7 SEO Takeaways from SMX West 2020

Absorbing knowledge at SMX West, one of the search industry’s most respected conferences, was like drinking from a fire hose. Of all the search engine optimization (SEO) nuggets from each session, these seven resonated with me most strongly.

1. The SERP Is Your Homepage. 

Search marketing — the paid and organic search channels together — drive the majority of traffic to most sites. That means that the search engine results page (SERP) is your first, and potentially only, way to make a first impression for the majority of the people that come to your site. 

Ten years ago, many people would still type in your domain and land on your site’s glorious homepage, which could be their first impression of your digital brand. But many searchers now miss that homepage impression and land deeper in your site on a page more relevant to their search query. 

You need to make your first impression in the SERP by capitalizing on every chance you have to steal the spotlight and push your competitors down and off the page. Use paid text ads, Shopping, traditional organic search results, featured snippets, video, images, local, etc. to accomplish your goal.

2. Map Performance to Objectives.

Stop creating reports with endless charts and graphs. Instead show how your work impacts business objectives. If you start by trying to figure out how to arrange all the data, you’ll end up with a report that has no focus and no relevance to the business you’re trying to improve.

3. User Generated Content (UGC) Can Help… and Hurt.

UGC — such as review content and comments — is indexable for most sites, and is considered part of the page’s content by search engines. 

That means that UGC can boost the keyword theme of the page when the reviews contain relevant, natural language to describe their experience.

But reviews can also have a negative impact if they’re spammed with irrelevant words and links. Comment sections in blogs have this same issue. Make sure to curate your reviews and comments to remove those that could hurt your keyword theme. This is especially important on what Google calls YMYL sites — those that deal with your money (like financial sites) or your life (like health sites).

You may even find that you need to shut down or remove UGC features on your site if they’re being used for irrelevant purposes like comment spam or link building.

4. Yes, Google and Bing Know When You Buy or Trade Links.

Even if you don’t get penalized, those links pass no value.

I’m looking at you, Forbes. 

Ignore the emails, the LinkedIn messages, the phone calls. If they’re putting the word out and it’s getting to you, it’s also getting to Google and Bing. I was surprised by how many in the audience seemed surprised by this.

5. Winning Google’s Featured Snippet Can Reduce Your Clicks.

It’s harder to track the engagement for featured snippets because searchers tend to get their answer directly in the SERP instead of clicking through to your site. They also generate high numbers of impressions, making them stellar vehicles for building awareness. 

Focus on themes that match your target intent — transactional, informational, etc. Then test to determine the impact on your performance metrics. 

Remember, a decrease may look like a failed test, but if your business values brand awareness it’s actually a win. Use both on-site metrics like sessions in your web analytics and on-SERP metrics like impressions in Google Search Console’s Performance report 

Also, work harder to win searches where the featured snippet is the only ornamentation on the page, because they drive higher clickthrough rates.

6. Maximize YouTube’s Growing Presence in SERPs.

Not only do videos drive performance on YouTube, but increasingly they also appear at the top of the SERPs. 

Build your presence starting with lower volume keyword themes that are highly relevant to your site’s core purpose — and that also trigger video results in Google’s SERPs. Once you’re performing there, gradually target increasingly popular keywords.

7. UX and E-A-T Are Two Sides of the Same Coin.

User experience (UX) optimizes the interactions a customer has on your site. Sites with stronger UX make searchers happier. As a result, Google is algorithmically deciphering which sites it believes have the strongest UX.

That’s where E-A-T comes into play. Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness all factor into Google’s definition of usability. It’s especially critical on YMYL sites, where users need to be extremely confident in the expertise, authority, and trustworthiness of the content they consume.

You wouldn’t feel confident getting information on an anxiety attack from Jim’s House of Bacon, or stock tips from Cash Loans R Us. Google doesn’t feel algorithmically confident ranking sites that don’t demonstrate expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, either.

This is my slice of the conference based on the 10 to 15% of sessions I was able to attend. Search engines’ algorithms are changing, and our SEO strategies need to evolve with them. Thank you to the speakers who shared their SEO E-A-T with me.

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