Over the 25th and 26th of April 2018, the latest iteration of The Inbounder took place – a digital marketing event which saw some of the industry’s biggest and brightest figures hold talks over both days, with over 1,300 people in attendance. It also happened to take place in Madrid, and I managed to snag a ticket to the conference thanks to the lovely lot over at Sitebulb and their Crawl Map competition.
Not one to pass up an opportunity/free stuff, I made my way down to Madrid for the conference.
Here’s a dodgy quality image of the bloody massive gaff the event took place in, Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid – a fun thing to say to Spanish taxi drivers in my weird Brummie/northern (apparently) accent and lack of Spanish:
The build-up to the first day of the event:
Before this turns into one of those “here’s what I did on my holidays” things you write on the first day of a new primary school year, I’ve put together some notes + thoughts on a few of the talks from the event, as well as potential actions to take from them.
All of the speakers were excellent, though seeing as I work within technical SEO, I’ll be running through the talks which tied in more closely with technical + the stuff I get up to on a daily basis.
Plus, I tend to write a fair bit – if I covered all information presented at this event, this article would make War and Peace look like a footnote.
Aleyda Solis: SEO Project Management
The second talk during the first day of the event was held by Aleyda Solis, one of the more well-known figures in the SEO industry, especially for her work in International SEO. Her talk at The Inbounder 2018 covered SEO project management, looking at everything from the initial stages of client prospecting through to how to effectively manage the client during your time with them. Though not necessarily techy in nature, it ties in heavily with managing technical tasks – an area which can be a massive pain.
Aleyda started off by covering the actual client prospecting process and how you shouldn’t go for a scattergun approach, just picking up any client that you possibly can. Aim to work on projects/tasks where there’s a real fit for the business – put in a proper filtering process, attract clients and projects that are a better fit.
It may well be better to have fewer clients who get through the proper filtering process as opposed to taking on all sorts of clients who may not work out.
When it comes to the management of tasks within a project, Aleyda covered how you need to ensure that actions are prioritised and are actionable. Start with a complete audit to understand the business + site status in context to competitors – links, content, crawlability/indexability, current organic search performance, etc.
In terms of putting together tasks for clients and their sites, prioritisation is key. Time shouldn’t be wasted on unnecessary tasks – the key areas need to be attended to first. The management of this comes through communicating which tasks are the most important, creating a complete list of tasks with supporting information such as importance, status, assignee, and date required.
This is something we’ve used within our technical audits for a while – it’s vital to provide the key actions, as well as the reasons why it is of such importance, and who is responsible for it.
Following on from that, Aleyda emphasises the importance of communication between yourself and the client. It’s good to set up a consistent line of communication, with there being a proper project communication, execution, education and validation workflow that fits within timelines + expectations.
It’s important to avoid situations where one side isn’t sure about what the other is doing or the timeline in which a task is expected to be completed. Clients should be aware of the tasks that have been issued, as well as the potential risks that are associated with them – this ties into the use of a staging site + making sure that implementations are validated before going completely live.
KPIs and expectations should be set early on, with them being reviewed and reported on throughout the updates provided for the client.
Aleyda then went to cover several resources that are massively helpful for general project management and communication, as well as SEO reporting. A list of these resources, such as Deepcrawl and Little Warden, can be found here: https://www.aleydasolis.com/en/seo-project-management/
- It’s vital to ensure that each SEO project is managed properly. Proper client prospecting should be done beforehand, ensuring that the client is the right fit for you.
- Core KPIs and expectations need to be set and tracked from the get-go.
- When working on a project, it’s key to provide priorities for each of the recommendations that are made, ensuring that key work is done first.
- A proper list of tasks should be compiled, including key information such as importance and date required.
- A testing environment should be set up to ensure that implementations can be validated before they’re published on the live site.
- It’s key to keep on top of all progress, providing proper reports. There are various tools out there that can help with this, such as SEO Monitor and Little Warden.
- Keep in regular contact with the client – ensure that you’re both constantly in the loop with regards to the work that is being done.
Mike King: What to do When Everything Goes Wrong
One of the more interesting talks over the two days was held by Mike King, who spent a large portion of the talk covering a site he took over and the problems he faced with it.
