By Andrew Dennis
15 Apr 2016

SEJ Summit 2016 in Santa Monica – A Page One Power Recap

My second ever trip to an SEO conference took me to sunny Santa Monica, California. Being a conference newbie, I felt very lucky to be attending a show at such an awesome venue.

Just check out the view from lunch:

But SEJ Summit was more than gorgeous weather and beautiful beaches — the conference boasted an excellent lineup of speakers who shared strategies, philosophies, and insight.

Speakers included:

  • Maile Ohye
  • William Sears
  • Anne Ahola Ward
  • Jeff Preston
  • John Brown
  • Melissa Palazzo
  • Kevin Henrikson
  • Larry Kim

Without further ado, let’s look at some highlights from “A Day of Keynotes” at SEJ Summit 2016.

Search Prioritization for 2016 — Maile Ohye Developer Programs Tech Lead at Google


3 Key Takeaways:

  • Delight your customers.
  • Prepare for AMP (accelerated mobile pages).
  • Stay fresh and relevant.

Maile Ohye kicked things off at SEJ Summit by discussing key considerations for search in 2016. Maile emphasized the importance of preparing for AMP multiple times throughout her presentation, so it's a safe bet to assume Google is serious about developing AMP and using structured data.

What really interested me from Maile's presentation was how she talked about delighting the customer, rather than simply satisfying them.

Maile referenced a pyramid model that is based on the Ritz Carlton Gold Standard, which has three tiers: expected, requested, and delighted

In regards to customers Maile explained how performing at each level differs in terms of how your customers will respond. 

  • Expected — Fulfilling what your customers expect means they may or may not return.
  • Requested — Doing what your customers specifically request will result in loyal customers that are repeat purchasers.
  • Delighted — Delighting your customers will convert them into brand advocates who endorse and promote your brand to others.

Stacking Tools for a Healthy, Holistic SEO-Ecosystem — Willaim Sears Group Product Manager, SEO/SEM/ASO at LinkedIn

3 Key Takeaways:

  • Look at your site's performance with multiple lenses.
  • Leverage your existing network.
  • Develop your own point of view and personal opinion.

William Sears took the stage next and provided excellent tips to approach SEO and gather valuable data. For instance, William presented this straightforward, four-step process for keyword research:

My biggest takeaway from William's presentation was the number of valuable resources within our own existing networks of colleagues and peers.

Some of the points William highlighted in terms of using your network included:

  • Follow your colleagues on Twitter.
  • Read blogs and industry leading sites (like Search Engine Journal).
  • Attend conferences and connect with speakers and other attendees.
  • Speak at conferences.
  • Connect with your peers online.
  • Identify subject matter experts and consult with them when you need help on a given subject.
  • Reach out for help, ask questions, and get second opinions.
  • Offer to help others with their problems or challenges.

William also stressed how important it is to take everything with a grain of salt, and that at the end of the day you need to distill all this information down to your own unique point of view.

SEO in a Mobile World — Anne Ahola Ward O'Reilly Media Author & CEO of CircleClick

3 Key Takeaways:

  • Speed is king.
  • Don't build an app for the sake of it.
  • There is no dominant platform, consider all possibilities.

 Anne Ward discussed the evolution of technology and SEO in an increasingly mobile world.

Anne mentioned some specific points for how to optimize for mobile:

  • Hosting matters.
  • If you're redirecting, make sure you are do canonicalization right.
  • Facebook instant articles are going to be a game changer for mobile.

Anne cited how impactful Facebook instant articles will be as they raise the bar for speed and precision even higher. Users are going to expect pages to be served very quickly or they will lose interest and move on. SEOs must work hard and diligently to build fast, mobile sites.

Another fascinating takeaway from Anne's presentation was her idea of "the nth screen". 

Anne advised that there is no single dominant platform, and that instead we should be developing our digital presence for "the nth screen".

Do's and Don'ts of ASO: A Practical Guide — Jeff Preston Seinor Manager, SEO at Disney


3 Key Takeaways:

  • Use search data to inform your app's name.
  • Optimize your descriptions and launch keywords.
  • Utilize icon and screen shot testing.

Jeff Preston from Disney talked about App Store Optimization (ASO). Tying into the points Anne Ward made about the movement toward mobile, Jeff explained how to boost the visibility of your mobile apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Jeff outlined a very simple formula for success in the two main app stores:

Success = Acquisition + Retention

Jeff mentioned that one great way to achieve visibility is through "featuring", which refers to being featured prominently on the first page of the respective app stores. However, he also pointed out that these featured apps are editorially selected by Apple and Google employees.

Aside from featuring, there are some actionable strategies that Jeff outlined.

For the Apple App Store:

  • Optimize your title and 100 character description with keywords.
  • After launch, check what keywords your guest use and adjust during your next update.
  • Link to your app's landing page within your marketing, SEO, social media, and PR.

For Google Play:

  • Optimize your title and app description.
  • Add links from Google Play to your official resources.


Jeff pointed out that organic user acquisition in the app stores is very difficult and offered some paid strategies.

These strategies included rewarding users for downloading your app through in-app prizes on another app and utilizing Facebook's ad platforms to drive installs. Jeff suggested using paid user acquisition to drive downloads and move your app up the charts for increased visibility.

