Last month, I packed my bags, dusted off my passport and headed to the Netherlands for the third annual YoastCon.

YoastCon?

YoastCon, the flagship event of Yoast, is a two-day conference about all things SEO and online marketing. Through hands-on workshop sessions and presentations from renowned SEO thought leaders, the conference provides valuable insight into the latest SEO trends and best practices.

At Altitude, we live by the Yoast SEO plugin and employ it on every site we build and maintain. Going to YoastCon and getting to rub elbows with leaders from the company was a great experience. The conference was not only informative and insightful, but personal as well, fostering a very warm, friendly and social atmosphere. Also present were delicious lunches, great sponsors, giveaways, a giant owl and of course, the workshops and speakers, which featured representatives from industry giants such as Google, Bing and Moz.

Austin with YoastCon mascot owl

I left YoastCon with many personal goals achieved. I was able to gain a firmer grasp on the inner workings of SEO, as well as learn how to leverage different aspects of a website to rank higher in search results. There were also lessons learned that we can all benefit from as marketers. Check out a recap of some of the most informative keynotes from YoastCon below.

SEO for Everyone: Joost de Valk

The conference started off with the founder of Yoast, Joost de Valk, introducing this year’s conference and getting people excited for the next two days. Joost also talked about the importance of good SEO and how the Yoast plugin aims to give any company, no matter the size, the opportunity to be recognized and visible on Google. The Yoast SEO plugin comes in a free version and includes all of the tools needed to optimize your website for search engines, lending credence to the Yoast slogan and the theme of this talk, “SEO for Everyone.”

Additionally, Joost spoke about two specific updates coming to the Yoast SEO plugin, which were particularly important for us at Altitude – and other marketing professionals alike.

Joost on stage giving a keynote speech at YoastConLive Indexing

This year, Yoast will begin its rollout of live indexing for your website’s pages and posts. This means that anytime you publish, update or delete content in WordPress, the changes will automatically and almost instantly be reflected in the Bing and Google indices. This is helpful because it eliminates the need for manual processes, such as updating an XML sitemap or submitting pages to Google’s search index using tools like Fetch As Google in the Google Search Console.

Discovery is now a solved problem.

To take advantage of this live indexing, your website must be using the Yoast SEO plugin.

Schema Markup and Rich Snippets

As search engines increasingly prepare for the rise of voice search, schema markup and rich snippets have become super important to how your website ranks. Let me explain.

Google search results show snippets. We’ve all seen them. A normal snippet generally looks like the example below:

Example of an ordinary Google result

On the other hand, a rich snippet includes extra information between the URL and the description:

Example of a Google rich snippet result

As you can see, this Google result shows a picture, star rating, calorie count, prep time, etc. Rich snippets deliver more relevant information to the user and frankly, they look nicer. They’re also becoming increasingly important for good SEO.

Google can show rich snippets if you add schema markup to your website. This schema is a piece of code, written in such a way that search engines can understand it. Search engines read the code and use it to create rich snippets.

Bottomline? Using schema markup and rich snippets can help your site rank better in Google.

So what’s a marketer to do?

Well, it may be time to rethink the way you are building your web pages.

In this portion of his talk, Joost explained how Yoast is working with the WordPress page builder, Gutenberg, to better structure your page data for easier schema implementation.

The Gutenberg builder uses a series of blocks to build page content. These blocks have huge potential to drive both easy content management and seamless schema markup. You no longer have to think about schema implementation, which can be tricky; simply using the Gutenberg blocks will do the work for you.

The Four Horsemen of the Web Marketing Apocalypse: Rand Fishkin

Another presentation I saw at YoastCon was by Rand Fiskin, the founder of Moz and Sparktoro.

Rand’s talk covered the four forces which are radically changing the way companies are handling their web marketing efforts. Basically, what were considered “best practices” a few years ago are becoming obsolete, so he laid out what companies need to do to stand out in the coming years.

The Problems

1. Social Walled Gardens Are Reducing Outbound Links

The first problem discussed was that Google and social media sites are decreasing our reach as marketers by hiding outbound links, which take users away from their platforms and to our websites.

For example, if you put an outbound link to your site in the description of your Youtube video, Youtube will cut off the description at the point where you added the link, regardless of where it’s placed. A user will now need to expand the description box to see your outbound links and in most cases, will miss them entirely. That’s just one of the ways that social media sites are competing to keep you on their own platforms.

2. Google Is Sending Less Traffic (Answering Queries Themselves)

Google is also guilty of sending less organic traffic to our websites by answering queries directly in the search results. Google calls these “live results” and they can be displayed in a number of different ways. For example, if a person searches Super Bowl 2019, they will find a handy information box and may not even need to click on an actual link – the information they want is directly in the results. This has been pretty disruptive for a number of industries.

Google live result example showing Super Bowl information

We’ve all seen these live results in Google and as users, they’re great. But it’s easy to forget the impact they can have on the organic traffic to our websites.

