Our Favorite MozCon Virtual 2021 Sessions

MozCon was back on the virtual stage this year, bringing next-level tactics and strategy to stay competitive in today’s rapidly evolving search landscape. Members from Portent’s organic and client partner teams—Cristi Zuk, Evan Hall, Harmony Huskinson, José Fausto Martinez, Naomi Thalenberg, and Travis McKnight—attended three days of tactical sessions for search marketers. Here are their favorite takeaways.

From the Medic Update to Now: How the E-A-T Ecosystem Has Transformed Organic Search

Presented by: Lily Ray, Amsive Digital

See Lily’s presentation deck

I get the distinct impression Lily Ray has been delivering this presentation in multiple forms over the years due to how well she got to the heart of the matter. Google wants to return content that won’t lead to users being harmed, and they are doing this by classifying queries at risk as Your Money or Your Life queries.

How Google has been treating these queries over the past few years and what the result looks like is difficult to describe with just abstractions like Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. Lily’s treatment of Google’s motivation, what’s losing, and who’s winning is so lucid that this video is a must-watch for your digital marketing team (if you have access to it).

The implications of what Google has been doing since the Medic update reach further than just search. Multiple Google products are incorporating their Knowledge Graph and E-A-T-based approaches, such as YouTube, News, Discover, and the Play Store. I think that in a few years we’ll see E-A-T get incorporated into Ads somehow, but probably not enough to impact their bottom line.

E-A-T principles are probably in practice in some form with the other big tech companies, as most of them have their own knowledge graphs and comprehensive web indexes. Just like how the general public didn’t know much about SEO ten years ago, people will be pretty familiar with knowledge graphs and their implications ten years from now.

Classic SEO practices don’t guarantee high rankingsDistance from perfect, optimized and relevant content, and fast page speed are all still required, but the goalposts have moved. There are a lot of brands doing the right things in SEO, but will still lose traffic in E-A-T-oriented core algorithm updates. It’s extremely frustrating when it happens, even if they aren’t doing anything wrong!

YMYL queries deserve content that meets higher standards – Ranking well for queries that affect a person’s health or wealth means having high scores for rankings signals that are sometimes based on subtle things. Google needs to see evidence that our content is written by qualified people, with correct information, verifiable claims, with a beneficial purpose for the reader.

Authors need to be known and credible – Websites that hide, invent, or rely on unqualified authors tend to suffer in algorithm updates. We need to let readers know who our writers are and why they should trust their expertise on a topic.

Reputation counts and it’s not just reviews – People talk about brands and authors, and Google can identify those mentions in reviews and off-site content. Fly-by-night businesses, ripoff artists, and grifters aren’t going to last long in the SERPs. Conversely, ethical businesses will be favored, but they need to get people to talk about them.

Correct information and sourced claims matter – Expert content is going to perform better for YMYL queries because it’s more likely to be researched and backed up with references. A machine is never going to know what is true, but it can determine when there is a consensus.

Google’s Knowledge Graph is a collection of facts about entities, but they have no way of verifying them in the world. The next best thing is to see what the consensus is among the websites they trust. Publishers with too many claims outside the trusted consensus aren’t going to do well, especially if it’s health-related or just plain against common sense. Our cited sources had better be truthful too.

Informational content can’t have too many affiliate links and sales CTAs – It’s no secret that Google has been at war with affiliate marketers for a long time. Almost everything they publish is meant to push sales through a sales funnel, and they are struggling post-Medic as a result. Most brands are not too different from affiliates, just less extreme in their salesiness. Content for YMYL queries needs to be focused on benefiting the user more than it benefits our conversion funnel, and Google is tolerating less commercial content on informational pages.

Mastering 3 Click + Engagement Signals for Higher Rankings/Traffic

Presented by: Cyrus Shepard, Moz

See Cyrus’s presentation deck

Earlier this year, Cyrus wrote an excellent article on Moz entitled 3 Vital Click-Based Signals for SEO: First, Long, & Last where he explored clicks as a ranking signal through the lens of a Google Patent surfaced by Bill Slawski. His article blew me away because I somehow missed Bill’s article on the topic, and I’ve been thinking about the meaning of a different piece of Google research about click data for a long time. These three click metrics are posed to drive the conversation about click data far past clickthrough rate and “pogo-sticking.”

