It was a cool experience being able to fly to America for a world-class 2-day SEO conference. The annual Search Marketing Expo (SMX) Advanced conference took place this year in Seattle, Washington and brought together the Search Marketing elite from all parts of the world to present, discuss, and showcase the latest happenings in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
With tickets priced at over $2,000 each, attendees were treated to a line-up of impressive speakers from Google, Disney, IBM, Intel and more.
The conference explored many different topics and themes regarding SEO and although most of it was quite advanced, I’ve tried my best to distill this information to appeal to those who have an intermediate-level understanding of SEO. For those who have an agency doing their SEO, it might be worth discussing this post with them to see if they can implement any of the recommendations below to improve the performance of your online business, or at the very least adjust your current and future online strategy.
5 SEO Tips Direct from SMX Advanced
1. Prioritise your ranking efforts
Given Google’s algorithm has over 200 rankings factors (most of which are unknown), it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by which ones you should focus on first and why.
During SMX Advanced, the latest edition Search Engine Land’s “Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors” was released which included a top-level overview of the most important ranking factors for a website in 2017.
Marcus Tober (the Founder of Searchmetrics) also presented a case study to help drill down on a few of the items within the Periodic Table, with his findings suggesting that:
- One size doesn’t fit all – The importance of ranking factors differ by industry
- Faster pages help – Faster pages generally rank higher. For example, top rankings sites in 2016 took 7.8 seconds to load compared to 2017 with the number falling to 5.8 seconds.
My interpretation of this is you will get a small ranking boost from Google due to having a fast site, but you will get a stronger boost in user engagement signals (such as lower bounce rates, higher page views, higher conversions rates etc.) which will give you an extra ranking boost from Google. So the boost from having faster pages comes from both “page speed” itself, and indirectly through improved user engagement signals across your site.
GTmetrix is a good page speed tool if you’re interested in assessing the speed of your site.
- Keywords less relevant – Keywords in page titles are becoming less important, with the quality of content trumping the usage of keywords
- Content is more visual – Content is becoming more visual, with top rankings sites using an average of 2 images per page
- Increased word counts – The total word count per page has also increased – from an average of 1,300 words per page in 2015, to 1,900 in 2017. This doesn’t mean you should stuff a lot of words on your posts/pages for the sake of increasing your word count, but it’s interesting to see more in-depth pages being rewarded (which make sense given how vocal Google’s been on having great website content)
Basically, I’d say obsess about your user’s experience. Faster pages that have great information and are more relevant to your user’s problem will get you into Google’s good books, while simultaneously providing greater value to your customers.
2. Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP’s) are not so critical
If you haven’t heard of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP’s), you’ve probably at the very least come across them in Google search results while looking for news stories on your mobile device. They look like this:
Click on an AMP site and you’ll be surprised at how fast that webpage loads. AMP’s are Google’s answer to making the internet faster for all users on mobile devices.
Although implementing AMP has become a little easier due to greater access to resources and plugins supported by CMS platforms like WordPress – it still requires a fair bit of technical knowledge. The good news is that Google’s own Webmaster Trends Analyst “Gary Illyes” mentioned at the conference that implementing AMP isn’t required if you’ve already got a fast site.
So before investing time and money into AMP, it’s worth comparing the level of effort/reward you’d gain against what you’d gain simply by making some onsite updates and migrating your site to a faster hosting company.
3. Seems like you’ve got a bit more time to go responsive
With more people searching on Google via mobile than desktop, Google made a huge announcement nearing the end of 2016 that they are shifting to a “mobile-first” index. This pretty much means that if you have a dedicated mobile site (i.e. both www.example.com and m.example.com or similar) you could be in trouble.