The site is Underground Hip Hop, a site which sells independent underground hip hop vinyl, CDs, clothing, and gear. The site wasn’t doing particularly well, having been punished by the Panda update.
Mike got in touch with the owner of the site and put a deal in place, with it being his team’s first real acquisition. From there, they got to work on the site, putting plenty of effort into technical changes – such as using a reverse proxy to keep the store on Shopify but the rest of the site elsewhere – and content marketing, detailing how they didn’t work.
Content marketing didn’t have a great ROI, while the reverse proxy didn’t work at all, with it being throttled by Shopify due to everything coming from a single IP address. This led to them using a subdomain for the store – it didn’t turn out very well. Mike’s berating of both Shopify and subdomains got a massive reaction, essentially getting a standing ovation. They’re not great, are they?
The focus here was to emphasise how important it is to find your step function – the thing that will make the biggest impact – and just focus on that.
It’s also important to properly test things before they’re implemented. In their case, load testing would have shown the proxy fix wouldn’t have worked in the first place. A/B testing should have been a higher priority as well. It all ties into building a culture around testing, and ensuring that things are tested before implementation – something that Aleyda mentioned in her talk.
Mike also covered where the company is going from there, covering how he’s changed the CMS + design of the site, has rebranded, is focusing on launching a proper marketplace, etc. Seeing somebody talk about how a project didn’t go as planned was refreshing to see, with him taking ownership of any wrongdoings and going through how he plans to correct them going forward.
From there, Mike talked about actionable technical changes that can be made for sites – here’s a rundown of what he went through:
- Upgrade your PHP version: modern PHP versions are much quicker. Mike’s slides reference a study put together by Kinsta, benchmarking different PHP versions – PHP 7.2 was clearly the frontrunner in terms of performance across all platforms.
- Opt for NginX as opposed to Apache
- Check out the Code Coverage report in Chrome DevTools to identify what code isn’t being used
- Natural Language Generation is being used + will grow in popularity going forward – it’s being used by reputable brands and ecommerce sites, so it’s worth embracing it
- Nothing that requires user interaction to be displayed will be considered for ranking.
This was one of the more actionable talks from the conference, especially from a technical perspective.
- Make sure that you test things before they’re implemented – use a proper testing environment before launching.
- Find your step function + run with it – find what works and will help you to succeed and absolutely nail it.
- Upgrade the PHP version of your site.
- Look into Natural Language Generation.
- Keep up with development trends, such as JSS
- Take ownership of your mistakes and learn/improve from them.
- Also, avoid subdomains and Shopify. Especially Shopify.
Cindy Krum: Mobile Search is the New Normal
We’ve all heard about Google’s Mobile First Indexing initiative, which places the focus on the mobile version of a site during the crawling and indexing process as opposed to the desktop version. Just in March of 2018, Google announced that Mobile First Indexing was to be rolled out properly, with users receiving Google Search Console messages about their site being used for the Mobile First Index being reported in April.
Also taking place on the first day of the event, Cindy Krum held a talk on mobile search and its importance going forward, as well as what Google’s plans might be with regards to mobile.
Regarding mobile first indexing, Cindy mentions how this might actually be a different concept to what has already been established. Google’s mobile user-agent isn’t new, and the changes they proposed with the mobile first index aren’t necessarily ones that would require two years of work before rolling out. Cindy proposes that this index isn’t just about websites – it’s about entities.
Google may well want to rank more than just websites within traditional SERPs.
They may not be changing the actual algorithm, just making it more efficient to index. MFI isn’t a good way to describe it – Entity First Indexing might be a better way. Can be described by keywords, but exist outside of just keywords.
Mike Blumenthal’s comments on small businesses is worth noting – Google essentially wants to be the homepage of your small business. After all, they’re the first entities to be treated as such: special entities.
It’s mentioned how domains themselves are entities, working within an overall hierarchy: Top level entity (brand) > domain entity (domain) > other stuff (podcasts, videos, images, etc.) Entity understanding allows device context to drive relevance.
The framework for this huge switch towards entities has actually been in place for a while, in the form of the Google Play Store. Google Play is cross-device, worldwide, editable by the owner, multimedia, pre-populated, and has a relational hierarchy.
