This past week, eight of us from Page One Power had the privilege of attending SearchFest 2016 (coincidentally the last SearchFest) in Portland.
Our P1P crew consisted of:
- Jon Ball
- Zach Ball
- Cory Collins
- Mike Bryant
- Nicholas Chimonas
- Colin Eggleston
- Michael Johnson
- And myself.
It was a whirlwind, one-day trip to Portland (6:00 AM) and back to Boise (11:00 PM), but the information and insight we gleaned from an incredible lineup of speakers was well worth it. This post aims to recap the excellent sessions we attended and provide some highlights for those of you who weren’t fortunate enough to be there.
Without further ado, let’s look back at the opening keynote presentation from Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz.
SEO For Answers Ranking #0 – Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz
Main Concept: How to rank in featured snippets.
Dr. Pete’s presentation was centered on how featured snippets work, and how get your content to show up there, something he refers to as “ranking #0”. While many view Google’s ability to return answers directly within the SERPs as a threat to traffic, Dr. Pete explained why he views it as a great opportunity for SEOs.
- Google is committed to featured snippets.
- You can rank in the snippet even if you’re not ranking #1 (just need to be on page one).
- Studies show people are clicking on the featured snippet results.
- SEOs and site owners shouldn’t be afraid of Google stealing their content.
- Factual questions are typically answered by the knowledge graph – how, why, and the implied what are great questions for featured snippets.
For a full look at Dr. Pete’s presentation, you can view his slide deck here:
Dr. Pete explained that Google is committed to delivering featured snippets in search results, and he believes it is another push towards mobile. Because mobile screens are smaller, it makes sense to try to answer a question directly within the results.
Dr. Pete also highlighted the benefits of being the featured snippet for voice search, which only returns one answer (the featured snippet).
Voice search only returns one answer (and Google reads it out loud) - @dr_pete #Searchfest— Cory Collins (@Coryrcollins) March 10, 2016
You don’t get a link, but you do get attribution and you’re the only answer – pretty powerful.
In regards to the SERPs, Dr. Pete calls ranking in the snippet section “ranking #0” and he points out that it can be a legitimate SEO shortcut to higher visibility.
You can get featured snippet even if you DON'T rank number 1 - leapfrog the sites that outrank you @dr_pete #Searchfest— Ruth Burr Reedy (@ruthburr) March 10, 2016
Even if you’re ranking #10, you can still be featured in the rich snippet (ranking #0), as long as you are ranking on page one.
Dr. Pete said that ranking #0 is a bit like the Wild West at the moment. Beyond passing the initial authority hurdle of being on page one, the best way to rank in the rich snippet is by being relevant and being the best answer.
#SearchFest @moz @dr_pete To get the Featured Snippet, you must rank on page 1 for the query. Then it's about relevance and authority— Tim Lavelle (@tlavelle) March 10, 2016
Dr. Pete also discussed how much opportunity there is in rich snippets for commercial businesses. If you target the right questions, and leave strong trails, you can lead your customers from the SERPs down a path to conversion.
Forget Keywords – Here’s How To Produce Content to Grow Your Business – Arnie Kuenn of Vertical Measures
Main Concept: Create content that people are actually searching for.
Arnie Kuenn’s session focused on how to create content that ranks and delivers value to your audience. Arnie explained that content marketing is the art of providing relevant, useful content to your customers without selling or interrupting. Rather than pitching products and services, you are delivering material that makes your customers more informed.
- Most effective types of content focus on – cost, problems, comparisons, reviews, and best of lists
- When creating content think about what questions your business gets asked every day
- Consider the “hub and spoke” model for creating a content campaign
You can find Arnie’s full slide deck here:
Arnie detailed five different types of content that work really well for driving engagement and search performance and provided examples in his presentation. These forms of content included:
- Cost – Directly answers questions related to the cost of your products/services
- Problems – Address any problems of issues associated with your product/service, and provide solutions
- VS. – Compare the different products/services within your industry
- Reviews – Centralized collection or roundup of reviews of the various vendors (including competitors) in your niche
- Best of – Lists that highlight the top companies (again, including competitors) in your industry, and explains why they’re among the best
Address customers questions. Answer cost questions, deal with problems, even the hard ones. Provide comparisons. @ArnieK #SearchFest— Lisa Williams (@SEOPollyAnna) March 10, 2016
Arnie also offered some expert advice on content ideation and creation. His number one tip was to leverage your staff.
Instead, I use an 'ideation' process: ask staff - what do u get asked all the time? Then answer those in detail. @ArnieK #Searchfest— Casey Markee (@MediaWyse) March 10, 2016
He also recommended using Google suggest for relevant topics and questions people are regularly searching. Scrolling to the bottom of Google’s results will also show related searches, which can offer more ideas.
Arnie explained the “hub and spoke” content model they use at his company Vertical Measures. The general process for this model is to create a core piece of “hub” content (eBook, WhitePaper, Case Study, etc.) and make it gated. Then, you roll out “spokes” (webinars, blog posts, podcasts, etc.) that all tie into and lead back to the hub. Arnie explained that this is a continuous process that Vertical Measures typically launches about every 90 days.
Kaizen-Style Link Building – Jon Cooper of Point Blank SEO
Main Concept: Using the Kaizen philosophy to methodically improve your link building.
Jon Cooper’s presentation was all about applying the Kaizen philosophy to link building, to improve efficacy and success. Jon explained that modern link building is about one to one outreach with real people. And you must constantly be measuring your results, and using this data to steadily get better and more efficient over time.
