Recap SearchLeeds 2019

Recap: SearchLeeds June 2019

From Berlin to Leeds, UK: on July 20th, “North England’s largest digital conference” took place with well-known speakers from the digital marketing sector and opportunities to exchange insights with industry peers from across Europe. So, in between eating our English breakfasts and wandering around on a pub crawl, we decided to drop by – read on to discover what we found out at SearchLeeds 2019!

SearchLeeds 2019 Begrüßung Main Stage
Are you ready? The main stage hall fills up for the welcome speech.

Some awesome SEO advice on intent optimisation

Rory Truesdale fromWeWork/Conductor talked about how “intent optimisation” can be used to improve SEO results – this was one of, if not the best, presentation of the conference. Not only did Rory provide interesting insights, but he also presented an array of templates to help execute his tips in a straight forward manner. These were some of the key takeaways from his presentation:

Google is getting better and better at understanding user search intent and ranking pages that can provide an appropriate answer.

Aligning your landing pages to the search intent of specific keywords can significantly improve your ranking while also improving conversion and engagement performance.

Then, Rory demonstrated how to analyse and classify the search intent of SERPs at scale, which can be achieved with SEMrush if you analyse the SERPs for certain keywords, or by building your own mini search engine with cse.google.com. The custom search engine lets you include your most valuable keywords, the most relevant selection of competitors for these keywords and enables “a deeper dive into the language of the SERPs.”

For example, the meta descriptions displayed in the SERPs give you a great insight into what Google thinks will trigger a user to click on a result.

Learnings:

  • The language in the SERPs can provide powerful insights into how Google interprets user intent regarding a certain a query.
  • Analysing this language can help you to more accurately assign intent to a keyword and help you to optimise a page according to user intent.
  • This analysis can have a value beyond intent – potentially helping you to understand “user desire” and to identify “related phrases” that Google might look for when ranking a site for a query.
Rory Truesdale at SearchLeeds 2019
Rory Truesdale shows how effective user intent optimisation can be for your SEO performance.

Are featured snippets harmful for your SEO?

In her presentation on featured snippets, Emily Potter from Distilled told her audience to focus on the competition while optimising landing pages – especially the competitor that is currently being displayed in the featured snippet.

Emily recommended asking questions like:

  • Are they answering the query better?
  • What format are they using?
  • Are they using different or better headings?

… and she revealed a pro tip: occasionally, just copy and paste the competitor’s heading – because it works!

She continued with a critique on featured snippets saying they tend to steal clicks, strongly increase no click searches and might actually reduce a page’s CTR. Featured snippets can create confirmation bias and are often not really sophisticated, displaying weird or just incorrect query answers.

There are way too many overly positive studies to be found on the web, typically showing massive increases in CTR, while they use misleading wording and report on relative instead of absolute increases. That is why Emily has conducted her own study to show that featured snippets are not so great after all and don’t have a significant impact on click-through-rates. However, she failed to prove her hypothesis.

The results: featured snippets do improve CTRs for every organic position, although to a lesser extent than prior studies have concluded. Ranking positions of 4 or higher tend to have the best likelihood of being selected for the featured snippets.

Conclusion: featured snippets work!

Take instant action:

  1. Select keywords for which you rank well and for which a featured snippet is displayed.
    • Avoid keywords with a commercial intent.
    • Flag the ones in which you are ranking higher than the current owner of the featured snippet.
  2. Look for low hanging fruits.
    • Steal the headings of the featured snippet owner, especially when you are ranking higher.
    • Join two points together with “however.”
  3. Add on-page content for well-performing pages.
  4. Re-format your content to match that of the current snippet owner.
    • Turn paragraphs into lists, lists into tables etc.

Why most SEO audits are sh*t

Peak Ace CEO, Bastian Grimm, was also amongst the speakers and discussed SEO audits in a, let’s say, more critical manner. Only 12% of clients are completely satisfied with the audits they receive from agencies or consultants – why is that?