It’s worth looking at the Google Market Finder tool. Initially marketed to PPCs, you can put in your domain and it’ll tell you the categories associated with it. Automatically tells you how your site has been categorised, with this being basic entity classification – what Google have classified your site has, entity-wise.
Google’s Natural Cloud Language API is another resource worth checking out – it’ll provide the relationships of words in a sense, how they classify the words in a sentence, etc. If Google’s not getting the right idea based on this, you can change it to improve classification.
These can be seen as cut-down versions of Google’s own entity classification system, giving you an idea of the tools used in order to assess entity classification.
In terms of how we can prepare for these potential changes, we can test text content for entity classification and understanding, optimise/create non-domain entity content, and build out Google entities such as Google My Business, Knowledge Graph, etc.
Regarding the latter, lots of new abilities have been added for local businesses + content in the knowledge graph via My Business. Google wants to be the homepage for small businesses. Small businesses hate updating their sites. This gets businesses out of needing to do this.
- The mobile first index may not solely be about websites, but entities as a whole.
- The Google Play Store framework may what we’re looking at in terms of the future of SERPs, with the focus being on entities.
- Optimise nonentity content like videos and build out schema + knowledge graphs.
- Start understanding entities – test in the Cloud Language API tool, understand how you’re being classified.
Marcus Tandler: SEO Will Never Die
One of the most common little tropes about the SEO industry is that SEO is dead. Or, SEO is dying. You’ll always manage to find an article or a bloke on Twitter that covers how SEO is on the way out. This really, really isn’t the case, as was covered by Marcus Tandler.
He had a SlideStorm – essentially an enormous number of slides with plenty of content, covering a multitude of different areas, hence the need for two different decks.
Flexible sampling is covered first – more prominently exposed content from publications users already subscribe to. This could introduce high-quality paid content within search results, could have subscription links in SERPs.
Page speed was another focus – something growing massively in prominence recently. Apparently, the level of stressed caused by ridiculously slow-loading pages can match that of watching a horror movie.
In terms of changes going forward, AMP was raised as a common solution. 25m sites are now using AMP, with over 4 billion pages indexed via AMP. It’s a bit of a touchy subject – some people love it, others aren’t big fans of it. We’ll be putting together a full guide to AMP soon, so watch out for that.
Mobile was another key part of this talk, with Marcus mentioning that mobile is growing in all aspects of search, with desktop stagnating in comparison.
The focus shifted towards the future of SERPs and how URLs may not be required at all, with the point being fairly similar to Cindy’s – there may well be a focus on entities as opposed to pages/URLs. Information can be retrieved via areas such as schema markup – something that Google have said they’re not particularly big fans of, and would rather adapt the algorithm to ensure that they can get information from the content itself without the addition of markup.
Marcus also covered how more could be moved to the cloud, including the crawling process. Google wouldn’t be depending on this if everything was on the cloud, user journey would become visible.
SERP scraping would become almost impossible with these changes. 70% of queries are coming from bots, costing Google – they want to get rid of them. They’re throttling bots that are scraping search results.
The talk also moved towards another key part of the future of search: Voice. By 2020, 50% of queries will likely be done by voice. Conversational searches are to become more important. For example, the term of “Gift Ideas” could be replaced by a term like “what should I get my wife for Christmas”.
Bodybuilding.com is a big example – they dominate SERPs for workout terms and are also ranking for the terms like “How to get (x)”, “what to do to get (x)”, etc.
Featured snippets tie heavily into the future of search and voice search as well. The number of searches resulting in no clicks is rising, as alluded to in Rand + Cindy’s talks. Finding and targeting “position zero” as it’s known will be key going forward, ensuring that you’re ranking for, or are at least featured in, rich snippets/answer boxes.
Marcus also mentioned the importance of Fetch & Render when updating your own answer box results. When you’ve changed the copy of the page, run a Fetch & Render followed by an Index Request – upon doing this, he saw a change within around 30 minutes.
Check out our guide on how to appear in Google’s answer boxes for more info on grabbing that spot at position zero.
- Look into using Flexible Sampling
- Improve the performance of your page + ensure that it loads quickly. AMP can be looked into, not just for blogs but for other types of sites such as ecommerce brands.
- Improve the mobile performance of your site as well.
