MozCon 2015 Recap – Disruption At Its Finest
Ben Travis, Former Former Marketing Manager
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending MozCon in Seattle, an impressive digital marketing conference that brought together over a thousand talented professionals for three days of thoughtful discussion. Geared towards marketers from brands, agencies, and freelancers, the more than two dozen talks focused on a variety of topics, ranging from content strategy to conversion rate optimization (CRO). Throughout the week, consistent themes emerged from speakers, so here's a breakdown.
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From the get-go, the conference’s primary message was clear: don’t get complacent. Rand Fishkin's intro to the conference touched on tech’s big players who are disrupting themselves to stay relevant and stave off obsolescence. Facebook is willing to create and defeat its own products and pay billions to acquire other social players. Google’s willing to sacrifice huge amounts of ad space to provide a more valuable and addictive user experience.
In the same way, digital marketers (and digital professionals in general) must disrupt themselves, experimenting with new strategies and tactics. Pushing your own organization (or client) isn’t easy, but there’s no time like the present, and it’s easier than ever to explore CRO, produce valuable content, improve results through analytics, and build a viable brand strategy, among other things. And disruption can’t occur within a marketing team, it has to occur throughout a whole organization.
A common problem with marketers is that we’re asked to prioritize channels over audience problems. Wil Reynolds highlighted this in his talk The Time to Do the Web Right Is Incredibly Short, saying that many marketers are asked to fix bad businesses when marketing can’t fix the issues a company has. Despite algorithm changes in search and social and new available tools, you are still catering to people, and understanding how people make decisions is an undisruptable skill. One of my favorite quotes from the conference came from Dana DiTomaso’s talk, saying “Brand strategy is the future of marketing.” Your brand is your promise, and digital marketing is your way of communicating that promise across all digital media.
In the same way, disrupt yourself. Yes, you the individual. It’s easy to put yourself in a box based on current responsibilities, but you are far more than your title. Mig Reyes from Basecamp shared some inspirational thoughts on this matter, adding that the only way to progress is to try new things, even if they’re outside of your traditional role. Introduce new ideas to the world. It’s scary, not everyone will like it, but you’ll grow. Another great quote from MozCon: “If you don’t break a few things, then you aren’t trying hard enough.”
Create Valuable and Targeted Content
Content is the foundation of any SEO, and it was a key focus of MozCon. Speakers like Kristina Halvorson, who literally wrote the book on Content Strategy for the web, shared their approaches to content with practical advice. If you put 10 people in a room and ask them to define content strategy, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. It’s been a hot topic in the digital space recently, but what often gets left behind are user experience and content purpose. We need to get rid of the mentality that more content is good content and evaluate why we’re doing content strategy in the first place. Halvorson’s quad model is a great way to think about it, focusing on substance, structure, workflow, and governance.
Content marketing, in a similar vein, can be defined as “the approach of creating and distributing valuable and consistent content.” According to Moz’s Matthew Brown, it’s the #2 most popular ask of agencies today. However, the market is getting saturated, and your content can’t just be good...it needs to be 10x better than everyone else's. Innovative content pieces like Land Rover’s The Vanishing Game and Cathay Pacific’s recent NYT post highlight new ways that brands are creating unique content that creates a positive experience for users and brings real value.
Great content in 2015 is content that will be shared. Buffer’s Courtney Seiter spoke to the psychology of social media and how to encourage content sharing, build relationships, increase social currency, and promote virtual empathy. Similarly, as we think of individuals consuming and sharing content, it would be remiss to ignore the platforms in which these actions occur. We learned about network diffusion earlier this year from Buzzfeed’s data scientists, and the more we optimize for network diffusion, the more links we’ll naturally see. That means thinking about any and all streams that an audience might discover, engage, and amplify messages.
Personalize, but Don’t Be Creepy
Marketers are used to personalizing email, but two digital personalization opportunities often ignored are remarketing and website personalization. Cara Harshman reminded us in her personalization talk that we have access to a plethora of information about visitors, including past behavior, location, and how they entered your site. In personalizing a web experience, consider changing elements based on whether or not users are logged in, if they entered from a specific campaign, or if they’re based in the local area. In a recent example, marketers were able to increase conversions by 32% by personalizing landing pages based on the incoming adwords page.
