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SMX East – quick notes from the cheap seats

November 21, 2019

Sometimes good software does bad things. Today I was reminded how important the very first piece of software is – the human brain. Programs and tools make a lot of things faster, but sometimes we forget to stop, think with our brain and apply common sense. Ironically, it happened at the 2019 Search Marketing Expo East Conference in New York.

I’ve been going to SMX East in New York for quite a few years now. To clarify, when I say ‘going’ I really mean walking the floor on the free expo pass and trying to read between the lines of the more interesting free sponsor presentations. I’m too cheap to pony up the $1K+ or so it costs for a full pass. The agency I work for, shall we say, has other places to allocate this type of spend (read: cheap).

Fortunately, living in NYC means the convention is only a few stops off my normal commute. Including the miserable hike out to the Javits Center that any local is familiar with. Although the insanely large Hudson Yards project has changed the area quite a bit.

Like most years, I ate well and rested up the night before planning to absorb as much knowledge as the expo pass offered. Like most years, my attentions span gave up after about three presentations. After a quick victory lap around the convention floor booths – which seem to be the same the past few years – I was back in midtown at the office catching up on email.

The good news was that I did walk away with something valuable this year – a renewed respect for common sense and practicality. As any search professional knows, things in this industry change fast and it can get very overwhelming. The realization that best practices and common sense still pay dividends was refreshing.

Sponsored SMX Presentation 1- LongTailUX

One of the first presentations was from a company that focused on long tail keywords in paid search and user interface. If that sounds a little in the weeds, it is and you should probably skip the next few paragraphs and go to the second presentation notes. I’ll link to the sponsors at the end (uncompensated).

In all fairness, they did have a software product that seemed great for larger retailers selling products online (1K+ SKU’s and $20K budgets and north). That part however isn’t what I cared about. What interested me was how they came up with it and the practical examples of why it could be used. It took no software to explain this part, only brain power.

Without using any software, you can use both Amazon and Google Shopping to perform search queries for a given product (like most customers shopping online). In each of these, you’ll see similar type results at the top of the page. Usually these are price carousels with different products, from different vendors at different pricing. Most of the time they keep the user in the Amazon or Google Shopping ecosystem through the point of purchase.

The point here was that if you were a company selling products, you were essentially being turned into a supplier. When customers searched and purchased entirely in Amazon or Google Shopping, they were not being exposed to your website, your brand etc. And even if you did have an individual product page you wanted to rank for, it would almost surely be down page from these shopping and comparison type carousels on the first search page.

This where someone (the founder I assume) used their brain and came up with the idea to fix this. Instead of using a keyword to drive traffic to a page with one product, why not feature multiple products in a similar way that Amazon and Google were doing? And why not make it super relevant and build it to scale.

The result was a single keyword landing page with multiple relevant products that ranked well organically, converted better and returned more on ad spend.

I loved this because it almost boiled down to a “why not do what they’re doing only better” using the keywords and products we’re already selling. Simple and smart. Of course, that’s just the idea – they actually had to build it.

Sponsored SMX Presentation 2 – Bruce Clay

The second presentation was one I had seen in the past. Seeing it with fresh eyes, I remembered how good it was all over again. This was a presentation about ‘content silos’ from someone who’s been around search longer than Google – Bruce Clay.

Content Silo’s are generally groups of related content in a website. There is a lot of value in taking the time to organize, research and archetype these when building a website.

I was particularly interested in this as it’s something most agencies don’t do or do very poorly when building a new site. Since I’m positive my boss won’t read this deep into a blog post I’ll admit our agency doesn’t do a very good job at this either.
Bruce has been around so long that being on stage at a conference speaking looked comfortable and easy. He spoke as casually about organizing enterprise amounts of web content as I speak to my favorite Monday bartender.

The best part about this is how much of it seems to be common sense. I’m surprised so many companies and agencies aren’t doing this type of thing in their sleep. I’m just as guilty as others in this respect.

Using Google’s own content guidelines on improving search, Bruce came up with a way to better organize content and navigation to improve search performance. These are content guidelines that have been around for awhile yet still seem to get overlooked.

Of course, there a lot of technical pieces to doing this at scale. The takeaway for me is that he used his brain and common sense. Books are organized in chapters, organization charts have a hierarchy, the military has a chain of command; Websites need to structure their content better as pay attention to how it interlinks sitewide.

Naturally there is a lot of analysis, keyword research and work that goes into ‘siloing’ a site. The results were undeniably positive when implemented in Bruce’s experience.

Another think I particularly liked about this was how easy it was to understand. You could explain this to a C level 60-year old or a hot shot 20 year. Both would understand.

In Summary

I’ll drop a few links below in all fairness (uncompensated and just being honest) but here’s a quick summary of my short drive by visit to SMX

  • Critical thinking and common sense trump software much of the time
  • Anything worth doing well takes time
  • Is it me or are the SMX vendors almost the same every year?
  • A lot of the info only applies to larger companies or business at the enterprise level
  • The Javits Center still sucks

The first presentation I caught was by LongTailUX and they mentioned a tool at scorecard.longtailux.com that seemed interesting to companies that have > 1K SKU’s or $20K+ ad budgets

The second was from Bruce Clay and he seemed very cool sharing his knowledge/deck here http://bruceclay.com/siloing/ so I feel comfortable sharing.

I’ll be back next year, sitting in the SMX East cheap seats.