Better Processes, Data, & SEO Strategies: The Midwest’s Best & Brightest Search Minds Talk SEO & SEM

Posted 11/14/2016 3:00 PM by Brittany VanMaele

I think I speak for most in the SEO/SEM world when I say that we’re often buried in data, nerding out (excessively) about the latest Google feature, devising multivariate testing scenarios, or researching and developing “first page”-worthy content. While I thoroughly enjoy being in the SEO trenches, if you will, it’s nice to come up for air and share my obsession with others in the discipline.

I recently had the opportunity to talk shop with peers at the second annual KC Search Marketing Conference. Kansas City was once again chosen as one of 20 cities to host a SEMPO Cities conference – no surprise to those of us in the Silicon Prairie’s capital, but an honor nonetheless. 

SEMPO Logo

So what happened when 50 or so search geeks gathered at the Sprint Accelerator to swap war stories? There were lots of laughs, plenty of GIFs, and countless insights into traditional and emerging PPC and SEO strategies.

Though the conference was divided into 4 distinct panels focused on SEO strategies --processes, data, and advanced tactics -- common threads emerged. Here are the main takeaways conference organizers, speakers, and attendees shared with me.

2016 KC Search Marketing Conference: Insights into SEO Strategies & Developments

Balancing “Sexy” SEO Strategies with Trusted Tactics

Obsolescence is a concern in any industry, but in SEO, platforms and algorithms and best practices are truly ever-evolving. Failing to adapt literally means getting overtaken by competitors and forsaken by searchers. At the same time, with so many new features rolled out almost every week, finding that magic mix of tried and true and exciting, experimental tactics can be daunting. In some cases, it amounts to gambling with your client’s budget – a terrifying prospect in a practice like content marketing, for example, when documenting ROI can already prove difficult.

SEO Strategies

The first panel specifically tackled this topic by exploring new developments in the SEO, PPC, and content marketing world. Bethany Andrew introduced a number of “sexy” new features available to paid search marketers – Shop the Look, Click-to-Text, and more – many of which should make brands and products more alluring to millennials. And, as Craig Paddock of Plaza Digital stated, these new features have a real impact on results when wielded properly:

Go Local Tweet

[Check out Go Local's SEMPO conference recap here!]

As Brody Dorland of DivvyHQ said, “It's an exciting time to be in the digital/search marketing industry. Lots of change...lots of new technologies...the need for experienced practitioners who can help companies navigate this change has never been greater.”

So as an SEO practitioner, how do you determine if “trusting” a proven tactic or “testing” an emerging tactic is the best plan? As Andrew said, you need to evaluate the available budget, potential pitfalls, and your relationship with that client.

Silo Your Keywords, Not Your Team

Matt LaCuesta, Digital Marketing Strategist at Burns Marketing, highlighted the fact that certain hot topics in SEO – Penguin 4.0, Quality Updates, Semantic Search – necessitate the elimination of organizational siloes separating SEOs, content and social media marketers, public relations, sales, and paid media specialists. To succeed in SEO today, you need an agile team prepped for cross-channel collaboration. After all, stalwart SEO strategies like link building started on the streets of PR, anyway; LaCuesta even characterized PR as the OG (original gangsta, for those uninitiated) of linkbuilding.

 OG Fresh Off the Boat

No more ignoring what your social media cohorts are up to. For your SEO strategies to thrive, your teams must share insights and cross-disciplinary knowledge.

Keywords: They Still Got It

Tylor Hermanson of Intouch Solutions challenged the notion that keyword research is dead. “Keywords still set your SEO trajectory,” – it’s just that our research processes must evolve to meet the new demands of users and search engines. As Google changes its ways – grouping keyword variants, for example – we must adapt our processes to ensure we’re deploying the best SEO strategies. (More on Google’s tricky keyword grouping below!)

Overall, it’s clear that we can’t cling to traditional roles and SEO strategies. We must get out of our comfort zones, whether we’re promoting cross-department initiatives or pitching new tactics to clients.

SEO Strategies & Innovation

Tools & Technology: Arming Your SEO Arsenal

Many speakers touched on the tools search marketers should arm themselves with to deploy the best SEO strategies.

Dorland made an uncomfortably true proclamation: there’s a whole lot of content out there, and a lot of it is just not good. 

As the content count rises, many SEO strategists and content marketers are faced with the prospect of producing the best content as fast as possible. And likewise, as algorithm updates and paid possibilities abound, streamlining and expediting processes is a must.

SEO & Content Strategies

Along with the proliferation of content on the internet, there’s been a wave of marketing automation tools that promise to improve processes and save you time and money. Michael Solms of Go Local Interactive spotlighted areas where automation can help take some local search tasks off your team’s plate – and some areas that call for the human element. While basic business listing information can be populated by automation, a human glance-over can do wonders.

For example, Solms shared the story of a Kohl’s that wasn’t placed properly on Google Maps, so when users navigated there using the provided address, they found it was a lake.

Local SEO Errors

Dorland put it well: “Despite some of the new technologies available, a lot of this work will always require people...devising solid strategy, planning, partnering, creating great content, paying attention to the details so the robots don't screw it up.”

Beyond Basic Keyword Research

Another area where you should choose your automation carefully? Keyword research. As Hermanson says, “In a time of scalable data mining and boundless APIs, there are still critical steps in keyword research that shouldn’t be automated or skipped. No, they should be deliberated over.”

In particular, if you’re putting all your bets on Google’s Keyword Planner to conduct your research, you’re doing it wrong. Hermanson pointed out that Google’s keyword variant grouping is more than a nuisance for SEOs – it’s a potential disaster for your SEO strategies if there’s no human intervention. Check out his analysis of keyword variant differences and how Google’s groupings mask user intent – a change that sure doesn’t benefit SEOs, but sure benefits Google by driving up spend.

Keyword Research in SEO

Instead of relying on outdated keyword volume data from Google, turn to more advanced keyword tools that incorporate opportunity (think Moz’s Keyword Explorer). Then using your knowledge of your target market, user intent, and contextual relevance, select the best keywords for your campaigns.

Presenter Bethany Smith, Senior Director of Digital Strategy at Wpromote, echoed Hermanson’s point: “As more things become automated, marketers need to answer the questions that automation can't solve. SEOs need to do their own searches, look to competitors and still do their own extensive research combined with their own common sense and understanding of the customers. An automated tool can't replace that.”

Google’s Data Tools

The most powerful tools in any marketer’s arsenal are often data-related. Multiple presenters spoke to the importance of implementing and interpreting Google Analytics data properly. David Burke of Visual Future provided insights into the granular tracking enabled by Google Tag Manager, including video tracking and user scroll tracking for long-form content.

Another benefit of implementing Tag Manager? Once it’s done properly, SEO strategists and marketers can more easily add other types of analytics tracking, streamlining processes and limiting developer workflow interruptions.

Google Tag Manager

Paddock also hammered home the importance of implementing analytics the right way, and both he and Josef Silver of Venta Marketing emphasized the importance of selecting the right metrics and scrutinizing sample size before jumping to conclusions. Comparing acquisition channels to retention? Not an accurate assessment. Conversion rates tanking? Check your analytics configuration before you freak out.

My main takeaways? Make sure you choose your tools very purposefully and wield them correctly. And remember automation should complement – not replace – human oversight.  

SEO Isn’t About You – It’s About the User

When knee-deep in keyword research, campaign data, and content strategy, it can be hard to remember that it’s not about you, the marketer, or even your client. It’s about the user.

SEO and UX are now essentially inextricable, and most marketers know the importance of optimizing for page load time and usability. It’s time to take that user-centric focus beyond technical SEO and into on-page SEO and content strategies. It’s time to consider how emerging, user-favored technologies like voice search impact keyword prominence and reflect user intent. As Dorland said, it’s time our content and SEO strategies “get cozy with buyer intent.”  

Kelsey Jones of Search Engine Journal, MoxieDot, and StoryShout noted “Andres Ospino gave us a valuable reminder-- when it comes to keywords and content, it's not about you. Think about what your customers want and are looking for before creating any campaigns.”

Keyword Research & User Intent

Ospino and other presenters touched on tactics for discerning user intent and behavior to better tailor SEO strategies.

Mining Google’s Demographic Data

Michael Black, aka SEOMike, presented on using Google Analytics’ demographics data to better tailor content to your target market. GA can help you gauge how your content resonates with different ages, genders, interests, languages, locations, devices, and more. 

Google Analytics User Data

There’s plenty of data to mine and methods to employ:

  • Categorizing content types to determine top-performing mediums among user personas
  • Pulling written content into word cloud generators to see what topics get the most traction (an essential step for content planning)
  • Determining how different demographics consume content and tailoring/optimizing delivery to your target market

Black reminded me of the demographic data Google Analytics holds, and how formative this data can be in developing SEO and content strategies when placed in the proper context.

Take Their Temperature with Facebook’s Campaign Planner

LaCuesta’s call for omnichannel collaboration was embodied in Smith’s presentation. She highlighted links between social media and SEO, with a particular focus on Facebook’s newly-launched Campaign Planner.

Though the tool is intended as a space for Facebook advertisers to plan campaigns, Smith advocated its use as a research tool to approximate your content’s potential reach or determine the best target audience for each piece of content. Her panel underscored the fact that marketers must be aware of the latest tools and innovative enough to consider their cross-disciplinary application.

Understanding User Intent in Search

Paddock also made the case for considering user intent when looking at analytics data. Automated reporting or hasty high-level reviews often fail to get granular enough to consider specific contexts that affect campaign performance. Customizing reporting is essential.

Google Analytics Data

For example, weeding out keywords with lower conversion rates might seem like a no-brainer, but if queries aren’t first filtered by their spot in the marketing funnel, there’s a chance you remove a lead-nurturing keyword that wasn’t meant to drive conversions anyway. Human oversight and understanding of user intent in search queries and phrases is key when devising and perfecting campaigns.

Hermanson also pointed out that 15% of all searches Google encounters are brand new. As Alex Boyer pointed out, "This means that while keyword research is important, anticipation of what your customers think and what they will search for is just as vital, because keyword research won't tell you what's new."

New Google Searches

Adaptive & User-Centric Content Strategy

Boyer, Digital Content Coordinator at emfluence, presented on how content and SEO have changed (bye, keyword stuffing! No one misses you!) and advocated for consistent but customer-centric content production. A good content calendar should be agile enough for content strategists to insert current events, trending topics, and other content that users are eager to consume while balancing evergreen content they’ll seek out regularly.

With new SEO features, tools, and best practices emerging all the time, it’s vital to take in industry perspectives on all the latest developments. Overall, the conference motivated me to continue cross-channel strategy integration, scrutinize how automation can improve our processes without hindering quality, and ensure our endgame users are at the forefront of our content and SEO strategies.

SEO Strategies & Organizing a Team

Thanks to all the sponsors and organizers who helped put on this great event – I know I’m already looking forward to next year!