5 Powerful Takeaways from MozCon 2015

Just over a week ago, I made the cross-country trip from our East Coast headquarters to Seattle, Washington for MozCon 2015.  Taking place at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle, MozCon packed an impressive amount of information and activities into the three short days of the conference.

This year’s MozCon offered an impressive selection of 26 speakers.  The lineup included presentations by Google’s Adam Singer (@AdamSinger), Wil Reynolds (@wilreynolds) of SEER Interactive, Mig Reyes (@migreyes) of Basecamp, and, of course, Rand Fishkin (@randfish) and an assortment of other Mozzers.

MozCon’s subject matter was equally diverse.  Presentations covered many topics, running the gamut from time management to general marketing and branding to technical SEO.  Unlike other shows HiP has attended, MozCon doesn’t have segmented tracks.  All attendees could watch to all 26 speakers.  Though, initially, this didn’t seem like a strength, as the conference went on, I found myself learning from (and enjoying) presentations that I would have missed in more targeted tracks.

This topical diversity is also reflected in my takeaways from the show.  You’ll notice information about SEO, analytics, and marketing in general.  So, let’s dive in.


1.     “Good marketing feels right.”

From: How to Make Your Marketing Match Your Reality with Dana DiTomaso, Kick Point

What are you promising your customers?  Marketing claims set expectations for customers.  Perennial MozCon presenter, Dana DiTomaso, asserts these claims, or promises, make up your brand.  Your ability to deliver on these promises – across all facets of the organization – determines feelings about your company and the success of your marketing in general.

Humans like consistency.  Bad experiences are jarring and they result from unmet promises.  Today, these bad experiences aren’t isolated incidents; they can become far more damaging after being amplified through social media and customer reviews.

On the other hand, good and, especially, great experiences build loyalty, generate conversation, and feel good.  Like bad experiences, good experiences can generate a great deal of additional value through sharing, advocacy, and earned media.  Wowing customers and delivering on expectations is extremely powerful form of marketing in and of itself.  In short, good marketing feels right.


2.     “[Content] must be consistent, compelling, and cared for over time.”

From: How To Do Content Strategy (Probably) with Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic

Kristina Halvorson literally wrote the book on content strategy.  Needless to say, she knows a thing or two about succeeding with content.

Halvorson identified that today’s content professionals tend to be disproportionately concerned with the “what” of their content.  Content marketers create valuable assets with the objective of fostering profitable actions.  The problem is, without conceptualizing assets beyond this point, you get content that, though successful in the context of its specific objective, never makes a meaningful, lasting impact at an organization level.  The result is a “content landfill” – a collection of disjointed and abandoned assets that slowly decompose.

Strategy is the remedy to the issue of the content landfill, Halvorson says.  To effectively plan content, marketers have to ask not just What, but Why, How, When, For Whom, By Whom, With What, Where, How Often, and What Next.  Asking these questions forces the strategist to think about people, tools, timelines, and governance in addition to format and objective.  As a result, the marketers have a better understanding of the strategic value of the content and a more realistic view into the requirements for success.


3.     “Google is no longer a content curator, it’s a content creator.”

From: Surviving Google: SEO in 2020 with Dr. Pete Meyers, Moz

The days of 10 organic links in search engine results pages (SERPs) are over.  As Dr. Pete informed us, 97% of MozCast SERPs do not have the 10 blue, organic links.  Rather, this space is being occupied by a wide range of continually evolving Google widgets.

Google’s widgets use a combination of information they’ve indexed and content from results.  A common example of the former is Google’s Knowledge Cards.  These are rectangular boxes that appear above organic results, designed to provide quick answers to a query.  Similarly, Knowledge Panels provide additional information related to a query in a larger rectangle that resides to the right of the results. Featured Snippets reside in the same location as Knowledge Cards; however, they present content pulled from the results below.  Importantly, Featured Snippets don’t always pull from the first result.

These items are just the tip of the iceberg as far as Google-created content is concerned.  Factor in widgets for images, video thumbnails, lyrics, sports scores, calculators, maps, reviews, shopping carousels, and ads and it’s easy to see why SERP real estate is at a premium.  Moreover, there’s a great deal more that Google could do (Dr. Pete mentioned the examples of real estate listings in Knowledge Cards and sponsorship within widgets in general).

