will likely correlate with authority as the types of content shared tend to rank well in Google.
Social is an important channel for search because, in effect, it allows you to earn links from high-authority sources without outreach. It also opens you up to traffic from link likely audiences. You can use it to generate brand search demand for your content and get more subscribers. And let’s not forget that diversity of traffic (social, referral, direct etc) is also important.
What does voice mean for search marketers?
A good example of this is that a one year old can’t type but can use voice search to “accidentally” order stuff on Alexa.
It’s important we start to implement more speakable schema mark-up on our e-commerce websites to cater for voice search, as 25% of people are using voice to make a purchase.
We also need to optimise for chatbots as this will help drive more leads. The chatbot is the digital assistant or stepping stone that allows brands to more easily reach their customers and vice versa. Optimising for chatbots includes putting question and answer content onto your website. This is so that when a user asks a question, the chatbot knows what content to match to it and therefore what answer to provide.
What are Fraggles?
Cindy Crum from Mobile Moxie presented about the SERP of the future. In the context of mobile search results pages, fraggles are the more complex code “fragments” existing on dynamic websites and web-apps (as opposed to easily crawlable HTML) that has forced Google to shift to a more advanced, entity-based system of indexing. They are very important to consider in Mobile-First indexing.
“Fraggles represent individual parts (fragments) of a page for which Google overlayed a “handle” or “jump-link” (aka named-anchor, bookmark, etc.) so that a click on the result takes the users directly to the part of the page where the relevant fragment of text is located.” – Cindy Crum
Crawling web pages was Google’s initial method of discovering the web back in ‘98. If you think back to Google’s mission statement, which in part talks about organising information (making it universally accessible and useful) then in this context, web pages are an inefficient way to organise answers (this information they speak of).
Google is, and has been for a while, organising the world’s information in its knowledge graph through a series of entity relationships that are language (or query) agnostic. Cindy refers to this as “Entity-First Indexing”. For example, the relationship between mother & daughter is universal across all languages. So the relationship and context between words on your web pages are important so Google can “jump” to the right fraggle (fragment of information) and return the answer to the user.
I like to think about it a bit like how a DBA (database administrator) would organise a database with a series of parent to child relationships. We should consider approaching our content planning in such a way.
An interesting point Cindy raised is that on PWAs (Progressive Web Apps), Google is crawling the API to the service worker, which supports the idea I’ve had for a while that we need to feed Google content directly. The most primitive example is RSS as how blogs and podcasts are consumed. Then we have schema.org markup where we can describe to Google specific details about the web page content; whether it be a product, a review, an organisation, a person etc. The Google Indexing API is quite new and allows you to add job posting and livestream structured information direct into the search results.
She says, “Indexing via API makes Google faster and less reliant on links.”
Be aware of the different SERP features that appear for each query and structure your content not just by keyword or keyword theme, but consider the relationship and hierarchy between other keywords.
Content advocate Seth Godin said, “Content marketing is the only marketing left.” I guess it depends on how you look at it. But as SEOs, we must remember that the internet is a universe of content – not just links and code.
How do you uncover content ideas without just relying on keywords?
Ross Simmonds came up with a simple 3 step process, which is adapted from the “steal like an artist” concept, where you find something that has worked before and you create a better version of it. He’s distilled this down to: Research > Rethink > Remix.
The first 2 parts of the process are about user fit, where we examine channels and the content. The last part is looking at whether the content fits in the market.
Some examples of remixing content include:
- Scraping forums for old conversations that had engagement and start a new conversation in a 2019 relevant community – e.g. Growth Hackers, Quora, Reddit
- Listing in Product Hunt if you are a SaaS or App business
- Joining Facebook Groups in your respective industry and recreating the top and most engaged with content
- Looking at your own content and matching proper user intent, e.g. “Best” keywords generally expect content containing lists. Another example is “what is” type queries work well when glossaries are presented (see SEO Learning Center on Moz / Salesforce learning centre)
How do you make your content memorable?
