From the warm welcome upon the arrival to the detailed seminars on SEO auditing and brand visibility, SEMrush LIVE delivered full-spectrum insights into the present and potential future of online marketing.
The goal of our first global user conference was to create an exceptional offline experience for the attendees, where they could engage with our product, gain knowledge about the industry, enhance professional skills and expand their network. The three-day-event was all about finding valuable marketing insights —- whether it was structuring international campaigns, developing voice search capacity, or strengthening one’s brand. Drawing in over 150 people from 24 countries, attendees came from an array of digital agencies, global brands, and independent businesses — all pulled together by their need to understand fast-changing trends and to fine-tune strategies.
By bringing people from all over the world and creating a friendly, family-like atmosphere throughout the whole event, we built a very unique environment where connections happened in a natural way. However, even though peer-to-peer interaction is one of the pillars of success, high-value content is what brings people to the event. To create the agenda that would serve to the needs of our users we not only offered product trainings and feedback sessions with SEMrush Product Owners, we also had some of the top minds in the industry on one stage.
Conference speakers included:
- Forrester analyst Collin Colburn
- Aoife McIlraith, Senior Global Director of Marketing and Search Services at Lionbridge
- Dominique Seppelt, Head of Content Marketing at Peak Ace
- Stephan Spencer, co-author of The Art of SEO
- Ross Tavendale, Managing Director of Type A Media
- SEO specialist Lukasz Zelezny
- Chris Simmance, founder of Under2 & Optus Digita
- Michelle Wilding-Baker, ex-Head of SEO and Content at the Telegraph
- Arnoldo Cabrera, Global SEO Manager at IKEA
- Del Humenik, Chief Revenue Officer at SEMrush
- Fernando Angulo, Head of International Partnerships.
The event offered a Keynote session, hands-on workshops, and panel discussions. Every session highlighted various aspects of digital marketing, starting from predictions of the future to the nitty-gritty of handling your everyday job. The conversations would not flow that easy unless SEMrush LIVE were hosted and moderated by Stewart Rogers, Managing Editor at GritDaily and Analyst-at-large at VentureBeat.
Welcome to the Age of the Customer
“It’s going to be a question of value, not just traffic,” stated Forrester’s Collin Colburn in his kick-off talk as he broke down what entitled online customers expect now and what they will look for within a 5-10 year window.
Armed with smartphones and broadband internet, customers are more than just technically empowered to search for information – they feel entitled to it. This feeling of entitlement has ushered in what Collin called the “Age of the customer,” where marketing power has shifted away from companies and over to consumers. “There’s the expectation that I, as a consumer, can get what I want in my immediate context and moments of need,” he said; an expectation which is upsetting traditional search and customer acquisition strategies.
Meeting this customer demand for immediacy and achieving the expected ROI will be an intensifying struggle for marketers in the future. In addition to customers going beyond Google to actively search on platforms like Amazon and TripAdvisor, they are also passively targeted via Facebook and Snapchat.
Finding Value In the Box
Search fragmentation explains the tiny, but growing influence of advertising in the Amazon product search system, and the strategic importance of Google’s answer box in keeping shoppers within its own ecosystem for as long as possible. While Alphabet has fingers in a lot of pies, whether it is hardware, maps, or autonomous cars, it is still a company supported by advertisement sales. Clocking in at 85%, ad sales make up a clear majority of Google’s total revenue.
On the other side, Amazon is now bringing in only 4% of its revenue from ads. It is tiny, growing substantially, and, as Collin pointed out, going to grow even more as they expand their portfolio of advertising options.
This battle for customers’ attention and online searches is going to get more intense. Forrester forecasts that this will lead some companies pulling back from some of their Google ad expenditures and shifting this over to Amazon.
Voice, Sight, or Hands: What Is the Future Face of Search
There is no doubt about it; by 2029, we will be searching for almost everything online. But the question remains open – how will we be making our online queries? Will we be doing this by voice – with the help of a virtual assistant such as Alexa? With pictures – powered by social media apps such as Pinterest, or with our fingers manually entering characters into a device smartscreen?
This ambiguous future, with its impact on everything from organic to paid search to the design and the structure of websites, was the theme of the round table discussion event. Apart from evolving technicalities over how a person enters the search data into their device, participants saw the future as primarily influenced by two primary human traits: “Storytelling is going to be there – and the pursuit of discounts,” agreed Fernando Angulo and Dominique Seppelt.
Stephan Spencer, world-known SEO expert and co-author of the Art of SEO, was strongly in favor of the linguistic user interface, expecting it to eventually be bigger than the Windows command prompt. But while voice and visual search will grow, hands will definitely have a role to play, according to Lukasz Zelezny: “We use hands to create – voice search will not take over typing.”
This optimism over voice search was balanced by Collin’s presentation, which explained why the future is more likely to be visual than voice, at least when it comes to search. Voice search, at least at the moment, is handicapped by the current poor customer experience people are having with many digital assistants. “There is a much greater prospect for revolutionary change with visual search,” Collin explained, using an example of using visual-search powered Pinterest in everyday garden research.
SEO in Six Nutshells
When you want your website to fly, you better start by crawling. Stephan Spencer’s Do It Yourself SEO Auditing Workshop laid out the six basic areas that a person should look into. The nutshell summary started with the Google Search Console and moved into how to interpret web crawl results, taking a look at backlinks, uncovering web errors, site speed analysis, and taking a long look at keyword selection.
