Express Writers Goes to SEJ Summit 2016 New York: Our 19 Takeaways

Express Writers Goes to SEJ Summit 2016 New York: 19 Top Takeaways

by | Nov 17, 2016 | Updates

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a psychology major who plays a lot of video games and loves hockey. I’m not good at left-brain stuff. I failed pretty much every math test I ever had, but excelled in writing essays and art class. That being said, I didn’t know what to expect out of the SEJ Summit.

The Summit is sponsored by the SEJ Journal – the leading source for digital marketing news. It’s a powerhouse with 80+ active contributors. Marketing? Yes, I can definitely do that. That’s my forte: crafting words to get people excited, to get them IN.

ew team at sej summit

Express Writers meeting John Brown at the SEJ Summit. None of us had enough coffee yet. Left to right: Tara, Krystal, Josh, John, Julia

During the SEJ Summit breakfast, there was a dude with a little xylophone and a microphone. He played the instrument and like the walking dead, everyone stopped what they where doing and headed toward the auditorium. Not a word. Bells that herd people. Pavlov would be very proud. I remember thinking… “man, I wish marketing were that easy.” But I digress.

sej summit recap express writers

Express Writers Goes to SEJ Summit 2016 New York: 19 Top Takeaways (as told by Krystal)

I’m going to give you my takeaways from each presentation, because I’m nice like that. SEJ was all about connecting us (the industry) with the user. I’m talking deep UI/UX. Even when we’re talking Google analytics and algorithms (the things I’m bad at) we’re actually talking about serving users a more robust online experience (the things I’m great at).

So come along, on this magic (fiber optics) carpet ride…

Google’s Maile Ohye: Serving The Mobile-First Searcher

This presentation was given by Maile Ohye, the Developer Programs Tech Lead at Google. She made a point to mention that she’s dead last in her fantasy league team, which I can definitely relate to, being last in my fantasy hockey league because I chose players based on how cute they are or how much I liked watching them beat up other players.

maile ohye

3 Takeaways from Ohye

She had three key points:

1. Continue to pay off technical debt

How technically agile is my brand? Keep in mind that big Fortune 500 companies have gone out of business because they didn’t keep up with the tech/digital age.

2. Keep the target personas in mind

You should always keep in mind what the big guns (like Google) are saying, but find commonalities in customer needs and journeys as well. For example, map customer needs. If a customer wants to be vegetarian, they’ll probably search for benefits of becoming a vegetarian. Facilitate this journey with your UI/UX. Let them scroll quickly through testimonials. Don’t let them get bored. Most of all, understand what your customers want to use! Most users don’t want to download a native app – it’s an annoying extra step.

3. Target a specific audience

It’s not all about ranking. It IS all about being present and awesome in your customer’s journey.

From here, we need to understand that our customers are emerging with new tech. Mobile search traffic surpassed desktop traffic, with nearly a third of mobile searches are related to location. Don’t forget that your customers are in other countries, too… and not everyone has an unlimited data plan.

maile ohye google

What became clear early on was that AMP would play a big role at the SEJ Summit. AMP = Accelerated Mobile Pages. Coding is kept to a minimum. It’s reminiscent of when I was in coding school, trying desperately to keep codes to a minimum to reduce load time. I was terrible at coding (more right-brain woes) but this was a key takeaway when it comes to understanding usability.

Bill Hunt on Making SEO Lemonade: Moving The Needle On Missed Opportunities

Bill Hunt was a fantastic presenter and gave us great, easy-to-understand points in his topic on SEO lemonade.

bill hunt

Root cause identification is a critical skill. Are you able to understand the root of your access issues? Let’s say your website disappears from google. A simple problem that a design agency didn’t catch can cost a lot of money, and for one company fixing an inclusion issue increased traffic by 58%. 74% of their pages weren’t indexed. Can you imagine paying for 300 pages of analysis to identify the problem when it was just an indexing issue? It’s paramount that you have an agile IT team to troubleshoot giving search engines error-free pages.

Remember what I said about remembering that your audience may be in a different country? Make sure you’re HREFLang correctly and align to the correct country. Is your page ranking correctly? Again, we can see an 88% drop in traffic due to reindexed pages. It’s the little things that matter.

Lastly, you need to match searcher intent. Are you keyword targeting? Is top 50 on top of your rank? Remember – mobile and location searches are most popular, so you need to think about what people want when they are searching for something. This can max out your clickability.

3 Main Takeaways from SEO Lemonade

Again, three main points from this one:

1. Understanding the importance of indexability

If no one can find your content, it doesn’t matter what quality it is!

2. Accept that searcher intent is critical to success

This ties into takeaway 3, but you need to understand whom you are catering to and why they’re looking for you in the first place.

3. Maximize clickability

Get in people’s heads. Get them in on that first click, and the rest is… well, easy as making lemonade out of lemons. 