Content needs to be super interesting to work well these days. Long gone are the days when a page of only text would rank well, because it’s no longer considered a quality result. Casie Gillette talked about how to make content remarkable by presenting it differently using a variety of multimedia.
BuzzSumo is useful for content research. They also have an influencer tool to see who is engaging with what / sharing what content.
Stock images suck, so create your own photos!
Include the location of photos in your content and in the actual photos. There’s a reason why people ask, “where are you from?” when they first meet you! Here are a few of the resources that Casie shared to help speed up content production and make it more memorable:
- com – free chrome extension to crop and do simple edits
- bg – removes backgrounds. Absolute gamechanger!
- Snappa – better version of Canva
- co – screen recordings & converts to GIFs
- Keywords Everywhere – Chrome extension for keyword research
- Esummarizer – summarises complex docs – could be good for overviews and external summaries that link to the full post
How can content influence rankings and help generate more leads?
I saw Andy Crestodina at CTAConf17 in Vancouver where he shared some great content tips. One, which I’m still yet to do but is on the list, is to go through your inbox and find any questions you’ve previously answered for customers. Then, produce blog content for each question and answer.
This year he shared a few more gems such as listening to what people say in your industry and find the missing stat. Only 47% of companies publish original research.
Sometimes it’s good to remind people of our core purpose as SEOs:
“Your goal should be to make the best page on the internet for the topic.”
Funnily enough, it was the most popular Tweet of the conference – let’s not forget to focus on making quality content for the user.
Q: Which formats for content are getting the best results for bloggers?
A: Guides, ebooks, original research.
— Andy Crestodina (@crestodina) 16 October 2019
Another interesting tip was to use URLs that are easy to reuse later – avoid numbers.
Andy has written a great book called Content Chemistry, which is a must-read for any content team.
When we think about link building, as SEOs sometimes we’re unable to see past the next hyperlink. But there’s a bigger picture. We need to ask ourselves, what does link building represent? The answer is authority, which is something that traditional PR has been about for a long time.
How can a digital PR newsroom supercharge your link building?
Newsworthy content or PR content is great for naturally acquiring links from quality news sites and getting broad coverage. Shannon McGuirk explained that newsworthy content falls into 3 editorial categories: reactive, planned reactive and planned.
Reactive editorial is great for during or after live events, whereas planned allows you to carefully craft content ahead of time. She mentioned a great example of planned editorial; when Queen Elizabeth had baby Prince Charles, the articles were written 6 months in advance.
A good idea is to time things to coincide with events, for example, “Women in Engineering Day” etc. Why not create your own annual day like “socks day” if you sell socks?
To help with planning your content, you can see what’s trending on Twitter or Google News, check what people are talking about on Reddit, or look for ‘Awareness Days’ (e.g. “Gummy Awareness Day” is a thing).
🚀⚡️I couldn’t condense my #MozCon talk into 10 mins so here are 5 tips to supercharge your digital PR & link building outreach. If you’re setting up a ‘Digital PR Newsroom’, you’ll need to use these!🚀⚡️@Moz https://t.co/HgoYI5D5Yq
— Shannon McGuirk (@ShannonMcGuirk_) 9 August 2019
Set a goal to find reactive editorial opportunities. For example, Roald Dahl’s birthday was trending, so an ultimate bucket list reading resource was published.
A planned reactive example might be a “where are the women in engineering based in the world?” infographic promoted on June 23 for Women in Engineering Day.When they analysed all the different content types and the quality of links they yielded, they found that Interactive Maps worked best. To find journalists who are looking for contributions, you can search for the hashtags #journorequest or #haro on Twitter or Instagram.
A great SEO quote is by Wendy Piersall: “Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.” How on point is that?! This is particularly true when it comes to local SEO. If people are interacting with your business locally, this sends a positive signal to Google that yours is a popular business in the area.
How does brand play a vital role in ranking well in local search?
