Before today, SEMpdx’s lovely, local, comparatively modest SearchFest was the only search marketing conference I’d ever been to. This morning, I walked into the bluest room I can ever recall seeing, and settled in for my second. MozCon, the massively ambitious conference held every year in Seattle by Moz, the SEO space’s leading software company, is a three-day, 1,400-person behemoth of an affair focused on organic search, social, and, search marketing in the larger sense (really what I’m saying is that there isn’t any talk of PPC; pretty much everything else is on the table). The trade of SearchFest’s breadth for depth means that everyone can stay on one single track, more or less in one single chair, and take in 100% of what’s offered.
What was offered was a lot: so much, in fact, that I knew within two hours tops that my original plan to write one single blog post Summing It All Up after I got back to Portland was hopelessly doomed. The new knowledge nuggets were coming so fast and furious that I realized I’d need to cover each day individually even just to have hope of processing all the teachings within my own brain, much less of sharing them with you all in any kind of useful format. So I adjusted my intention and decided that I would instead conclude each day by presenting, in digestible capsule form, my favorite learnings from that day, while it was all still fresh. So, without further ado, I humbly present Will Hattman’s 8 Things I Learned at MozCon, Day One!
- Web marketing might be on the verge of regulation. (Rand Fishkin)
Call me a naive Neville, but despite keeping my finger on the pulses of both SEO and domestic politics (trying to, anyway), I truly didn’t realize this was looming, and this was Rand Fishkin’s first of five cited “Trends from the Last Year in Web Marketing.” It makes all the sense in the world as soon as you hear it, though: between the UK Cookies Law, Canada’s anti-spam legislation, the EU’s “Right to be Forgotten” campaign, and of course the infamous NSA revelations of the past year here at home, “rights to data” is starting to look like a newly emerging and possibly profoundly important legal and statutory landscape. Rand suggests that this is all happening so fast and with such remarkable global convergence that some amount of governmental regulation is likely to become part of the search marketer’s experience in the US rather soon… and that in all likelihood the reason it hasn’t already is because the #2 lobbying organization in the country is these guys in Mountain View that you may have heard of.
- Google’s motive for squelching click-through might be part of an effort to nurture and grow our search addiction. (Rand Fishkin)
This was packaged as part of Rand’s #5 web trend of the past year, and I don’t know whether it’s a hypothesis entirely of his own making or whether it’s part of the larger discourse, but I thought this was a fascinating and tantalizingly prurient take on the question of what Google’s aim is in reducing click-through with their still-growing profusion of knowledge graph entries and answer cards. Their typical reticence on the subject has required that we all speculate as to their motives; until now, my preferred answer to the question of why they’re doing it was the one I heard Dennis Goedegebuure of Airbnb share (at SearchFest, incidentally): namely, that the increasing size and increasing impatience of the mobile search base is compelling Google to shorten the time in which they deliver an answer to user queries, and that sparing everybody a click was a sure means to that end. But what if they’re playing a much, much longer game here? What if their real motive for making the search experience ever more satisfying (read: ever quicker) is the idea that every near-instantaneous answer a user receives through search serves to increase that user’s reliance on search? This was the day’s one and only legitimate conspiracy theory, but damned if my eyebrow isn’t still frozen in a puzzled arch from it.
- A/B Testing is rigorously data-driven. (Kyle Rush)
It’s not as though I was truly surprised to learn that A/B testing is rigorously data-driven (everything of worth is); it’s more that I just didn’t know Thing One about A/B testing, period, until this walkthrough of the entire discipline by none other than Kyle Rush, the guy who made his name running front-end web dev for Obama for America and who currently serves as Head of Optimization at Optimizely. In under an hour, he covered all the field’s common variables, constants, statistical norms, and strategic and tactical plays, and I couldn’t have been more impressed. The whole field of usability ceased to be something vague and oblique for me today, and became instead something with real flesh and bone: a field that dwells at the intersection between statistical mathematics, design, and sociology, all of which I count among my personal interests. It’s cooler than I ever imagined and I couldn’t fathom a better introduction to it.