3. The Influencers Aren’t Influencing

The third problem with web marketing is that despite marketers allocating billions of dollars to influencer campaigns, the ROI just isn’t there and it’s not driving the results or traffic that people want. The influencers aren’t influencing and marketers aren’t even tracking the effectiveness of these campaigns. They have adopted a “set it and forget it” mentality.

4. Advertising ROI/ROAS are Trending Towards Zero

The last problem discussed in this presentation was that ad platforms for driving paid traffic, which many marketers are reliant on, are getting drowned out by companies who can throw a lot of money to Google for insane reach without even having to worry about the ROI. So if you’re a smaller company, you’re competing against companies who are completely fine with losing money on paid search just to gain followers and reach. It’s just not affordable for most marketers anymore.

Rand Fiskin on stage giving a keynote speech at YoastConThe Solutions

1. Focus on Your Own Website and Email List

Rand mentioned that getting 10 new email addresses is better than 1,000 new followers on social media, which we already learned isn’t generating traffic to our websites like it used to. As marketers, we need to be stressing quality over quantity. Focusing on sending quality content directly to email inboxes is so valuable because it’s controllable and it’s measurable. Then, from those emails, we can direct people to our sites, which are the center of all our marketing efforts.

2. Create Amazing Content

Strive to organically communicate your personality and identity as a company. A user is more likely to first engage with someone they know — rather than a faceless ad.

This is partly achieved by generating amazing content. We shouldn’t be focusing solely on what Google likes or even what our customers like in terms of generating content, but also on what appeals to “amplifiers” — publications that our customers listen to and care about.

3. Use Empathy—It’s Your Super Power

Rand mentioned that empathy is a super power and if you’re able to put yourself in the shoes of your customers, amplifiers and potential customers, you can do amazing things. You can create the content they want and draft the messaging, emails, subject lines and tweets that will resonate best. So listen to what the audience wants, make things personal and keep the things that are working consistent.

4. Social Streaking

Rand also spoke about what he called “social streaking.” This means posting a series of tweets or social posts without links, which will perform well algorithmically and drive engagement for the social platform. Next, leverage that reputation you’ve developed to post something with an outbound link, which will drive traffic to your site and benefit you. Then start the process over again. It’s essentially developing a give and take relationship with the social platform to boost traffic to your site.

Love your users and the rest will follow: Els Aerts

Els Aerts on stage giving a keynote speech at YoastConThis presentation by Els Aerts, the co-founder of AGConsult, was my favorite of the conference — and it wasn’t even about SEO. Els’s talk focused on CRO, which means conversion rate optimization.

She talked about the importance of understanding your customers and finding out what makes them tick. This is accomplished through different types of user research, including interviews, focus groups and targeted surveys. Els made a very cogent point in saying that, “Google Analytics has a pool of data that tells you what people do on your website, but not what people want to do.”

You get this kind of information by talking to people. When you look at all the spreadsheets of numbers and data, it’s easy to forget that your users are actual people. It’s people that drive growth and we need to find out what makes them tick. Talking to them directly is the best way to do that. Getting up close and personal pays off.

Els went through an example of a user test that her company ran for a client. Through a two-way mirror, the client secretly watched users struggle greatly to use their website. It was a very painful and eye opening exercise for the client and that’s what this kind of qualitative research testing can do. It can help you really feel your users pain and in turn learn how to fix their issues and problems.

80% of companies say they are customer centric but only 8% of their customers agree. User research can help us close this gap and fix this disconnect between companies and customers.

Find out your customers emotions and motivations. Find out what drives your users. Be customer obsessed. You don’t even have to look at this in a touchy-feely way. It’s simply good business.

In the presentation, Els continued to discuss different customer research projects that her company has conducted. The following example was my favorite.

The project was for a car glass replacement company and their main goal was to increase the number of appointments made through their website.

The first step was to AB test two different homepages.

Comparison of two homepage designs

On the left side, we have what many may consider to be a cluttered homepage. There are multiple content blocks and the green “Make an Appointment” CTA is competing with the blue CTA next to it.

On the right side, there is a homepage with no distractions or clutter and one clear CTA to make an appointment.

Which version do you think converted better and generated more completed online appointments?

If you said the right side, like most people at YoastCon, you’d be wrong. But why? It looks like the better homepage!

This is where the beauty of qualitative research comes into play.

The company had also installed an exit survey on the site, which asked customers why they were leaving the site without making an appointment.

The users specified that the right version of the homepage didn’t answer their questions. They didn’t make an appointment because it wasn’t clear how much the appointment would cost or if their issuance would cover it. Would there be paper work involved? All these questions were answered right above the fold in the left version of the homepage.

So what we all thought was clutter, was really clarity. It took away the user’s worries and simply answered their questions. If you visit this site now, that winning homepage is what you will see. And all of this was determined by a simple survey.

This goes to show that it’s not always the “prettiest“ website that performs best. This is why it’s paramount to know our users, understand what makes them tick and present information in a way that is useful to them.

In other words, “love your users and the rest will follow.”