A Non-SEO’s View of MozCon: Day Three

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.

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)

See more about MozCon and my reviews of the first and second days of the conference:

You are so Much More Than an SEO: Wil Reynolds


What does it mean to really take care of your customers? It means caring about them even after the conversion, after you’ve made the sale. Wil started out his talk with a story from a trip he took to Thailand. He asked the woman at the desk of his hotel for directions, and when she saw him turn the wrong direction upon leaving, she ran after him to suggest he might have meant to turn the other way. She already had his money for the stay. She had no obligation to help him follow the directions she had just given him. And yet, she cared about the quality of his experience throughout his time there.

What does that mean for those of us not in the hospitality industry? For content marketers, it’s recognizing that links and rankings aren’t the final word on success. “Well done” isn’t achieved when traffic grows, Wil argues, it’s when customers are happy. When you’re asked to build links back to your content (which I learned helps drive search engine rankings), ask the five whys. When you get to the root of what your boss (or your client) really wants from those links, think outside the box to solve the problem.

We’re not content marketers at Bendyworks, but we do like the five whys. We often ask them of ourselves in retros (meetings after long chunks of work designed to reflect on the past and improve the future), and perhaps we should start asking them of our clients as well.

Wil’s message:

  • Output is not the same as the outcome. Stop celebrating the first step. Instead, focus on the end result, and be creative in how you get there. That is to say, creating content and promoting links are outputs, while building a business is an outcome. The outputs (content creation and link building) don’t matter if the outcome (building a business) doesn’t follow.
  • Social media matters. Your company can have excellent search rankings, but if you don’t take care in responding to user concerns on Twitter, you’ll lose them. (See Kerry Bodine’s talk on keeping brand promises from MozCon day one).
  • Change your focus: a user’s experience on your site trumps your site’s search rankings.

Wil had a lot more in his talk about building social media “cliques” not “clicks” and how to get in front of reporters, but the customer experience parts were what stuck with me. At Bendyworks, we bill based on time and materials which essentially means every day is another conversion. After we make a sale, it then becomes a shared responsibility among the team to guarantee that the client has a great experience working with us every day afterward. Yet, do we put as much focus on those daily conversions as we do the big sale conversion? I’d like to think that we do, and Wil’s talk compels me to scrutinize how we practice that focus.

Wil’s talk also reminded me of a country song my sisters used to like titled “The Best of Intentions.” The singer promises his partner that the results of his actions don’t matter because he had the best of intentions from the start. No. It’s not about the intent to succeed or the cool tool we use when starting a project, it’s about delivering the result and focusing on a quality outcome. As Wil said in his talk, good customer experience and relationships trump success in rankings and other SEO metrics.

A Mozzy View with Sarah Bird: Sarah Bird and John Cook

(No slide deck.)

If my Twitter stats are to be believed, this fireside chat between Moz CEO Sarah Bird and GeekWire co-founder John Cook touched on a lot of hot topics, namely remote working. Rand Fishkin handed over the Moz reins to Sarah Bird early in 2014, and John’s interview questions teased out Sarah’s philosophies on running Moz and what the company’s future looks like. As someone at a company that’s just over five years old and experiencing the both the joys and pains of growth, I was excited to hear Sarah’s perspective on building a strong future. My highlights from (and reflections on) the conversation (Sarah’s points paraphrased in italics):

  • What does a better world look like? More TAGFEE for everyone. (Moz’s code: be Transparent, Authentic, Generous, Fun, Empathetic, and Exceptional.)

  • Culture isn’t just about perks. It’s about making decisions every day. The decisions that you make as a team and the way in which you make them shape who your company is and what it’s like to work there. Are your decisions transparent? Are they empathetic? Who gets to make decisions?

  • Good process enables you to move more quickly and have more autonomy. I mentally applauded this point. I’ve worked at a number of companies where the word “process” is only said with disgust. I like my freedom, to be sure, but I’m a firm believer that good processes help people be more effective in their work. Even if your role is to disrupt the system, you need to know where the lines are before you can color outside of them.

  • The early years of starting a company are hard. Be resilient. Having strong relationships (like Sarah and Rand’s friendship) helps you get through.

  • When a company has remote workers, everyone has to act and think like a remote worker to level the playing field. Bendyworks works remotely with our clients, and because we don’t share a physical space it’s crucial that we implement communication practices with our client dev and design partners in mind. To this end, we hold a lot of team discussions in Google Hangouts, chat, and other asynchronous channels. Given the nature of these channels, it’s also important to think about how to build culture and bond. We can communicate words and ideas fairly easily, but it requires extra attention to communicate emotions and other aspects that make working together fun, especially during tough projects. The daily Google Hangout standups are especially important to us in this regard, and though we pride ourselves on keeping standups short, we also take the time to swap a few stories and jokes to make them personal.

Prove Your Value: Dana DiTomaso


Dana’s talk was the last MozCon talk I took in before I left for a tour of the MozPlex. I’m glad I caught it, because it covered a lot of important topics for consulting teams. Namely:

  • Clients don’t always care about what you care about. There’s a lot of talk at Bendyworks about the techiest of details. For example: there’s a difference between an Ember.Object and a DS.Model, primarily that the latter talks to a remote server. This matters to us internally, but for most clients, this is so far into the weeds we’d lose their attention or waste their time. Before we give status updates, it’s important to figure out how what we’re doing translates into concepts and progress the client cares about. We rehearse our standups ahead of time so that we can refine and rephrase our talking points. We also strive to have a mix of development, design, and project or account management in the conversation so that we can talk about progress from our different internal perspectives.
  • Set SMART goals. It’s not good enough to say “Increase customer satisfaction rating.”
  • Tie your team’s actions back to those goals. I like this point. We once had a very non-technical client who looked very confused by our status updates about the layers of product we were building to clean up API data until we started to tie it into goals the client cared about, like, “We built a layer of your product that takes homeowner data and strips out extraneous information and presents just the name and address in a clean, compelling format that prospective renters can understand.”
  • Have two-way conversations with clients that relate back to their goals. For example, if you send 100,000 people to your client’s site, share that with them and ask if they saw more sales because of it. It’s not just about measuring your actions—it’s also important to know what results relevant to their goals they saw in return.
  • Be honest. Be honest especially when things go bad—that’s how you build trust. People are afraid to tell large companies the truth, Dana noted, but it’s not our job to make clients feel good about bad decisions. This speaks right to the heart of what we believe consulting is at Bendyworks. As consultants, it’s our responsibility to point out risks to project success, outline alternate paths, and offer our opinion on the best way to proceed.
  • Show enthusiasm in reports. Show clients that they’re not a chore.


MozCon had a wealth of information on diverse topics, but a few themes stood out:

  • Keep promises
  • Build trust
  • Build community

For a conference that centered around inbound marketing analytics and content marketing, there was a lot of the human element throughout. I appreciate that, because those talks transcend SEO and analytics and apply to what we do at any job we might have over our careers, as well as at home and out in the community. We all might do better by keeping promises before we make them, and by making it easy for others to look good in front of their peers. Being honest, even in the bad times, builds the trust you need to stick it through whatever it is back into the good times. Valuing community over business makes your business part of the fabric of your community.

I also do appreciate those talks on how to drive traffic, reach a specific audience, and create more effective content. I’m inclined to focus on a piece’s angle and quality of expression, but it’s important to consider how people get to that piece in order to enjoy the angle and expression in the first place.

I’ve been quoting from talks in basically every meeting I’ve had at Bendyworks since I came back. Thanks to all who spoke at and organized MozCon—you have given me a lot to consider, share, and put into practice! And Bendyworks appreciates the new face in our office:


Category: Community