Cyrus continues to impress with his presentation by taking ideas from his article, acting on them in live tests, and sharing the results with us in a way that will inspire us to attempt the same.

Patents aren’t necessarily in production – It’s always good to disclaim whatever takeaways we derive from reading Google’s patents and research with this important point. These documents merely tell us which problems were important enough to invest resources into investigating. Nothing in a patent is guaranteed to be the best approach to solving a problem or live in Google Search.

Snippet text helps us get the first click – How our pages appear in the SERP impact how frequently users click on our results, which has been known for a long time, but how often we’re the first result to be clicked is what we should aim for. Standing out and telling users we have what satisfies their intent is the way to be the first click more often.

The snippet experiment most people are going to talk about will be how Cyrus put “GOOGLE GUARANTEED” in a meta description just to see what would happen. It was an amazing success, but a dishonest tactic isn’t going to work in the long term. However, he did illustrate how important it is to figure out what your user hook is. For Cyrus’s users in the experiment, it was trust.

On one website I worked on years ago, the best hook was a free trial offer, and putting “free trial” in the meta description of my pages got more clicks. My conversion rate was a tiny bit better too, and I like to think it was due to having a consistent offer from snippet to CTA button and through the signup funnel.

Get long clicks by keeping people on the site – Google’s patent assumes that users who click and stay on a site a while before returning to the SERP were reading the site or deriving value from it. Cyrus’s experiments were putting a video and related article links at the top of the page. I’ve seen videos work; Cyrus didn’t.

The related article links worked for Cyrus, and I think that’s due to users finding something they wanted to read. It could also be that users who navigate into other parts of the site are less likely to navigate backward back to the Google SERP. I’ve seen success with longer sessions through conversion rate optimization. Users going down the sales funnel stay on the site longer.

Satisfy the query to get the last click – Users tend to click around several results to find or compile the answer they’re looking for. Being the last result they clicked indicates that your page helped complete the user’s search session. Putting FAQ content on a page is one way to comprehensively answer a query, and Cyrus experimented with FAQs inspired by the People Also Ask questions, but that’s not always necessary.

Even though Cyrus’s PAA experiment was successful, merely answering the People Also Ask questions doesn’t guarantee a circumspect answer. Making sure an expert is either writing, outlining, or consulting on the article is better. As an expert, they are going to have a better idea of what it is users need to know before they can move on to completing whatever is spurring their query in the first place.

To Post or Not to Post: What We Learned From Analyzing Over 1,000 Google Posts

Presented by: Joy Hawkins, Sterling Sky

See Joy’s presentation deck

Google Posts—they’re like the hybrid child of social media and SEO, and everyone seems a little confused about what exactly to do with them. Well, Joy Hawkins is here to shine her unwavering, evidence-based light of truth on the Google post conundrum.

Here are a few questions Joy answered by looking at more than 1,000 Google Posts from a wide variety of industries (lawyers, landscaping businesses, and more):

Question: What types of GMB posts perform the best (have the highest CTR)?
Answer: Offer posts. They had a CTR of 3 clicks across 299 posts.

From slide 34 of Joy’s MozCon presentation

Question: Should GMB posts have a title?
Answer: Yes. Posts that included a title received twice as many clicks.

Question: Should GMB posts include emojis?
Answer: Yes! GMB posts with emojis received double the clicks and a higher conversion rate as well.

And, most importantly:

Question: Are GMB posts a ranking factor?
Answer: No.

Joy’s study concluded that posting on GMB does not impact rankings. However, GMB posts should be viewed similarly to schema implementation in Local SEO, as GMB posts can be included in justifications in the Local Pack.

Taking Charge of Your Indexability: How to Optimize and Prioritize Your Technical Work

Presented by: Areej AbuAli, Women in Tech SEO

See Areej’s presentation deck.

Areej AbuAli dropped some real talk at her 2021 MozCon Session:

“Let’s all make a pact to drop the 100 page audits.”

They’re bulky, they’re overwhelming, and they complicate the implementation process. So, how does an SEO practitioner make the leap from mega documents to digestible recommendations?

The answer lies in prioritization. Decide what to share based on two factors:

  1. SEO Impact
  2. Technical Effort*

*don’t just assume this, ask the development team

Slide 104 from Areej AbuAli’s MozCon presentation

It comes down to making the implementation process as straightforward as possible and reporting on organic leads (not traffic or impressions or nebulous visibility statistics).

