Well, we’re now two-thirds of the way through MozCon and my head feels like it’s going to pop like a party favor. Yesterday’s schedule included eight presentations and today’s took it up to eleven; I’m simultaneously breathless from how fast this thing is moving and in disbelief at the fact that tomorrow will supposedly bring more. Judged either by the value of the knowledge conferred or by the richness (and, if I’m being honest, the fun) of the experience, each of the last two days has felt like a complete conference unto itself, and either day on its own would have been worth the full conference’s price of admission. And there’s more? How can there be more? How.
Somehow, that’s how. There’s a lot about what’s making MozCon work that I don’t pretend to understand, but every last element of the experience has fit perfectly in its intended place, so they’ll find a way to make tomorrow count as much as today and yesterday did. I have full faith. And so, in the dual interests of lending the flavor of MozCon to those of you not as lucky as I to be in attendance, and helping my own brain process today’s wealth of information to make room for tomorrow’s expected deluge, I will now share what were, relative to my job and my interests… 5 Things I Learned At MozCon: Day Two!
- The best way to ensure that you don’t run out of content ideas is to build a machine that creates them for you. (Dr. Pete Meyers)
Sounds easy enough, right? In all seriousness, the famous Dr. Pete of Moz itself really got through to me with this message. Whether your machine is a true concrete thing (like the good doctor’s extraordinary self-authored software program that forensically determines and delivers to him, every morning, the changes made to Google search results over the course of the previous night), or, more likely, a metaphorical machine*, the idea is that you can set yourself up for limitless content creation if you find the right data niche and keep your finger on its pulse. Data that never stops rolling in is a story that never stops being told, and if you find a slice of data that nobody’s ever studied before (and there is way more untapped data than tapped in this terrifyingly huge universe of ours), your story is guaranteed to be interesting. [*Examples of “metaphorical machines” (terminology mine) that he cited were categorical content ideas that are systemic and thus inexhaustible, such as Dinosaur Comics, “Will It Blend”, and Moz’s own Whiteboard Fridays. The magic formula for these content systems is that they produce something “repeatable but not repetitive” (terminology his).]
- Content marketing as an enterprise will be wrested from our hands by the huge media institutions of yesteryear if we don’t get better at it very soon. (Dr. Pete)
We digital marketers are so far ahead of the traditional media world when it comes to All Things Interwebs that we had the luxury of profiting from content marketing for years before we detected any sign that somebody might be trying to horn in on our action. Well, there’s no mistaking it now: the term “content marketing” has entered mainstream use and is starting to smell like money; accordingly, the production of online content is rapidly turning into big business. PR firms, ad agencies, and the other media dinosaurs that we in digital love to scoff at are not only still with us; they still have so much more money than we have that they can afford to show up late to this party and still end up the center. They can hire more and better creative talent than we can, they can spend significantly more on the production of assets like videos and interactive games than we can, and they have a bigger promotional network than we can fathom, and they will use it all to, as Dr. Pete eloquently put it, “eat our lunch”… unless, and only unless, we get better at it very, very soon. This is a call for substance. No more listicles, no more glorified Jeff Foxworthy jokes, no more stuff that we cough up mindlessly because we have a looming deadline and we need something quick and easy because we don’t have time to write the post about our Big Idea. Starting now, Big Ideas Only. [OK, maybe I editorialized a bit at the end there.]
- Brands are starting to get rich snippets in search for their Google+ content. (Mark Traphagen)
It’s hard to imagine a better speaker to bring on for MozCon’s one and only presentation dedicated to Google+ than Mark Traphagen; he’s one of the world’s foremost authorities on and advocates for the platform and is somebody whom I follow for breaking news about it and expert analysis thereof. This lone nugget that I pulled from his altogether great presentation about how to build an engaged community on Google+ is trivial by comparison to the larger message he set out to deliver, but it was news to me and so I thought I’d share it: apparently, on the very same day that Google withdrew author photos from author rich snippets and gave the whole SEO world a moment of collective headdesk, they began adding brand photos to personalized search results that served content from Google+ brand pages. In other words, if you follow a brand on Google+, and you’re logged in, and you input a search query that is relevant to something that that brand has posted on its Google+ page, then a photo of that brand’s logo (or otherwise designated G+ image) will actually show alongside that Google+ content’s search results snippet, exactly as author photos used to. This smells like a test for something bigger: possibly ultimately the power to have that photo-enabled rich snippet served in all Google search results for content produced by your brand. Those of us in SEO know that no further reasons need be contrived to get your brand on Google+, but for the rest of you: stop dilly-dallying!
