Yoastcon 2019: more than just SEO

Image: Yoastcon’s Panel discussion with Joost de Valk, Rand Fishkin, Kate Toon, Marieke van de Rakt, Jono Alderson.

The third edition of Yoastcon, the online marketing conference organized by the people behind Yoast.com, took place on 7-8 February 2019. Yes, two days, which was a first and provided ample opportunity to schedule a wide range of experts. I attended the second day, in this article I share some tips from the experts that interested me most.

User research: quality over quantity

Usability and conversion optimization expert Els Aerts spoke about user research and the link with SEO. To stress the importance of the user, she cited Thursday’s speaker Wolfgang Blau (Condé Nast), who said: “An SEO’s job is to make it easy for people who want to find you, to find you”. In other words: concentrate on the users who are part of your target groups. Make sure you understand what they find important, what motivates them.

Els argued that too often, organizations rely on quantitative research, which answers the questions ‘WHAT happens on my site’, and ‘HOW OFTEN does it happen’. However the really important questions can only be answered by qualitative research, focusing on the HOW and the WHY of user behaviour.

That said, qualitative research can also be challenging. As an example, Els mentions ‘targeted surveys’, a list of questions thrown in somewhere down the purchasing process. It is vital to time these questions exactly right, and to use ‘open questions’. Create a space for users to share their true opinions, rather than presenting a small number of multiple choice answers, which never truely reflect what the user has just experienced.

Best quote came after someone in the audience asked: ‘Why are products never developed according to the real needs of users!’ Answer: ‘Because people sit in rooms, drink lattes and assume shit!’

Website migrations: take it from Marie Kondo

Aleyda Solís has been an expert on website migrations for many years. She explained about all the things you need to take care of to prevent major ranking losses in Google. Nothing new for any experienced SEO but unfortunately we’re still seeing companies suffer a 50% loss in organic traffic after a site migration. Why? Because nobody thought about properly redirecting the old pages!

Aleyda sees 6 main causes of website migrations gone bad:

  1. Lack of a clear web migration goal. Is it a redesign or a rebrand? Is it about moving to https or about consolidation of services/products? There are many types of migration. The more things you’re planning to take on in one go, the harder it will get to manage the process.
  2. Lack of flexibility to make changes
  3. Lack of support to make changes
  4. Leaving important pages out
  5. Migrating pages in an incomplete or incorrect way
  6. Moving to non-optimized new page destinations

Most of Aleyda’s talk pivoted around the question: “Which steps are important in a site migration”, I encourage you to take a look at her presentation. You’ll learn about Marie Kondo as well ;-). And then there was this very funny slide drawn from – I’m guessing – every SEO’s experience:

Aleyda Solis - Dev's and SEO's
Source: Aleyda Solís, How to Win SEO in Complex Web Migrations Scenarios

WordPress and Google: Friends for Life?

As a company, Yoast is primarily known for its WordPress SEO plugin. So it’s no surprise that the topic ‘WordPress’ was featured one way or another at this conference. Besides several workshops, this second day brought an interview by Joost de Valk with Alberto Medina from the Google Content Ecosystems Team. Over the last years, Google has been more supportive of the open web, and WordPress is seen as one of the driving forces of that web. This lead to the question “will Google take over WordPress”? Medina countered this wouldn’t be in Google’s interest. To Google, promoting open web standards is more important.

One of Google’s additions to the WordPress ecosystem will be published soon, a plugin enabling easy implementation of Google Analytics, Adsense, Search Console and Pagespeed Insights directly into your WordPress dashboard. This is Google’s first native plugin, until now you had to use other company’s plugins (like Yoast). UPDATE: the plugin is currently live and is called Site Kit.

Another upcoming change mentioned by Medina deals with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). The changes will allow you to apply only parts of AMP, instead of the current all-or-nothing approach.

The need for speed: optimize all the things

On Friday, two presentations on site speed were scheduled. The first by developer Maura Teal (Pagely), the second by ex-Googler Fili Wiese (SearchBrothers). As he often does, Wiese rapidly fired a wide range of optimization tips at his audience. Maura Teal’s presentation was entitled “Optimize all the things” but that title actually better matched Wiese’s talk.

A few take aways:

  • Main reasons to increase site speed:
    • When loading takes too long, the user will leave. Result: less conversions
    • Slow load speeds will affect brand image in a negative way. Users may never return
    • The faster pages load, the more pages Google can crawl, render and index
    • Site speed is weighed as an SEO ranking factor.
  • There are several good tools to check your own (or a competitor’s) site speed: Google’s Pagespeed Insights, GTMetrix, WebPageTest, Pingdom en Google Lighthouse. The latter is build in in Chrome.
  • Be clever with caching. Minimize server request as much as possible.
  • Tools like PageSpeed Insights only show frontend optimization options. That is just part of the things you need to take into account. Backend optimizations like server capacity and configuration, applied PHP version etc are of great importance as well.
  • The good thing about PageSpeed Insights is that ‘real life data’ is shared, taken from actual Chrome users. This is different from ‘lab data’ which only shows theoretical improvements.
  • As much as possible, apply the principle of ‘progressive enhancement’. Make sure that older browsers are still able to show a basic version of your pages, and if possible show advanced options on top of that in other environments.

Panel discussion

Closing the conference, the theme of the traditional panel discussion was ‘content’. Content always needs to be ‘unique’, but what does that mean? What is actually making a difference?

Rand Fishkin (formerly MOZ, now Sparktoro), copywriter Kate Toon, and the people from Yoast (Marieke van de Rakt, Jono Alderson and Joost de Valk) mainly discussed the relationship between content and ‘brand’. With his Whiteboard Fridays, Rand Fishkin is obviously a prime example of how to build a brand, long term.

To summarize:

  • Don’t just see ‘content’ in terms of expenses, and don’t publish in order to please Google. Publish to help your audience/customers
  • Build a relationship with your audience. Try to engage your audience BEFORE actually publishing a piece of content, incorporating their input
  • There are many customer journeys and all touch points play a role in determining how users perceive your brand. Pay attention to details, don’t make users think, build trust
  • Build authority within your particular niche, stay close to your brand’s image
  • Be consistent in your output, publish regularly
  • Even great content needs ‘amplification’, a promotion strategy.

Among other things, this builds trust and brand recognition, which in turn increases click through rates in search results as well as return visits.

All in all it was a well organized and interesting day in Nijmegen. We even received Rand Fishkin’s latest book “Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World”.

Concertgebouw Vereeniging Nijmegen
Concertgebouw De Vereeniging in Nijmegen, Yoastcon’s location.

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