There’s a lot of info out there on the mobile-first index so I won’t repeat what’s already been said, but some of the new stuff to come out of SMX Advanced were:
- We may be 4-5 years away from a 100% mobile-first index, but it could be a lot sooner
- If you have a mobile site and you are worried you will get penalised by putting a lot of your content in drop down boxes just so it fits on mobile, don’t worry you’ll be fine
4. If you’ve seen a decline in organic traffic over the past 12 months, it could be a site quality issue. Check your engagement metrics such as bounce rate, page per sessions, conversion rates etc. to see if these have declined over time
Google’s algorithm now updates in real-time which means we’re seeing fluctuations in website rankings a lot more frequently than we ever have in the past. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that if you’ve seen a decline in your site’s organic traffic over the past 12 months, it could be related to site quality factors.
Jeff Preston of Disney Interactive shared an insightful case study about one of Disney’s own domains which saw a notable decline in rankings due to an algorithm update – after culling close to 80k low quality pages on one of their sites, they gained an almost immediate improvement in rankings of about 50%.
So, if you’ve got some SEO traffic issues and want to understand if it might be due to “site quality”, I’d recommend doing the following:
- Analyse your site to understand which subset of pages (i.e. category pages, product pages, home page etc.) have been affected the most
- Review how the bounce rates and other engagement metrics for these pages have changed over time
- Come up with some ideas on how you might improve the quality of these pages to improve these engagement metrics (and hopefully gain back some of that lost SEO traffic)
5. It’s easier to rank #1 via “Featured Snippets”
If you’re not a multi-million-dollar business, chances are you’re constantly playing catch-up with the market leaders in trying to obtain position #1 in Google search results for important queries related to your business. It’s a daunting task that can take time and is often quite difficult given the amount of resources your competitors have.
You’ve probably seen Featured Snippets a tonne of times before without even knowing what they were called, but essentially Featured Snippets are Google’s way to provide users with a fast answer to a given query. Here is an example:
Featured Snippets aren’t going to solve all your problems and bring in more traffic than you’ve ever had, but Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting presented a compelling case study which suggests it may be easier to focus your efforts a bit more on getting a Featured Snipper rather than solely increasing your rankings.
To get a Featured Snippet you essentially need to:
- Identify a question your customer would type into Google which would prompt a Featured Snippet
- Create a page which has better and more comprehensive content than any page that is returned in the top 10 results for that search query
Here are some tips Eric shared during his presentation:
- Content in the “People also ask” section qualifies for a Featured Snippet, so take note of those for some additional content ideas to write/get a Featured Snippet for (as seen above)
- If you want to see which sites are competing for a Featured Snippet for a given query, it will be those which have more than 2 lines displayed in their meta description
- Google is constantly testing and altering what sites they display for a Featured Snippet, so it’s much easier to “get” a Featured Snippet than “keep” it. To keep it you really need to make sure you’re providing the best possible answer to that query, all the time (this means making sure your page is still relevant every 6-12 months)
Here’s a good resource to get you started if you’re interested in learning a bit more about Featured Snippets.
I hope I have shared some valuable insights regardless of what stage you are at with your SEO. Although the 5 points discussed above were not the only topics covered during the conference, I believe they are a great starting point for most small to mid-size businesses to consider as part of your 2017-2018 strategy.
If you have any questions after reading this post about your SEO or the broader digital strategy for your business, feel free to get in touch via my contact page, comments below or LinkedIn. I’m happy to be a sound board for any new ideas you’d like to bounce off me before implementing on your business. Good luck and happy SEO’ing 🙂
About Emilia Rossi:
Hi, I’m Emilia, and I want to welcome you to my Lifestyle & Business Blog which has recently been voted ‘Top 5 Lifestyle Blog in Melbourne’ by Culture Trip. I started this blog in 2011 as a place online to share my experiences and journey of making a living doing the things I love including specialising as a digital consultant, writing for this blog, designing jewellery, investing in property and managing another online business, a wedding marketplace site called Capriess.
Working as a digital consultant, I work closely with a small portfolio of wonderful businesses, and assist them to understand complex data and trends. I have a passion for transforming this valuable information into insights that help drive strategies for my clients across their online channels, which in turn helps them to attract happier customers, portray a better brand online and of course enticing more customers to use (and love) their product or service.