A Non-SEO's View of MozCon: Day One
I’m not an SEO. Until MozCon, I didn’t realize SEO (Search Engine Optimization) could be used as a job title. I knew that keywords and links are important for building site traffic, but meeting over a thousand people at MozCon whose entire careers center on keywords, clicks, and links blew my mind.
(What’s MozCon, you ask? A marketing conference in Seattle dedicated to “SEO, social media, community building, content marketing, brand development, CRO, the mobile landscape, analytics, and more.” Moz, the conference host, develops software to help measure search rankings, social media traffic, and other marketing analytics. Check out their beginners guide to SEO here.)
At Bendyworks, I primarily focus on business development, sales, and account management. Most of our business comes through referrals: choosing a software development consulting team requires taking a leap of faith that the team can execute a specific vision with technical strength and elegance. Personal connections go a long way toward turning that leap into a firm handshake. To that end, I traverse the Madison networking circles, attend conferences, and otherwise build our presence to keep our team fresh in peoples’ minds.
If marketing can be described on a macro versus micro scale, I work the macro to the SEO micro. My current work revolves around full conversations in person, on the phone, or over Google Hangouts. I always know who I’m talking to, and I have the ability to ask them why they’re interested in working with Bendyworks and who referred them. Because I am one person, my schedule limits the number of interactions I can have to a certain scale. SEO tactics, on the other hand, can be applied behind-the-scenes on the scale of millions of (more or less) anonymous visitors. The small tweaks made to optimize SEO can have huge effects on search traffic and engagement. It’s a field revolving around metadata, analysis, conversions, etc.
I had a lot to learn about the world of inbound marketing and all the data and analytics behind it. In this short series of blog posts on MozCon, I’ll review the speakers and content that most stood out from my non-SEO perspective. I won’t cover every detail, but I’ll hit highlights regarding the “micro” marketing that can help you drive traffic to your (or your client’s) site. If something I write whets your interest, you can dig deeper by checking out the speakers’ slide decks from the MozCon agenda. Videos will be posted later, and I’ll add links when they’re available. (edit: MozCon videos are now available, though you need to be a subscriber to view them)
You can also read my reviews of the second and third days of the conference:
Welcome to MozCon: Rand Fishkin
Rand kicked off MozCon by analyzing trends in SEO. What I took away:
- Google’s on a breakneck pace: if Google is the new IRS, SEOs are the tax accountants. Google changes the rules, and SEOs sort through how to abide and thrive. I quickly learned that Google has been changing the algorithms that dictate how search works with releases such as Hummingbird and Panda. Google’s stated intent is to improve the user search experience, but the change in rules has left some marketers concerned that new rules drive their high quality content beneath that of lower quality sites in search listings. Knowing how to adapt to the new algorithms means an SEO can keep his or her company higher in the search results.
- We’re seeing the decline of SEO as a job title. Oh no! I just learned that it was a job title. Now, more people are instead saying that SEO is a part of their job, along with social media, inbound marketing, and other functions. Integration!
- Google shortens the searcher’s journey and supplies answers sans source to feed instant demand. From a user perspective, I like this. I get my answers without additional clicks. From the Bendyworks’ perspective, we don’t have a lot of content that Google could easily swipe into a search graph. (Unless they want to present the power levels of different Bendyworkers. That would be kind of cool to see.) However, for companies who provide unique content that could have brought someone to their site, this is a rip off.
Broken Brand Promises: Kerry Bodine
Companies on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index perform several times better on the stock market, over time, than the S&P 500 (at least that’s the trend in the 21st century). With that in mind, Kerry argued that all roles, from marketing to development to legal, are responsible for keeping promises and building the customer experience. This really resonated with me, and I’m eager to dive deeper into this topic with the Bendyworks team and in future blog posts.
My favorite bits from Kerry’s talk:
- Everyone at your company should understand their role and action items in keeping brand promises (the promise you make that tells customers what to expect in interactions with your company). Kerry’s slides include samples of charts you can use to do this. If your company promises hospitality, what does the CEO do to maintain the hospitality of the team? The developers? The office manager? The answer is different (and important) for each role.