What’s hard: Convincing stakeholders, meetings, proving with the data
What’s easy: Making the recommendation

Side note: our content and SEO recommendations at Portent are always framed around impact and technical effort. We always try to provide recommendations as realistically as possible, so this was validating to see from Areej.

Areej left us with this statement: “It’s okay to feel overwhelmed when working on something new…” Truly, this is a constant struggle for anyone and everyone involved in an SEO project, and I appreciated her transparency about this as an industry leader. I’ve been there, and I’m sure you have as well.

Internationalization Errors: How to Go Global Without Losing All Of Your Traffic

Presented by: Jackie Chu, Uber

Jackie’s internationalization talk really highlights a lot of the important factors many sites don’t consider when implementing Hreflang. Let’s start with my favorite quote from Jackie’s presentation: “Hreflang 101: Simple in concept, but not in execution.”

Seriously, Hreflang is one of the most complex elements in SEO. Do all sites need Hreflang? No, and as Jackie shared in her presentation, if we are going to go international, we need to create distinct localized web pages.

Consider creating international pages if you say yes, to the following questions Jackie asked:

  • Can you create truly localized content per region?
  • Can you create unique URLs for all versions of that content?

Did you know that Hreflang can have language and country?

Hreflang can include language and country. However, language is mandatory, and the country is optional. Hreflang should always have language first, then country if you decide to include it. For example, hreflang = “en-us”

Another takeaway for me was that Chinese is the only Hreflang that should be using four-letter lang codes. Simplified Chinese (Used in China and Singapore): hreflang = “zh-Hans”
Traditional Chinese (Used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macao): hreflang = “zh-Hant”

I highly recommend following Jackie on Twitter; she’s always sharing some great insights! Here’s a link to the Internationalization checklist that Jackie shared to check your international content.

The Ultimate How-To Guide to Faceted Navigation

Presented by: Luke Carthy, LukeCarthy.com

Luke promised that at the end of his presentation, the unthinkable would happen. That SEO and Faceted Navigation would become best friends. They did!

Faceted Navigation can sometimes become an issue for e-commerce sites because of the thousands, millions, or billions of URLs that can be generated through filter options. Billions of URLs is really bad!

So how did Luke convince us that SEO and Faceted Navigation can become best friends? Well, with memes, pugs, and balance, he told us the following:

  • Learn your site’s taxonomy (seriously do it!)
  • Don’t use filters that already exist as categories
  • Don’t allow more than one option of the same filter to be indexed
  • Set up a max of indexable filters (usually it’s two)
  • SEO + Faceted Navigation = ✨ Besties ✨

I love it when presenters share how they use some of the common SEO tools out there. Here are my notes on how Luke uses the following:

Google Analytics – Look at your site’s parameterized URLs to find what filters are the most popular and use your site’s search to find what possible filter queries are being searched for.

Google Search Console – Look at what parameters are frequently being excluded, which can be found in the Coverage section “Crawled – currently not indexed.”

Luke Carthy is an amazing consultant that dropped tons of knowledge during a 30-minute presentation. Don’t forget to follow Luke’s Twitter account to stay up to date on all things e-commerce!

The Cold Hard Truth About CTR and Other Common Metrics

Presented by: Britney Muller, Data Sci 101

In this talk, Britney challenged the audience to consider what data we should be rethinking. As digital marketers, we’ve become attached to certain metrics, such as traffic, CTRs, and bounce rates. However, if we challenge ourselves to think deeper about data and what it truly means, we may discover unique opportunities to reach our goals.

For example, a decline in website traffic might actually be a good thing if the traffic loss is to a page that does not serve a business need and does not inspire conversions.
Similarly, an increase in bounce rate might indicate that users are finding information faster and spending less time completing a task. A higher bounce rate could mean an improved user experience.

In conclusion, data is all about context. Sometimes our biases about the data and metrics we use to measure success may lead us astray. Common metrics are multifaceted and require a certain degree of skepticism.

The Content Refresh: How To Do More With Less

Presented by: Kameron Jenkins, Shopify

Over time, your content decays due to algorithm updates, competitors, out-of-date information, and website updates.

Decaying content poses a risk to companies that generate inbound leads and revenue. Most marketers forget that refreshing old content can be equally as important as producing new content.

