This year’s SMX Conference in Munich took place on March 17th and 18th and we were grateful to attend this outstanding event for search engine optimization. More than 80 high-level speakers gave notes about various SEO, SEA and online marketing subjects. To put it short: SMX Munich 2016 was the best conference we’ve ever attended.

Machine learning as a change of paradigm

It is not only at Go games, where Google proves the advanced level of its Artificial Intelligence systems: With the firm’s RankBrain program, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning start playing a leading role at the ranking process of search engine results. It is hence no wonder that not only Rand Fishkin (MOZ) treated this subject in his opening speech. Joost de Valk (yoast), Marcus Tandler (Onpage.org), Mike King (iPullRank), Markus Tober (Searchmetrics) and Rand Fishkin also discussed the topic on the expert’s panel.

Learning from the user’s behavior, RankBrain is able to understand which websites are of importance for which searching intentions. This means: different rules for different intentions. A user searching for “fancy haircuts” might not want to read a deep-going article about the subject but rather watch a photo gallery.

Interesting enough, the algorithm is able to learn by itself. This puts even the engineers working at Google in a situation of actually not knowing how the search results are put together. As Gary Illyes confirms on Twitter, RankBrain is (not yet) able to independently add new ranking factors but it obviously has a certain influence on the prioritization of the already existing factors.

SMXexpertenpanel

Take Away: The importance of user signals is steadily growing. The keyword is “Engagement Based Reputation”. Increasing user experience and interaction possibilities at the landing page are therefore an important target for search engine optimization strategies. At the same time, the “old-school” approach shall not be forgotten: frequently optimizing the Snippet for better CTRs.

All about speed

Talking about user-signals: short page load times steadily gain importance. Especially Websites displayed on mobile devices should load within less than three seconds. For, in case the loading process takes longer than three sec, 60% of the users will leave the site. They simply click the “back”-button – one more bad user signal.

Further proof of the growing importance of speed give the latest developments of Accelerated Mobile Pages (APM) and Facebook Instant Articles. For Google, page loading times are important enough to sacrifice JavaScript and even big shares of CSS3 to the profit of Page-Speed. Special, highly optimized Websites for each device gain ground on the expense of the responsive “one page for all devices” approach. APM is then just a part of this new, device optimized Websites.

Take away: Short – loading – times – for – Webpages. Even small pages are worth the most optimizing effort. Get rid of irrelevant CSS and JavaScripts, summarize and condense resources, optimize images, make use of CDNs and Cashing, think about preloading, and so on…

The Comeback of the technical SEO

Content is predicted to be king. Still, Mike King, Ari Nahmani and Joost de Valk underline that the technical excellence shall not be neglected.

„If Engagement is king, errors are the hangman.“ – Joost –

The web is more technical than ever before, as the latest Java Script Frameworks (Angular.js), HTTP2, AJAX Crawlability and new versions like APMs or Instant Aricles show. The outstanding number of attendees in both slots with John Müller (Google) proves the huge interest among SEOs in technical details. Especially the detailed hreflang tags seem to cause various problems.

Take away: Good SEOs need to have a solid technical understanding and learn more about technical details. It is necessary to understand the functioning of Log-Files, DOM and JavaScript Frameworks. Still, also assumingly easy technical operations have to be implemented and tested, tested, tested (hreflang ;-))

“Without the data you’re just another one with an opinion”

Joost de Valk and Marty Weintraub point out that all aggregated data should be collected, connected and shared. There are so many data sources waiting for a meaningful combination in order to provide deeper insights (Log-Files), better targeting possibilities (psychographics) and new ideas (internal searches).

Furthermore, user data is not about grabbing the first statistics available and incoherently interpreting them. It is about asking a specific question, finding the accurate data, interpreting the data in it’s specific context and, finally, drawing the right conclusions and taking the accordingly right actions.

Take away: Use your data resources and try to combine them meaningfully. Take also usage of rather unattractive data sources such as Log-Files, in order to gain deeper insights.

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