For three days in July, I had the opportunity to hear from some of the best of the best in the SEO and digital marketing world at MozCon 2018. I left the conference with some new friends, some cool swag, but most importantly, countless actionable tips I couldn’t wait to start utilizing for my clients.
B2B and B2C SEO each have their own unique set of differences, so approaching MozCon from a B2B background I was constantly listening for tactics and ideas that were specifically relevant to the distinct challenges my clients face. However, a lot of these takeaways are relevant for B2C as well. While some of the talks were so tactical and detailed I couldn’t possibly summarize them here, there were a few overall themes that have stuck with me in the days since.
Own Your Entities
If MozCon had a secret word this year it was definitely “entity”. If entities aren’t a concept you’re familiar with already, it’s time to study up. According to Cindy Crum, entities are the new Google quality signal.
The reasons behind the importance of entities in SEO are closely tied to mobile-first indexing. Mobile-first is not just about websites. Google is doubling down on AI and devices without screens. With voice search, Google can’t just read out a list of URLs. It needs URL independent content to provide the right answer. Mobile SERPs are already dominated by answers and knowledge graph, and mobile-first indexing helps Google provide the right responses.
URL independent content is where entities come in. An entity is essentially a person, place, thing, adjective, or concept that is unique or distinguishable. Anything that can be defined and have information associated with it can be an entity. Google uses Knowledge Graph to understand how entities are related to each other.
This does not just apply to voice search. Entity search results do not need a website to rank even on a desktop. Rather than mobile-first, Cindy thinks of Google’s current strategy more like entity-first indexing. Google wants to index more than URLs. Its goal is to organize the world’s information, not the world’s websites. Entity-first indexing helps Google make sure it provides the right content in the right context, whether that includes a URL or not.
So what can B2B marketers and brands do about this? Create more media, and make sure you control it! This goes back to entities as the new Google quality signal. Start by claiming the personal entity of the brand you manage, then create and optimize non-domain entity content like videos, podcasts, events, job postings, and other indexable content types.
Bonus Tip: The Google Cloud Natural Language API is an entity tool that analyzes your content and shows you how Google understands and identifies entities in your content. Use it to test your content for Google’s entity understanding.
Local Matters. Yes, Even For You
B2B marketers tend not to worry about local SEO, but Tom Capper made it clear in his presentation why all SEOs should have it on their radar. In today’s search landscape, every SERP is a local SERP, even if you don’t have a brick and mortar.
When we talk about local in relation to B2B we’re not talking about PO Boxes or coffee shops. We’re talking about national business with location-specific landing pages.
How do you know if you need location-specific landing pages? Look to the SERPs to see what Google thinks, especially for any transactional queries related to your business. When tracking the success of these pages, make sure you’re using location-specific rank tracking to see a more accurate view of performance.
Bonus Tip: Don’t put “Near Me” in your title or H1 even if it comes up in your keyword research. Google is smarter than that!
Remove Roadblocks to Implementation
If you don’t solve underlying personnel, knowledge, and capacity issues you’ll have a hard time getting SEO buy-in or implementing much of anything. Especially in B2B environments when there are multiple stakeholders involved, having buy-in for SEO from the top down is necessary to be effective in your role.
Heather Physioc shared a Search Capabilities Maturity Model that can help you assess your client’s current search maturity and diagnose what areas need improvement. Using this framework, you can make sure you are selecting projects based on your client’s actual capabilities, helping ensure that your hard work eventually sees the light of day.
Another way to remove roadblocks? Start trying to fix the root cause of SEO issues, not the symptoms. Jono Alderson spoke about the value of this in the first presentation at MozCon. As SEOs, we understand the implications of SEO in a way developers do not. We need to use our SEO superpowers to collaborate with developers and help make the web a more SEO friendly place.
You can look at Google as an example. It is hard for Google to understand the nuances of a big block of text. Schema helps break it up, but that isn’t enough. For Google to compete against Alexa they need block-level markup so they can give better answers for voice search and provide a better user experience. Google is fixing the root cause of this issue by working with CMS platforms (specifically WordPress) in order to roll out block-level Schema across the web.
We are moving to a world where winning the SERPs won’t be about the best content, but the best marked up content. This is a paradigm shift. So what do we do about it? Solve the root cause like Google, and get involved with open source! We can have a say in what the web becomes. We need to use our SEO knowledge to help make the future of the web one we want to see.
Bonus Tip: One easy way to get involved is to go to make.wordpress.org. You don’t have to be a developer to help make WordPress more SEO friendly.
No One Cares About Your Blog
Taylor Coil spoke some hard truths on the MozCon stage, one of which being the above statement. Before you get defensive (I know how attached we can get to our blogging schedules), let’s talk about the purpose of creating content from Taylor’s perspective.
Content (for the purposes of SEO) is not about engaging or entertaining. It is another way to solve problems for your customers. Marketers tend to conflate content marketing with blogging but they are not the same thing. Story driven content might be impressive or compelling, but it is not the same thing as effective marketing. As Taylor said, we’re not in this game to wax poetic.
