Highlights from SMX Advanced 2016

Last week, we joined 1,600 of our fellow search marketers in Seattle for the sold-out #SMX Advanced conference. It’s tough to summarize the best that came out of the conference in just a few takeaways. Clearly, the amount of tactic-rich, jam-packed information that was shared made it difficult but we did our best!

Highlights from #SMX Advanced 2016:

Google RankBrain

There was a great deal of focus on Google’s RankBrain, particularly around how it’s the third most important search ranking factor behind links and content. For those of you who are not familiar with Google’s RankBrain, it’s essentially an algorithm that creates algorithms. In his keynote, Google’s Gary Illyes explained that you cannot optimize or do SEO for RankBrain since there are no “scores.” He also pointed out that long-tail search and keyword permutations become less necessary as the RankBrain algorithm develops and becomes more intelligent, arriving at user search intent with less inputs.

Google AMP

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) were another hot topic at #SMX Advanced 2016. When Illyes was asked to tell SEOs something they should prepare for in the upcoming year, he said AMP is going to be so big that SEOs and webmasters need to think now about how to get ready for it. Rudy Galfi, AMP Product Manager at Google, discussed the historical issues associated with online customer engagement on mobile devices: slow loading pages, unresponsive page scrolling, and content shifting on screen. These pain points were the framework for enhancing mobile content experiences with AMP technology, which begins and ends with languages we’re already familiar with (HTML 5, JS, CSS3, & Caching). Galfi also shared some of AMPs main goals. These included making mobile content pages fast, easy to implement, and better monetized and to embrace the open web.

John Shehata, VP of SEO at Conde Nast, spoke to how his brand has benefitted from AMP and in doing so, shared insights gleaned from a test run around Oscar season. In an AMP vs non-AMP content face-off, Conde Nast tracked Oscars-related queries over time. AMP pages dominated with:

  • 15x more visits
  • 7x more impressions
  • 2x higher ranking and search engine visibility

For context, Galfi provided clarity on AMP’s median load times, which was an impressive .7 seconds compared to non-AMP mobile pages of 22 seconds! Although still very much in its infancy, AMP has already begun demonstrating its impact on user experience and thus mobile site traffic. Learn more about AMP: Above and Beyond via Search Engine Land.


The benefits of structured data and schema markup provided food for thought throughout the conference. Local marketers in particular stand to benefit from its power to help increase traffic, improve search engine visibility (potentially through rich snippets), and assist Google in understanding a site’s content and how it provides the best answer to a particular query. We recently published a blog post to help marketers learn more about how to leverage the power of schema – you can find that here.

SEO Ranking Factors

Marcus Tober, Eric Enge and Leslie To shared great insight into the most important search ranking factors driving local SEO tools right now, including content quality, word count (correlations by industry), referring domains, and meta descriptions as related to CTR. Find out more about how SEO ranking factors are changing here.

Another big point of discussion was Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors, which summarizes the major factors to focus on for search engine ranking success.

Kristine Schachinger elaborated on the importance of getting your SEO fundamentals correct. And from there, she continued on with her walked attendees through of how she conducts an SEO audit and uncovers anomalies. Click here to see Kristine’s list of often overlooked technical SEO considerations.

General SEO Success and Google Raters Guidelines

Jennifer Slegg urges search marketers to identify whether their site is truly high quality. How do you know? She shared her five signs of low quality:

  1. Main content quality is low
  2. Unsatisfying amount of main content
  3. Not enough E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, & Trust)
  4. Negative reputation
  5. Distracting supplementary content

Slegg, Ruth Burr Reedy, and Jenny Halasz discussed the Google Raters Guidelines. These help define key areas of SEO to make a quality site, at length. Two guideline topics in particular are critical, they said:

  1. Your Money Your Life (YMYL)
  2. and E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust)

Google Rater Guidelines holds YMYL sites to higher standards, as (according to Google) these pages could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or financial stability of users.

Does your site exhibit expertise, authority and trust? Check out section 3.2 in the 2016 guidelines manual to make sure! Burr Reedy listed 10 ways to ensure high website quality. These include: better content, accurate NAP data, relevant ads, maintaining shopping cart, easily identifiable customer service touchpoints, reputation, reviews, references, experts and ratings.

There’s a lot going on in the world of search. And it thrilled us to feed our search obsession at SMX Advanced once again! We look forward to what comes next. For more SMX insights, be sure to check out our Twitter feed.

Looking to learn best practices to fuel your search marketing efforts? View the takeaways from our latest webinar with Digital Marketing Depot: “Local Strategies to Capitalize on Voice Search”

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