Over the past month, I’ve been lucky enough to attend several of the best SEO conferences and learn from many of the brightest minds in our space.
In this post, I will share 10 pieces of SEO wisdom from some of my favorite talks I’ve listened in on recently.
The insights from talks like these allow us to think more broadly about where SEO is headed, and give us the foresight to update and adapt our strategies to be more future-proof.
So without further ado, here are the 10 best takeaways.
1. User-Centric Performance Metrics Must Reflect Real Performance
Speaking about the state of technical SEO at SMX, Bartosz Goralewicz made the case that SEO professionals need to be more technical to keep up with the pace at which new technologies are evolving.
To prove his point, Bartosz exposed some of the major crawling and indexing issues that exist for many large websites.
With regards to web performance, Goralewicz highlighted the need for performance testing to reflect performance in the real world for users.
It isn’t enough to perform standard speed tests in isolation and by looking at load time alone, as this won’t give you the full picture.
To achieve a fuller understanding, real user metrics and objective crowd measured metrics are needed, such as the Chrome User Experience Report (CRUX).
Goralewicz illustrated his point by comparing Hulu and Netflix’s performance in organic search.
While their pages have a similar load time, Hulu only displays the page content once the page has fully loaded, whereas Netflix has a much faster First Meaningful Paint timing and, therefore, a better user experience.
2. Don’t Get Locked Into Thinking You Can Only Optimize Websites
At Digitalzone in Istanbul, Cindy Krum took a broad look at how Google is evolving and how it is trying to move away from using the link graph, with an increased focus on language-agnostic entities.
Google’s aim is to organize everything, and they want to rank more than just websites (e.g., audio, businesses, podcasts, photos, music).
Ultimately, these are all forms of information and don’t necessarily need URLs.
Krum sees the shift to mobile-first indexing as Google’s way of organizing information according to the knowledge graph.
At the center of this change are entities, which are universal ideas or concepts that don’t necessarily require links or websites.
As such, it’s important that we adapt and understand that we are no longer only optimizing and ranking websites.
3. Decreasing Organic Opportunity & 2 Conflicting Truths
Rand Fishkin was the keynote speaker at September’s BrightonSEO, and he took the opportunity to paint a rather bleak picture of the state of search.
Google and SEO professionals used to have a deal where we receive clicks from search in return for organizing the world’s information for Google with our websites.
However, Fishkin argued that this deal is getting worse all the time as Google is increasingly keeping searchers within their ecosystem.
With this in mind, he explained that there are two conflicting truths for marketers:
- It has never been more difficult to earn more traffic from the world’s major players, such as Google.
- It has never been more important to make your website the center of your campaigns.
Despite this difficult position, Fishkin is optimistic in the long term and gave us 10 ways you can help your websites survive in the future of search.
4. Google May Treat a Subdomain as Part of the Main Domain
In an insightful Q&A between Distilled’s Will Critchlow and Google’s John Mueller at SearchLove London, Mueller tried to clear up the long-standing subdomains vs. subdirectories debate.
Mueller said that Google attempts to understand what does and doesn’t belong to a site and sometimes that does and doesn’t include particular subdomains and subdirectories.
If there are lots of subdomains on a domain, then these might be considered part of the same site.
If Google sees a subdomain as part of the same site, then it is kind of similar to a subdirectory.
5. The Game at the Top of the SERPs Has Changed & We Need to Inherit Google’s KPIs
Tom Capper’s SearchLove talk looked at how the normal rules don’t always apply for the most competitive terms in search, with Google seemingly going beyond our normal understanding of ranking factors.
The results of Capper’s research indicate that backlinks mean increasingly less in explaining rankings, especially for the top five positions. He instead sees backlinks as a proxy for popularity that helps put a page in contention for ranking well.
Capper encouraged us to optimize Google’s KPIs wherever possible (where they are known), such as Time to SERP Interaction and the Pogo-stick Rate back from pages back to search.
6. 55% of Users Will Abandon Your Site If They Can’t Find What They’re Looking For
JP Sherman’s satisfyingly thorough BrightonSEO talk focused on the often overlooked area of optimizing internal search.
Only 18 percent of organizations devote resource to optimizing onsite search, but 55 percent of users will immediately abandon your site if they can’t find what they’re looking for.
The sophistication of Google’s search engine means that searchers have very high expectations of all search engines, so if they don’t find something relevant in your internal site search, this will result in lost revenue.
Sherman broke internal search down into the areas:
- Passive and active behaviors.
- Result set quality.
Once you understand these areas you can optimize them by implementing functionality including:
- Knowledge graphs.
- Alternative paths.
7. If You Aren’t Sampling Some Local SERPs, You Aren’t Seeing What Your Searchers See
Rob Bucci and STAT’s superb research on local search was one of the highlights of SearchLove London and has gone some way to significantly advance our understanding in this area.
The research’s key takeaways included:
- If you aren’t tracking location in your SERP tracking you’re missing 70 percent of what users are seeing.
- Smart segmentation is the key to local SEO success.
- Geo-modifiers have a significant influence on organic results, it’s like asking a different question.
- You need a good rating to rank in local packs. Google is only letting the best quality results rise to the top.
8. Switch on Discontinued Products to Leverage Lost Link Equity
At SearchLove London, Luke Carthy used his vast experience of ecommerce SEO to show how we can get more out of discontinued products by switching them back on, and reclaiming lost link equity.
Using high-profile examples, he showed how short-sighted decision making in the form of 404-ing discontinued products has caused near irreparable damage to a number of ecommerce sites’ rankings for various products.
To avoid these nightmare scenarios, Carthy set out the benefits of switching back on discontinued products, which include:
- Reclaiming lost link equity.
- Capitalizing on continuing demand, which carries on long after products have been discontinued.
- Better and cleaner UX by transforming 404 pages with alternative choices and a clear next step.
9. Implement Automated Testing to Avoid SEO Horror Stories
Mike King’s BrightonSEO talk started by going through some SEO horror stories that people had shared with him.
Many of these could have been avoided by implementing various forms of automated testing into development pipelines.
King introduced the different types of automated testing including:
- Unit testing: Testing of individual functions or procedures to make sure that they work.
- Integration testing: Testing how logic comes together to build the bigger system.
- UI testing: Testing of the front-end interface.
Conducting an SEO audit is similar to the work carried out by QA Engineers.
Crawling the HTML version is a bit like integration testing because you’re seeing what the software spits out when all of the systems come together.
Crawling the rendered version is a bit like UI testing because you’re looking at the results when the UI is rendered.
An SEO professional’s role is to help plan the tests that QA Engineers, Product Managers, and Developers use to build into systems.
10. The Same Changes Have Different Effects on Different Sites
Dom Woodman’s refreshingly honest talk at SearchLove London took us through many of the SEO tests he has run using Distilled’s ODN.
Interestingly, he found that when a test yielded positive results, it often didn’t have the same impact when implemented across other sites, which suggests we shouldn’t focus too much on the concept of “best practices.”
Woodman urged us to periodically re-challenge our beliefs, as we’ve likely made assumptions that are wrong because they worked on one site.
In amongst his other successes and failures, Woodman learned that if user intent isn’t there then the extra bells and whistles will fail (e.g. structured data). You can’t put lipstick on a pig.
Perhaps most importantly, Woodman has realized that success isn’t just up and to the right, it’s about testing and finding things out.
A negative test rolled back is a bullet dodged, not a failure.
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