- Keep an eye on the future of mobile SERPs
- Focus on voice search – this is growing massively, with conversational phrases being used more often
- Target featured snippets – rank for “position zero”
Rand Fishkin: Evolution in Marketing
The final talk of the conference was held by Rand Fishkin, covering how search and digital marketing as a whole is evolving. Rand’s talk wasn’t necessarily techy, but there was a lot to take from it.
The talk was centered around a few questions: Is search/SEO still growing? Who else sends significant referral traffic on the web? What are successful sites doing differently from 2-5 years ago?
Regarding the first question, it appears that search is still growing – 2017 trended 10-15% higher in terms of total Google searches in comparison to 2016. Also, for every click received by a paid ad listing in a Google search results page, there were roughly 20 clicks to organic listings (all data via JumpShot).
On the other hand, the worry in terms of SEO and its future comes from the changes to SERPs. Not only is the amount of real estate afforded to organic listings changing, we’re seeing Google themselves step into several niches, such as travel and job listings.
Mobile is another issue. As of February 2018, desktop SERPs saw around 65% of clicks go through to organic listings. For mobile SERPs, the figure for organic clicks stood at 38%, with no-click searches clocking in at 61%.
Mobile searches aren’t driving clicks, they’re solved within the SERPs, built to keep you within Google. In terms of referring traffic, Google reigns supreme, with Facebook being 1/10th the size of Google in terms of referral traffic:
From there, Rand focused on the biggest shifts in the SEO world. The first of which being that the first page is available to everyone, but is being dominated by a select few.
This stems from a great post from the ViperChill site a few years ago, focusing on the 16 brands that are dominating the SERPs. Rand mentions that this can be combated by either becoming a large brand, being hyper-niche, or using “barnacle SEO” – essentially where you rank on other domains. This could be a YouTube video, an article on another more established site, etc.
The second shift covers how SERPs may be focusing on user intent as opposed to solely focusing on keywords, and how you should optimise for this going forward.
Intent optimisation means that Google knows why you’re searching for something. Figure out tasks + problems, visit pages that rank + add anything that was missing, use related searches, write a title or headline that covers 1-3 + optimise the page to answer questions.
Big brands earn semantic search connections – poor content on a big, semantically connected site might outperform smaller, better ones. With this, we can either build a content strategy that earns your site the right signals, craft a PR story that earns the right signals, or leverage a community to build the signals for you.
Rand also covers how links still work, and play a large role in ranking, but they’re far from alone. If you’re doing well in terms of links, you should also focus on questions such as:
Are my competitors earning more branded searches?
Is my media coverage the issue?
Am I losing on visitor engagement?
A key point in terms of shifts would be ensuring that you’re influencing searchers who don’t intend on leaving Google. No-click results are growing, as mentioned earlier – it’s key to ensure that you’re getting the attention of these users.
Here’s an example, looking at a rich snippet for “top credit cards” – it lists different companies + cards within the snippet. The aim here isn’t necessarily to win the snippet, it’s to be featured inside this already established snippet.
It’s definitely an interesting subject – with the changes being made to the SERPs due to mobile + voice search, it’s worth getting creative to ensure that you’re able to get the attention of users who don’t really need to click on a result.
- Search, as a whole, is a growing industry
- SERPs are changing quickly, especially on mobile devices – it’s key to monitor these changes going forward and remain on top of them
- The number of no-click searches is growing – focus on how you can engage these users and get their attention, even if they don’t intend on leaving Google
- Focus on optimising for user intent as opposed to standard keywords – figure out why someone would search for that term and target your optimisation/content accordingly
- To combat the brands that are dominating the SERPs, either go hyper-niche in your targeting, or piggyback off other domains in order to rank
Seeing as that was the last talk of the event, we’ll wrap it up there. It was a bloody good event with some fantastic talks and plenty to take into account. Speaking of good events, this was held just before Brighton SEO, where there were also fantastic speakers providing fantastic amounts of actionable info. Our own Laura Hogan was on the main stage – check out her Big Links for £0 presentation.
We also held the very first SearchBHM event, a digital marketing get-together in Birmingham. Our recent post on the first SearchBHM event has a collection of the slides from all presentations that day – make sure to check them out!