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SEO Tactics from the 2017 Moz SEO Conference

Andy Bowen and Annie Russell team up for MOZCON 2017. Learn what they did in this conversation.

The team: Andy, a strategy/operations maven, and Annie, a copywriter.

The mission: Map the wild world of SEO.

This July, eROI sent us north to Seattle’s MozCon. We were there to get a sense of the field of SEO, to meet thinkers who are defining it, and to learn everything we possibly could about SEO tactics and theory in roughly 72 hours of conversations, presentations, bar crawls, and really stellar coffee breaks. After a small rest, we sat down and talked over our discoveries.

 Useful Tools and How to Use Them   

Annie: After MozCon, what does SEO now mean in the context of your work?
Andy: Content is to every aspect of digital marketing. We’re experts in email, but I don’t always think about how email is an intimate, one-on-one interaction with a person. That idea can be lost quickly.
 
SEO should be in the forefront of strategy. Even in operations, SEO is so important. A lot of people in operations get told what to do, and we often execute without really giving strategic feedback. Even though we’re usually at the end of the line with projects, learning this strategic part will put us up-front with the pitch. SEO can bring my department more to the surface.
Annie: One theme that came up for me again and again is how time-bound SEO is. It’s about watching process. The easiest way for me to do that is by having more conversations with the performance and strategy teams, because you guys are watching things change over time.
Andy: People assume SEO is a plug-and-play solution. But you can’t hire one SEO person on your one team and you’re good. It’s an ongoing conversation with our audience and with our partners. That’s one of the biggest things I took away from MozCon. I mean, I’ve worked in marketing for 5 years, and I thought SEO was something you just added to your website.
Annie: People talk about SEO like it’s a little tool. Maybe people used to use it that way. But SEO is a discipline. It’s a field, it’s a specialty, and it’s mandatory for success.

 Data Everywhere   

Andy: Ninety percent of all the information on the internet has been put there in the past two years. Without SEO, as a small brand, how would you even have a chance? There’s so much content. What did you take out of that conference to help a smaller brand weave through all of that content?
Annie: That makes me think of library card catalogs. How do you find the things you’re looking for? How do you know how to ask the question that will take you to the thing that you need? If we’re doing SEO right, we’re building a system that helps people find what they need and helps brands find an audience. It’s about naming things carefully and honestly—which is hard to do! Are we facilitating the profit of this one brand? Or are we facilitating the experience of search, the experience of consuming information on the internet?
Andy: If we’re doing SEO properly, experience and profit should basically sync. But you do see when profit comes before experience. You even see it with Google, the way their answer panels are sometimes incorrect. I watched my step-daughter all weekend, asking her questions to see how she found information, and she answered every single one with that panel from Google. That’s just what Rand [Fishkin] said: SEO can be scary. If only one person or one company is building it, that’s scary.
Annie: If it’s just a machine building it— (it’s missing things).

 Breaking Badly   

Andy: Chatbots as content came up so much at the conference. My experience with them has been terrible. They’re great for companies, because the technology can do so much—it can alleviate strain on front-line employees and provide a way to pull in data and work from it. They do potentially have access to the power of machine learning and AI. But I don’t trust that this bot is going to give me the answer I need, instead of an answer that a business wants me to use.
Annie: That goes back to Tara-Nicholle Nelson’s presentation, where the thing that you need to foreground is not the business, it’s the service you provide and the customer you’re serving. You can serve all of them! But if somebody wins out, it has to be the customer.
Andy: Big brands are gonna take the chatbot and ruin it. Like Matthew Barby said, we [marketers] ruin everything.
Annie: We just take things too far. People are so excited about a tool that they overuse it. They miss the point. SEO is a good tool, but what it facilitates, which are real conversations and true listening, is the point. You break the tool by ignoring what it’s used for.

 Breaking Better   

Annie: What did you learn at the conference that shocked you? I loved listening to Brittany Mueller and Stephanie Chang talk about running experiments by breaking things. So practical and simple.
Andy: It’s wild that you can misspell one word and f-up your entire thing. You can take down a huge site with a misspelling in your meta-tags. That’s back to SEO not being a human system. We would forgive the error. But the machines don’t. I feel like a big miss is not acknowledging the power of a mistake: Sometimes we don’t know how to fix something until we break it.
Annie: Part of using this new system, this capacity that we’re developing, is having it fail so that we know how it works. Like, I learned how to work on a bicycle because my bicycle broke.
Andy: It’s not like we’re all being taught the laws of the internet. That’s not general education.

 Big Ideas We’re Still Thinking About   

“Content marketing seems so simple, but it is not.”
—Heather Physioc, Director of Organic Search, VML, Inc
@HeatherPhysioc
“How do you take the natural activity of customers engaging about your products online and make a community around their conversations and your work?”
—Tara Reed, CEO Apps Without Code
@TaraReed_
“Email is a personal medium. It exposes our work as marketers. To quote Vicky Ge from Amazon, ‘Email is a privilege.’ We need to listen to our customers. And respond to them to meet their needs.”
—Justine Jordan, VP of Marketing, Litmus
@meladorri
“The brand is not the hero. The customer is the hero. So you need to talk to the people who have the problem you exist to solve.”
—Tara-Nicholle Nelson, CEO Transformational Consumer Insights
@taranicholle

End Notes: Annie and Andy both plan to take courses with Brian Childs. (@thegrowthpilot)
 
Annie was particularly excited to learn about the curriculum Brian is launching for copywriters.

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