Lightning Round: 5 Learning Moments at the 2018 MnSearch Summit

Badge and brochure for 2018 MnSearch Summit

Five highlights from the 2018 MnSearch Summit we can use as reminders in our day-to-day digital marketing work.

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Each summer, the team at MnSearch organizes an annual summit for leaders in the digital marketing field. And if one were to assume the event is scant on star power just because it’s “local,” a quick glance at June’s agenda would correct that.

This year’s gathering, the fifth anniversary, attracted a broad range of digital marketers from all backgrounds—agency, in-house, freelance—and a variety of hometowns in and out of state.

I left the St. Paul RiverCentre last month with pages of notes. Following are five highlights, handpicked to be reminders in my day-to-day work.

1) Don’t default to “Google says.”

When a colleague or client wants to know how, exactly, Google operates, or why it does what it does, we might be tempted to respond on a gut level, anecdotally. There are rare times when intuition and past experiences are all we have. But this statement is a call to test ideas for ourselves, and get real world answers whenever possible.

Rather than, “We know _____ from Google’s patterns,” a better response is, “It’s probably ______, but let’s A/B test this to be sure.”

2) There are two types of questions: the ones our clients ask, and the ones they don’t.

Wil Reynolds, in his morning keynote on “Data Storytelling,” encouraged the audience to look deeper than the questions our clients know to ask. Good analysis should take us off the spreadsheet and pose questions that haven’t been spoken yet. If we endeavor to know each client on a human level, we should start to sense what they really want to know…before they have to ask.

3) Use scroll tracking to better understand high bounce rates.

When is a page’s bounce rate too high? Thirty percent? Forty-five? Ninety? And for those pages with an uncomfortably high rate, what’s causing it?

Instead of relying on “a gut feel,” we can use scroll data to help answer these questions. For example, how far down the page are users getting before they back out? Does this tell us anything about the content on this page?

4) For voice search optimization, remember to use natural language.

I had an opportunity to speak with Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller. We’ve found over the past year or two that on-page SEO still mostly applies to voice search and digital assistants. So my question to John was this: What other special factors should we accommodate when optimizing for Google Assistant, Alexa, etc?

John’s answer was that the core principles of traditional SEO still apply, but…

  1. Try to get into featured snippets (rank #0)
  2. Consider using structured data if it fits your content
  3. Short form content “probably performs better”
  4. Make sure your content matches natural search language; write conversationally

5) Users search questions, but click answers.

Old habits die hard, and I’ve only recently stopped including FAQs as a blanket recommendation for optimized content. The intent behind this idea goes back years when we assumed that publishing popular questions verbatim to how a user would ask them was an easy win.

But Rob Ousbey inspired me to consider that once a user types that question and clicks “search,” they’re not looking for the question to be repeated as much as they’re looking for the simplest, most helpful answer to be shown.

If we know what users are asking, we should devote more attention to serving better answers than winning on exact matches for questions.

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