Last week I traveled to Seattle to attend the SMX (Search Marketing Expo) Advanced conference. The folks from Search Engine Land [www.searchengineland.com] brought together top thought leaders and companies in the organic and paid search industry to geek out with us and go beyond the basics in their sessions. I primarily attended the SEO track, though I wish there were two or three of me to attend the concurrent sessions on paid and social. Here are five headlines I took away from the event:
1. Keep An Eye (or Ear) on the Direction Search Is Headed. Burdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president for the Information Platform & Experience team at Microsoft/Bing gave the Wednesday keynote. He emphasized how the rise of voice search – whether it's Siri, Google Glass or your XBox – is changing the nature of search and signaling the direction it will take in the future. We are no longer forced to play by the computer's rules – enter keywords into a box and push a button to get a list of links. We are asking questions and making requests in natural language. The burden is now on computers to understand our intent and the connections between concepts (and our location), not to simply match up strings of characters with other strings of characters online.
The rise of voice search is changing the nature of search
As Pall puts it, “We are moving away from information and toward knowledge.” This is good news for all of us who have struggled with the keyword model and how to choose the “best” keywords – whether to optimize for “travel” or “vacation,” “resort” or “hotel,” “attractions” or “things to do.” As semantic search gets better and better, there will be less emphasis on keywords and more on content.
2. Say “Content” Again! I Dare You. I Double Dare You: Say “Content” One More Time! No I’m not actually going to shoot you, but the idea of using “Content is King” as a conference headline for the millionth time felt like putting a gun to your head, so I went with the Pulp Fiction reference instead. But while the technology changes, the cornerstone of good SEO does not. And you know what Marcellus Wallace looks like.
Need more quality backlinks? Have good content. Want more social signals? Create more likable, sharable content (or cat pictures). Want to improve domain authority? Provide a great user experience based on quality content. Want better conversion from your search traffic? Say “what?” again, I dare you.
3. Scrutinize Your Mobile User Experience. The conference included a Q&A session with Matt Cutts, the lead of the web spam team at Google who is responsible for the ongoing algorithm changes that keep SEOs on their toes. Google puts Matt out front to field the "what is Google doing and why" questions from SEOs, and the man is a ninja at upbeat, can-neither-confirm-nor-deny responses.
However, he did announce/confirm that last week Google rolled out changes surrounding how mobile websites rank for mobile searches. Just having a mobile site doesn't mean it will rank for a mobile search. Google's objective is to only provide mobile sites in mobile SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) that provide a quality user experience.
To find out if you are at risk, consider: Is your mobile site slow? Does all mobile traffic get redirected to the mobile homepage, rather than a contextual interior mobile page that better matches the query? If the answer is yes to either or both, you may start having issues ranking. Click here to see Google’s post on the topic. This further underscores the need to monitor your keyword ranking for mobile separate from desktop – a high rank on one is not necessarily true on the other, even if you have a mobile website.
4. Mark It Up. Microdata (also referred to creating “rich snippets” or “structured data”) was a recurring topic in several sessions. Using microdata means adding HTML tags your content that explicitly define what that content is. Search engines like this because they don't have to cipher the copy on your page to identify critical information like your address, phone number or hours. In addition to controlling accuracy, the benefit for sites is that schema data is more frequently showing up as part of SERP listings. The tags can also be used to point out reviews, product information and to provide “breadcrumb” links to the key pages of your site.
In travel, schema tags can also be applied to attractions and events. Check out this SERP for Nashville Events and you will see structured data used both in the bar along the top and in the Yelp listing. According to Marcus Tober at Searchmetrics, only 0.27% of U.S. domains have integrated schema today, but it is on the rise. Their study also indicated that sites that are using the markup have consistently higher search visibility. While this correlation isn't necessarily causation, schema definitely improves the visual appeal and content depth of your SERP listing, which can lead to better click through.
5. I Want Matt Cutt's Shoes. I am fairly fashion-missing, but I do love unique shoes. Love or hate Google, Matt Cutts sported a kickin' pair of Google loafers (at right), said to be a gift from Search Engine Land's own Danny Sullivan. Alas, they were not being given away at any booths. I tried. In consolation I am going to lobby for custom Miles kicks from Lands End for Christmas this year.