These technical points matter and Stephan listed his favored assortment of tools that make this discovery easier. But while delving into the mechanics of this process, he also pointed out how Google’s approach to keywords with AI-powered Rankbrain is becoming more conversational over time. So yes, as it is critical that the underlying components are there – quality backlinks and trusted authorities – the end result will be more like spoken communication and less obviously keyword driven.
Get on Top of the Localization Battle
The pendulum is always in motion when it comes to global companies and how they localize their marketing, pointed out Aoife McIlraith. There is a near-inevitable two-year cycle between global headquarters seeking to retain brand unity and control and local offices trying to fine-tune the message based on their own needs and competitive situation.
It is a huge ROI issue when millions are spent in brand promotion and content creation, and these efforts are somehow as not discoverable on the internet as they should be.
Regardless of where an organization is on this pendulum, Aoife pointed out that there are still four pillars that need to be built and continually reinforced for content to be successfully picked up: off-page, data analysis, technical review, and ranking.
Some of these tasks, such as Hreflang tags, structured data, and dovetailing this content into voice search can be done on a global level. Other steps, like fine-tuning campaign language for local needs, will move towards branch operations.
Technical web page analysis is demanding – and often not done well. First, the bad news, companies often have issues with translating or transcreating content between languages, matching language change functionality with geo-targeting, and dealing with hreflang tags. On the bright side, companies are generally more proficient at structuring websites, so they are easily understood by search engines, along with creating targeted regional websites.
“Think about how to answer questions – and think about the types of questions your customers are going to ask,” said Aoife. Technically, the way questions are asked, and the structure of these queries is critical. A person may type a brisk 40 words per minute but still speak at a blistering 150 words per minute rate. More than speed, there is also a structural difference between written and spoken with Google reporting that voice queries are 200 times more conversational than the usually written search. From the website perspective, these questions also need to be structured into rich snippets to fit into Google search question criteria.
Technical success in this way starts with communication between country units or whoever is moving a concept or text between languages and cultures. Going from one language to another is not just technical precision, but of cultural understanding.
Get Creative with Your Automated PPC
PPC is in transition, with AI doing everything from suggesting advertisement texts, bidding for ads, and optimizing campaigns. One could easily wonder if there is any role left for humans. Fernando Angulo of SEMrush said there's a place for humans – but only if they bring their humanity with them to the workplace.“Yes, the machines can write your ads, but you have to give them ideas and the content to start with,” Fernando noted.
A successful PPC strategy will have some of the mundane tasks assigned to computers and a larger share of the creative work being automated. Success comes from developing the human angle and doing what computers aren’t doing so well —looking for inferences, being creative, and showing empathy to others.
In particular, one critical battleground is in the creation of featured snippets and supporting keywords. As sorted by question, preposition, and comparison, each category of snippets has a specific role in meeting the consumer at their point of need. In addition, the “People also ask” is another place to reach customers before they fall out of the funnel.
This array of factors means that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for marketing. Companies will have to keep eyes open to a wide range of potential channels, spend time understanding how each channel is being used, and positioning their market approach accordingly.
Ross Tavendale delved into the paradox of modern marketing in his “Brand is the only ranking factor” presentation. On one hand, a brand, whether it is the identity of a product or service, can seem quite different from the nuts and bolts of SEO. But looking underneath, this brand, at least as seen and evaluated by Google, is simply an analyzed database of links and connections. “The stronger these links are, the better Google can reward you with a higher ranking,” pointed out Ross.
A successful content strategy works to build and scale out these links. From the content perspective, this means parsing it apart from three primary angles:
- Identity – a defining point, such as age or location.
- Utility – usefulness (backed by a mountain of data).
- Social – reinforcing messages via a lifestyle or work messages.
“Looking at these gives you drill ‘down-ability’ for multiple headings,” he added.
An analysis of content from others – whether it is a theme, medium, location, or sentiment – can also enable a company to build a focused PR apparatus for supplying journalists with targeted materials. Technical details matter he said, but there is a catch: “We can do a lot to programmatically build the brand, but we still need ideas.”
Get Moving Now
Getting your social media presence is a series of steps, demonstrated Lukasz Zelezny in his presentation Social media tactics to implement tonight. His approach started by looking at brand tracking as a form of social listening. This approach is especially suitable for the individual – like Lukasz – an entrepreneur whose own name is also his brand identity, and it dovetails both technical and creative approaches. Beyond the basic element of looking at backlinks, he ran through a variety of tools for helping work through data sets, deciphering the best times for scheduling posts, even potentially automating activities with the “If This Then That” service.
On the creative side, Lukasz pointed out both ways to generate content and ways to leapfrog on other players. This could be writing content with titillating headlines or answering a known need, and it also could be designing content that another firm might be willing to retweet.
A Real Location In a Virtual World
This event was the first full-scale offline conference organized by SEMrush. “For this event, we pulled together global experts and put them in small more intimate setting where there was room for attendees to learn and exchange information,” said Del Humenik, CRO at SEMrush.
The Prague location was selected for its easy access to international flights, historic sites, as well as the location of the SEMrush European Office. “The conference has been the perfect size – don’t make it any larger,” quipped Chris Simmance, founded of Optus Digital and Under2. “There’s been a great group of people here.”
SEMrush LIVE was the first edition of the user conference, and it was unique, memorable, and amazing in every aspect! We can’t wait to start planning the next one. If you missed it this year, there is still a lot to look forward to. SEMrush’s offline presence stretches across all five continents with numerous meetups, workshops, and roadshows, as well as SEMrush booth at the major industry trade shows.