- Conversational search is the future, and so Google is learning how you talk. (Justin Briggs)
Justin Briggs of Getty Images definitely took home the day’s prize for Largest Piece of Will’s Mind Blown in Shortest Amount of Time. This was a 20-minute presentation about all the stuff exactly in my most favored sub-niche of SEO (structured data, entity search, machine learning, etc.), and it was still so packed with stuff I didn’t already know that I could barely keep up. I’ll distill what I took to be his main point into a capsule, difficult though it seems. Here goes. For one thing, people are starting to transition their search queries away from the old keyword-focused model and toward something that sounds like natural interrogative speech (this was the reasoning behind the Hummingbird update of last fall). For another, rather than being limited to our computers, the internet is now accessible through all our electronics; as the share of internet-enabled electronics without keyboards grows (not only wearables but things like smart thermostats and appliances), people carry out more and more of their input on electronic devices by talking, and their talk usually takes the form of requests. Furthermore, there are cases where they’re asking a device to carry out an instruction, and there are cases where they’re querying the wider web in the way that one does now during a Google search… but the ideal future here is one where users need not determine which of the two categories of request any given one falls into before articulating it. They should instead just be able to talk to their devices and expect them to talk back, or do what they’re asked. What does this all mean? In brief, it means that search engines are investing more not only in voice search input (as discussed yesterday by Cindy Krum), but in natural language processing. They’re learning how we talk and they want to talk back to us. It was nice to hear him confirm my suspicion that Google is steering itself toward legitimate AI, but he outdid my semantic markup talk at SEMpdx last February by a significant margin for all the tactical recommendations he was able to translate this concept into: entity-based content curation (where you find your content angle by optimizing for the related entities that Google already knows about), oblique keyword targeting (where you target terms related to your central entity rather than stating it outright, in order to enrich Google’s contextual understanding), use of JSON-LD (which seems like a rabbit hole I could go down for a frightfully long time), and more… somehow still more. All in 20 minutes. And, to top it all off, he offered a message of hope: that this new frontier is so huge, thrilling, and soon to arrive that rather than being at the end of SEO’s lifespan, we could well be at the beginning (even adding, to the delight of the technical SEO in me, “if we all become content marketers, who’s gonna be left to do this stuff?”). For my money, this guy deserves more beers and high-fives at tonight’s afterparty than anyone.
- Your site can be punished in search for having too much content. (Marshall Simmonds)
Granted, it is only sites of incredible size that ever seem to face this risk, but if anybody in SEO knows from sites that size, it’s Marshall Simmonds, former chief search strategist for the New York Times. He’s gone on to work at a media group, so this story doesn’t concern the Times, but he told of a client that had 40,000,000 content assets on its site, and of him advising this client, presumably after discarding a number of other briefly entertained ideas about how to improve their SEO, to simply delete some of it. Some turned into a lot, and under his guidance, the client cut 90% of its content in a short period of time, almost immediately after which their traffic increased by 40%. Why? Because at its old size, their site was placing too much of a burden on crawlers. This was another OMG moment for me. It’s amusing to think of the relationship between a site and search engine spiders as something like an interpersonal relationship, but this story threatens to make that analogy come to life for me. I picture a frustrated spider telling a despondent site that he’s sorry but he just can’t crawl all this stuff; after all, he only has eight hands!
There you go! There was so much more to this day that it feels almost criminal to under-represent it like this, but nothing short of a live stream of the entire event could ever hope to capture all of it (and even that would shortchange the ambiance, which, by the way, is still more than a little blue). As previously mentioned, the complete agenda is on the MozCon site, so everything I had to exclude due to constraints on my time (and on my interests, in fairness) can still be accessed, thus you won’t have to be deprived of the most valuable facet of the experience: the knowledge!
Whew. I am overwhelmed, tired, empowered, tired, astonished and thrilled by how much it turns out I still don’t know, hungry, tired, and happy. If there’s a bigger, badder search marketing conference held anywhere in the world… uh, actually it might be best to keep it a secret from me because I’m not sure I could handle it.
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of this lil ol blog miniseries tomorrow, assuming I still have a working brain and fingers!