Mary Bowling discussed how building your brand is super important in order to rank well in Google Maps and local search results. Local SEO is harder than regular SEO and we need to set different key performance indicators. Some good local KPIs include:
- Contact form submissions
- Facebook Messenger usage
- Click to calls
- Driving direction requests
We need to fine tune our local SERPs and make sure our result is showing as accurate, appealing & correct. Key local ranking factors are relevance, prominence & proximity, with proximity (how clost the business is to the searcher) being the biggest.
Consider that different search modifiers like “best”, “cheapest” , “near me” , “open now” and “in Adelaide” will all yield different results.
“Your website should be the Knowledge Graph of your brand”
To help boost your local brand, build awareness so Google knows about you and build reputation as being one of the good guys.
Remember that the internet is a cesspool of bad pages and brands are how you sort out the cesspool. So build your brand!
— Woj Kwasi (@WojKwasi) 16 July 2019
Here are a few more tips that Mary kindly supplied:
- Control your local search results and review your organic snippets.
- Take care of your Google My Business (GMB) cover photo as it’s the most critical image since it’s the user’s first touch point.
- Ask yourself, “what do searchers want to see?” when assessing the other set of photos.
- For listings with stars, make sure you respond to reviews, add photos & details. For Listings without stars, encourage more reviews, add photos & details.
- Use Google Posts as they work better than blogging.
- Answer all Google Q&A questions. Get in first or someone else will!
- Set up Ask & Answer for your brand and add your frequently asked questions.
- Monitor Q&A, as unsuitable stuff can be flagged/reported and potentially be turned into sales opportunities.
- Try out GMB Profile Messaging and see how effective it is for your business. You can turn it on and off as needed.
- Automate scheduling with GMB Bookings.
- If you are in e-commerce you can feed brand answers to Google by adding your product feed to GMB Products.
How do you kick goals with Google Posts and Google Q&A?
Greg Gifford delivered a meme-ingful presentation about dominating local SEO with Google Posts and Q&A using Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.
Here’s his Google Page posts PSD template that shows what will be visible in Google Posts.
Aaaaaaaand, be sure to bear in mind GMB Q&A (that’s a lot of acronyms).
— Woj Kwasi (@WojKwasi) 17 July 2019
Did you know, the first PPC advertising space was launched in 1996 – and it wasn’t Google. Life was a little different back then. Imagine: Yahoo! actually had the opportunity to buy Google in 1997, but didn’t take it (HUGE mistake)! Anyway, in a little over two decades, PPC advertising has become one of, if not the most reliable digital marketing tactic for businesses today. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t post some challenges…
How can we stop losing money to Google?
Wil Reynolds delivered a very passionate talk, based on his 20 years’ experience working in the search industry, about how important it is to look deeper into your Google Ads data to ensure you’re not leaving any opportunities on the table and not wasting spend.
“Google’s wasted click revenue approximately amounts to Starbucks’ total worldwide revenue (~$17bilion)! Approximately,15% of all Google Ads account for wasted clicks.”
Look for outliers in keywords. He mentioned to look through “search terms” data in Google Ads (interface). In one example, he found that when they used the word “become” in the Ad copy for a particular campaign, it increased conversions by 174%.
— Wil Reynolds (@wilreynolds) 25 September 2019
An observation for e-commerce businesses was that keywords containing “with” are dangerous and expensive so it’s good to exclude (but of course test).
A problem you may encounter is that the data you have is too small. You can double the number of conversions by looking at the keywords that have zero searches that your search tools are reporting back to you! Also be aware that queries are seasonal. For example, “deck plans” would generally show “how to make a deck” but during cruise season it could show cruise ships.
Another problem is that the data may be slow, i.e. by the time we get it it’s too late to react. For example, if you are bidding for the term “student loans” and Bernie Sanders announces a bailout, don’t show Ads for that query!
Google Ads have a lot of great automation options for automatic bidding based on machine learning. Be smart when deploying these…
“Don’t let the machines learn on your dime.”
— Woj Kwasi (@WojKwasi) 16 July 2019
Who pays for customer curiosity? We do. For example, Google ”roles store” and you can see that they are showing the wrong shopping Ads! It’s essentially clickbait and happens in Google Images as well.