To start refreshing your content, look for posts that have lost traffic and term rankings over time—ideally, look at data over at least six months to spot trends. Prioritize which content you’ll start with by conversions, trending topics, and business priorities. To begin executing on refreshing content, consider the following:

  1. What are the table stakes?
    1. Which queries did the page lose the most positions for?
    2. Are there opportunities to consolidate the page with other content that is ranking well?
    3. Are there additional internal links you can add to this page?
  2. What will give you a competitive advantage?
    1. Look at original research – is there data your company has you can use to inform the page content?
  3. What will maximize conversions?
    1. Are there CTAs the page is missing? Ensure the CTAs have clear and compelling messaging that is highly relevant to the content on the page.
    2. Try multiple placements of CTAs and be mindful of what stage of the funnel the user is in.

In conclusion: when it comes to content, there is no finish line. Content requires maintenance and constant iteration.

The Science of Purchasing Behavior: How to Use It Effectively to Attract & Convert More Prospects Into Customers

Presented by: Flavilla Fongang, 3 Colours Rule

The general theme of Flavilla’s talk is that marketers can do a better job speaking to customers by creating content, particularly advertisements, that directly appeals to how the brain processes information.

The human brain has three main control rooms:

  1. Neocortex — the rational brain, which controls imagination, consciousness, and abstract thought.
  2. Limbic system — the emotional brain, which controls judgment and behavior.
  3. Reptilian — the instinctual brain, which triggers fight or flight and survival reactions.

Although each section of the brain responds to marketing stimuli, the reptilian brain is the target that controls our strongest actions and impulses, which is why Flavila suggests targeting most conversion content toward it.

To determine what type of reptilian content you should produce, Flavilla recommends asking yourself three questions:

  1. Are you targeting client/customer retention or acquisition?
  2. Are you expanding your current market share or adventuring into a new market?
  3. Are you able to develop a campaign with an 80% brand push, 20% product push ratio?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you should be prepared to target the reptilian brain for your intended audience using at least one of the following techniques:

  1. Diagnose the user’s pain — this triggers the user’s self-centeredness.
  2. Use contrast in visual content or anecdotes — establishes clear winners in the brain.
  3. Create tangible benefits — demonstrate the value of your offer.
  4. Harness the user’s emotion — the reptilian brain is drawn to negative emotion, but you can also appeal to positive emotion by tapping into the user’s perspective, such as a hero image that has a bunch of people looking at the product.

Why Marketers Should Think More Like Investors To Drive Content Results

Presented by: Ross Simmonds, Foundation Marketing

Ross makes an interesting and poignant argument about diversifying your website’s content portfolio, much like a stock market portfolio, to mitigate loss from different trends like seasonality, search engine updates, or user behaviors.

His most valuable statement is that marketers should be investing more into their content but guessing less. Don’t let your content strategy get caught up in a swirl of memes and trends and then watch, flabbergasted, as your content’s performance drops 40% once the hype dies out.

Like a stock investment, every type of content has a risk associated with it. Some investments are conservative, where you’ve validated the growth-focused content concept with research and you’re positive it has good SEO fundamentals. These plays are smart, but usually they don’t move the needle much.

Other plays are bombastic and focused on exponential growth, where your content can “go to the moon” if the right levers are pulled. Unfortunately, it’s equally likely that this content will explode on takeoff and never reach orbit, causing you to lose all of the resources invested into its creation.

Ross argues that content marketers should be making smart and risky plays alike to compete in the marketplace. Perform the due diligence about an idea, but then iterate on it until you have options for a safe play and a YOLO option.

And ultimately, he recommends that marketers are bag-holders for their own content. Instead of always looking for the next best idea, go back to basics and update your old content. Let it grow and let it thrive. These are often the least risky plays of all, but have the opportunity to provide respectable growth.

Build for Search: Modern Web Dev that puts SEO 1st

Presented by: Dana DiTomaso, Kick Point

In her talk, Dana proposed that the standard development approach, called the waterfall process, is not great for modern dev projects. She recommends instead, using what she called an “agile-ish” process that fixes a lot of the issues with the waterfall approach.

The Waterfall Process

In the waterfall process, tasks flow downstream, and all design-related tasks are fully completed before dev starts.

Problems with the Waterfall process:

  • Budget can get eaten up too soon because of pacing.
  • Dev comes in too late, and you find out that features or designs that were planned/promised can’t be coded.
  • Or, sometimes problems don’t come up until coding starts.
  • Not everything can be envisioned.
  • Dev takes a while and decision makers wander off and re-think things (i.e., designing for mobile-first, etc.).
  • QA takes forever and is demoralizing.

The “Agile-ish” Process

Instead of using a Waterfall process, Dana suggests using an “agile-ish” process that allows elements of the process to occur in tandem, fixing a lot of the issues with Waterfall. It allows the developers to get involved early on, but doesn’t bog them down.

In Agile-ish, you create a content plan for the site before any design occurs. Starting with target keywords for each page, and then identifying what the call to action will be on any given page, provides direction for copy and ensures that the design can support the page/content needs.

Mapping Out Content

To make the planning process easier using agile-ish, Dana suggests using the Gather Content Tool. It provides an interface where you can map out the content that will be on each page. This helps make it very clear what the purpose of each page/section is, and leadership can understand what is needed (i.e., testimonials).

Building Microcopy Into Site Planning

The Gather Content Tool also facilitates building microcopy into site planning. Once you have the “blueprint” for the site, you can start building the admin part of the pages even BEFORE you build wireframes.

At this point, there are no more surprises—because all the content is already planned out—and it is less likely that things will have to be redesigned or re-developed down the road because the front and back end requirements don’t align.

Now that everyone knows exactly what the website will look like and will require to develop, it is a lot easier to price and plan, because you know exactly what will be involved.

Once those steps are complete, you can tackle wireframing. Dana suggests presenting and reviewing wireframes in batches, and once each batch is approved, it can move on to development.

Develop an SEO Checklist

Lastly, developing an SEO checklist upfront so that you can explain these things early in the process will make it much more likely that the site will be built with these things in mind.

Example SEO checklist items:

  • Txt.robots
  • Canonicals and pagination (and maybe hreflang)
  • Sitemap recommendation
  • H1s/H2s etc.
  • Accessibility requirements
  • Schema requirements
  • 404 and search page design
  • Site speed (test early and often)

In summary, using an agile-ish process keeps the momentum going and helps everyone stay involved. Using an agile-ish approach:

  • Leads to quick wins
  • Allows for building in phases, where things are more visible up front
  • Builds trust due to the open and more integrated process

Beyond the Basics: Awesome SEO Tricks for Uncovering Advanced Insights from Your SEO Data

Presented by: Rob Ousbey, Moz

In his talk, Rob Ousbey shares tips and tricks for how you can make your most time-consuming SEO tasks faster in order to dramatically improve your business.

He focused on three areas, providing tips for each:

  1. Link Building
  2. Content Ideation
  3. Insights

Tip 1: Find Link Opportunities by Starting With a SERP

Digital marketers know that link building/acquisition is important, but it can be time-consuming to find domains to get links from. Rob recommends looking for the domains that frequently link to the top 10 ranking pages for a term you’re targeting and to discover new potential link sources.

He shares a tool that can help save so much time doing this, called the Moz Link Opportunity Finder. This tool is a prototype that requires you to either have a Moz Pro Customer account, or to create a free community account.

You can access the tool in the Moz Lab.

Tip 2: Find the Hidden Gems of Content Ideas on Your Site

Ideating content ideas can be time consuming, but Rob suggests grouping similar keywords that a page ranks for, and look for opportunities where the page could be split up to create new, better-targeted content.

For example, if there is high SERP overlap between two keywords, you can target them on the same page. But where there is low SERP overlap, split the page and target the keywords separately.

To save time on this task, you can leverage the “On Page Keyword Grouper” from Moz, which is also located in the Moz Lab.

Tip 3: Tag Up Your URL Lists for Deeper Insights

Rob suggests that instead of doing technical analysis at a page level, you can aggregate your data to the level of site sections or page types, to find the root cause behind problems.
Rob built this Regex URL Tagging Tool that can speed up this process. Note: This tool is not associated with Moz.

Lastly, Rob offers a couple bonus Tips:

  • Try tagging your competitor’s top URLs for content ideas.
  • Try tagging your GA data to get category-level insights.

Final Thoughts

That’s a wrap! Those were our top takeaways from MozCon Virtual 2021. Our team is invigorated and excited to apply the new skills and ideas they learned to our everyday practice at Portent.

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