Remarketing is a great way to focus digital marketing efforts based on a user’s experience. Duane Brown’s talk on delightful remarketing gave us concrete reasons to pursue this tactic, including the fact that most people (60%) end up abandoning their shopping carts. Part of remarketing is also knowing when to stop. For example, be sure to use a burn pixel to ensure customers don’t see your ads after converting. Marty Weintraub introduced the audience to audience cookie pools, a relatively new way to market to specific audiences regardless of whether or not they’ve been on the website.
All speakers agreed that there’s a line after which personalized information can become “creepy,” so be sure to balance relevance and purpose with marketing objectives.
Be Aware of New Search Engine Developments
Moz got its start by focusing on SEO, and there were plenty of practical search strategies shared this week. Google and other search engines are getting smarter as they learn from user behavior, and recent changes in mobile, the knowledge graph, semantic search, clickstream data, and machine learning have created experiences much different than just a couple of years ago. Peter Meyers told us that 97% of Google’s ranking pages (SERPs) now have some form of content outside of organic results, led by a mobile-first mentality, which allows for many new opportunities to showcase and surface content. Google isn’t just in the business of content curation anymore, it’s in the business of content creation -- just look at the new medical cards available.
“Mobilegeddon” and Google’s recent HTTPs announcement have proved that Google is getting serious on making the web a better place. While these factors have only minimally affected rankings so far, Google’s focus on device-friendly structure and user security has had huge rippling effects (as was its intent), as evidenced by Cindy Krum’s Mobile SEO Superhero talk. Improvements such as cards that display specialized information are becoming more ubiquitous in search results. Still, search engines have stayed true to using schema standards (as seen in Schema.org) to gather even more nuanced information about content. Search engines want as much clarity as possible and reward those who supply it.
“Old school” foundations like focusing on titles, descriptions, and URLs are still important, but now search engines are looking at what happens after results show up. They’re focused less on keywords, and more on meaning; less on the placement of results and more on actual clicks. It’s becoming more and more about content, the foundation of SEO. There’s no big conspiracy, search engines want searchers to be able to accomplish their tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As Rand Fishkin mentioned in his keynote, the key to keeping up with new developments in SEO is balancing old on-site metrics that allow us to communicate with search engines, like providing a crawlable and fast site, with new ones, like relative CTR and social amplification. We need to optimize for both search engines and real people.
In the digital space, measurement is the key to improving what we do. As a digital analyst, I was elated to see the conference’s excitement over the impact of analytics. Adam Singer, one of Google’s analytics advocates, focused on the three P’s of digital analytics: People, Process, and Platform -- to highlight successful methods for implementing a successful analytical culture in an organization. As marketers, we should constantly ask ourselves why we’re collecting data, how we can use it better, and what we can do to use data to push real change.
Web analytics should tell us how people get to and through our content. Unfortunately, it’s very common for teams to miss the mark in measuring success, and even deciding what to measure as a conversion can trip up an experienced team. Adrian Vender touched on some great tools including Google Tag Manager, something we love at Viget and have been implementing on nearly all projects over the past two years.
Using data to drive design changes is a great way to increase conversions. Chris Dayley spoke on the topic of conversion rate optimization (CRO) using multivariate testing. When a site is up for a redesign or if behavior has stagnated, be bold and use radical testing to make big changes to users’ experiences. Use iterative testing to make redesigns even better, tweaking small elements after radical changes.
While digital analytics have come a long way since the creation of cookies, there are still many pitfalls. Marshall Simmonds touched on the implications of the mysterious dark search, dark mobile, and dark social traffic that’s slowly crept into our web analytics reports. Adam Singer also mentioned that Google is currently working on a more permanent solution for referral spam in Google Analytics, which has seen a massive uptick over the past year.
Till Next Time
Overall, MozCon 2015 was fantastic, and I was pleased to be in the company of such capable peers. While the week’s talks were highly valuable, some of the best insights came from discussing topics with other marketers over lunch or drinks. In the fast-changing world of digital marketing, conferences like this are great way to stay sharp and future-proof skills. Till next time!
For more detailed information on all sessions and speakers, be sure to read these comprehensive notes: