MozCon 2019 recap: What we learned

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As one of the most well-known, well-attended, and well-stocked (seriously, those Monday afternoon donuts from Top Pot are amazing) SEO conferences in the world, Moz’s MozCon is always full of information from industry leaders. This year’s conference was no different. Over three packed days of speakers, here are the key talks and learnings that stuck in my head after I came back from Seattle. Here’s a recap of everything.

Search is changing. Unless it isn’t.

OK, this is a bit of a hedge. But it felt true. More than some previous MozCons there was a sense of ¯_(ツ)_/¯( from speakers at times.

We had speakers talk about how voice search was changing everything. And other speakers, like Moz and SparkToro founder Rand Fishkin, who weren’t so sure voice would displace everything else. There were talks about how technical SEO was getting easier due to better content-management systems and others about how that landscape continues to become more nuanced. This is what Google does to us, folks.

We even had a good-natured pre-MozCon fight about Google’s perception of expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T) between speakers Ruth Burr Reedy and Marie Haynes.

Ruth and Marie did not fight. But they both gave excellent talks. Ruth’s focus was on developing great content, and her larger point about E-A-T — and why she doesn’t care if it’s a ranking factor — is because the factors Google’s robot cares about are the same things a human reader cares about at this point. Factors like page speed, first paint, and time to interactive all affect how a human reader perceives your website. As People Who Make the Internet, we should want to do those things anyway.

Marie also referenced the faux Twitter spat with Ruth in her talk the following day. And, as usual, she clearly highlighted some trends with Google and how they have been boosting pages with strong signals of expertise.

A good example of this is how Healthline handles their medical content. On their page about diabetes, there is a prominent note at the top of the right sidebar noting which physician reviewed the content, her credentials, and then a link to a robust page which details their editorial review process, advisory board, and more. It’s an impressive display of all three elements of E-A-T.

And what has Healthline’s traffic done since Google began placing greater emphasis on E-A-T? Let’s take a look at SEMrush.

Healthline traffic from SEMrush.

That’s roughly a 70 percent increase in traffic in the last 18 months. Meanwhile, questionable medical sites like Mercola have seen traffic drops of up to 99% since the algorithm changes.

In short, both Ruth and Marie are correct. E-A-T matters but we shouldn’t care about it simply because Google cares; we should care because our audience cares.

Auditing content for inclusive language

This was one of the talks that resonated most strongly with people I talked to at MozCon. Emily Triplett Lentz of Help Scout spoke about why brands should be thoughtful and intentional about the language they use. At Help Scout, she oversaw an audit of their content and found that — even as a brand she felt was mindful and inclusive — they still had used terms that could alienate audiences.

Examples she cited included ableist phrases like “flying blind” or “insane” to describe negative situations. Or phrases like “slaved over,” which have snuck into our lexicon but should give us pause if we stop to think about their origin. She also mentioned the common usage of “you guys” to address mixed audiences.

To be fully transparent, I saw a bit of head shaking and eye-rolling from an attendee or two as Emily spoke. Which was disappointing, because her point was not necessarily to police our personal language, though it’d be great if everyone thought about this on a personal level, too. The takeaway from her talk was that as you write content for your organization and its potential customers, why would you risk alienating any segment of them? Or, as she put it in my favorite slide:

A slide from Emily Triplett Lentz's MozCon talk that says: When we can choose between behavior that upsets some people versus behavior that upsets no one, why wouldn’t we choose to upset no one?

🙌 🙌 🙌

And as if that wasn’t a good enough reason, Emily spoke on their realization that these phrases were often less-precise substitutes for better language. Instead of falling back on saying your day was “crazy,” you could instead say it was “hectic” or “frenzied.” The English language has a lot of beautiful words. Let’s use more of them.

Local SEO is big and getting bigger

Rob Bucci, founder of STAT (now owned by Moz), had the key message regarding local search in today’s era of SEO: “For many queries, national SERPs don’t exist.” To prove his point, he analyzed more than 1.2 million queries and found:

  • 73 percent of SERPs had some localized feature, like a local pack.
  • 25 percent of searches had variety across the United States.
  • Even within the same market, results vary. Rob found up to 85 percent variability in results within the same zip code.

There was a lot of this kind of data at MozCon. What it showed was that Google is getting better and better at personalizing results based on a multitude of signals and local is only increasing in prominence.

Finally, Wil Reynolds is 🔥🔥🔥

In a way, this was kind of a you-had-to-be-there talk, but Wil always brings it to the stage. This year, he took on the ways Google is costing you money with your paid ads and how his company, Seer Interactive, has learned how to win it back.

Long story short: Google generated $118 billion in paid ads in 2018. By his estimation, 15% of clicks in Google’s ads are for irrelevant keywords, like when someone clicks on an ad for “best slides” and gets playground equipment instead of those Adidas flip-flop things you used as shower sandals in college.

All of this means there’s a $17 billion business built on wasted ad spend where users click on irrelevant keywords.

MozCon 2019 recap

The most common way I’ve heard MozCon described is that it’s like drinking from a fire hose. That feels like an accurate assessment. This was my second MozCon and among the dozens of marketing conferences I’ve attended in my life, it remains the best-run conference and features the strongest lineup of speakers.

MozCon’s single-track format is really important to its quality. It removes the struggle of trying to decide which session to attend each hour and the streamlined speaker list means each one has to be highly qualified and vetted to earn a spot on the stage. I hope to be able to attend next year.

And again, seriously … those donuts.

Donuts for a snack at MozCon 2019.

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