- First, keep your promises. Then make them. My interpretation: don’t make promises you don’t already have a proven track record of keeping. O’Hare airport can tell us until they’re blue in the face that they’re going to get us home on time, but there’s no reason to believe them until they show that they consistently pull that one off.
How to Use Social Science to Build Addictive Communities: Rich Millington
A sense of community increases customer advocacy, loyalty, and communication. It also increases employee happiness and productivity. But how do you create communities? Rich offers a wealth of ideas, with my favorites below:
- Provoke vulnerability and encourage self-disclosure. Push through politeness and social reserve to strengthen connections. I’m not prone to do this myself, but Rich’s examples showed a medical forum with top questions like “If you could it over, would you?”
- Share unique experiences to create a common narrative with in jokes and traditions. Rich took a group to a chessboxing match (that’s one for Google), and now they can refer back and reminisce about an experience few others share.
- Create opportunities for members to be seen positively by their peers. The reason we participate in communities is to gain power and influence over our peers, so allow people to talk about their expertise and give them opportunities to exercise it. Ask a music aficionado in the office to build an event playlist. Ask an expert contributor to author a guest post on your blog.
That last point stuck with me the most. Rich’s talk applied to not just company life, but to any aspect of social life: friends, volunteer groups, neighborhood associations, etc., Though I’m usually prone to doing everything myself, I’d like to try asking others to contribute in the areas they are passionate about. Not only does that mean a few tasks are off my plate, but, according to Rich, my peers will feel both respected and appreciated.
Architecting Great Experiments: Kyle Rush
This talk started off with a dive into “one tail” versus “two tail” experiments. I didn’t know experiments had tails (learn more about that here). I thought I was about to flounder for a talk, but Kyle soon swung back into territory I could tweet along with. If you’re conducting A/B testing for a site, be sure to:
- Plan the size of your variations based on traffic. The more traffic you have, the smaller changes you can make and measure with A/B testing. If you’re a startup with limited traffic, you’ll need to make bigger changes for A/B testing to be valuable to you.
- Account for both weekday and weekend traffic.
- Focus first on the last step in your conversion funnel for the strongest results. If people fail to bite at the last moment, implement an effective change at that spot means everything to your conversation rate.
- QA both your A variation and your B variation to be sure that you aren’t seeing results related to a bug instead results based on the variable you think you’re measuring.
- Be okay with statistical ties. Most of your experiments will end this way.
Kyle has a lot more in his talk about setting up experiment sizes, lengths, goals, and more. If you run or are considering running A/B tests, check it out. Amazon’s Developer Console also has a useful description of what A/B tests are and why to use them, as well as the math behind A/B testing.
Mobile SEO Geekout: Key Strategies and Concepts: Cindy Krum
This talk had so much value going on it that at the top of my notes there’s a giant asterisk, Rachel-code for “important!” Usually this applies to a single item, but this whole talk was important to me. At Bendyworks we develop in iOS and also apply responsive design principles when building web apps for optimal mobile experiences. Knowing how to refine our practices to deliver the ultimate SEO experience to our clients gives us a competitive edge and our clients a stronger site.
Cindy’s slides have way more detail than I could attempt to recreate, so here’s just a teaser:
- Desktop traffic is declining. Mobile’s where it’s at. We have mobile access everywhere we go, which we can’t say for desktops or laptops. If you’re going to show up in search, optimize for mobile.
- There are fewer results above the fold on a mobile search. Being third or fourth isn’t good enough, especially as PPC (Pay Per Click) rankings push down organic search results. Third may put your company’s result off the screen.
- Mobile SEO is less about the rankings and more about successful traffic and interactions. Google prefers responsive sites with one URL for all devices, but responsive design can be slow, which is not good for Google SEO.
- Optimize page speed to combat that speed v. responsive design conundrum. Slow pages slow the crawler (the program that analyzes your site’s content to determine its importance and rank in search results) and hurt UX (creating a high bounce rate).
- Remove unnecessary code.
- Minimize file size.
- Design for mobile first. Figure out which content is critical, add more context to your web version later.