Though most SEOs aren’t particularly excited about Google’s content replacing blue links, this change does present opportunities.  In actuality, there are more slots on the first page in which your content could appear.  This system gives favor to content that’s in-depth, valuable, and engaging.  This type of content has the best chance of getting in Google widgets and staying there – though it still has to rank to have a shot at being pulled in.


4.     “Beware [traffic] misinformation.”

From: Dark Search and Social—Run Rabbit Run! with Marshall Simmonds, Define Media Group

Slide Grab - Marshall Simmonds Dark Search and Social Run Rabbit Run MozCon 2015 Page 3

Marshall Simmonds has access to a unique commodity; he has data from 112 of the world’s largest publishers, amounting to more than 164 billion page views.  This incredible body of information has allows Simmonds and his team to gather some incredibly interesting insights.

In this presentation, Simmonds tackles the topic of “dark” traffic, or URLs that don’t pass referrer strings to analytics programs.   Because this traffic lacks this information, it’s bucketed in with direct traffic, or traffic that does not have a referrer.  Unfortunately, not knowing the referrer is not the same as not having a referrer.

Dark traffic actually contains mislabeled elements of search, social, and mobile traffic.  Dark search can come from search apps, certain browsers, image searches, and secure searches.  Dark social comes from email, chat programs, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat.  Dark mobile traffic is primarily from apps.

Together, these three classes of dark traffic can amount to a large portion of overall website traffic.  To the marketer, dark traffic means unattributed outcomes, which could have an impact on testing and ROI calculations.

What can marketers do? The key is identifying as much dark traffic as possible.  Small things like including the meta referrer tag in HTTPs sites and tagging all campaign URLs are important steps for capturing dark search and social.  Google Tag Manager can help you capture dark mobile traffic from your own app, but traffic from other apps remains difficult to capture.  Beyond these steps, your best option is to try and approximate sources from landing page URLs.


5.     “Optimize for both algo input and human output“

From: Onsite SEO in 2015: An Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Marketer with Rand Fishkin, Moz

SEOs use to have one job: optimize pages.  Most of it was behind the scenes.  On-page content had relatively little to do with ranking, compared to appropriately placed keywords and links.  What Google said they wanted and what worked were two different things – “white hat” SEOs felt punished.

Over the last three years, this has changed.

To use Rand’s example, Google realized that if you searched “best beef in Seattle”, you probably don’t want web pages filled with the word “beef”.  Google now looks at language, not just keywords. It predicts when we want diverse results and it also figured out when recentcy should be a factor.  Importantly, Google also learned to identify entitles and link them to topics and keywords.  These changes brought Google largely back in line with public statements.

Impressive, but how did Google get to this point?  Google has publicly denied using machine learning in their search formula, though they’re very open about how they use it for images.  Rand asserts that it would be relatively easy for Google to use a similar machine learning process in search.  In fact, he believes they could be moving towards a deep learning model, in which the algorithm is refined through another algorithm.

Of course, these assertions are supported.  Rand then showed us various tests, where he was able to manipulate search results by promoting his follower to click (much to Google’s chagrin).  We then performed a live test, where we moved a website up the results page by clicking, staying on the page for more than 30 seconds, and then moving to another page on the same website.  For comparison, we clicked another result on the same SERP, but immediately went back.  In our test, the first result jumped the second, demonstrating that Google is now taking the quality of visits into account.

With engagement becoming an increasing valued metric for Google, Rand explains that SEOs now have to consider human output in addition to algorithm input.  We have to pair the page/keyword optimization that most SEOs are already doing with “evergreen” content.  Essentially, evergreen content is substantial, hallmark content that stands above the typical asset.  This content is created to stand out through interactivity, humor, and value. Rand offers Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO as an example.   Rand Fishkin paints a picture of a future where content quality has an increasingly direct and decisive impact on SEO – both positively and negatively.



Let us know what you think:

  • Did you attend MozCon 2015?
  • If so, what were your greatest takeaways?
  • If not, do you plan to attend MozCon (or any similar events) in the future?



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