This is part three of our three part series on what our SEO experts took away from their time at Search Marketing Expo (SMX) in early December, as well as their learnings from working in SEO throughout the year.

You can read part one from Andrei Popa, the PPC and SEO expert in our Copenhagen office, or part two from Matthew Margey, a Search Consultant in our Toronto office.

On-SERP SEO strategies for 2021

Personally, Izzie Smith’s presentation at SMX was pivotal, because she touched on three things which are very close to my SEO heart.

1. SERPs are about search intent

First of all, her SEO journey begins at the heart of SEO—the Search Engine Result Page (SERP). Understanding what a search engine tries to achieve and what problem it tries to solve on a SERP should be your starting point when it comes to optimizing your pages for SEO.

SERPs are all about search intent and what’s behind the search query—not your rankings, your Page Authority score, or your keyword density. Solving a user’s problem by understanding what they search for and which answers and content they expect is what counts. This all starts with Search Intent Analysis.

2. SEO is about conversations, not just traffic

Secondly, Izzie urges us to approach SEO not just as a traffic driven channel, but as a conversion driving channel. It’s not how many users visit your pages from search engines that counts, but what they actually do on your page that matters. We need what Izzie calls a ‘SERP-to-Satisfied’ approach: how can you guide your users along the journey from click to conversion?

So how do you align your keyword research effectively to cover ‘SERP to Satisfied’? 

This brings me to the third point as to why this presentation is so close to my heart. 

3. Keywords should match intent

Izzie comes up with clusters to meet search intent when it comes to keyword research. Historically there have been three types of keyword to match search intent: informational, navigational, and transactional. Izzie, however, doesn’t think those categories are detailed enough, as the phase of the user journey doesn’t necessarily give all the information about what a user wants. That’s why she has developed a better framework to better understand and refine the user intent.

Her framework includes more nuanced questions, like what type of information a user is looking for (an answer, something visual, research, or fresh/updated information), or what type of transactional experience a user wants: a purchase or more information before buying. 

Next, once your keyword research is completed, it’s important to nominate the best content type for each search query. The reason for this is that it will be very hard to win over transactional keywords with a blog post or an FAQ page, for example.

This entire process from search intent analysis, to ‘SERP to Satisfied’, query discovery as the foundation for your keyword research to nominating the best content for each search intent is what your SEO strategy should be based on in 2021.

How to win on Google in the age of zero clicks

The next presentation that caught my attention was a kind of follow up to Izzie’s presentation. How to win on Google in the age of zero clicks by Naguib Toihiri, examined how to create and markup content to provide the best answers for the so-called ‘zero-clicks’ results on search engine results pages.

Like Izzie, Naguib focuses on demystifying the user’s intent by first identifying relevant questions. It’s key to move away from “just” keyword research to questions research and identifying the most relevant questions about a specific topic. 

Once you’ve created your answer with relevant content, it’s important to validate it with the BERT algorithm. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. Then use structured markup to provide more context for search engines. 

Finally, it’s important to measure success by tracking your presents in zero-click results such as featured snippets and people also ask-results.

Google My Business: Competitor audits and virtual services

The third and last SMX presentation I want to highlight was by Amanda Jordan on Google My Business: Competitor audits and virtual services.

Amanda discussed the Google My Business elements which can help with ranking your business for localized keywords and help with increasing conversions. These are the element she discusses:

Affect rankings

  • Business category
  • Reviews
  • Website link

Affect conversions

  • Reviews/review responses
  • Attributes
  • Products/services 

Business categories are used by Google to determine the categories of your business—but these categories are also used to match with search queries, making it very important to list your business for the most relevant categories, especially for ones your competitors are not using.

The same applies for your Google My Business reviews: keywords in the reviews are used by Google to match with user intent and search queries, making it important to ramp up the number of reviews. Google guidelines allow you to ask customers to leave reviews, as long as you don’t tell them what the review should say.

The last ranking factor is the website link in your Google My Business profile, which counts as a ‘hard’ backlink. However, don’t just use your homepage as the URL, rather make sure the website offers important conversion points. Look at what kind of pages your competitors serve to best align with user intent.

Amanda also discussed conversion factors for your Google My Business profile and provided the following key takeaways: 

  • Responding to every review can be a pain, but quality reputation management is important for improving your products, services, AND conversions. Dedicate resources to it and consider it part of your social media, SEO, and customer service efforts.
  • If relevant to your business, products/services are a great way to stand out in search results. It can also help you avoid a user experience issue if most of your competitors use this feature but you’re not.
  • Attributes are business features that can be highlighted in Google Maps results. They help consumers learn about your business through the Google My Business listing.

All-in-all, SMX offered some great presentations when it came to SERP strategies, not only an overarching strategy on how to do keyword research which covers all possible the user search intent, but also more specific presentations as to how to create content for zero-clicks and for local awareness.