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Digital Summit 2018: 4 Key Takeaways

By: Matt Engelson

Sagefrog’s digital team was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Digital Summit in Philadelphia at The Fillmore, and we had a blast! The atmosphere of like-minded individuals chatting about SEO, SEM and content creation was electrifying, to say the least. Aside from the vendor booths full of swag, swinging name tags on lanyards and boxed lunches, there was a plethora of presentations and speakers that spoke about the status of the digital marketing industry.

Our digital team emerged motivated and informed and took away four key insights that give an inside look into the digital marketing industry for 2018. Here’s how they’ll effect your website, brand and B2B company.

1. Get Serious about Word Count & Content Relevance on Your Website

Content is still king, even in 2018. Having valid content that touches on topics that are relevant to your industry, brand and products is a given. However, the nature of content is changing; effective storytelling is the new focus, as Google’s algorithm becomes better at discerning keyword-stuffed, low-quality posts from content that actually adds value to site users and provides useful information or fresh insights.

Again, this should be a given if you’ve been following content marketing best practices in recent years. But with Google announcing a broad search algorithm update at the beginning of this month that shook up the SERPs yet again, it’s no surprise that Google continues to become more and more refined at its ability to recognize true quality content.

Making sure that Google and other search engines value your content is one thing, but it’s also important that users find value in the content you’re publishing to your site. Content shouldn’t be forceful or interrupt your users and potential customers; instead of acting as a pitch for your products or services, your content should deliver information that allows users to be more informed before they buy.1

In addition to content being more useful, content also needs to be longer; the average webpage has more than 1,500 words on it, usually landing somewhere right below 2,000.2 This long length doesn’t just apply to content (and yes, longer form content is always better, as long as you don’t fill your word count with nonsense), but also to on-page copy.

But don’t let length dictate your content; the real rule isn’t that content is king, it’s that quality content is king. Don’t force your copy department to pump out a higher word count just for the sake of it. Make sure that your content addresses a pain point that your visitors have and offers insights or solutions without jamming your product in their face. Aim to write about an industry topic that you or your business can offer a unique perspective on or that one of your products or services addresses better than the rest of the industry.

Create relevant content with a longer word count that isn’t too pushy with sales. It’s possible and it’s worth it, both to please search engines and to best serve your visitors.

2. SEO Ranking Factors Remain Largely Unchanged

It seems like the same few factors are affecting SEO ranking in 2018 for website authority, with those being:

  • Content
  • Links
  • RankBrain’s Interpretation of Your Page3

Content is a great way to address your customers’ concerns and pain points while adding valuable keywords and search terms to your site so that it’ll rank better in SERPs. If the first takeaway wasn’t enough of an explainer, there are several resources that discuss more about the ideal use of content on your site.

Links pointing to and from your site continue to be one of the main ranking factors that search engines use to decide the validity of your site. Backlinks are links that point from external websites to yours. Search engines take backlinks into consideration, as well as the authority of the sites pointing to your site, to determine your site’s domain authority. Google is also smart enough to recognize spammy links or selling and buying links and will punish offenders accordingly.

Google’s algorithm is only getting better at understanding when links don’t seem quite right or when the context that they’re present in also seems artificial (think a link from a blog about the nutrition benefits of okra on a health website pointing to a car dealership site).

The key to successful link building in 2018 is forming links from and to sites that make sense in context and that also have a high domain authority themselves. While this certainly isn’t news per se, it’s a larger indication that Google keeps getting smarter, so that quality is the name of the game—not quantity.

RankBrain is the machine learning component of Google’s algorithm that helps process the ranking of websites through a variety of factors, such as behavior metrics and backlinks. Again, this isn’t necessarily news for those that practice or follow SEO. But RankBrain, like the rest of Google’s algorithm, continues to get more and more sophisticated. Essentially RankBrain is able to understand more advanced keyword differentiations, understand how users are interacting with your site and analyze backlinks more effectively.

All of this is nothing new to an SEO professional, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; if you’re already building quality content and links and providing your users with a satisfactory experience on your site, you just need to keep doing what you’re doing.

