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Engage 2017 recap: a day of innovation

Innovation was one of the major themes at the 2017 Engage Conference (formerly known as SearchFest) last Thursday hosted by SEMpdx, the leading search marketing organization in Portland. This theme was evident right from the start with the new name. SearchFest began as a conference for search marketing with speakers covering the latest strategies for organic and paid search.

But in today’s modern digital marketing realm, those two channels don’t work well in a silo. Today, your best efforts in organic and paid search will cross paths with social media, content, PR, and more. SEMpdx recognized this shift and in the spirit of innovation rebranded the conference to Engage so that from the start, attendees’ mindset is not limited to search.

Innovation in Your Brand

The day was kicked off by a morning keynote from Matthew Gardner who oversees the fan and customer experience for the Portland Trail Blazers, a position that works intimately with their digital team to ensure a positive relationship with fans and increase ticket sales. Gardner shared their story into how the Blazers won back-to-back NBA Digital Innovation Awards:

  • From some rough times on the court and in the stands, they recognized the need to innovate to improve the fan experience and increase ticket sales.
  • They started with a deep look at their fans: progressive, down-to-earth, active, environmentally-conscious, trailblazing Oregonians.
  • To better connect with these fans, the Blazers strived to always be authentic, unique, energetic and approachable across the entire experience.
  • This approach led to local food vendors and engaging game-day activities, fun videos with players to stay engaged during the typically quiet All-Star break, and innovative online advertising with emotional content that led to more ticket sales than straight-forward, rational ads.

Innovation in Your Strategies

Most of the day we split off into smaller sessions that ran concurrently, but thanks to people tweeting and Engage sharing all presentations with attendees I still got tidbits from speakers I missed. Tactics for innovation were sprinkled throughout the day in sessions on local search, analytics, link building, influencer marketing, content promotion, video, paid media and much more. Here are few short recaps of my favorite topics from the day:

  • Local search: the bare minimum to succeed in local search includes a page for each location, NAP information, hours, and a handful of reviews. Going the map listings and into the more powerful Knowledge Panel takes some effort to show Google you’re an engaged business. For example, host events where Google can see you have a popular spot via a phone’s GPS. Thanks to David Mihm for these insights.
  • Optimizing pages: if you have stale content or are struggling with organic search, create industry-defining content that ranks for 1000s of keywords.  Use the following guidelines to accomplish this – answer questions to satisfy users’ intent, comprehensively respond beyond the keyword, use content structure effectively, add unique interaction points, give the user zero reason to hit the back button, and become an authoritative hub for a topic. Repeat. Credit to Cyrus Shepard here.
  • Analytics: there is so much more to gain from Google Analytics beyond the standard setup most websites and marketers use. Instead of analyzing pages one-by-one, incorporate Content Groupings to view performance rolled up to sections that match the structure of your site. Custom Dimensions open up many opportunities to better segment data of content by author, user type, word count, logged in status, and much more. You have the ability to tailor Google Analytics to your website’s unique structure. Thanks to Kane Jamison for this presentation.

Innovation with Google

The day concluded with an afternoon keynote from Cindy Krum of Mobile Moxie outlining how Google has evolved rapidly in the world of search, mobile and voice. Simply put we’re talking about devices like Google Home (or the Echo and Alexa voice search from Amazon), Google Assistant and more. As a relatively new arena, it’s estimated that 60% of internet users completed their first voice search within the last year. And Google has estimated that 20-25% of searches they see are completed by voice. With Siri, Google, Alexa, and Cortana all on the market now this trend will only keep growing.

The sophisticated side of this includes websites and how it treats mobile indexing, the growth of Progressive Web Apps, Accelerated Mobile Pages, Instant Apps, direct feeds & APIs into the cloud and Google Actions. In preparing for this new world, websites can start by ensuring they have mobile-friendly pages, use relevant Schema markup or structured data, and have effective sitemaps/feeds in place. Then, depending on your target audience, you can look at adapting PWAs, AMP or Google Actions.

Your Turn to Innovate

Conferences like Engage are a great reminder that the digital landscape is constantly evolving. Whether it’s the shift from desktop only to responsive websites or the growth of voice search, businesses that fail to stay innovative in their efforts risk losing online and offline. Adapt and change to keep pace with the world.

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