Think About Marketing Differently: 6 Ideas from MozCon 2015

Kathryn Hillis's picture

I'll be honest. When it comes to business talks, the word "disruption" has lost a lot of its force for me. It lands more like a dull thud than the head-whipping snap I imagine it's meant to deliver. I think one of the reasons I'm often underwhelmed is because, while on the surface it may seem affixed to innovative ideas, talk of "disruption" can quickly become vague.

So when it became clear that Mozcon 2015 was going to make several nods to disruptive thinking, I was cautious. Skeptical, even.

But I'm happy to report that my skepticism was unfounded. This year's MozCon did more than make a nod to disruption. Many speakers introduced concrete ideas and interesting anecdotes about how we can overhaul the capacities and goals of our industry, and why we must embrace disruption in order to survive.

Here are some of my favorite ideas on thinking differently that I took from the conference.

1.     Burn your business cards.

One of my favorite talks at the conference was "Upside Down and Inside Out" by Mig Reyes.  He encouraged the audience to try new things, go beyond job titles (if you even have them), and embrace the fact you're likely to break things on the path to excellence.

But more than the overall ideas he shared, I really liked how he showed real-world cases of people going beyond the limitations of what a traditional business role might be.  For example, he talked about how some of the support team at Basecamp took the initiative to write copy so that it sounded less robotic.

I also thought it was cool to hear about some of the positive things he's seen when technical training and self-learning opportunities are made widely accessible to a team. My personal stance - namely, that technical training should be encouraged for everyone working in a technology-focused company - seems to be similar to his; it was nice to hear examples of how training and individual initiative can go a long way.

2.      Explore all options.

Dr. Pete's talk ("Surviving Google: SEO in 2020") drew attention to shrinking organic results and how it's not hard to imagine that the future of the SERPs might be exceptionally ad-heavy, while still providing a strong user experience.

Concept - The Future of Search Results

I think one of the challenges that can come when you focus on the organic side of marketing (like we do) is that paid search is highly interwoven in the search experience. Therefore, it's crucial to keep an eye on that side of things.

It's helpful to hear talks that provide direction about where the tides are shifting.

3.     Create content that cultivates audience loyalty.

Most digital marketers know that creating great content is important, but what exactly is "great content?" Matthew Brown tackled that question in his talk, "An SEO's Guide to the Insane World of Content."

One element that he emphasized as being important was whether or not the content created loyalty. (Rand Fishkin expressed a similar idea in his keynote talk, where he said that Google probably wants to see shares that result in loyalty and returning visits. I'll address Rand's keynote more later.)

The importance of loyalty makes sense when you consider the current magnitude of content production. If we look at blogs alone, 2.5 million posts are published per day! Turning initial attraction into repeat visits and enthusiastic social shares plays an important role towards creating an effective content-focused marketing plan.

You never know what element may improve loyalty. For example, Matthew mentioned how there was a sweet spot for page height observed by that impacted probability of return.

The idea that loyalty and engagement are important may not, by itself, be that disruptive of a concept, but to me the thinking becomes game-changing when you consider how central these elements have come to be. We've come a long way from simply tracking pageviews.

Additionally, it's novel to consider how seemingly small variables - like page height - can affect loyalty. To stay ahead of the curve, marketers need to think somewhat unconventionally about their own sites, considering and testing whichever elements might change the tide of loyalty for their audience.

4.     Think about content distribution differently.

Many SEOs tend to think about content as a central point of focus where links are directed. In his talk, Matthew Brown encouraged us to think about content distribution more like a network.

Source: An SEO's Guide to the Insane World of Content

Analyzing Buzzfeed's success helped him reach this conclusion. One of the reasons Buzzfeed does so well, he said, is because they publish content to streams that work for their audience, which drives links in the process. Digital marketers should do the same. The new way to "build links" is to find the right content streams and diffuse content through them.

5.     Disrupt yourself.

Both Rand Fishkin ("Welcome to MozCon 2015") and Wil Reynold ("The Time to Do the Web Right Is Incredibly Short") emphasized how important it is to disrupt yourself on the path to improvement, otherwise someone else will.

One example Wil gave was AirBnb. Sure, they may not rank for certain keywords (like "vacation rental") as well as their competitor VBRO, but it doesn't matter because they're killing it as far as branding goes. So much so that "airbnb" shows up in search queries.


Part of the reason they're so successful is they're not afraid to think out of the box. Take this beautiful video they produced that was based on story from an AirBnb guest: Wall and Chain: a story of breaking down walls.

Needless to say, they're thinking way beyond targeting keywords and building links. Instead they're concerned with building a brand. While there may be a few queries where VRBO outranks AirBbnb, it's clear that AirBnb is the stronger entity. And that's due, in part, to their willingness to go in a different direction from their competitors.

6.     Optimize for searcher outputs as well as ranking inputs.

In Rand's closing presentation ("Onsite SEO in 2015: An Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Marketer"), he said that Google has grown increasingly sophisticated over the past few years. Finally, we see a relationship between what Google claims to penalize and/or rank badly and what is actually happening in the SERPs. Black-hat tactics don't work as well as they once did.

Machine learning adds another layer of sophistication to queries and search results. As this technology becomes more prevalent in search, Rand predicts there will be added emphasis on searcher behavior to determine which results rise to the top.

In other words, things like click through rate, user engagement, and social amplification will matter more than ever. Tried-and-true ranking inputs like page load speed and unique linking domains will still need attention, but seacher outputs will add another layer of metrics to the equation that marketers would be remiss to ignore.

Through this lens, it's likely we'll have to pay closer attention to how our web properties compete with other results in the SERPs when it comes to outputs. This is where we as digital marketers need to be prepared to disrupt ourselves. The significance of search outputs as a ranking factor may remain to be seen, but it's guaranteed that search retrieval processes are going to get increasingly sophisticated, undoubtedly with an eye towards user experience. Are we willing to take proactive steps so that we're one step ahead of the shift?

(Side note: If you want to learn about how people tend to use search engines, consider checking out this post we published on user search behavior and how we might apply those insights to our marketing: 6 Ways Digital Marketers Can Make Search Easier.)

Any ideas we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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