Four Big Opportunities in SEO from MnSearch Summit

I have to confess I didn’t actually buy a ticket to the MnSearch Summit. I went because I won a raffle.

I threw my business card in a hat and then found myself wandering around the Minneapolis Convention Center with my backpack and swag bag feeling like an imposter.

You see, I’m not an SEO.

Yes, SEO is certainly part of the work I do. But I don’t consider myself an expert. When it comes to making good SEO decisions, I rely on people who are a heck of a lot more savvy than myself.

But after 5 minutes of listening to Mike King, I quickly understood this guy was really smart and that even if I didn’t consider myself part of his breed, he was still speaking to me. It didn’t matter what my job title was or how I identified myself within the web world. SEO is everywhere, and it’s everyone’s job.

I scribbled a ton of notes throughout the day and pulled out 4 big opportunities in SEO that kept surfacing again and again. 

(I’ve tried my best to read my handwritten notes, to attribute thoughts and ideas properly, and to honor these talented, bright experts. If anyone I’ve quoted or paraphrased feels misrepresented even in the slightest, please let me know.)

Focus on Your Users

“Let’s build stuff that’s actually relevant to our audiences.

— Mike King, iPullRank

“If you’re trying to be optimized, try to make users happy.

— Jon Henshaw, Raven Internet Marketing Tools

“Do what’s good for users.

— Andrew Shotland, Local SEO Guide


It didn’t matter if we were talking technical SEO implementation, web leadership, local SEO, or enterprise content marketing, the message was pretty clear: focus on your users. 

We know, we know, right? This isn't news. But I get where the urgency is coming from. I’ve seen projects get so wrapped up in tactics for conversions and measurement that people forget who they're really serving. The whims of clients? Leadership demands? Google?

If the Google machine is continuously working to improve algorithms so it can deliver relevant, functional results to users, why wouldn’t we invest our time in making sure we’re delivering the best possible experience to our users? Wouldn’t that be the best SEO?

I think we neglect to elevate the needs of our users above everything else because understanding our users takes a lot more work than simply following a checklist from a client or a how-to blog post about making sure our sites are Google friendly. Figuring out if we’re actually filling people's needs or helping someone do life better requires grunt work. It’s not something we can quickly find analytics for, so we get stuck and revert back to pulling reports and making measurement plans because it's easier.

And that's why it's a huge opportunity: because it's hard. That’s why search expert and Moz leader Rand Fishkin yelled from the podium that the easy work is the stuff everyone else is doing. The tough work is where you’re going to gain that edge.

So how do you make sure you’re thinking of your users? Let’s look at a few highlights from the experts:

Mike King, iPullRank - Work hard to identify the motivations of your users. Create personas and user journeys from qualitative research and then map your KPIs, keywords, and landing pages to these specific journeys. Everything should come from the user journey.

Wil Reynolds, Seer Interactive - Tell a good story. “In the absence of a good story, users are going to go with whatever is easiest,” says Reynolds. So if your users have to jump through hoops, you better tell an amazing story that motivates them to jump. Otherwise, make your process a whole lot easier.

Jon Henshaw, Raven - Predict where Google is going next by figuring out what you can do to make your users happier. If you continually ask what makes life easier for users, if you’re implementing beyond best practice, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

Connect SEO with Strategy

“We’re becoming addicted to tactics...we need to connect our efforts to a bigger strategy.”

— Rand Fishkin, Moz

“An SEO plan should be part of your redesign plan.

— Andrew Shotland, Local SEO Guide

“If you don’t understand strategy, you can’t tell a story to a CEO about why it’s worth the wait.

— Wil Reynolds, Seer Interactive

We all know the difference between strategy and tactic. You set a strategy with big goals and then plan specific tactics to help you accomplish your goals. You have to know where you're going before you can determine the best steps to get there.

So often we run out and grab a glittery widget to attract new traffic, but we forget to make sure it’s the right traffic. Or we forget if traffic is even the goal. Or we forget to make sure it won’t tank our existing traffic.

