A few days ago I was lucky enough to attend Brighton SEO, the largest SEO conference in the UK. This time a few thousand people attended, and the free tickets sold out in just 13 minutes. It’s not hard to see why- the quality of talks didn’t disappoint. Considering there were 4 main sessions across 7 different stages, each featuring 1-3 talks, you’ll hopefully understand that I won’t be covering the whole event! Instead, here are 5 key takeaways from the talks I attended at Brighton SEO 2016.
Traditional SEO Ranking Factors Might be Becoming Less Important
This presentation was based on some pretty impressive research, which used over 60 million data points. When the SEO attributes of a sample of top 10 search results were compared between 2015 and 2016, it was found that the frequency of results with traditional SEO attributes (e.g. keywords in the meta title) has decreased.
While I wasn’t convinced by the implication that these traditional factors have completely lost their importance – I’m not sure the data really supports this – I do agree with the observation that Google’s algorithms are becoming smarter and less reliant on simply being fed distinct keywords. As a result of this, it’s understandable that some of these factors are gradually becoming less essential for ranking well.
Beyond traditional SEO, focusing more on optimising content to be highly relevant to a user’s intentions will become increasingly important as search engines develop their ability to understand (and place more emphasis on) semantic connections and intent. In most cases, the requirements for ranking well will probably depend on industry- some searches typically have the intent of purchase, whereas others seek information. In any case, creating high-quality content and improving user experience is something we should all strive for… and even better if Google rewards this in their rankings.
CTR Seems to be a Significant Ranking Factor
Sam presented some really interesting primary data and case studies to address this debate, which seems to suggest that CTR is a significant ranking factor for Google’s organic results… although of course this still isn’t certain.
Firstly, when Sam conducted his own tests using organic bot traffic (simulated to be as much like human traffic as possible) he observed a correlation between high traffic and improved rankings. Secondly, he presented a case study: when a tablet stand product (Plinth) appeared on Dragons’ Den, the product site’s ranking for the keyword “tablet stand” went from a position of ~11 to the number 1 spot overnight. At first glance this seems highly compelling, and fairly concrete proof of CTR affecting rankings. While this does appear to be the case, it’s worth bearing in mind that other factors (e.g. social signals) could have played some role as well. Overall, however, I would agree that the data seems to support CTR having some role in rankings.
In any case, I think improving CTR is something to focus on regardless of its effect on rankings, to boost traffic to your site and improve SERP user experience. Beyond making sure your meta titles/descriptions are tidy, Sam also made the case for keeping your sitelinks pruned to exclude irrelevant information.
Consider Giving Reviews More Attention
How a Reviews Strategy Helps Your SEO – Chris Bullick
I thought the SEO perspective of reviews was pretty interesting, and the value of reviews came up in a couple of other talks too. While I don’t agree that “reviews are the new SEO” – I still think it’s important to get the basics right first – they could still play an important role for certain businesses/industries, particularly in local search.
Once again, the significance of reviews/ratings as a ranking factor is debatable, but in any case they may help to improve CTR when shown in the SERPs thanks to the effects of social proof. It’s also interesting to consider the effect on-site reviews have in terms of content: the very concept of reviews means that they’re likely to naturally include a variety of long-tail keywords. As such, doing as much as possible to encourage reviews could be a valid SEO strategy.
Overall, while the SEO benefit of reviews might not be considerable, it’s an extra avenue to explore for those who already have a well-optimised site.
Local Search is Changing
Over the past several years, Google’s local search has been changing and becoming more complex, and this trend is set to continue. With Google developing their local search algorithms and more businesses embracing local search, it has become more difficult to optimise for local and to outrank the competition.
Some changes to local mirror the overall trends in search. Searching intent will become a more important factor for ranking, as will high quality content and user experience. More specific to local, Google has started to narrow down the local radius in some areas, such that local pack results are on more of a neighbourhood scale. The size of the local pack has now also reduced to just 3 results. While these changes have made it harder to rank, hopefully it will also improve the relevance of results for users.
Despite these changes, the fundamentals are still important: build location-based links and citations where possible and produce rich content optimised for local search. A mobile-optimised site is of course essential for performing well in local. As discussed above, encouraging reviews may also be a beneficial strategy to improve organic rankings. Finally, it may also be worth looking to location-based PPC to supplement organic results if this can generate a reasonable ROI.
Mobile is Ever More Important
There isn’t a single talk to reference here, as this idea is ubiquitous- and for good reason. From mobile’s impact on local searches (e.g. “near me”) and consumer research to the increasing use of voice searches and more conversational language, we truly are in a “mobile-first world”. It will be interesting to see how this continues to change search in the future, and how SEO practices will adapt to these trends.
So there you have it… and that’s just a fraction of what I learned, never mind all of the other talks I didn’t attend! If you missed out on Brighton SEO, there’s also this handy list of talks with links to presentations where they’ve been made available. Any of your own thoughts on the above? Let me know in the comments!