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Lessons from MozCon 2024: What We Learned from the Year’s Biggest SEO Conference

Last week, SEO software behemoth Moz took over the Seattle Convention Center to host MozCon 2024, the premier destination for SEO and digital marketing professionals across the country. Awash with thrumming crowds of enthusiastic note-takers and enough Moz-branded swag to fill the Space Needle, MozCon’s main draw was, of course, the stacked cast of digital marketing professionals, influencers and executives chomping at the bit to share their latest SEO insights.

Lever’s delegation of SEO professionals, having only recently recovered from a bout of caffeine-infused jet lag, have distilled some of MozCon 2024’s most impactful insights into a handful of key topics below. Read on to learn how your brand can withstand the tremors of an ever-changing SEO landscape or read through MozCon 2024’s speaker lineup and peruse their presentations at your leisure.

 

The State of the Industry

Moz General Manager Ethan Hays opened the convention by describing the state of SEO as “turbulent, recovering from the latest update, and full of opportunity,” an apt encapsulation of the next two days’ worth of discussions.

 

Recent tectonic shifts in the ways that brands and users leverage search have turned the industry on its axis, devaluing some cornerstone SEO metrics and strategies while re-empowering the trust and brand authority-centered tactics that have fallen by the wayside in recent years.

 

Managing Partner at Open Velocity Bethan Vincent underscored this point by contrasting metrics that used to matter (organic traffic, keyword ranking, CTR and backlinks) with metrics that will matter (returning sessions, engagement rate, subscriber rate, and integrated distribution metrics) as AI utilization becomes more commonplace and wide-ranging.  Vincent’s unifying theme: Building trust with your audience will determine whether your brand sinks or swims in the rising waters of generative AI SERPs.

This theme rings true with Lever’s 20+ years of digital marketing experience; Trust, authenticity, and a willingness to buck convention have been our standard operating procedure since Lever was founded in 2007. While much of what we heard at MozCon vindicated many of our existing SEO strategies, we left the convention with plenty of new ideas and perspectives to share with our clients.

 

The Google Leak and its Fallout

Perhaps no topic dominated the conversation at MozCon as much as the recent Google API leak, especially when you consider that Moz’s founder and former CEO, Rand Fishkin, had been instrumental in bringing the leak into public view after an anonymous source provided him with a trove of internal and authentic Search division documentation. During Fishkin’s “Fireside Chat” with Moz’s Principal Innovation Architect Dr. Pete Meyers, the two tossed aside their previous talking points to discuss the leak at length, connecting key takeaways to current SEO trends and predictions on the future of search.

In short, Rand and Meyers discussed how Google mislead brands and SEO professionals by throwing them off the scent of consequential click data and algorithmic considerations that the company has publicly stated do not contribute to page rankings. Google’s bias towards brand and site authority measurements also came as somewhat of a surprise given previous statements to the contrary; as it turns out, this revelation vindicated Moz’s decision last year to add Domain Authority and other brand ranking factors into their software.

This leak, combined with other PR pitfalls such as the federal antitrust case against the company and the less than effective rollout of the AI search overview feature, has bruised Google’s reputation without diminishing its place as an instrumental, irreplaceable part of the fabric of SEO. Moving forward, Fishkin cautions companies to be more skeptical of Google’s public-facing statements and to take it upon themselves to test the company’s SEO claims to determine the most effective engagement strategies for their brand. “Why are you uncritically repeating the words of billionaires?” Fishkin asked the crowd to rapturous applause, underscoring the tensions between Google and the companies that depend on its platforms to engage with their audiences.

Unfortunately, large-scale data leaks are nothing new. While first-party data leaks have dominated recent headlines, the Google leak was more akin to an internal breach of private company data than an external hack. No matter the source, data security should always be top of mind for companies looking to leverage effective digital marketing tools.

At Lever, we don’t rely on Google or third-party vendors to keep our secure data under lock and key. As part of our HITRUST certification, we protect sensitive client information through a series of data security protocols and technologies that effectively minimize the risk of data breaches. Levers’ status as a HITRUST-certified agency is unique for companies of our size, underscoring our commitment to the highest level of data security standards and willingness to invest in our clients’ peace of mind. Click here to learn more about how HITRUST keeps your first-party data secure despite the increasing frequency and severity of recent data breaches across the industry.

 

Playing to the SEO Strengths of AI

If the Google leak was the most immediate and topical discussion point during MozCon, the continued rise of generative AI and large language models was a close second. Data Sci 101 Founder Britney Muller described herself (and the industry at large) as “drunk on AI hype” at a time when a sober perspective is needed to properly integrate AI into modern SEO content solutions without exacerbating its worst tendencies.

Muller described the generative AI process as “playing mad Libs with the internet,” looking for relationships between key words and phrases to predict what a human-like response to a query would sound like, forgoing factual accuracy for the sake of appearing less uncanny to the end user. Muller also noted that AI lacks three vital aspects of engaging content creation: perspective, shared experiences, and storytelling ability.

So how should marketers be leveraging the strengths of generative AI and large language models to up their SEO game? Instead of relying on AI to generate original, authentic content (arguably its worst application), brands need to assess how to integrate large language models into tasks that lend themselves to automation.

  • AI Audience Research & Smart Bidding: AI-driven algorithms can automate time-intensive tasks such as audience research and ad targeting across a broad spectrum of campaigns and channels. Lever utilizes machine learning to power our Google Performance Max (PMAX) campaigns, allowing us to supercharge revenue growth and engagement KPIs through input-driven, cross-channel audience research and optimized, automated ad placements.
  • Specific Text Applications: AI is adept at formulating article titles and meta descriptions on the fly, especially when it comes to generating a batch of options to choose from. Text translation also lends itself to automation, particularly if you have large volumes of copy to sift through.
  • Data and Code Management: Tired of looking through reams of spreadsheets and HTML code? There are few applications more appropriate for AI than reformatting data and debugging code. The calculating, relational nature of large language models makes these tasks the perfect use case for productive AI implementation.
  • Budget Allocation Efficiency: AI can also be used to continuously monitor campaign performance, reallocating budget across ad sets and campaigns to facilitate the highest ROI possible.

Of course, while AI excels at these tasks when it comes to precision and speed, it is far from a panacea. Brands shouldn’t treat AI as a “set it and forget it” solution to their productivity woes. Instead, they need to marry the hands-on expertise of (human) marketing professionals with the speed and accuracy of large language models. After all, there’s no easy replacement for that unmistakable human touch.

While AI might occupy an uneasy space in the modern SEO ecosystem, we know that brands stand to gain the most from this versatile technology by deliberately implementing AI solutions where they’re needed most. At Lever, we know that brands can only succeed if they embrace new and innovative technologies as part of their SEO toolkit. Through the deliberate and skillful utilization of large language models, we know that brands can boost their productivity without compromising on their messaging and voice.

 

Using Content to Foster a Community Around Your Brand

Much has been said about the post-AI “enshittification of the internet,” in which low-quality content has flooded into previously content-rich and ever-expanding platforms while even the most basic pieces of information become harder and harder to find. Rather than viewing content as a commodity used to fill a monthly quota, content should be seen as a way to create a thriving, engaging community around your brand.

Many of the convention’s speakers underscored the importance of fostering a community around your brand by urging marketers to create high-quality, shareable content that may not always meet the definition of “SEO optimized”. Apart from any keyword considerations, this means creating content for a specific audience with high levels of “information gain,” or unique information that can’t be found in other sources. This also means crafting an authentic, relevant message that your audience can build upon, serving as a foundation for ongoing discussions.

A hidden theme throughout the convention was the prevalence of one specific online community: Reddit. This user-driven platform gives brands a helpful platform for brands to follow user-generated discussions and queries (especially following Google’s Helpful Content Update, after which Reddit results started dominating the SERPs for valuable keywords). Brands should look for ways to integrate Reddit forums into their content strategies and learn about consumer behaviors and interests in an authentic, user-curated setting.

In our experience, Reddit also presents brands with plenty of opportunities for user engagement through ad placement. In a recent campaign, Lever helped a client reach a consistently higher click-through rate (CTR) and cost per click (CPC) compared to other advertising channels despite a moderate cost per impression (CPM).  We learned that Reddit serves as a strong traffic-driven channel with a user base primed for engagement, offering an exceptional ROI for advertisers targeting mid-funnel objectives like brand awareness and consideration.

Content and the community that it feeds should be seen as an authoritative statement tailored to a brand’s tone and expertise, not a filler link to pad out a content hub page. If you give your community a space to have in-depth conversations about your brand and leverage existing communities to meaningfully enter the conversation, you can begin to stake your claim as an authoritative, authentic source of information and expertise that deserves, nay, demands to be an integral part of the conversation.

Put plainly, mean what you write and write for your target audience, wherever they may be; the rest will follow.

 

Step Outside of the Conventional SEO Approach

Several speakers enthusiastically championed a content approach that de-prioritized conventional SEO metrics such as internal linking and keyword rankings, pointing to examples of pages and posts that lost their sites significant traffic as an overall win. But why?

First and foremost, this “de-optimization” process can be viewed as a way to shape content around the nuanced needs and preferences of your audience, not the algorithm. This approach, while not necessarily beneficial to his keyword rankings and overall traffic, can see posts shared more widely and consequentially than they had been in the past. Backgrounding “vanity metrics” can give brands the opportunity to speak more directly and authentically to target audiences while boosting their profile.

Clearscope Co-Founder Bernard Huang also suggested focusing less on target keywords and more on specific audience perspectives that LLMs may not be able to pick up on. For example, instead of “rock climbing near me,” consider going after queries that might correlate to a user’s stage of consideration, such as “things to consider before rock climbing,” “how to rock climb indoors” or “can anyone go rock climbing at [location]?”

While we agree that tunnel vision is rarely beneficial when it comes to the mercurial nature and frequent, game-changing updates that come with modern SEO, we know that the SERPs consistently reward brands that work within the established SEO framework. There will always be room to think outside of the box, but the value of developing a firm understanding of SEO fundamentals and keeping a watchful eye towards conventional KPIs cannot be overstated for brands looking to boost engagement. Leveraging expertise means knowing when to color inside the lines and when to forego them entirely in pursuit of your own unique vision, but Google doesn’t consistently reward results that appear outside of their established lines.

Bucking convention also means exploring innovative solutions to existing problems, leveraging new technology to implement new tactics and solve old problems. At Lever, the looming prospect of a cookie-less SEO future motivated us to implement an inventive new lead capture technology: BusinessID.

This tool offers our marketing professionals powerful new insights into B2B and B2C audiences, revealing a robust set of data for effective professional network prospecting while sidestepping data decay, form fills, and the pitfalls of third-party data dependence. Our clients no longer need to worry about paying for lead lists or depending on cookies that might disappear tomorrow; BusinessID utilizes first-party or zero-party data to capture information through leads they generate themselves.

For a recent healthcare client, Lever utilized BusinessID to achieve a 57% qualified lead rate. This was an exceptional rate given the narrow and specialized nature of the client’s target audience, providing them with amble leads that fit their unique requirements.

Long story short:  brands should stop viewing popular SEO tactics as a “checklist” to tic through or a reusable bag of tricks, since this sort of conventional tunnel vision can get you devalued or penalized with every new round of algorithm updates. To truly capitalize on the current state of SEO, companies need to look beyond the cycle of updates and exploits by exploring solutions that lean on proactivity, manual intervention, and holistic perspectives.

 

Diversification is Key

With digital audiences becoming increasingly fragmented in their platform preferences, it’s more important than ever for brands to leverage their digital presence into an active, engaging digital ecosystem.

Several speakers cautioned against putting too many digital eggs in one basket and implored companies to curate a more diverse digital presence across multiple sites and platforms, broadly split into four main categories:

  • Multi-Channel Social Media: Expands the reach of your content through contextualized, topically relevant semantic signals that boost your authority across all platforms.
  • A Well-Crafted Website: Provides a discoverable, centralized hub and engaging user experience as a companion piece to an individual user’s customer journey.
  • Third-Party Collaborations: Boosts reputation through backlinks and partnerships with reputable sources within your community.
  • User-Generated Experiences: Elevates your brand’s trust and authority by having your users participate in your marketing and sharing their experiences with your brand.

Speakers also urged brands to diversify their content distribution channels and find new ways to meet their audiences wherever they spend the most time. Coming up with a distribution roadmap for a single topic (or even a single piece of high-quality content) gives brands the opportunity to spread a week’s worth of effort over an entire quarter if they’re smart about leveraging each component of their digital ecosystem.

We agree with the broad strokes of this approach; as audiences scatter across the internet and settle into any number of digital communities, it’s important for brands to meet them wherever they may be. However, it’s equally important for brands to pick the right platforms for their campaigns and avoid splitting their efforts for the sake of diversification alone.

This is what makes audience research and account-based marketing (ABM) data insights so valuable: they allow you to target high-value prospects and nurture your leads through the buyer journey wherever they’re most susceptible to engagement. A campaign that spreads itself too thin across multiple channels runs the risk of losing focus on the consumers that can help their brand most effectively convert exposure into revenue, watering down their SEO efforts. Our approach at Lever has been hard-fought but consistent: focus on utilizing first-party data to craft a deliberate, focused approach to diversification.

Diversification comes in many forms, from building up your brand’s digital ecosystem to curating your selection of advertising platforms to your target audience. Your digital presence will always need to change with the times, but reshaping your content offerings to fit whichever distribution channel is most appropriate for your target audience doesn’t have to mean starting from scratch.

 

Until Next Year

MozCon 2024 had plenty to offer the average SEO professional: a rich cast of speakers covering a wide swath of relevant SEO topics, a chance to connect with companies across the country and build a more robust network of likeminded digital marketers, and a forward-facing toolkit of tactics to help brands more effectively anticipate and adapt to whatever the future of search has in store.

The SEO and digital marketing industries are in a constant state of flux, expanding and contracting as innovative technologies and algorithm updates change the ways that brands reach their customers online. At Lever, we believe that we shouldn’t keep new information to ourselves; proactive strategy-focused discussions between brands and their marketers affords companies a more comprehensive, informed application of new digital marketing solutions. Brands should expect more proactive communications from their marketers whenever there is something new to share.

To recap, we discussed how Google’s API leak gave the SEO industry a path forward on Google platforms (and plenty to worry about), how AI’s uneasy place within the content creation space can give brands further clarity on how to best apply its talents, how a community-first content approach can help amplify a brand’s voice, the value of thinking out of the box when it comes to SEO “vanity metrics,” and why diversification is a surefire way to compensate for audience fragmentation across digital platforms.

To infuse your brand’s digital ecosystem with these lessons and many, many more, reach out to our full-service digital marketing professionals at leverinteractive.com/contact.

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