State of Search Shout-Out: Two Days in Texas

This past week I was fortunate enough to speak at the State of Search conference in Dallas, Texas. State of Search is a conference put on by DFWSEM and over the past few years has gained notoriety for the quality of sessions, speakers, and attendees. I can see why.

Photo Credit: Akvile DeFazio

There were some truly fantastic sessions and for me, being able to listen to search marketers who are at the top of their game is inspiring, validating, and helps me to improve my own skills.

On top of that, it’s interesting to see what other search marketers think is important. For example, while much of my time and focus is on content, the advances in technology are creating new challenges that myself and the team at KoMarketing need to be on top of. Thankfully many in the industry are already experimenting and helping guide the way.

Which leads me to the entire point of this post – what were some of the key takeaways? 

As noted, there was a ton of great information but there were a few themes that really stuck with me:

Customer Experience Matters 

Ok, I’ll admit I’m partial to this topic as my session was entirely focused on how the customer experience is impacting search, but in an industry so focused on Google’s next move, it was refreshing to see others focused here as well.

Katy Katz of Marketing Refresh dug into how marketers can use social to attract and retain customers. Her key takeaway – it’s about happiness. Yes, we can measure likes, shares, engagement, etc. but do they really tell us if our customers are happy? No.

Katz suggested that instead of these KPIs we look at our Net Promoter Score. More importantly, when it comes to social, we need to shift our focus back to talking to our customers versus talking at them.

Another session that touched on the customer experience was the Lifting the Lid on Local panel. During the session, Gyi Tsakalakis talked about reputation and the impact it has on a brand’s search presence. His perspective? It’s a lot easier to fix the customer experience than to keep pushing Yelp reviews down the page.

What stood out the most however was a comment from Gary Illyes of Google. While I typically try to take anything that comes from Google with a grain of salt, multiple people caught the reference around brand sentiment and rankings.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Google is continuously working to understand how people see a brand but it was certainly interesting to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

At the end of the day, search marketers have to focus more on the customer. It’s the customer that buys our products and it’s the customer that gets other people to buy our products. We have to ensure we are giving them the best experience possible.

Search Marketers are Marketers

While I firmly believe that search marketers possess a unique set of skills not typically held by traditional marketers, I also believe that search marketers tend to limit their focus. For example, as SEOs, we often get caught thinking only about the organic results. As Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz pointed out in his opening keynote however, we can no longer do that.

Search results are changing and not in a good way for SEOs. As he described it, many industries are facing an “attack of the ads.”

As Meyers noted, if we see something like the SERP above and aren’t recommending our clients think about paid, we are doing them a disservice. After all, our job is to help our clients be successful.

I touched on this a bit during my presentation but the same thing applies to review sites. If review sites are showing up in key searches, you need to figure out how to be included in those review sites, even if it means paying for a listing. We can’t rely on our site alone and we have to think beyond just the organic search result.

Gianluca Fiorelli, SEO consultant and founder of The Inbounder conference, also discussed the shift marketers must make. His recommendation – instead of becoming T-shaped marketers, we must become pi-shaped marketers, understanding both the technical side and the more traditional marketing side.

To be completely honest, one of my hang-ups about the search industry has always been what feels like a somewhat narrow focus. It is so wonderful to see folks shifting and focusing on the bigger picture.

No, SEO is Not Dead

It’s a discussion that inevitably comes up every few months but based on what I heard at the show and what I see every day, SEO is not dead. In fact, I think Duane Forrester put it the best when he noted the following:

“There will always be SEO to do because people will always screw up websites.”

On top of that, Marty “Mark Traphagen” McFly traveled back from the future to let us know that SEO is in fact not dead at all.

If you aren’t familiar, Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen of Stone Temple put on a weekly show called “Here’s Why” where they look at a key search issue in an entertaining manner.

At State of Search, we were lucky to be graced with a live show that focused on voice search and the implications of this technology. As search marketers, we need to be thinking about what this means and adapt.

Back to Boston

Leaving a conference is always a bit overwhelming. My brain is full, my body is tired, and I can’t wait to put everything into action. If you’re like me, I suggest taking a few days to decompress and circle back with a plan early next week. If you were unable to attend the show, check out the #StateofSearch hashtag where you’ll find presentations, conversations, and tweets from the show.

And of course, I’d like to send a big thanks to the DFWSEM folks for putting on the show and for letting me speak. My presentation can be found below:

“The team @ KoMarketing Associates clearly understands how to effectively utilize all methodologies of search engine marketing and builds powerful programs to achieve outstanding results. The team they have constructed is not only professional but fantastic to work with.”

— Chad Beasley, Vice President at Delivery Agent

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