So what can B2B marketers do instead? Rather than focus on blogging, we should be building libraries of resources that address our customer’s problems. Don’t write for your brand first, start by figuring out the finite problems your content needs to solve and go from there.
Bonus Tip: Rethink the traditional blog that only highlights your newest content first. In a world where people are not coming to your blog to peruse, timeliness doesn’t matter. Instead, aggregate your best performing resources and highlight those first. Consider creating high funnel umbrella content that links out to more low funnel pieces.
Your Data Sucks
You could hear the quiet panic building in the room when Russ Jones told us he was about to explain why so much of the data SEOs rely on, well, sucks. Data quality is important, it can differentiate you from your competitors. Unfortunately, a lot of the data sources we rely on aren’t giving us an accurate picture.
For example, consider a client asked you the following question: “How many clicks will I get if I rank position X for term Y?”
Likely your strategy for answering this question will be to ask yourself what the CTR is at position X, and what the search volume is Y. However, as SEOs we should know that this is inaccurate.
CTR depends on SERP features. It isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you’re using Keyword Planner to get search volume, that data might be wrong as well. Keyword Planner groups keywords differently than they’re grouped in the SERPs, and it combines the search volumes for grouped keywords.
When collecting SEO data make sure you are examining all of your data sources. Understand where that data is actually coming from, don’t take it for granted. Inform your clients on the margin of error in the data you provide them. And when you see errors in your data sources, let them know! Demand less sucky data from your tools!
Bonus Tip: One way to make your data suck less is to use big(ger) data. Wil Reynolds talked about the benefits of using Power BI to aggregate different data sources and use that data to not only create powerful visuals, but turn that data into real marketing dollars for your clients. Wil made a Power BI for Digital Marketers video series outlining his strategies.
Your Reporting Probably Sucks Too
Somehow this post has taken a very negative turn, but let’s be honest, you probably already know your reporting can be improved. How many times have you written in a report, “Organic traffic is decreasing”? That is monitoring, not reporting. While monitoring is important, it is not the same thing as a report. A report should tell you whether or not you are meeting goals.
Unfortunately, our goals are part of the problem as well. We tend to focus on goals that are important to our client, not to our client’s customers. Dana DiTomaso’s presentation had some fantastic ideas on how to be more customer-centric in your reporting. While a lot of those suggestions we’re more relevant for B2C, there were some B2B learnings as well.
One customer centric metric to report on is whether or not your content is actually being consumed. This can be done easily using Kick Point Content Consumption. It will measure both if someone stayed on the page long enough to read the content and if they made it to the end of the page. Once you have this data, you can make changes to your content that is being visited by prospects but not being consumed.
Bonus Tip: Another customer centric metric to measure is how quickly you are able to deliver your content to your prospects and answer their questions. You can do this simply by measuring the number of featured snippets you have.
The Best Performing Teams Are Not What You Think
Rand Fishkin gave a fantastic presentation about why marketing launches tend to fail (and how to make sure yours doesn’t), but the biggest takeaway for me was when he talked about team dynamics. An unhealthy team dynamic can negatively impact performance, and its something important for marketing teams of all types to be aware of.
Traditionally when you think of the best performing teams you might picture it being made up of the smartest people, who work hard to meet deadlines, have vast knowledge and experience, and who are relentless in their pursuit of perfection.
According to Rand, this is wrong. The best teams have been shown instead to:
- Feel comfortable crying in front of each other
- Know they won’t be judged harshly or unfairly by their fellow teammates
- Bolster each other’s weaknesses + compound strengths
- Are made up of diverse people who share core values
Not what you were expecting? Me either. This ties into a concept known as psychological safety. Psychological safety is essentially knowing that you won’t be punished by your team for making a mistake. When people are scared to make a mistake, they are less likely to take risks or question decisions they know are wrong out of fear of not looking like a team player.
Increasing psychological safety on your team means investing in culture. Our skills can be improved over time, but our culture fit generally cannot. Hiring based on culture is a paradigm shift that many companies may be reluctant to make.
The last bullet point on the list of what the best teams have in common deserves its own paragraph. Diversity (both inherent and acquired) has been clearly shown to be correlated with performance.
The reason for this is counterintuitive. Homogenous teams feel more effective because it is easier to work with people who are similar to you. Diversity creates a less comfortable environment, and this is exactly what makes it improve performance.
When diverse teams work together and highlight their differences it makes the work harder, but that conflict provides opportunities for deeper thinking and more creativity. On a team where everyone thinks the same, individuals are less likely to challenge themselves or second guess previously held beliefs. Of course, for a diverse team to be effective all team members must be experiencing psychological safety or they may not feel comfortable expressing their differing viewpoints.
Be a Better B2B Marketer!
If you also attended MozCon this year I’d love to hear if you had some of the same takeaways as me, and what else has stuck with you since the conference. If you couldn’t make it this year, I hope you took away something from my experience.
Obility has a B2B focused conference of their own, called Marketing Loves Sales. With a mission to align the revenue goals of marketing and sales professionals, this year we’re hosting the one-day event at The Portland Armory. Order tickets here!