“Screw your best practices.”
This was the resounding message opening speaker, Wil Reynolds of Seer Interactive, left us with, and they’re the four words that could represent the entire conference. Hosted in the downtown St. Paul River Center on June 22nd, the MnSearch Summit boasted a hefty, 300+ person attendance and featured speakers from Google, Microsoft, Bitesquad and more.
Each speaker made us take a good, hard look at what we’ve been taught that SEOs should always, always do, and then blew that apart. Sessions included:
- Useful analytics tips
- Q&A with Google
- Local SEO optimization
- SEO split-testing
Take a look at these key takeaways from the conference, and get ready to remove the term ‘best practices’ from your vocabulary.
Analytics tips – Jeff Sauer from Jeffalytics
Jeff Sauer, founder of Jeffalytics, pioneer of modern marketing and the brave soul who completed 90 videos in 90 days, covered simple solutions for gathering complex data. He started with suggesting four crucial items you should be tracking in Google Tag Manager.
1. Document download
These are your PDFs, slide decks, spreadsheets, etc. It’s important to set tracking on these items so that you can be certain which of them resonate most with your target audience. This is also a good way to determine which types of content could be gated in the future, so you can continue to gather leads.
2. Embedded video interactions
Tracking viewer engagement on videos that have been embedded into blog posts is an important factor in determining your video strategy. If you see, for instance, that videos about structured data tools are receiving more clicks and longer view time than other video topics, this can help shape the video content you produce in the future.
3. Scroll depth tracking
With this point, Sauer announced with conviction, “Bounce rate has no prominence.” Bounce rate is used as a placeholder measurement of success only when you don’t have other goals configured, and a high bounce rate is not synonymous with “unsuccessful”. Scroll depth, which is a measure of how far users scroll down a page, is a better indicator of engagement than bounce rate, because it allows you to see if your content is inspiring viewers to read the entire post. So in short, track your scroll depth. It will give you engagement insight that bounce rate simply can’t.
4. External link clicks
Tracking external link clicks is yet another way you can determine what your target audience finds most relevant. For instance, by tracking this metric, Sauer discovered that the most clicked external links on his website are resources from support.google.com. That insight will allow you to create an external link strategy that will keep your readers coming back again and again. You can document external link clicks by tagging all URL hostname clicks that do not contain your site’s URL.
SEO bonus tips:
1. No more “not provided”
Frustrated with seeing “not provided” at the top of your Analytics keywords? Sauer has a hack for that. Keyword Hero is a magical tool that took Sauer’s own “not provided” keywords from 98% to just 2%. Here’s how it works:
- Select view from your Google Analytics account
- Connect your Google Search Console
- Create mirrored property
- Keyword data starts flowing in automatically
2. Use annotations in Google Analytics
Are you making use of annotations in your Google Analytics? If not, now’s a good time to start. Create annotations for documentation about any significant changes that could cause spikes or drops in traffic. That way, you can see right in Analytics what changes or events have taken place, so you and your team don’t have to waste time chasing down information or taking guesses. Here’s how to create an annotation.
Sauer finished off his presentation with the helpful message: Data is meaningless without context. Collect better data, automate everything you can, look for quick wins, and use the tools you have!
Q&A – John Mueller from Google
It’s not every day you get to video chat with Google about SEO tips. John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, gave us some valuable advice from the big screen. Here are some the best tidbits:
1. Metadata matters
Take care when writing your titles and descriptions, but Mueller strongly suggested, “Don’t fuss about length. Seriously.”
2. Win with images
Make good use of alt-text, add captions and lazy load with <noscript>.
3. Content, of course
Write clearly, have reasonable ad-usage, and be careful with interstitials (a popular form of interruptive marketing).
4. Structure your data
Making use of structured data is highly recommended to help Google better understand your website’s information. Mueller suggests to use it reasonably, check validity with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool, and be flexible to make markup easy on your CMS.
1. Mobile-first indexing
It’s happening! Lots of sites have already been moved, and more sites are coming. This indexing move isn’t just for mobile-friendly sites and won’t affect rankings; however, there are some readiness checks you can do to prepare.
- Internal links
- Images & videos
2. Structured data
When it comes to adding structured data to your website’s code, Mueller suggests first adding Breadcrumbs, since they’re the easiest to start with. Past that, it really depends on the type of site. If you need help getting started, check out these 5 free schema markup tools so you can start structuring your data today.
3. Security after HTTPS
Since 85% of page 1 rankings are HTTPS, what’s next from a security standpoint for people who are looking to get a headstart and have already completed the things they need to do? Mueller answers simply, “Nothing in particular.” Having your site secured with HTTPS and making sure that it’s mobile-friendly is a baseline, quality thing to have.
Quick tip: Make sure to have processes in place for certificates to be renewed automatically, so you’re never left unprepared or unsecured.
4. Voice Search & Google Assistant optimization
Currently, there aren’t many guidelines to optimize for voice. A website that works well in search should correlate with positive results with voice search. However, it should be noted:
- Featured snippets typically get called out in voice.
- Structured data in the future will help Google understand when something is meant to be read aloud.
- Expect things to still change quite a bit.
- Be careful of Google Assistant apps. It might be too early to put all of your budget into an Assistant app, since things are changing so much.
Local SEO optimization – Joy Hawkins from Sterling Sky Inc. & Darren Shaw from Whitespark
These two lively speakers from Sterling Sky Inc. and Whitespark covered the highly relevant topic of how to optimize your Google My Business listing to the best of its abilities. They had many valuable tips, some of the best being:
1. Review-gaters beware
Review-gating is the process of filtering candidates based on their reviews. Hawkins, a self-proclaimed lover of SEO policy, tells us that Google’s guidelines now state that websites “cannot discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews.” See more of Google’s policy changes to local SEO.
So what action will they take if they catch a site in the act? They’ll remove all the reviews from the time the review-gating started until it ended. This could mean hundreds of positive reviews will vanish… forever.
2. Guidelines for business listing bios
- You cannot include a URL
- You cannot include specials or deals
- Avoid keyword stuffing – your business description will not affect ranking, but being flagged as spam certainly will.
- You can put in an email if you want to broadcast a certain
3. Make use of Google Posts
Launched last year, Google Posts are a very important part of your local SEO if you have Google+. In April 2018, Google moved Posts to the top of mobile, giving companies an opportunity to share their content front and center. So why bother doing this? Hawkins and Shaw gave us an example of a company called PatientPop that increased appointment bookings by about 11 percent for thousands of customer listings via Google Posts. You can offer your audience the opportunity to book an appointment, download a coupon, get a free case evaluation, etc.
Google Post rules:
- Make one post at a time
- Use an image as text so the post looks like a button
- Take the user to a conversion page to increase your conversion rate
- Since the posts only stick around seven days, it’s a good idea to use a Google Post Scheduler (look out for Whitespark’s, coming soon!)
- Don’t forget to track on GA! Use UTM codes:
- Campaign source: GMBPosts
- Campaign medium: [type of post]
- Go to: Google Analytics > Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium
4. Take advantage of your Q&A section
The Question & Answer portion of your Google business listing is an often overlooked opportunity to engage and inform your audience. Make sure to monitor any questions being asked and respond as the business owner immediately (before someone else does). Some extra quick tips:
- Upvote your best question. The question with the most upvotes is the one that will display in the knowledge panel.
- Report irrelevant or inappropriate questions. They’ll be gone within one-two weeks.
- Seed the Q&A with your own most-asked questions. Feel free to pose the questions as the business owner. This could save your audience time spent scouring your site for answers… and you’ll get back time previously spent answering the same questions.
- If you’re feeling spicy… you can jump in on your competitors’ Q&A’s by plugging your own business. For example, maybe you’re a
SEO Testing – Rob Ousbey from Distilled
Rob Ousbey, VP Operations at Distilled, began his presentation announcing that predicting the effect in algorithm is really hard—and keeping in line with the underlying conference theme—stated confidently, “There is no best practice.”
This is where Ousbey is coming from: It took Google Translate two months to learn what took human researchers ten years. In the future, it will become increasingly hard to understand many rankings, even for Google. To demonstrate this, Ousbey had the entire room stand up and play a game. We were asked to compare three different sets of pages based on a query, and pick which one we thought was ranked higher. If you picked the wrong page, you sat down.
By the end of the game, only four people of nearly 100 picked all three pages correctly, essentially proving Ousbey’s statement that there truly is no best practice when it comes to predicting Google’s algorithm. He ended the presentation with some commonly held beliefs and best practices that you can throw out the window:
1. Alt attributes on images improve rankings
Ousbey and his team took a look at a site with no alt attributes on any images. They went in and added alt attributes, but it made no change to traffic. From a purely SEO standpoint, they aren’t necessary.
However, we suggest that you should still have alt attributes for accessibility reasons. Disabled users may be using screen readers or other software which reads the page out loud, and this software will read the alt text instead of the image. Another example is when users turn off images due to a slow internet connection, in which case they would only see the alt text.
2. Write article titles based on keyword traffic
You shouldn’t always choose your titles based on keyword search volume. For example, Ousbey took two queries: “which tv to buy” (higher volume) and “which tv should i buy” (lower volume). Then, he changed the previous article title to match the keyword with the higher volume. Surprisingly, he found that organic sessions decreased an average of eight percent. What gives?
It turns out, people are more likely to click on an answer to a question, not another question. The article’s title should more closely resemble, “This is the tv you should buy”, not, “what tv should you buy?” This gives users confidence and makes your content more click-worthy.
3. Structured markup should be on category pages
Category pages have lots of images but little text, meaning you can skip the markup on these pages. However, structured markup per product on these pages will help. Ousbey tested this theory for a client and saw an increase in organic sessions by 11 percent, and an extra $1.9 million in annual revenue from the additional traffic to these category pages.
After nine hours of intense mind expansion and knowledge-sharing, sessions concluded and happy hour began. If you’re interested in joining the fun and learning about topics like analytics, SEO, testing, and more, join the Minnesota Search Marketing Association (MnSearch). We’ll see you there.