On Tuesday, I attended MozTalk, a mini-conference on content marketing that featured presentations by Everett Sizmore of Inflow, Emily Grossman of Mobile Moxie, and Rand Fishkin of Moz.
I have seen Rand present several times before so I wasn’t surprised to find his talk thought-provoking. I hadn’t seen the other two (though I have seen Mobile Moxie’s founder, Cindy Krum, give several presentations and she always kills it) so I didn’t know what to expect.
Fortunately, both Everett and Emily provided something new for me to think about as an SEO and content marketer.
Everett’s entire presentation was on the concept of “pruning”, the practice of systematically identifying and removing low quality content from a website.
This kind of expendable content can come from several different sources, including:
Many ecommerce sites have pages for each individual product they sell. This is great if those products are actively being searched for and purchased but many times, they don’t get removed or deleted even after the product is no longer available for sale.
The message that creating content is critical to SEO has spread far and wide. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of people created a lot of content that simply isn’t very good. Some websites may have hundreds of pages devoted to this crap.
Some web scripts automatically generate URLs, which can be indexable to the nth degree, leading Google to believe the site has hundreds or thousands of empty or duplicate pages. For example, some site search plugins will use the search term to create a page if one doesn’t already exist.
Everett gave several examples of cases that he and the team at Inflow had worked on where pruning led to a significant increase in organic search traffic.
The idea is that Google may have a concept of the value of a website based on the average “score” (QualityRank or whatever you want to call it) of all its pages.
For example, if you have 100 pages on your site and 50 are bad (1), 40 are good (2), and 10 are great (3), your average score is 1.6. If you remove the 50 bad pages, your average score increases to 2.2. Ostensibly, this would indicate to Google that your domain deserves a boost in the rankings.
There’s no way to know if this is really why pruning works but Everett’s examples definitely have me convinced that, in some cases at least, pruning can be a valuable SEO option. Having a lot of content/pages isn’t worthwhile if many of them are junk.
Emily’s presentation was entirely about mobile; its importance in search and how SEOs should change their thinking about it. I came away with a few big ideas.
Content is Bigger than Blogging
This is actually something I’ve known for a long time. It’s also something that I think most SEOs know by now. Yet Emily was absolutely right – despite knowing that blog posts are just one type of content, and not even the most engaging type at that, almost all of the content that SEOs create comes in the form of blog posts.
They have their advantages, the first of which being that they’re cheap and easy. But there are so many opportunities for bigger and better content that should be explored.
Design for Mobile
Mobile screens are harder to design for. They’re small and more difficult to navigate. Yet nearly all web pages are designed for desktop, then squished and scrunched to fit into mobile screens.
Emily’s obvious yet brilliant advice was to design for mobile first, then expand the design to fit desktops. She’s also unsurprisingly a fan of device-specific design, rather than responsive. I have seen several great examples of this recently, which has me increasingly in her corner.
Google is All In on Mobile
Emily started her presentation with an anecdote from a conference she attended where a Google engineer said that when Google changes and tests their algorithm, they perform more tests on mobile than desktop. In fact, the ratio of mobile:desktop tests they perform is greater than the actual ratio of mobile:desktop searches in the real world.
The takeaway is that Google fully believes that mobile is the future of search. They’re adapting their algorithm more and more to suit mobile searchers. If SEOs aren’t thinking about mobile, they’re woefully behind.
Though Rand gave the longest presentation, I have just the one major takeaway: visitor engagement may be the most important ranking factor on Google.
Google has recently adapted their algorithm to become a machine-learning process. This means that the algorithm looks at the SERPs for a search term, sees how users engage with the SERPs and the websites they visit from them, then uses its learnings to adapt the algorithm to provide better SERPs that will increase user engagement.
Then it analyzes everything again. And again.
Ostensibly, it could analyze user engagement with every single SERP. Every time someone searches, Google’s algorithm learns a little bit more about what people are looking for and what kind of websites they prefer to visit.
Now, the machine-learning algorithm is likely taking into consideration all the staples of SEO that we know influenced the previous one. Keywords in title tags, strong backlinks, HTML markup, etc… all continue to count for something. They’ll continue to be the indicators of your site’s purpose and potential value.
But if Google’s ultimate goal is really to provide websites in the SERPs that users will engage with the most (and it is), then over time, engagement will become by far the most important ranking factor when it comes to moving from the second page to the first.
In many ways, it probably already is.
For SEOs, this means we have to put on our web design and user experience hats more often than our technical SEO and link building ones. We have to make sure that, whatever people are looking for when they click on our listing in the SERPs, the webpage they reach catches their attention, gets them to interact, and keeps them on the page for longer.
In short, visitors have to engage with our site more than our competitors’. If they do, on average, our site’s rankings will increase and theirs will decrease.
If this sounds easy, take my word for it that it’s anything but, as the best looking sites sometimes have the worst engagement metrics. So how do you make sure that your site will get the best engagement metrics possible? Here’s just a few ideas:
Consider All Visitors
Let’s say you’re a healthcare marketing agency that specializes in dental practices. So you make a snazzy new website that most frequently uses “healthcare marketing” as a term, even though it’s pretty clear from the images on the homepage that you primarily work with dentists.
You’re likely to have poor engagement from general practitioners, eye doctors, and plastic surgeons who visit your site from “healthcare marketing” search terms because they’ll immediately get the impression you’re really a dental marketing agency and bounce. This may not hurt your rankings for “dental marketing” search terms but if your SEO isn’t focusing on those terms, you’re unlikely to rank high enough to get even a little bit of traffic.
Basically, make sure your website instantly communicates to visitors that it has the answer to their query.
Clear, Easy Navigation
The design should be simple and the structure easy to navigate. If a search visitor lands on a page and can’t figure out what to click to get the information they want, they’ll bounce.
This is where a lot of fancy sites fail. You might really love the look of many layers of parallax and a long, long one-page site that’s full of imagery and jQuery animations but if all that is a distraction from the content, it’s hurting you more than it’s helping.
There isn’t much that’s as important as page load speed. If someone clicks to visit your page from the SERPs and then has to wait ten second for it to load, they’re likely to bounce.
This is even truer on mobile. Consider removing all unnecessary images and scripts from your website for mobile screens.
Get to the Good Stuff
Don’t hide your content below massive hero images or behind desperate pop-up lead gen forms. Give your visitors what they came for immediately and simply make sure that when they’re done with it, the next step you’d like them to take, whether clicking on a link or filling out a form, is obvious and easy.