Please stop selling export reports from SEO tools as (your) audits! – Bastian Grimm

One big problem is that, according to Bastian, SEOs often don’t have the reader in mind when they produce an audit: too much text and detail might be useful for in-house SEO specialists, but you won’t engage a management or development target group with that. Well-summarised findings and implications may satisfy their needs much better. Also, many audits lack prioritisation and thus, make it hard for the recipient to understand what is actually important and what to execute first. Therefore, you should provide your client with an easy-to-use guide which they can understand and actually benefit from! This guide should also contain the offer of a plan B for your measures – because we all know that there will be problems and limitations.

Some key takeaways to create better SEO audits:

  • Adapt content, level and complexity to your recipient.
  • Prioritise tasks.
  • Don’t just send over export reports – explain and interpret the data!
  • Provide plan A and plan B measures.
  • Know and tackle the SEO challenges of your industry, website type and scope.
Bastian Grimm at SearchLeeds 2019
Bastian Grimm gave hands-on tips for creating SEO audits that actually do their job.

Machine learning for SEOs

We have all heard about machine learning – a specific category of artificial intelligence (AI). Regarding the endless opportunities to automate, facilitate and speed up various processes in almost every sphere of life, it’s not surprising that SEO can also benefit from the technology of machine learning.

Britney Muller from Moz spoke about the use of new machine learning codes in SEO and what developments we can expect in the coming years. Her presentation focused on the use of open source codes to develop machine learning procedures. Even if the technology is not yet ready, we can at least use approaches for today’s analyses. Above all, she mentioned that we should “break” existing codes in order to design new concepts with them.

Such an example would be a program that can recognise images. This works by allowing a program to access a database so that it can begin to recognise patterns. This program can now be “broken.” For example, it would be possible to cluster images in order to be able to better use them afterwards.

Another example would be Google’s Natural Language API. This API uses machine learning to recognise the structure and meaning of a text.

With the help of this API, texts can now be analysed in more detail. One way to utilise this would be to analyse the competition so as to understand which word clusters are being used. The findings can then be implemented to improve ranking.

Learning: today,machine learning technology is not fully developed, so we are still in the testing phase. Nevertheless, we can already make use of it to improve our SEO procedures – and it is very exciting to be part of this development.

Britney Muller’s speech on “Machine Learning for SEOs” on YouTube

How to scale SEO internationally

Ever faced the challenge of implementing your SEO activities on an international level? Then you should have listened to Matthew Barby from HubSpot – he explained how important it is to have a clean setup for internationalisation.

Indeed, there are various pitfalls when realising international SEO. The struggle starts with identifying the right keywords: two countries with the same native language might have different terms for the same thing. So, when analysing keywords, you must be very careful when observing which terms are used in which country.

Another challenge is the domain structure. While there are basically three ways to set up domains internationally (subdirectory, subdomain and top-level domain (TLD)), there are many different approaches when it comes to building an international domain. It’s very important to refer only to ONE system – don’t consider mixing them or you will most certainly face problems further down the line.

According to Matthew Barby’s experience, subdirectories are always the best choice, while TLDs always require huge additional effort and above all, server capacities.

Once you have decided upon a domain type, the hreflang setup needs to be created. The possibilities to insert a hreflang are:

  • Sitemaps
  • http headers
  • HTML tags

The syntax always looks like this:  rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-gb” href=”http://en-gb.example.com/page.html”

In each language version, the one that is being used and all other language versions must be listed. Here, reciprocal linking is important, which means: if an URL specifies several URLs as its language version, this URL must also be found in the other versions of the hreflang setup.

When there’s no language version specified for an URL, you should use X-Default – with this code you refer to an URL where the user can select a language or see the given URL in English (since English is regarded as the global language). Here’s the code: rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/” hreflang=”x-default”

There’s no ‘one correct way’ to do international SEO. – Matthew Barby

Barby also described frequent setup errors:

  • Missing reciprocal links: if page X points to page Y, page Y must point back to page X.
  • Incorrect language codes: format ISO 639-1 optionally the region in format ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2.

Learnings: in addition to taking care of linguistic pitfalls, a well-considered domain setup is the key to the successful internationalisation of a domain. Every setup has its advantages and disadvantages, but it is important to consistently maintain a direction that works for your domain.