- Most critical thing to measure in link building is time
- Use data and research to determine which tasks can be automated
- Cost per link is the human input of time that went into the link
- Track reasons for rejection and learn from them
Jon’s presentation slides can be found here:
How do you measure? You must measure and record your efforts to KNOW what is working and what is not. #SearchFest @PointBlankSEO— Casey Markee (@MediaWyse) March 10, 2016
This allows you to slowly tick off each box and figure out what’s really going on within a link project.
Jon highlighted three critical aspects worth measuring within link building:
- Prospecting success
- Outreach success
Some tips for outreach included using an email validator to avoid emails bouncing, using social proof by referencing other authorities that have linked, and mirroring the prospect’s language.
Also, Jon shared that his team has experienced more success when reaching out to prospects right after they’ve linked to a competitor.
#SearchFest @PointBlankSEO Link Building Tip: Reach out to prospects RIGHT after they've linked to competitor - 50% better conversion rate— Tim Lavelle (@tlavelle) March 10, 2016
He also suggested tracking the reasons you get rejected or are unsuccessful. These situations present opportunities to learn and improve your process.
Jon suggested a number of great tools during his session, including:
- Harvest - time tracking
- BuzzStream (for bigger teams) – outreach platform
- Pitchbox (for smaller teams) – outreach platform
- URL Profiler – provides link metrics
- LinkClump – bulk open links
- Citation Labs Co-citation Tool – prioritize link opportunities
Optimizing Unstructured Data – AJ Kohn of Blind Five Year Old
Main Concept: Optimizing unstructured data to satisfy both robot crawlers and human readers.
AJ Kohn focused his presentation on semantic search, and optimizing unstructured data to get your content placed in Google’s featured snippets. AJ outlined some simple, but often overlooked methods for helping Google find structure, entities, and meaning within the content we create.
- Semantic search is about understanding meaning
- An SEO’s job is to reduce friction
- The link graph is absolutely not going away, but entities are being added
- Target keywords, but optimize for intent
You can view AJ’s full presentation here:
AJ explained that Google is continuously getting better at understanding meaning from text because of their access to an increasing amount of data. But while Google is getting better at understanding the meaning of a query, they still struggle to understand why people are searching.
During his session AJ wryly stated that we need to stop writing for people and start writing for search engines. While this may seem counterintuitive, he cited a Nielsen study that showed on average people only read about 28% of the content on a given page.
The problem w/writing for people is people do it terribly. Ppl read about 28% of the words on a page. @ajkohn #SearchFest— Ruth Burr Reedy (@ruthburr) March 10, 2016
AJ pointed out that keyword rich text and subheads actually make it easier for readers to resume reading at any time, in the likely event that they skim or navigate away from your content.
AJ also touched on the fact that the link graph isn’t going anywhere, but that entities are being added to the process.
The link graph is still around - but now Google is also scoring entities on those pages. @ajkohn #SearchFest— Ruth Burr Reedy (@ruthburr) March 10, 2016
He surmised that entity authority could flow through links similar to anchor text.
Content Success Factors: Data-Driven Performance Insights For 2016 – Kane Jamison of Content Harmony
Main Concept: A data-driven look at what factors determine content success.
Kane Jamsion presented on data from studies done by Moz, Backlinko, Searchmetrics, BuzzSumo, and STAT. Kane used the data from these various studies to help determine what content ranks, and what content earns links and shares.
- Design and format matters.
- Use long-form content to build links and authority.
- Use short-form content as a cost-effective means to keep your audience engaged.
- Align each content type and purpose with your keyword planning.
Kane’s entire slide deck is available here:
Kane discussed that his research indicated word count was somewhat important when it comes to ranking, and that the average piece of content on page one has about 1,890 words. However, he suggested that content ranging from 800-1,200 words seemed safe.
Kane did share that word count was pretty integral to earning links, and the data showed 2,000-3,000 words worked best.
Kane also highlighted that keywords are still important when I comes to ranking.
Don't get lost in the excitement of a content launch & social promotion that you forget the basics [like keywords] @KaneJamison #SearchFest— SERPs.com (@serpsapp) March 10, 2016
Readability on the other hand, is mildly important, but more so for shareability than rankings.
The Technical SEO Renaissance – Michael King of iPullRank
Main Concept: The importance of technical SEO.
Michael King’s presentation focused on the reemergence of technical SEO and how important it is today. Michael gave an abridged history of SEO and how technical things were in the beginning. But after Penguin hit everyone wanted to stop doing technical work and say they were content marketers. However, Michael went on to explain how things have come full circle and technical SEO is as important as ever.
- HTTP/2 could be the future
- We need more from our SEO tools
- Don’t let Google mislead you about 302s vs. 301s
- Page Speed is Google’s next big play
You can view Michaels full presentation here:
Michael’s keynote presentation stressed the importance of technical SEO. He pleaded that we develop our SEO tools to deliver more information. For example, when we measure ranking, are we measuring for context and actionability, or just vanity?
Michael also discussed how John Mueller told us that 302s pass PageRank, but that the data does not support that statement.
Second speaker of the day calls BS on the claim that Google crawls 302 redirects. @iPullRank @portentint #SearchFest— SERPs.com (@serpsapp) March 11, 2016
Michael pointed to a client he had that gained massive rankings improvements by simply switching 302s to 301s.
Two more critical technical aspects Michael talked about were internal linking structure and page speed. He believes that page speed is Google’s next big push, and you need to be diligent about how your code is laid out, as external resources will slow down your page.
Michael closed out his presentation by asking the SEO community as a whole to get back to continuously testing everything.
We as an industry need to get back to a culture of testing things #SearchFest @iPullRank— David Mihm (@davidmihm) March 11, 2016
Michael said he believes this is what has made the SEO industry so innovative, and it will be what pushes the industry forward again.
For more coverage of SearchFest 2016, check out Jen Lopez's excellent recap on Moz!