10 Takeaways from SMX West 2015

SMX West 2015 session

This one will be a quickie just because my schedule in this US trip has been insane. I’ll be writing a more elaborate post next week or the one after the next.

SMX West 2015 was everything I imagined it to be and more. The sessions, the socials and the experience of being at the heart of Silicon Valley were transformative. Naturally, I’m excited to come home to the Philippines and share what I learned with GDI and the local digital marketing community as a whole.

For now, I’m sharing 10 of the most important takeaways from the event as far as the sessions I attended are concerned:

  • Go Mobile or Die. Providing users with a satisfying mobile experience is no longer optional. Mobile is not the future – it’s here and it will continue to grow. If you want to rank and receive meaningful traffic, invest in sites that provide quality mobile user experiences.
  • Google is Obsessed with Speed – If there’s one safe technical SEO investment you can make, it would be on site speed. Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes and other speakers at SMX emphasized speed’s importance from a ranking perspective. Better hosting and more efficient code are at the heart of the matter.
  • Infinite Scrolling is Good and it will Get Better for SEO – I wasn’t a big fan of infinite scrolling before I went on this trip but I now realize its value, Infinite scrolling looks good and offers better user experience with its seamless feel. Just make sure the frame rates are at 60 per second and URL transitions aren’t jarring. Smooth navigation is in line with Google’s intention to cater to the Web’s increasing mobile device penetration.
  • Dependence on SEO for Traffic is a Risky Proposition – Don’t get me wrong: ranking high for your keywords in Google will still do wonders for your site. However, rankings can change dramatically at any given day and trying to chase the #1 spot can be very costly. Focus on the things that you can control such as branding, community building, reader loyalty and user experience. If you’re doing well in these areas, your site emits good usage signals and you’ll receive search engine love anyway.
  • Going Secure (HTTPS) is a Great Investment – Gary also talked about the importance of making the leap from HTTP to HTTPS pages. He emphasized data integrity as being the driver of this movement. Right now, the ranking boost that sites get from being secure isn’t huge but I have a feeling that it will grow over time. I would not be shocked to see messages from Google Webmaster Tools one day telling us that site ranking performance might be affected because a site isn’t secure. They did it with mobile browser compatibility and they can just as easily do it for security.
  • The Keyword isn’t Dead. The Game Just Changed – Knowing how your audience refers to vital entities in your niche and optimizing for those terms is as important as ever. Obsessing over those terms and using elaborate (questionable) tactics is an iffy matter. Concentrate on being an authority in your area of expertise and make ethical efforts to promote your site. It’s a simple formula but not everyone can execute it. The legitimately good sites do this in a natural way and that’s what search engines want to reward.
  • Great Content Starts in the Trenches – At its most basic form, content creation starts with keyword research. It’s followed by an ideation process that revolves around creating content pieces built around target search terms. Writers then scramble to create the content by putting together material that’s largely based on what’s already out there. The results are often so flat, tired and unappealing that the audience plainly ignores them.

If you want to create content that resonates with your audience, keep your ears close to the ground. Invest in surveys, talk to your sales and customer service representatives, and monitor the bahavior of engaged users with web analytics. This gives you a better chance to identify which topics are hot and what kind of content pieces will scratch your audience’s itches.

  • Content Marketing is the Next Evolution of Link Building – I’ve been an advocate of content marketing’s synergies with SEO for 3 years now and SMX West further reinforced my convictions. This form of marketing doesn’t just build pages that help search engines identify your site’s theme – it also helps you earn valuable off-page signals that extend your site’s reach and give you ranking boosts.

David Christopher delivered an excellent presentation on how his company, BigWing Interactive, made the leap from traditional link building to content marketing. It wasn’t the most comfortable transformation but the results speak for themselves.

  • Technical SEO is More Crucial than Ever – As white hat link acquisition gets tougher, the impact of on-page signals become ever more pronounced. Technical SEO was one of the more dominant themes of the event and so was content creation. The value of usability, testing and behavior analytics are now as important to SEO as sexy backlinks from reputable sites. The playing field is a lot more even and SEO now comes down to who’s got the more creativity, better engagement with the audience and technological capabilities.
  • The Philippines’ Best SEOs can Hold their Own – I won’t lie: there were at least 10 butterflies in my stomach the morning before I spoke at SMX West. The audience was profoundly intellectual and the speakers who took the podium before me set such a high standard that I wasn’t sure I’d measure up. Thankfully, the audience seemed to appreciate my insights and they laughed at my jokes. I’m just glad I didn’t mess up and I was able to represent the Philippine digital marketing scene with dignity.

It got me thinking that even if we’re a small market half a world away from the US mainland, we’re not very far behind in terms of capabilities. The Philippines’ best – Jason Acidre, Gary Viray, Jec Gonzales, JJ Pike, Luch Zanirato, etc. – can speak at SMX and absolutely hold their own. I encourage my countrymen to try and speak at more SMX events so the Philippines can get more representatives in the mix. I think we have a lot of good things going on and we just have to showcase it to the global community.

If you’re from the Philippines and an SMX event is out of reach right now, that’s okay. We’ve got great local conferences where you can learn and form valuable connections. PeepCon is one of them and it’s happening on the 28th of March, 2015. Registration is still open, so sign up now and I’ll see you soon!