Know Your Ads, Users, and Inventory — John Brown Head of Publisher Policy Communications at Google

3 Key Takeaways:

  • Focus on the user.
  • Go mobile.
  • Monitor traffic quality.

John began his presentation by emphasizing the importance of focusing on the human users we serve.

John explained that user experience is extremely important, and that the rise in ad blockers is a direct result of poor user experience. John compared this poor UX to being in Time Square, where ads are prominent. Because of this, as blocking has increased over 200% since 2013.

John advised to forget about ad blocking and instead focus on making great ads. But he did present some potential pitfalls worth avoiding (with some help from Sterling Archer).

John also noted that 98% of ad blocking occurs on desktop, meaning there is still more opportunities for users to start blocking ads on mobile as well.

The Human Connection: Video Content That Compels — Melissa Palazzo President at Ant Farm

3 Key Takeaways:

  • Humanize the brand.
  • Be about the people.
  • Contribute to their world.

Melissa's presentation was focused on the idea that advertising and selling is really about making genuine connections with real people. She encouraged marketers to create an ownable identity for your brand, and then make your approach relatable.

Melissa showed a number of great videos during her presentation which all drove home a central point — stirring people's emotions is the best way to connect with them on a human level. 

One piece of advice from Melissa really stuck with me: her philosophy on how to approach your audience.

"It's not about consumers, it's not about clients; it's about people." — Melissa Palazzo

Steal from the Startups: Entrepreneur Style Growth Tactics for Big Brands — Kevin Henrikson Partner Group Manager Engineering at Microsoft

3 Key Takeaways:

  • You must have skin in the game.
  • ROI is everything.
  • You need a quota.

One of the key points I took away from Kevin's presentation: it can be easy to lose a lot of money if you're not careful with your PPC strategy. Conversely, Kevin pointed out that PPC is free when you do it correctly.

The main point Kevin kept referencing was that you shouldn't be afraid to fail, just make sure you fail fast and move on. The key to failing fast is to track everything you are doing so you know when to pivot. Kevin suggested making small, minor tweaks and to move on quickly when you see a strategy isn't working.

Another key point in Kevin's presentation was the importance of ROI. Kevin made a powerful metaphor that compared ROI to breathing — without it you won't survive for very long.

7 Ridiculously Smart Facebook and Twitter Advertising Hacks — Larry Kim Founder of WordStream

3 Key Takeaways:

  • It's a paid social world.
  • Social media marketing is an important channel.
  • Find your best content and use paid social to promote.

Larry finished off the day with a bang with an entertaining and fast-paced presentation on paid social media marketing.

Two effective applications for paid social promotion that Larry outlined were social ads as a catalyst to get the ball rolling, or as an accelerant to take things to the next level. He suggested using paid campaigns to overcome the fact that social shares aren't exactly easy to come by.

Larry emphasized finding your best content (which he referred to as unicorns, and includes your top performing 1-2% of content) and promoting it with paid campaigns. Rather than spreading your money around and promoting everything, Larry adivses focusing only on your best pieces since they have the best chance for success.

Through higher engagement rates you can achieve a higher relevance score which leads to more impressions at a lower cost.

Larry stressed the importance of audience targeting and mentioned that if you cast a narrow net you can maximize engagement rates.

Larry also highlighted the power of social remarketing which can boast triple the engagement rates and double the conversion rates. He even mentioned a startegy called super remarketing which involves the following formula:

Super remarketing = combining remarketing + demographic + behavioral targeting + high engagement content

Larry said all of his strategies can be executed with 50-dollar budgets, making for some powerful and affordable paid social campaigns.

My Key Takeaways

That concludes my recap of SEJ Summit 2016 in Santa Monica. I would like to thank all the speakers for sharing such great information and Search Engine Journal for putting on such a wonderful event. I hope to have the opportunity to attend more SEJ Summits in the future and I highly recommend you do so as well (especially if they're right on the beach!).

But before you go, I would like to offer my own key takeaways from the conference. My key takeaways include:

  1. Start preparing for AMP and structured data now. Google is all-in on these.
  2. Network within your industry, make important connections, and learn from others.
  3. Always be testing with mutiple lenses and don't take anything at face vlaue.
  4. The world is becoming increasingly mobile, and we must consider a number of different ways that customers might interact with our brand.
  5. Speed is king and load speed can often be the difference between a conversion and a missed opportunity.
  6. As the mobile world grows so too does the neccessity for apps and ASO.
  7. Ad blockers are a legitimate concern, but the only real solution is to focus on the user and create better ads.
  8. Human connection drives advertisiting and sales, and the best way to connect with people is by humanizing your brand.
  9. Don't be afraid to fail, but be sure to fail quickly and move on.
  10. At the end of the day ROI is everything, without it nothing else matters.
  11. Strategic paid social can be a gamechanger when used as a catylist or accelerant.
  12. Focus all your paid social efforts on your best pages.
Andrew Dennis

Andrew Dennis is a Content Marketing Manager at Shopify. Andrew is an alumnus of the University of Idaho and consequently a lifelong Vandals fan. You can connect with Andrew on Twitter or LinkedIn.