3. Defining YOUR Customer Journey & Key Audiences

“Your” is in all caps for a reason; lackluster customer personas and unfitting audience targeting are the result of not correctly understanding how your customers arrive at purchasing your product or service. Customer personas have been a staple in the marketing toolbox for years, but with this tried-and-true tactic comes a big modern-day problem; digital is seldom taken into account when it comes to creating customer personas today.

What queries might your customer personas be entering into search engines to find your product or service? What kind of website layout, navigation menu items and content will they find useful when they land on your site? The list goes on and on because the internet has added a new dimension to customer personas—a whole new space in which they can interact with your brand, products and services on their own.

Websites should always be designed with users in mind. If your site doesn’t cater to users, offer them a convenient way to answer their question or clearly address their problem, can you really judge them for not engaging with you?

The digital considerations needed for customer personas should also be taken into account for your users’ customer journey; the internet allows for the user journey to evolve based on the experience your site and digital marketing provides for users who can now shop, research and purchase all in one space without leaving their seats.

They can also take as long as they want; some users will complete their journey arc in the course of a few minutes or hours, while others can take weeks or months. Digital strategy has to be implemented in the customer journey, whether it’s retargeting with paid ads, executing email campaigns or structuring your site or landing pages to accommodate users at different steps in their customer journey.

Essentially, your customer personas and customer journey needs to have digital factored in. What kinds of queries and pain points do they have, and how is your website and digital marketing going to satisfactorily address them?

4. Mobile Is (Still) the Way of the Future

There weren’t many presentations at this year’s Digital Summit that featured mobile as their focus, but nearly every presentation mentioned the fact that Google’s mobile-first index is going to continue to roll out throughout this year, and it is going to be the way that Google values your site moving forward. It can’t be drilled in any more than it already has, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock: you need to optimize your mobile pages so that they are equal in functionality, appearance and accessibility to the desktop version of your site.

That said, a major factor that your mobile pages have to tend to is the time that it takes them to load; 46% of users report that they dislike when a slow page takes too long to load and 53% of consumers will abandon a site if it takes too long to load. The average load time for webpages on 3G is 19 seconds, and 60% of the world is on 2G networks for their mobile devices,4 meaning that it’ll take even longer when they access a poorly configured site from their mobile device.

Aside from designing pages the old way, AMP pages are a toolbox for developers that allow them to build mobile pages with a modified version of HTML. Building your pages in AMP is a benefit for speed and continues to streamline the mobile webpage experience.

Looking to the Future of SEO

It seems that SEO in 2018 is really more of a measure of website, content and link quality as Google continues to update its algorithm and increase the intelligence of machine learning. Content should serve a purpose besides being a medium to stuff keywords into; it should address customers’ pain points and questions or provide a unique insight for a topic in the industry. Content also needs to be longer; with the average word count of content and on-page copy creeping up to the 2,000 word count mark, the more words on the page, the better—as long as it makes sense.

SEO ranking factors also remain largely unchanged, but search engines are getting better at valuing them. Aside from quality content continuing to be king, links should be quality twofold; they need to make sense in context, and they need to be from websites that have a decent to high domain authority. Amass spammy backlinks at your own peril; Google won’t value them anymore than your users will.

Gone are the days of outdated customer personas and customer journeys that don’t factor in digital strategies. You need to approach your customer personas from a digital perspective. What are they searching for or looking to do when they search the web? How can you cater your site, SEO and advertising to assist them in addressing their pain points and answer their questions? How can you tailor your website and landing pages to the steps of your users’ unique customer journey?

And finally, mobile is only going to continue to dominate more and more sessions on the internet, so your mobile pages need to be optimized for speed, content and reliability. Not only will Google’s mobile first indexing be happy, but so will your users.

Have questions about our 2018 Digital Summit takeaways or want to know how you can optimize your website for the year ahead with SEO, SEM and other digital tactics? Contact us today to bring your pages and customers up to speed.

1. Conquering the Customer Journey with Content Marketing, Vertical Measures
2. Digital Summit 2018, Digital Summit Group
3. Winning at SEO in 2018, Janet Driscoll Miller
4. Your Users Will Reward You for Using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), Matt Ludwig