- The overwhelming majority of A/B tests result in a statistical tie. (Kyle Rush)
See, now? I didn’t know that! He didn’t cite a particular number pulled from his own experience or an industry poll or anything (one of the few times he didn’t have a number to point to; I really appreciated the guy’s love of hard facts), but “the overwhelming majority” is an unambiguously large majority of A/B experiments to watch run their course and yield no actionable information of any kind. UX professionals must have extraordinary patience.
- Arguably the majority of mobile SEO focus should be on page speed. (Cindy Krum)
I’ve been telling clients for years already that usability (as defined by users themselves) is an increasingly significant ranking factor and that a fast page speed is the first and last word in a site’s usability… and I can even claim that I’ve been giving clients the speech about how the rapid rise of mobile makes this More Important Than Ever for over a year as well. But to hear it from Cindy Krum, I have not been speaking forcefully enough. Page speed is so important to mobile that responsive design isn’t even necessarily advisable on especially rich sites because of how badly a rich site will drag its heels over a carrier network. The idea that there could be any conditions under which responsive design might not be advisable was a real OMG moment for me. Time for me to stop recommending it site-unseen (you can thank me for that pun later).
- Google is investing more and more in trying to make their mobile search accommodate voice input, and it’s because of wearables. (Cindy Krum)
This was another “oh yeah, now that you mention it, that makes sense” discovery of the day: that on the path to rolling out Google Glass, which does not have a keyboard, Google is updating their algorithm and infrastructure (at least for mobile searchers) to be better equipped to handle voice search. This, I suspect, is why they’ve already had a significantly imperfect voice search function baked into their smartphone app for years: so they can test its use and receive feedback on it while there’s still time to make it semi-decent before Google Glass detonates and triggers an explosion in the wearables market.
- Driving direction logs might well be a local SEO ranking factor. (Mike Ramsey)
Mike Ramsey of Nifty Marketing is in an uncommonly good position to study local search ranking factors because he lives in the tiny town of Burley, Idaho, where he was born and raised and where, to hear it from him, few people come and go and hardly anybody is a web whiz, making it a rather “stagnant” (to use his word) landscape of business websites, and thus a heaven-sent petri dish in which to conduct local ranking experiments (this was the angle of his entire talk and I loved it; it was simultaneously entertaining, ingenious, and empowering). One of the more jaw-dropping discoveries he made (though he claimed to have read about it elsewhere and therefore only to deserve credit for devising and conducting the experiment, which, um, is still really cool) was that the thickness of a local listing’s driving directions log (in other words, how many times a mobile search result’s driving directions link has been clicked and driven through from beginning to end) is arguably a factor in how well that listing ranks in Google Local search results. I had No. Friggin. Idea. Not even a little bit. Google thinks of everything.
- Call tracking numbers should be deployed very carefully. If you make them crawlable, they will get crawled and effect conflicts with your NAP info, and then your local rankings could plummet. (Mike Ramsey)
This finding mostly serves to underscore the importance of a company keeping its NAP (name, address, phone number) information consistent across the web. When different values show within those containers on different websites, Google sees them in competition with one another, loses trust in the entity concerned, and punishes them in local search results. This in and of itself is not a shocking finding; SEOs worth their salt have known of the importance of NAP consistency as a local search ranking factor for years, and have preached as much to their local clients. What was interesting about this point was that Mike Ramsey shone a bright light on the silliness of many of these same SEOs advising these same clients to spray call tracking numbers (which are by necessity phone numbers different from their main phone number) all over the web willy-nilly. These will also get crawled and will immediately start to undermine your NAP consistency efforts when they do. [Even more amusing to me was his recommended way of getting them published without getting them crawled. He says that what we should do with our call tracking numbers is exactly that thing that we SEOs tell our clients never to do with their site’s text: bake it into an image.]
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the tip of the iceberg. I hope this was helpful and that my personal perspective didn’t limit the day’s offerings all that badly. Rest assured that the entire agenda is viewable online, and that videos are traditionally made available soon after the conference’s conclusion. If you enjoyed reading this, I’ll be back tomorrow with another Top Learnings from Day 2 in that blue, blue room; until then, I’m off to grab some food and then dream some dreams that stand a very good chance of also being blue.