Last week I attended Distilled's SearchLove 2016 conference to get the low down on some of the biggest factors impacting the search marketing industry. It was great to get insights from some of the biggest and brightest stars in the digital galaxy, including Rand Fishkin, Larry Kim and Will Critchlow. I came away inspired by a wealth of ideas to help our clients achieve their goals.

Although all the sessions I attended were brilliant and informative, I gained more from the ones that looked towards the future of search and these came from Marcus Trober from Search Metrics with ‘Why User-Focused Content is the Death of Ranking Factors’ and Dr Pete Meyers with ‘Tactical Keyword Research in a Rankbrain World’.

As we all know, search marketing has evolved from making simple on-page optimisations and building links – we are now faced with Google’s RankBrain, knowledge graphs, AMP pages and real time algorithm updates. So how should we optimise our websites now?

‘You Can Keep Optimising Your Pages, but If You Don’t Satisfy the User Intent, Your Rankings Won’t Improve’

Marcus explained how in the past ranking factors were static, in the present they’re flexible but in the future they’ll be more adaptable or fluid – like water. Traditional ranking factors no longer have the same impact, because machine learning is trying to understand the intent of searches, and it’s constantly evolving. This means that we, as website owners or content creators, need to adapt – our challenge is to uncover specific user intent.

Using the travel industry as an example, Marcus gave us three users looking to book their holiday: the Backpacker, the Spender and the Intellectual. The backpacker will want to discover the best deals and the cheapest flights and hotels. The Spender will be looking for luxury and exclusivity and the Intellectual will be looking for the most relevant and valid information. So, if you have a travel related website, looking to attract these three personas – you will need to satisfy each of their intents.

Ranking Factors Are 10 Times More Complex Than Ever and ‘Adapt to the Search Intention’

Over the years we’ve been told that higher ranking pages tend to have more copy but nowadays this depends on the user’s intent. Someone searching for short hairstyles wants to see less text and more images, and this is reflected in the results returned by Google.  However, someone searching ‘xbox unboxing’ will probably want to see a video and no text, so this is what Google returns, and someone searching for health-related issues will want lots of detail, so they’ll be looking for pages with a lot of text.

The difference in the results returned for these three searches is illustrated below:


We are also contending with different ranking factors for different industries, which Marcus highlighted with some interesting stats:

Percentage of top ranking websites with keyword in title

  • Ecommerce 33%
  • Health 35%
  • Finance only 10%!

Number of referring domains of top ranking websites

  • Ecommerce 272736
  • Health 99526
  • Finance even less – negative correlation!

Finally, if you haven’t switched to https yet – do it! Just 14% of websites were secure in 2015, however in 2016 around 45% are, so don’t get left behind!

‘It’s Not Just Search That is Evolving, We Are Evolving as Searchers’

Dr. Pete Myers discussed the implications of keyword research now that it’s no longer beneficial for websites to be targeting keyword variations as they have done in the past. Again, this is because Google is now looking at the words, sentences and paragraphs on your page and is trying to assign meaning or intent of your copy, so it can better match it to RankBrain’s complex query syntax.

Pete used the example of people searching for the height of the London Shard – Google understands that someone searching for ‘how tall is the Shard’ is looking for the same answer as someone who searches for ‘Shard height’ and therefore returns the exact same knowledge graph result:


Another interesting observation, which was also highlighted by Marcus,  is that neither of the first place results contain any exact match keywords in the page title, other than the ‘Shard’. In fact, if you look at the results below, hardly any of the page titles reference height. According to Pete, only 57% of search results feature all terms in both the title and description:


So How Should You Actually Optimise Your Content?

In the old days, we used to target keyword variations, however Google is now so contextual and interested in intent that this method is no longer beneficial.  SEO specialists need to adapt and instead focus on concepts.

Pete suggested that we now view keywords as group entities. So, when carrying out keyword research, try grouping them into topics (something you can do using Moz’s Keyword Explorer):


Grouping your keywords into topics will help you create content that answers several questions in one go, therefore giving your content more scope to rank for a variation of searches and intents. Below is Pete’s example for a paragraph crafted after using Moz’s keyword explorer to uncover keyword grouping ideas:

Source: Dr. Pete Meyers: Tactical Keyword Research in a RankBrain World

Are You Burying Your Product’s Value by Using Ambiguous Words? 

I also got some great copywriting tips from Amy Harrison in her talk, ‘Stand out to YOUR crowd – a framework for content driven copywriting’.

Do you use ambiguous, overused terms like ‘easy to use’, ‘powerful’ or ‘unlock your potential’ to describe your products? Then it’s likely that people are just ignoring your content.

Using the software directory Capterra as an example, Amy pointed out that a large majority of the intros contain lots of these ambiguous umbrella terms, and this can be dangerous because people tend to ignore such overused words:


You should try and write about things customers love, rather than using umbrella terms. Is there a disconnect between what you KNOW and what you SAY and what your customer thinks you MEAN? Getting a customer perspective can help you close that gap and stop burying your value, and you can do this by simply asking them what features they like. For example, do they love the fact that you’re always adding new features? Then perhaps say ‘new features every month’ rather than ‘powerful features’.

You could also conduct surveys; however, your customers aren’t always the best people to find the answer to their solutions as they are not the experts in solving their problems – you are. So perhaps think about asking them what their challenges are.


Source: Amy Harrison, Stand out to YOUR Crowd: A Simple Framework for Customer-Driven Copywriting

Also Heard at SearchLove:

  • Lots of us spend time optimising and testing our paid ad titles to improve engagement and CTR, so why aren’t we doing this with our meta data? It’s time to think beyond keyword style titles. Be more creative and give people a reason to want to click on your result.
  • Investing in content marketing without thinking about how it will be amplified is a poor marketing strategy – get your outreach plan in place from the start.
  • Be careful with untested recommendations. Don’t blindly believe everything Google says – things that work in one niche, don’t always work in another.
  • Stop tracking individual keywords – track groups and topics instead.
  • Think about the next generation of search – Facebook, chat apps etc. The increase of use means you’ll see a decrease in sessions…it’s no longer about conversions, it’s about revenue…be aware that this is not always going to come from search.

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