A lot of companies have detailed content strategies or digital marketing plans, but I wonder how many have detailed SEO plans. Oftentimes, SEO get shipped offsite to a vendor, checked off the list, and forgotten about. It becomes out of sight and out of mind and so we’re not actively tying it back to our strategies. Or maybe it’s something we only make time for when it breaks. Or because it doesn’t show immediate results, leadership isn’t willing to extend the budget.

But investing time now for future gain, incorporating SEO into your larger initiatives, will give you an opportunity to earn a serious competitive advantage over the long haul.

Where do you start? A few ideas from the experts:

Rand Fishkin - Tie your SEO strategy back to your company’s strategic initiatives. If your leaders are doing their job, you should have 3-5 big goals for the year. Align your SEO goals with these initiatives and then plan out tactics to help you meet your goals.

Jon Henshaw - Start cleaning up the mess. “Most sites have hundreds if not thousands of problems to fix.” Henshaw’s answer? “Do all the little things.” If you take time to audit your issues and map out a strategy for fixes, you can start doing a lot of little things well to really boost your advantage.

Andrew Shotland, Local SEO Guide - Plan for SEO in every rollout. A big part of SEO isn’t just improvement. It’s keeping things from breaking. This starts with knowing what kills your SEO. Indexed staging servers. Loops. Bot blockers. Taxonomy changes. As Shotland says, “An SEO bug is worse than any other bug.” Make it part of your process to predict how any change will affect your SEO and then test everything before it rolls out. (Shotland’s blog is full of advice about what brings death to SEO).

Communicate Better

“Build effective business cases by leveraging your data to make it tangible for clients.

— Mike King, iPullRank

“Anchor your pitch to something they already understand.

— Wil Reynolds, Seer Interactive

Search tactics and measurement can get complicated quickly. Our ability to make lasting improvements for our clients and companies is only as good as our ability to communicate.

Talented tech people know the ins and outs of increasing page speed or why going back to rewrite a ton of code is urgent. But we often fail to translate these opportunities into the dollar signs our leaders or clients understand.

If we can figure out how to package complex, technical ideas into compelling stories, we will outshine competitors who don't know how to communicate the value to their leaders.

Mike King - Work hard to improve your pitches, and then pitch your ideas face to face. Bring in all key stakeholders so there’s no one left who can shut down your idea. Once they’re all together, King says to “show the value through good measurement planning and a good story.”

Rand Fishkin - Communicate the tangible value of organic traffic. Fishkin praised organic traffic saying it brings better users and better retention, but he admits finding a way to measure and translate it into dollar figures is challenging. If you can find a way to show the value so your leaders invest in organic, you’ll have a chance to beat out competitors who are investing more dollars in paid search.

Andrew Shotland - Get good at communicating with your colleagues. This means keeping detailed release notes and using annotations in Google Analytics. If you’re going to push something, share it with someone else first. Educate your people about how small changes, like adjusting taxonomy, can make a big impact. Make sure they understand enough so they can be more successful when they’re selling new ideas and creating strategies.

Get Back to Being Curious

“There’s no right or one way. There’s trying and seeing what works.

— Andrew Shotland, Local SEO Guide

“SEO does not have one source of truth.

— Mike King, iPullRank

Sometimes we can fall into a rhythm. We return to our favorite blogs and experts to stay in step with everyone else. We dutifully follow best practices and keep to the the rules so we keep traffic up. But I wonder if we sometimes forget our web people’s history of tinkering, being curious, and just trying stuff.

Perhaps it’s because our companies and boards are so focused on profits, measurement, and immediate value. Perhaps we feel extreme pressure in our increasingly complex landscape of browsers and devices, tools, and protocols. Perhaps we're not innovating so much because it doesn't seem urgent and we're struggling just to keep up.

But maybe not everything is about immediate value. Maybe it's not always about best practices and rules. Maybe to be competitive we have to keep innovating. Maybe being curious is actually very urgent.

Today's web was built by people who tried things and broke things to see how they could make them better. They didn't know the solutions. Sometimes they didn't even know the problem, and in this process of discovery they created new ways of working that revolutionized the way we interact with the world.

Let’s take back time to tinker. Let's build stuff and break stuff. Let's stay invested in something long enough to actually move things forward and see long-term results. Let’s get out of our niches and ignore our job titles and boundaries. Let's pioneer on and build a better web together.

Kelsey Lynn