Google’s machine learning won’t help you out. For example, search for the term “embroidered baby blanket” and Google images shows all the correct organic results. But if your shopping feed sucks you will show incorrect products! See below:
Wil was nice enough to spend some time with me during the lunch break where he walked me through a Power BI dashboard he set up to analyse keyword opportunities. First, you need to download your keyword ranking list showing your current keyword rankings. Second, you need to export a list of search terms from Google Ads. The bigger the data sets the better.
Let’s spread the word so we can all stop wasting PPC spend with Google – follow these steps:
- Download Power BI
- Download the Google Ads Wasted Spend Dashboard
- Export 1 year of PPC data from AdWords – select search term (not keywords!), clicks, cost & conversion. Save as a CSV.
- Take that list of keywords and run them through a ranking tool that can get your rankings for each search term from AdWords. Run it only long enough to get rankings 1-2 days.
Check out my interview with Wil Reynolds from an earlier Mozcon.
SEO can be quite technical, but it would be a mistake for us as SEOs to get stuck in a SEO mindset. Instead of taking the approach of making SEO improvements to please Google, everything we do should always be with the aim of pleasing our end customers. Because ultimately, that’s also what Google is trying to achieve – it wants to serve the right results to the right people.
Why build websites for robots and humans?
Our old tagline before Kwasi rebranded was “websites for robots & humans” with the notion that robots are the search engines who crawl and index the information. It’s important to build websites with both audiences in mind.
Ruth Burr Reedy’s talk was about understanding human-readable quality signals and their machine-readable equivalents; she said, “We can’t optimise just for humans, and we shouldn’t optimise just for Google. It has to be both.”
We can’t ignore resources that help us better understand how search engines are interpreting language such as Google’s very own Natural Language Processing (NLP) page and an on-page SEO guide for NLP.
How does a robot know if a site is pleasant to use? This is where UX, IA and performance metrics come into play. For example, site speed is a good signal for Google to observe, as a slow site is extremely frustrating to users. Here’s a resource that will enable you to run Lighthouse reports across multiple pages, which will help with site speed improvements.
A site’s reputation is also a quality signal for search engines and doing a reputation audit is a good idea. See the photo below for some search operators to include in Google to help you search for reputation information about your website.
It’s worth re-reading Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines with machine reading in mind, as they do learn from their raters’ feedback and also the parameters that the guides set.
Why should you stop faking it to Google?
To reiterate, the era of faking it with Google is for the most part over. We’re talking about a machine-learning monolithic entity that returns results in 1/8 of a second. Russ Jones talked about this and why it’s important to focus on being the best. He said, “Once you are the best – link building efforts are super easy.”
I agree and am totally against frustrating internet users, hence our purpose at Kwasi is to get brands found and bought by people who want them – so everyone is happier! Let’s not create lousy experiences; we need to make the client’s website the best it can be and not make the internet a shitty place.
An interesting tip he mentioned was to duplicate your domain as a .ORG with canonicals back to regular site and build links to the .ORG. ORG domains are much more trustworthy.
You can use tenon.io to check your competitors’ accessibility performance to help build links. Also, test mobile friendliness of competitors and use poor performance as “human-relatable” reasons for outreach, instead of the really bad approach of, “Hey I like content x, link to me”. Even the SSL security status of the competitor can be a good reason. And when you do outreach, you don’t need to take the competitor down, you can just add your faster / better resource to the page.
Why is it important to run your own SEO tests?
A big trap we fall into as SEOs is what I like to call “cookie-cutter strategies”. What worked for one client won’t necessarily work for another. Like businesses, each website (or online ecosystem) has a different legacy, pulse and constitution so it’s important to run your own SEO experiments – set a hypothesis based on previous results and then test against it. If it underperforms, do something different.
Rob Ousbey covered this well and shared a few examples where what worked for some, didn’t necessarily work for others. He pointed out that,
“Testing enables us to avoid doing all tasks but to focus on the ones that get results.”