SEJ was nice enough to give us permission to use their SlideShare recaps. Here’s Bill’s full presentation:

AMP Tactics From The Conde Nast SEO Team, by John Shehata

John Shehata of Conde Nast led this one. AMP launched in February 2016. Before AMP, Conde Nast’s average ranking was around 6.4. After AMP, it jumped to 1.6. Their average CTR (clickthrough rate) went up about 4%.

Mobile search traffic is still coming from regular Google search. BUT if you only look at NEW content versus old content, over 60% of Conde Nast’s traffic was coming through AMP. For example, a AMP site vs. non AMP site covering the Oscars: AMP queries got 15x more visits, 7x more impressions, and 2x higher average rankings.


Everyone needs AMP in their arsenal. Now… I know what you’re saying. I’m not a publisher! Who cares about CTR and AMP and all of these fancy acronyms? You still need to care about AMP! There are HUGE opportunities on getting traffic via AMP Blue Links.

Your 3 Best AMP Resources

Check out these links. They’ll help you understand what projects to use AMP for.

Full presentation recap on SlideShare:

John Brown from Google: Best Practices To Protect Ad Spend

 Next up was John Brown from Google, the Head of Publisher Policy Communications at Google.

john brown

Us folks at Express Writers had a chance to chat with him at the breakfast before we were herded off, and it turns out he’s from Austin like the EW team (I was the only loser from New York City, sadly). We all got a picture with John, who was super down-to-earth and cool!

Our friend proposed two stellar questions: how do I obtain good traffic? How do I grow my network?

The answer? Work with partners that respect users. Protect your users. There are three main takeaways here:

1. Strong practices build trust

2. Measure real ROI

3. Identify bots and real visitors

To build trust, you need to CREATE trust in the entire ecosystem of business. “Trust is the currency with which we trade” — invalid traffic and bad ads threatens to break this trust. In your organization, you must be on the same page as the rest of your team. You need fundamental top-down collective focus on user trust and obtaining quality traffic. With this in mind, you need to be selective. Work only with people who have goals that benefit the entire ecosystem, with a focus on rich, original and organic content. Develop a common language with publishers. Understand what illegitimate and nonhuman traffic sources are out there to harm that ecosystem.

Once you’ve created that foundation of trust, you need to measure how that trust is helping you. Measure REAL ROI. Real ROI are real conversions, not clicks, CTR, or views. You want to pay attention to signups, purchases, even tangible leads.

Lastly, we delved into the world of bots. Bots can skew everything and really mess up your metrics, as well as send your users on a wild, uncomfortable ride. Don’t break that trust because you can’t identify real traffic.

2 Final Takeaways from John Brown & Google

1. Trust, trust, trust

Your brand is only as strong as the trust exists between you and the ecosystem of your business. That includes business partners, customers, and especially the people within your own team. The more open and transparent you are about your goals, the smoother your interactions will be.

2. Get savvy about traffic

You need to know how you’re doing in order to understand how to move forward. If your metrics are all wrong and you don’t have accurate numbers of what your legitimate human traffic is, how will you know if you’re on the right track?

Brands, Search, and the US Elections – Sponsored by Search Metrics

Admittedly, I didn’t go to this one because I was election’d out. I’d love to hear some feedback about this presentation, though, now that that day has come and gone. Let me know in the comments what you think, if you listened in!

Glenn Gabe on What The Doctor Ordered: Your Yearly Google Algorithm Update Checkup (2016)

Glenn Gabe from G-Squared Interactive was a strong speaker with terrific information to present here. This one was for all of the analytic and algorithm nerds out there that I can definitely get into, being a nerd myself. Google Panda, Phantom, and Penguin are real things, not just something you have weird dreams about. They’re algorithms rolled out by Google to control SEO visibility. They can be aggressive, they can be slow, and usually hard to detect.

Takeaway: Popups will haunt you, know Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines

The main takeaway from Glenn is that you need a user-friendly site, and you should avoid too many popups or Google will de-rank you for that (soon to be more fleshed out in algo updates!). Also, low quality content is a no-no. Most importantly: read Google’s quality rater guidelines.(Julia, our CEO, actually broke the Search Guidelines down in detail in this massive post on our blog in late 2015.) It’ll help you run a better site that Google will love, and help you avoid cute Google animals… and ghosts.

glenn gabe

Larry Kim Breaks the Summit: Top Takeaway from Hacking Rankbrain

I think Larry Kim’s presentation was everyone’s favorite, on the subject of Hacking Rankbrain themed in Judgment Day subject material (yes, the “I’ll be back” guy), fantastic memes, colorful rainbows, donkeys and unicorns. He nailed the storytelling elements!

Our CTO Josh made the awesome correlation of Larry Kim + Charlie the Unicorn:

Rank brain (machine learning and search) is a very real thing, with algorithms auditioning our queries. Larry offered us SEO Weapons to survive SEO Judgment day, which included donkey detectors, unicorn converters… you get the idea.

Our takeaway from Larry’s presentation: You want to edit and find your most dynamic keywords and headlines.

You don’t want headlines that sound like keywords and do not offer any emotional triggers. Adopt personas for your keyword-ing, just like basic user testing for UI/UX. Why are we marketing? We’re trying to create biases so that even if people don’t buy your stuff right away, they’ll remember you.

Killer stuff, Larry!

Killer stuff, Larry!

We want to be a unicorn in a sea of donkeys. If you haven’t figured it out by now: donkeys are crappy headlines. 

Mark Traphagen Presents Success By Design: Content That Builds Both Brand And SEO

Traphagen sums it all up, succinctly.

Traphagen sums it all up, succinctly.

This presentation was my jam, and the rest of Express Writers felt the same way.

Here are our 2 top takeaways from listening to Mark Traphagen:

1. Don’t forget the basics of building strong content

Taking an analytic approach to your content and SEO can make a huge difference, which is something I don’t think about, and I really should. For example, one backlink from one major news site to a competitor’s site caused a huge ranking change. Using a backlink moved them to #2 slot in SERP.

First and foremost – keep in mind basics like that.

Now, for the fun part.

2. You must create content for listeners, shares, and linkers

Your content has to be 10x better than anything your competitors are doing, WITH strategic links. You’d be surprised to know that the vast majority of content gets neither links nor shares, and that your shares don’t mean that people are actually paying attention to the content. I’m sure you’ve encountered this on your social media journies – people read the headline and scrap the rest. No correlation between social shares and actual links, which means there isn’t any SEO/traffic value.

How do you break through this dead end? You have to do something unique and target it to whom it matters. Very good content is no longer enough. ELITE content is where you should focus your efforts. Understand that your audience is early adopters and innovators, and that your content should be for listeners, shares and linkers.

Yes. Throw “good content” out the window. Our culture at Express Writers really ties into this. If you look through our Expert Niche Category in the Content Shop, one vertical we’ve been working on heavily this year is introducing high-level copy to our leads. Everyone, we believe, should be investing in expert copy these days if they really want their brand to stand out.

Elite content is the key, and you need to know how to share it. (Mark’s SEJ presentation really ties into the podcast Julia did this month with Mark! Listen in here on the Write Podcast, E17.)

Keesa Schreane Presents Inspired Marketing: How To Leverage Emotions In SEO 

Keesa Schreane, Senior Manager, Marketing at Thomson Reuters, spoke on this cool topic.

The big phrase here is the THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MARKETING. Yes! I have a degree in this! This presentation focuses on service oriented marketing, using the relevancy of the Girl Scouts as the baseline. They’re still relevant after 100+ years, and that’s because every single little girl feels good about the work they put into the organization. If the customers and shareholders can see themselves in a brand, that’s good. That’s what we’re striving for.

Apple is built on the same platform. If you bought one of the first iPhones, you saw yourself as being an early adopter and a member of a community. People saw themselves in the brand. We desire ASSOCIATION. We desire that others are aware of our needs.

However, not only do you have to understand your own industry, but you also have to understand your customers’ industries. For example, with Express Writers, I have learned to become aware of the needs of the facility managers’ industry for one of my clients. I’ve learned the complexities of what these managers need to know for their job, and through that, I am able to develop a more understanding social media experience for them.

When we’re designing content and SEO strategy, we need to make our clients aware of the fact that we care.

Then, put yourself in your client’s shoes. Do you want a relationship with me, or just a sale? Do you appreciate me? Identify your clients’ needs and let them know that you need their support. Let them know that you are willing to learn about their industry and build a more robust relationship. Understand who your customer is and who they aspire to be. Authentically appreciate them, and ask them questions.

keesa sej summit

A-MAZING content, Keesa!

Takeaway from Keesa’s presentation:

Try to understand marketing as the balance between being passionate about your own product and figuring out how to get other people passionate about it, too. You want to welcome others into your world, and make them want to stick around for the long haul. Understand your clients’ needs and how you can fit them with your own.

PSYCHOLOGY! Or, the time my degree actually came in handy.

PSA: I left before a few final sessions and an AMA, but Kelsey Jones at Search Engine Journal has those covered on their recap, which you can catch on SEJ here. Check out all the presentations on SEJ’s SlideShare.

Conclusion: The SEJ Summit Was an Amazing Conference!

And that’s my journey at SEJ Summit. As a psychology major, persona studies were an amazing revelation for my ability to connect with clients. For me, understanding who the customer is key. AMP and algorithms might be the tech team’s sweet spot more than mine, but the user experience on the outside is just as important as the back-end workings that you don’t always see.

Krystal is a creative writer and Social Media Expert at Express Writers. Want to have her write YOUR content? Buy custom expert copy in the Content Shop and request her!