Content marketing and PR: why you should sometimes ignore your gut feeling

We were also able to take home some interesting input for our content marketing team. Our favourite speeches mainly revolved around two topics which initially seem contradictory, yet they complement each other perfectly with regards to getting the best possible results: creativity and data.

Coley Bird at SearchLeeds 2019
Coley Bird from AnswerThePublic on consumer insights for digital marketing campaigns.

With the help of data-based analyses, the potential of your content can be exploited even further and better planning is ensured. This is particularly valuable when it comes to finding strategies and planning content marketing campaigns. For Coley Bird from AnswerThePublic, the focus was on the possibilities of keyword-based tools to better understand target groups and their intentions and to use them for the development of new content pieces. But be aware: instead of blunt data reading, contextual thinking and creativity are required. What characteristics and needs does a search query imply about my target group? And what else might they be interested in?

Relying on instinct alone can make outreach results inconsistent – Shannon McGuirk

But analyses do not only have to relate to the user search behaviour. Especially when backlinks are one of the primary goals, it is essential to take a closer look at potential link websites. Shannon McGuirk from Aira took a closer look at this subject. Her team analysed 36,000 articles on six relevant news websites for data such as headlines, publication dates and external links in order to derive recommendations for her own content marketing campaigns – and especially for outreach strategies. She shared some exciting results with the SearchLeeds visitors and advocated adding meaningful data to one’s own experience-based gut feeling in order to make better decisions.


No more excuses: great ideas are on the street, so to speak.

Will Hobson from Edit (the conference host) showed in his smart lecture “Why social media should be part of your search strategy?” why it is worth looking at social networks to get inspiration for successful content. The sources are diverse and range from trending topics on platforms such as Reddit to analyses of competitors’ activities and Facebook groups. Paid media data, for example on the interests of the target group, can also provide valuable insights.

SearchLeeds 2019
Kirsty Hulse on why you should train your creativity – constantly!

But both data and good sources of inspiration are useless without the necessary amount of creativity to create something new and innovative out of what already exists. Kirsty Hulse from Manyminds showed in her lecture that not only can creativity be trained, but that it can only unfold through the establishment of appropriate, creativity-promoting processes and that brainstorming is often proven to be less effective than individual work. But it’s worth it: truly creative campaigns can celebrate great success without splurging a lot of the budget. Just like the Linkbait campaigns that Oliver Brett from Screaming Frog reported about very entertainingly – who could have predicted how much of a media fuss would be caused by an imaginary product that makes it easier for shy men to use public restrooms?

Learnings:

  • Data and analyses belong in content marketing – for the sake of plannability, better content and better results.
  • Creativity pays off – and you can train it!
  • Ideas for good content can be drawn from everywhere – you only have to make solid use of the sources.

This is what we took home from SearchLeeds 2019

Here’s our key takeaways in a nutshell:

  • Intent optimisation is definitely worth a try for SEO specialists: analyse the language of the SERPs to get powerful insights into how Google is interpreting user intent for a query.
  • Featured snippets do work for SEO strategy – and a little stealing never hurts to improve your chances.
  • There’s a lot that can go wrong when creating SEO audits – youshould start creating them for your audience!
  • SEO specialists should start working with machine learning code: it will provide great opportunities in the future.
  • When facing SEO internationalisation, watch out for linguistic pitfalls and take care of a well-considered domain setups.
  • Content marketing performance can be made better and plannable by performing analysis – such as that of user search queries, competitors and target site landscapes. 
  • While working with data to realise awesome content campaigns, don’t forget to nourish yourcreativity– and integrate creativity-enhancing processes into your everyday workflow.

Cheers Leeds, thanks for having us!

All presentation slides can be found here: https://www.slideshare.net/SearchLeeds/presentations

Author bio:

As Content Marketing Manager, Elena is responsible for the coordination of creative content campaigns at Peak Ace. She plans and develops various formats such as expert articles and interactive graphics. Hereby, she always focuses on hitting the right tone for the particular target group.

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