- Lots more techy details about gzip files, consolidating round trip requests, load order, etc. Cindy’s slides go into those details, and a development team strong in responsive design can always help you with the implementation.
Local Lessons from Small Town USA: Mike Ramsey
One blunder can ruin a company’s success when it comes to local reviews. According to Mike, a lifer in his small hometown of Burley, Idaho:
- 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
- 95 percent of people share bad customer experiences.
With these statistics in mind, it’s critical to manage your online reviews. You can’t stop people from sharing when they have a bad experience with your company (though you can proactively minimize bad customer experiences by keeping your brand promises). You can, however, influence your ranking through reviews and other tactics.
Mike offers a number of ways to improve rank including adding a feedback form to your site, boosting the number of Google reviews (you can provide a link on your site for satisfied customers), and creating custom categories for your business, but the philosophy that came out of his talk will be what I remember most. Madison isn’t really a small town but it feels like one. Community is a big deal to our team. Mike’s advice:
- Be a big fish in whatever pond you’re in.
- It’s not about business, it’s about community.
- Too many small businesses focus on business to earn money, but in a small town, you don’t get business if you’re not focused on community.
- I’d argue that a community-focused mindset also drives hiring. I sought out Bendyworks not because I thought we’d all be flush with cash, though that’s nice to have, but because Bendyworks sponsors local music events (design and programming events, too). I wanted to work at a company that actively participated in and contributed to the community I love.
Top 10 PR Tactics and Strategies of Content and Link Building: Lexi Mills
Lexi Mill’s talk was filled with actionable tips on how to get the media interested in your content. Bendyworks doesn’t do much PR at this point, though the local media tends to seek us out for commentary or participation in tech articles. One example from her talk really impressed me, however:
When the royal baby was about to arrive, Lexi arranged for Bathrooms.com to ship a custom designed, engraved bathtub to the hospital. She knew the press were there, awaiting the royal birth and hungry for action. She instructed the delivery person to march in front of the press with the bathtub festooned in a giant ribbon – sure enough, they got press coverage of the bathtub.
Hearing Lexi’s story has set visions of giant sketchbooks and keyboards dancing in my head. What can we do to put our services so visually out there in the public eye? What current events can we leverage to make our story heard?
Lexi’s talk didn’t just cover bold PR campaign strategies tied to big events, however. She also shared ideas on how to be successful in PR by solving the media’s problems, including how to pitch topics based on a site’s search volume, find relevant journalists, prepare press-ready media packages, and more.
Digital Body Language: Mike King
A month ago my big brother emailed me to ask if the Apple careers page on LinkedIn could tell that he had visited it, because he soon after received an invitation to an Apple recruiting event in Chicago. Yes, big brother, they are watching you. Mike King’s talk shows how.
There is so much data that we put out there every time we log into Facebook or other social platforms, and Mike’s talk covered ways to harness that data to find demographics, behaviors, and more of the people visiting your site. I ran out of pages in my pocket notebook writing down all of his resources for data, marketing automation, free intro to statistics classes, and more. His talk also covers how to implement fingerprint.JS, which identifies web browsers, as well as Evercookie, the cookie that does not die.
Zombie cookies. Nom.
Mike also mentioned Wappalyzer, a browser extension that identifies software used on the web. As someone who pitches to companies based on their tech stacks, I can’t wait to try this one out!
As you’ll see throughout the rest of my upcoming MozCon blog posts, there is so much information coming out of MozCon it’s impossible to go back and implement everything, especially for someone new to SEO. My first action item was to have the team create a Google Plus account for Bendyworks, which came up a bit in Cindy’s Mobile SEO talk and even more so in talks on days two and three. I’m also eager to work with the Bendyworks team to identify our core brand promises (my first thoughts based on customer feedback are clean code, professionalism, and fun partnership) and what each person can do every day to deliver on them.
Do you have ideas on SEO quick wins we might implement right away? I’d love to hear them.
(For full disclosure, Moz [was] a client of ours. We provide our software development services to their Moz Analytics team. I paid the standard price for my ticket, and all views are my own and entirely unsolicited.)