It’s important to do controlled testing; only change one thing at a time so you can monitor what happens at directly attribute it to your change.
Instead of applying all changes to a webpage all at one time, test what you want to change on some pages and compare to the pages that you aren’t changing. We’re not looking to see if traffic goes moves, but if there is a difference between the two groups.@RobOusbey #mozcon
— Portent (@Portent) 17 July 2019
Here’s a simple 4 step process to stick to:
Testing the impact of SEO changes:
1. Split pages into equal groups
2. Create a predictive model for traffic to variant group
3. Apply changes to variant group
4. Analyze the impact of the changes@RobOusbey #mozcon
— Portent (@Portent) 17 July 2019
One ranking factor notion is “query deserves freshness” – a simple experiment showed that by updating the “dateModified” field in the source code to today’s date saw an 8% increase in traffic for a campaign. Note – this information was to illustrate the power of testing and is not an advisable tactic as Google won’t be happy.
Rob shared Distilled’s do it yourself SEO split testing tool with casual impact to help measure the impact of your split tests.
With our reinvigorated big picture SEO mindset in place, we can now take a moment to nerd out and enjoy a bit of technical *wink*.
How can technical SEO assist other areas of SEO?
Paul Shapiro delivered a talk about what technical SEO is and classified it into 4 types:
- Checklist Technical SEO
- General Technical SEO
- Blurred-Responsibility Technical SEO
- Advanced Applied Technical SEO
He offered an alternative crawler to Screaming Frog called Botify, which is worth a look.
He also talked about how we should be automating our SEO activity through running scripts and that technical SEO can help with all facets of SEO. He shared a great range of Python scripts for enhancing tasks like persona-based keyword research, link development, content ideas in niche categories, writing meta descriptions and 301 redirect mapping.
I also interviewed Paul where he went into greater detail about his journey to becoming an SEO and how he derived the information.
How do you rank for questions?
Dr Pete Meyers mentioned that People Also Ask (PAA) snippets in the search results pages now appear across all verticals and intents, in 90% of searches worldwide.
A great insight he provided was not to limit our keyword focus by search volume metrics alone. For example, we should still consider keywords with low searches as there are several closely matching variants that Google will consider as relevant to the content. This also includes synonyms so you can stop making pages for each variant (if you haven’t already) and focus on creating content around question themes. Think of it as “questions by topic” and it will help you rank for the topic.
To appear in a Q&A answer box in the SERPs, start with a short answer paragraph then go into detail because the short answer is what appears in the knowledge graph – see example below for the query “can you reverse a 301 redirect”:
Moz is working on a tool where you can enter a topic and it will return 20 related questions around the topic. In the meantime, Dr Pete was kind enough to send 20 questions to you if you filled out his form.
Extras – Tools, Tips & Tricks
General advice & considerations:
- Areej AbuAli asserted that all technical problems are people problems, so it’s important to communicate with technical people. To get things done, consider making one recommendation at a time!
- Heather Physioc suggested that we collaborate and break silos. That way all departments can recommend and report together, pushing everyone to provide feedback.
- Darren Shaw confirmed that the primary category in GMB is the only field that contributes towards rankings; everything else is important for other metrics like conversions. If you build out your GMB page it will help a lot with relevancy signals.
- Dr Marie Haynes mentioned that Google looks at you as being authoritative if you are being linked to or mentioned by experts. Make sure you are getting links from known experts. Collaborate more. She also shared this complete list of Google algorithm updates that could affect your site’s traffic.
- Kombinator – tool to combine keywords
- OutreachPete – for link building outreach
- io – API for keyword research
Moz Pro update: In the US, an add-on will be available where you can track rankings by zip code. Hopefully it rolls out to Australia soon so we can check by postcode!
Your rankings can fluctuate BY ZIP CODE. If you’re not rank tracking your keywords by city, there’s no way you are getting an accurate glimpse of how your SEO is performing. @STATrob #mozcon pic.twitter.com/OXYMR8p5CO
— Lily Ray (@lilyraynyc) 15 July 2019
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