1. Search queries are becoming more complex
Tom Anthony, from SearchLove organisers Distilled, kicked off the conference with a round-up of the various technologies and trends affecting the search landscape. The most noteworthy change is Google using signals to try and understand the intent behind search queries, such as a user’s location, search history, device and time of day.
For example, an iPhone user stood on a street in London searching for “tube stations London” will usually require different results to a person sat at home on their laptop.
These implicit signals are becoming increasingly available through mobile devices and new technologies, such as wearables and beacons, and could be impacting users searching for your website or client.
2. Traditional keyword research is dying
Ever since the Hummingbird update in September 2013, finding out the meaning behind search queries has been at the forefront of Google’s plans.
A new development that Tom gave as an example is compound queries. This is when Google builds up context through your various searches and revisions, rather than treating queries independently. Watch the video below for an example:
As you can see, Google changes its results based on the second query as it believes the user’s intent is to find pictures of Mario Götze, the football player, rather than the Italian plumber from Super Mario Bros.
“Intent” is not just a case of finding better keywords though, as implicit signals and compound queries must be considered, meaning this could be the end of traditional keyword research as we know it.
3. Google’s search algorithm is flattening
Rand Fishkin, the famous Wizard of Moz, took to the stage during the second day to reveal the latest testing, data and opinions on Google’s ranking factors. Every two years, Moz asks hundreds of leading search marketers to rate the importance of ranking factor groups and recently there has been a notable shift.
As you can see from the pie charts above, the days of a single factor having an overwhelming impact are fading, and links, while still important, no longer dominate. Engagement data is also on the rise, with Moz predicting it will be in the top two factors come the next survey.
4. Optimise for what would happen if you did rank
This is the advice from Distilled founder and CEO, Will Critchlow, about preparing for the future of search. To optimise a page well, choosing the best keywords and writing the best content have always been the main focus.
However, with engagement becoming an important metric, Will’s advice is to assume you are going to rank and start taking lessons from Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) to test and improve user experience, while applying Pay-Per-Click (PPC) tactics to encourage more users to actually click on your website.
5. SEO and PPC are allies
Another speaker who championed using paid search tactics was Daniel Gilbert, founder of PPC agency Brain Labs. Dan had concerns about speaking at an SEO conference and didn’t hide the fact that most PPC and SEO marketers don’t work well together.
However, Dan made interesting points about how the two channels should support each other, including using your PPC campaigns to test copy, sitelinks, messaging and calls-to-action to improve your SERPs, and how organic rankings can actually increase clicks on paid ads.
6. Paid social is the new outreach
The most eye-opening talks of the event came from renowned speakers Wil Reynolds, founder of Seer Interactive, and Larry Kim, founder of WordStream. Both highlighted the need to “pay to play” when it comes to promoting content on social media as organic reach continues to decline, and how targeted adverts can be more effective than hours of outreach to generate links and PR.
Their top tips included casting a narrow net when it comes to choosing audiences in order to increase engagement, target specific influencers within your audiences, and only pay to promote your best social posts (or Unicorns as Larry calls them).
7. Think like a 50s advertising executive
When it comes to creative content campaigns, Lisa Myers, CEO and founder of Verve Search, had some candid advice. Following Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, SEOs desperately jumped on the content marketing bandwagon and started to publish a lot of crap content with the aim of earning a single link per piece.
Lisa believes the way to stand out is by thinking like a 50s advertising executive to come up with a different campaign and focus on creating what’s missing or needed. This mind-set, and focusing on the outcome over the output, has generated some great results for her clients, including links from the Norwegian Royal Family (!?)
8. Choose topics over keywords
Anum was responsible for building a content strategy from the ground up for Hubspot spin-off Sidekick and found varied success from tactics including creating new landing pages, producing blog content, earning relevant links, featuring in guest posts and generating social shares.
However, things really clicked into place when her team discovered that doubling up on just one specific topic for all of these tactics and linking everything together, including updating historical blog content, helped her site to dominate the topic and achieve better organic results.
9. Chase the human algorithm
Ian Lurie, CEO of Portent, used his 45 minute slot to discuss how search marketers get caught up following the algorithm changes of Google, Facebook and Bing. Ian made a joke that if Google announced that red websites will receive a boost in rankings, we would all make our sites red tomorrow – and he’s right.
Ian believes SEOs need to put more focus on the algorithm that doesn’t change, the human brain. People have evolved to know what “perfect” is and getting your website closer to it than your competitors should be the aim, rather than trying to work out what Google considers “perfect”.
For example, if the top ranking site for your target keyword has 500 blog posts and your site has 50, writing 500 posts won’t necessarily guarantee you top spot. However, creating useful and engaging content to help the user will give you a much stronger chance. Read Ian’s full thoughts, here.
10. Don’t let the micro-moment pass
If you haven’t read our guide to micro-moments yet, go there next. This is a new term from Google to describe real-time, intent-driven searches that happen throughout the whole purchase funnel. Jono Alderson, Head of Insight at Linkdex, believes this is a cheesy concept, but right for the future of search.
As intent affects how users interact with search engines, Jono stressed that brands must be in the right place at the right time. This approach will enable you to stop focusing on head term rankings, capture consumers higher up the funnel and steal your competitor’s market share. This kind of thinking is quietly disrupting industries right now, according to Jono, including telecoms, travel, finance and insurance.
Look out for a follow-up post on introducing micro-moments into your existing strategy later this year.
We’d love to hear your highlights and thoughts from SearchLove 2015. Get in touch on Twitter @silverbean, or leave a comment in the box below.