Last week, search marketers united in Seattle at the annual SMX Advanced conference – the only conference designed exclusively for experienced search marketers. It’s fast paced, doesn’t cover search basics, and draws SEO’s and SEM’s from leading tech, eCommerce, and content marketing companies.

Bazaarvoice sponsored the June 21st, Tuesday evening kick-off networking event that brought together conference attendees on the rooftop of the Bell Harbor Convention Center on the Seattle Waterfront. It was a great evening for connection and conversation under the Seattle Summer Solstice sky, with Mt. Rainer glowing in the backdrop.

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You may be wondering: why did Bazaarvoice attend SMX Advanced? With over 10+ years of experience and an established reputation serving over 6,300 clients and partners – namely, brands and retailers that represent more than 50 percent of internet retailers and half of the Fortune 100  – Bazaarvoice uniquely sees over 135K reviews submitted on average each day across 100 million unique consumer products. This influx and breadth of fresh, consumer-generated content (CGC) across our partners’ product and service pages presents a unique SEO opportunity, and as such, a responsibility for us to educate others on how to effectively integrate SEO into their CGC efforts.

As any good SEO expert knows. Google loves fresh, relevant content.  What is more fresh and relevant than reviews? Utilizing the power of CGC, Bazaarvoice has launched innovative SEO solutions since 2010, with our newest innovation Spotlights focused on helping brands and retailers acquire new consumers to their site for the searches that matter most to them. More on that later.

As a new attendee of SMX Advanced, the Bazaarvoice team, of course, spent our time listening, learning, and networking. But, our main goal was quite simply to understand: What really happens at an advanced search conference – one that some may call one of the most respected search conferences in the world? To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I would find –  cutting edge secrets to win over Google, the keys to initiating the cheapest yet most successful paid campaign ever, or perhaps a technical competitive advantage that should be #1 on every development team’s plan.

What we learned was the best attendees don’t come looking for career-making wins. They come with a strong search marketing foundation and hope to leave the event with a fresh anecdote, data point or two, or a conceptual nuance that will help the evolution of their SEO program.  More experienced attendees hunt for clues, hints, and patterns that emerge out of what is shared in sessions and extracted from one-on-one hallway conversations with other search-marketing professionals.

The sessions are at the intersection of obvious and inspirational: we know the points to be obvious, yet we don’t always do them because of competing resources, time, money, etc. so they continue to inspire us to do what any good SEO/SEM knows to do.

So, for my top obvious yet inspirational themes and quotes from this year’s SMX Advanced:

  • Don’t spend time on the “silver bullet” strategy. If you are trying to maximize for the 1% strategy but  are not nailing the basics, you are wasting your time. Ninety percent of sites are not nailing the basics.
  • User Experience always comes first. Google still loves a solid home page pyramid structure, and they can easily identify the value of your site and its content based on what is linked. As such, take the time to test what your users really want, otherwise, you are going to ruin conversion and engagement.
  • Did I mention User intent? Well, I’m going to mention it again – even chant it – because it was chanted within the walls of SMX Advanced: “User Intent! User Intent! User Intent!” Various speakers explicitly stated, and repeated, that understanding user intent is how you should think about search. It’s less about a keyword and more about what consumers are searching for. You need to serve up content for the searcher’s intent.
  • Invest in the right tools! Search decisions can only be as insightful as the tools used to serve the data. We all know that data is the key to unlocking search opportunity.
  • Organic rank is still the primary goal.  Be careful to not be distracted by Google product search, the map pack (local), or other fancy modules in Google search results.  You are going to get a lot of traffic if your site is in a top-3 result under one of these modules.
  • You are never good enough at SEO.  A strong point was made about online marketing bosses who make claims like, “We rank well in SEO.”  What does that even mean? Unless you have data proving that your domain ranks in the top 3 results for over 10,000 valuable search phrases, you should never make this kind of claim.
  • Local search needs local pages.  If you are competing for business at a local level, you’re probably going to need to play the local game by creating pages for each city and store. The challenge is to use techniques that differentiate at least 65% of the content in each city and store page.
  • Reviews, testimonials, and more consumer content.  While this may seem self-serving, it’s not intended to be that.  I was honestly a bit blown away with the amount of love expressed for the type of content that Bazaarvoice manages for our clients.  In one session, review content was mentioned so many times that it started to feel like that classic SNL sketch, “More Cowbell.” 

At the end of it all, the simplest advice rang the truest: Organize on intent, what is important to you, what is most important to your customers. Don’t organize by some clinical way. And do the right things first, you will gain the most ground. At Bazaarvoice, we are constantly thinking about the best experience for the consumer. And when it comes to optimizing your site for your consumer, understanding consumer intent, how they get to your site, and what they searched for has been top of mind for our SEO team. Spotlights helps our customers improve SERP for their most solution-oriented pages.

And if you need a little confidence boost, Greg Boser, a 20-year SEO veteran, gave me one when he said, “half of what [Google] says is a load of crap. We knew stuff that the algorithm did that Google didn’t even know it did. The algorithm is doing what they said it would do 10 years ago – not getting accurate information, or intentionally misleading you. Take it all with a grain of salt. Don’t obsess over it. It’s your business. It’s your website, you know what a dumb decision is vs. a smart one.”

For those wanting to go deeper into SEO and SEM, this is not a conference for the novice search marketer. You’ll need to come here armed with an arsenal of industry vocab and an understanding of how to keep up with these veterans, but at the end of the day, you’ll leave a bit smarter, wiser, and more confident in your ability to steer your business through the ever-changing search landscape.